« PreviousContinue »
THE TRUE NATURE OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW.
“GREAT critics," writes Burke in 1791, “have Optimistic “taught us one essential rule ..... It is this, that
English "if ever we should find ourselves disposed not to constitu“admire those writers or artists, Livy and Virgil for "instance, Raphael or Michael Angelo, whom all the
learned had admired, not to follow our own fancies, “but to study them until we know how and what "we ought to admire; and if we cannot arrive at
this combination of admiration with knowledge, ' rather to believe that we are dull, than that the “ rest of the world has been imposed on.
good a rule, at least, with regard to this admired “constitution (of England). We ought to under“stand it according to our measure; and to venerate “where we are not able presently to comprehendo.”
"No unbiassed observer," writes Hallam in 1818, “who derives pleasure from the welfare of his species,
can fail to consider the long and uninterruptedly “increasing prosperity of England as the most “ beautiful phænomenon in the history of mankind.
It is as
“ Climates more propitious may impart more largely " the mere enjoyments of existence; but in no other
region have the benefits that political institutions “can confer, been diffused over so extended a popu"lation; nor have any people so well reconciled the
discordant elements of wealth, order, and liberty.
These advantages are surely not owing to the “soil of this island, nor to the latitude in which it " is placed; but to the spirit of its laws, from which, ' through various means, the characteristic inde- . “pendence and industriousness of our nation have “ been derived. The constitution, therefore, of Eng“ land must be to inquisitive men of all countries, " far more to ourselves, an object of superior interest;
distinguished, especially, as it is from all free
governments of powerful nations, which history " has recorded, by its manifesting, after the lapse " of several centuries, not merely no symptom “of irretrievable decay, but a more expansive “energy'."
These two quotations from authors of equal though of utterly different celebrity, recall with singular fidelity the spirit with which our grandfathers and our fathers looked upon the institutions of their country. The constitution was to them in the quaint language of George the Third“ the most perfect of human formations”;" it was to them not a mere polity to be compared with the government of any other state, but so to speak a sacred mystery
· Hallam, Middle Ages, 12th ed., ii. p. 267.
of statesmanship; it “had (as we have all heard from our youth up) not been made but had grown;" it was the fruit not of abstract theory but of that instinct which it is supposed) has enabled Englishmen, and especially uncivilised Englishmen, to build up sound and lasting institutions, much as bees construct a honeycomb, without undergoing the degradation of understanding the principles on which they raise a fabric more subtlely wrought than any work of conscious art. The constitution was marked by more than one transcendant quality which in the eyes of our fathers raised it far above the imitations, counterfeits, or parodies, which have been set up during the last hundred years throughout the civilized world ; no precise date could be named as the day of its birth ; no definite body of persons could claim to be its creators, no one could point to the document which contained its clauses; it was in short a thing by itself, which Englishmen and foreigners alike should “venerate, where they are not able presently to comprehend.”
The present generation must of necessity look on Modern the constitution in a spirit different from the sentiment either of 1791 or of 1818. We cannot share tion. the religious enthusiasm of Burke, raised as it was to the temper of fanatical adoration by just hatred of those “ doctors of the modern school,” who when he wrote, were renewing the rule of barbarism in the form of the reign of terror; we cannot exactly echo the fervent self-complacency of Hallam, natural as it was to an Englishman who saw the institutions of
view of constitu