« AnteriorContinuar »
wind is held in bondage. He dislikes an utterly unenlightened age; he dislikes an investigating and reforming age. The first twenty years of the sixteenth century would have exactly suited him. They furnished just the quantity of intellectual excitement which he requires. The learned few read and wrote largely. A scholar was held in high estin.ation; but the rabble did not presume to think; and even the most inquiring and independent of the educated classes paid more reverence to authority, and less to reason, than is usual in our time. This is a state of things in which Mr. Southey would have found himself quite comfortable; and, accordingly, he pronounces it the happiest state of things ever known in the world.
The savages were wretched, says Mr. Southey; but the people in the time of Sir Thomas More were happier than either they or we. Now, we think it quite certain, that we have the advantage over the contemporaries of Sir Thomas More, in every point in which they had any advantage over savages.
Mr. Southey does not even pretend to maintain that the people in the sixteenth century were better lodged or clothed than at present. He seems to admit that in these respects there has been some little improvement. It is indeed a matter about which scarcely any doubt can exist in the most perverse mind, that the improvements of machinery have lowered the price of manufactured articles, and have brought | within the reach of the poorest some conveniences which Sir Thomas More or his master could not have obtained at any price.
many with bread maae eyther of beanes, peason, or otes, or of altogether, and some acornes among. I will not say that this extremity is oft so well to be seen in time of plentie as of dearth; but if I should I could easily bring my trial; for albeit there be much more grounde eared nowe almost in everye place then hath beene of late yeares, yet such a price of corne continueth in each town and markete, without any just cause, that the artificer and poore labouring man is not able to reach unto it, but is driven to content himself with horse-corne; I mean beanes, peason, otes, tares, and lintelles." We should like to see what the effect would be of putting any parish in England now on allowance of "horsecorne.' The helotry of Mammon are not, in our day, so easily enforced to content themselves as the peasantry of that happy period, as Mr. Southey considers it, which elapsed between the fall of the feudal and the rise of commercial tyranny.
"The people," says Mr. Southey," are worse fed than when they were fishers." And yet in another place he complains that they will not eat fish. They have contracted," says he, "I know not how, some obstinate prejudice against a kind of food at once wholesome and delicate, and everywhere to be obtained cheaply and in abundance, were the demand for it as general as it ought to be." It is true that the lower orders have an obstinate prejudice against fish. But hunger has no such obstinate prejudices. If what was for merly a common diet is now eaten only in times of severe pressure, the inference is plain. The people must be fed with what they at least think better food than that of their ancestors.
The labouring classes, however, were, according to Mr. Southey, better fed three hun'dred years ago than at present. We believe that he is completely in error on this point. The advice and medicine which the poorest The condition of servants in noble and weal-labourer can now obtain, in disease or after thy families, and of scholars at the Universi- an accident, is far superior to what Henry the ties, must surely have been better in those Eighth could have commanded. Scarcely any times than that of common day-labourers; and part of the country is out of the reach of prac we are sure that it was not better than that of titioners, who are probably not so far inferior our workhouse paupers. From the house- to Sir Henry Halford as they are superior to hold book of the Northumberland family, we Sir Anthony Denny. That there has been a find that in one of the greatest establishments great improvement in this respect Mr. Southey of the kingdom, the servants lived almost en- allows. Indeed, he could not well have denied tirely on salt meat, without any bread at all. A it. "But," says he, "the evils for which the more unwholesome diet can scarcely be con- sciences are the palliative, have increased ceived. In the reign of Edward the Sixth, the since the time of the Druids in a proportion state of the students at Cambridge is described that heavily outweighs the benefit of improved to us, on the very best authority, as most therapeutics." We know nothing either of the wretched. Many of them dined on pottage diseases or the remedies of the Druids. But made of a farthing's worth of beef with a little we are quite sure that the improvement of salt and oatmeal, and literally nothing else. medicine has far more than kept pace with the This account we have from a contemporary increase of disease, during the last three cenmaster of St. John's. Our parish poor now turies. This is proved by the best possible eat wheaten bread. In the sixteenth century evidence. The term of human life is decidedthe labourer was glad to get barley, and was ly longer in England than in any former age, often forced to content himself with poorer respecting which we possess any information fare. In Harrison's introduction to Holinshed on which we can rely. All the rants in the we have an account of the state of our working world about picturesque cottages and temples population in the “golden days,” as Mr. Southey of Mammon will not shake this argument. No calls them, of good Queen Bess. "The genti- test of the state of society can be named so litie," says he, "commonly provide themselves decisive as that which is furnished by bills of sufficiently of wheat for their own tables, mortality. That the lives of the people of this whviest their household and poore neighbours country have been gradually lengthening dur In some shires are inforced to content themselves ing the course of several generations, is as with rice or barley; yea, and in time of dearth, certain as any fact in statistics, and that the
gence in what they thought an exquisite repast; and that a dropsy of a peculiar description was produced by the hard fare of the year. Dead bodies were found on the roads and in the fields. A single surgeon dissected six of these, and found the stomachs shrunk, and filled with the unwholesome aliments which hunger had driven men to share with beasts. Such extremity of distress as this is never heard of in England, or even in Ireland. We are, on the whole, inclined to think, though we would speak with diffidence on a point on which it would be rash to pronounce a positive judgment, without a much longer and closer investigation than we have bestowed upon it, that the labouring classes of this island, though they have their grievances and distresses, some produced by their own impro
lives of men should become longer and longer, while the physical condition, during life, is becoming worse and worse, is utterly incredible. Let our readers think over these circumstances. Let them take into the account the sweating sickness and the plague. Let them take into the account that fearful disease which first made its appearance in the generation to which Mr. Southey assigns the palm of felicity, and raged through Europe with a fury at which the physician stood aghast, and before which the people were swept away by thousands. Let them consider the state of the northern counties, constantly the scene of robberies, rapes, massacres, and conflagrations. Let them add to all this the fact that seventytwo thousand persons suffered death by the hands of the executioner during the reign of Henry the Eighth, and judge between the nine-vidence, some by the errors of their rulers, are teenth and the sixteenth century.
We do not say that the lower orders in England do not suffer severe hardships. But, in spite of Mr. Southey's assertions, and in spite of the assertions of a class of politicians, who, differing from Mr. Southey in every other point, agree with him in this, we are inclined to doubt whether they really suffer greater physical distress than the labouring classes of the most flourishing countries of the Conti
on the whole better off, as to physical comforts, than the inhabitants of any equally extensive district of the old world. On this very account,. suffering is more acutely felt and more loudly bewailed here than elsewhere. We must take into the account the liberty of discussion, and the strong interest which the opponents of a ministry always have to exaggerate the extent of the public disasters. There are many parts of Europe in which the people quietly endure distress that here would shake the foundations It will scarcely be maintained that the lazza- of the state; in which the inhabitants of a roni who sleep under the porticos of Naples, whole province turn out to eat grass, with less or the beggars who besiege the convents of clamour than one Spitalfields weaver would Spain, are in a happier situation than the Eng- make here, if the overseers were to put him lish commonalty. The distress which has on barley-bread. In those new countries in lately been experienced in the northern part of which a civilized population had at its comGermany, one of the best governed and most mand a boundless extent of the richest soil, prosperous districts of Europe, surpasses, if the condition of the labourer is probably hapwe have been correctly informed, any thing pier than in any society which has lasted for which has of late years been known among many centuries. But in the old world we must us. In Norway and Sweden the peasantry are confess ourselves unable to find any satisfacconstantly compelled to mix bark with their tory record of any great nation, past or prebread, and even this expedient has not always sent, in which the working classes have been preserved whole families and neighbourhoods in a more comfortable situation than in Engfrom perishing together of famine. An expe- land during the last thirty years. When this riment has lately been tried in the kingdom of island was thinly peopled, it was barbarous. the Netherlands, which has been cited to prove There was little capital; and that little was inthe possibility of establishing agricultural colo- secure. It is now the richest and the most nies on the waste-lands of England; but which highly civilized spot in the world; but the proves to our minds nothing so clearly as this, population is dense. Thus we have never that the rate of subsistence to which the labour-known that golden age which the lower orders ing classes are reduced in the Netherlands is in the United States are now enjoying. We have miserably low, and very far inferior to that of never known an age of liberty, of order, and of the English paupers. No distress which the education, an age in which the mechanical scipeople here have endured for centuries, ap-ences were carried to a great height, yet in proaches to that which has been felt by the French in our own time. The beginning of the year 1817 was a time of great distress in this island. But the state of the lowest classes here was luxury compared with that of the people of France. We find in Magendie's Journal de Physiologie Expérimentale, a paper on a point of physiology connected with the distress of that season. It appears that the inhabitants of six departments, Aix, Jura, Doubs, Haute Saone, Vosges, and Saone et Loire, were reduced first to oatmeal and potatoes, and at fast to nettles, bean-stalks, and other kind of herbage fit only for cattle; that when the next harvest enabled them to eat barley-bread, many of them died from intemperate indul VOL. I.-15
which the people were not sufficiently numerous to cultivate even the most fertile valleys. But when we compare our own condition with that of our ancestors, we think it clear that the advantages arising from the progress of civilization have far more than counterbalanced the disadvantages arising from the progress of population. While our numbers have increased tenfold, our wealth has increased a hundredfold. Though there are so many more people to share the wealth now existing in the country than there were in the sixteenth century, it seems certain that a greater share falls to almost every individual than fell to the share of any of the corresponding class in the sixteenth century. The king keeps a more spleu
The cure which Mr. Southey thinks that he has discovered is worthy of the sagacity which he has shown in detecting the evil. The calamities arising from the collection of wealth in the hands of a few capitalists are to be remedied by collecting it in the hands of one great capitalist, who has no conceivable motive to use it better than other capitalists,—the all-devouring state.
did court. The establishments of the nobles this is the state of society in which the great are more magnificent. The esquires are proprietors have devoured the smaller! richer, the merchants are richer, the shopkeepers are richer. The serving-man, the artisan, and the husbandman have a more copious and palatable supply of food, better clothing, and better furniture. This is no reason for tolerating abuses, or for neglecting any means of ameliorating the condition of our poorer countrymen. But it is a reason against telling them, as some of our philosophers are constantly telling them, that they are the most wretched people who ever existed on the face
of the earth.
We have already adverted to Mr. Southey's amusing doctrine about national wealth. A state, says he, cannot be too rich; but a people may be too rich. His reason for thinking this, is extremely curious.
"A people may be too-rich, because it is the tendency of the commercial, and more especially, of the manufacturing system, to collect wealth rather than to diffuse it. Where wealth is necessarily employed in any of the speculations of trade, its increase is in proportion to its amount. Great capitalists become like pikes in a fish-pond, who devour the weaker fish; and it is but too certain, that the poverty of one part of the people seems to increase in the same ratio as the riches of another. There are examples of this in history. In Portugal, when the high tide of wealth flowed in from the conquests in Africa and the East, the effect of that great influx was not more visible in the augmented splendour of the court, and the luxury of the higher ranks, than in the distress of the people."
It is not strange that, differing so widely from Mr. Southey as to the past progress of society, we should differ from him also as to its probable destiny. He thinks, that to all outward appearance, the country is hastening to destruction; but he relies firmly on the goodness of God. We do not see either the piety or the rationality of thus confidently expecting that the Supreme Being will interfere to disturb the common succession of causes and effects. We, too, rely on his goodnesson his goodness as manifested, not in extraordinary interpositions, but in those general laws which it has pleased him to establish in the physical and in the moral world. We rely on the natural tendency of the human intellect to truth, and on the natural tendency of society to improvement. We know no well authenticated instance of a people which has decidedly retrograded in civilization and prosperity, except from the influence of violent and terrible calamities-such as those which laid the Roman empire in ruins, or those which, about the beginning of the sixteenth century, desolated Italy. We know of no country which, at the end of fifty years of peace and Mr. Southey's instance is not a very fortu- tolerably good government, has been less pros nate one. The wealth which did so little for perous than at the beginning of that period. the Portuguese was not the fruit either of The political importance of a state may demanufactures or of commerce carried on by cline, as the balance of power is disturbed by private individuals. It was the wealth, not of the introduction of new forces. Thus the the people, but of the government and its crea- influence of Holland and of Spain is much tures, of those who, as Mr. Southey thinks, diminished. But are Holland and Spain poor. never can be too rich. The fact is, that Mr.er than formerly? We doubt it. Other counSouthey's proposition is opposed to all history, and to the phenomena which surround us on every side. England is the richest country in Europe, the most commercial, and the most manufacturing. Russia and Poland are the poorest countries in Europe. They have scarcely any trade, and none but the rudest manufactures. Is wealth more diffused in History is full of the signs of this natural Russia and Poland than in England? There progress of society. We see in almost every are individuals in Russia and Poland whose part of the annals of mankind how the indusincomes are probably equal to those of our try of individuals, struggling up against wars, richest countrymen. It may be doubted, whe- taxes, famines, conflagrations, mischievous ther there are not, in those countries, as many prohibitions, and more mischievous protecfortunes of eighty thousand a year as here. tions, creates faster than governments can But are there as many fortunes of five thou-squander, and repairs whatever invaders can sand a year, or of one thousand a year? There destroy. We see the capital of nations increasare parishes in England which contain more people of between five hundred and three thousand pounds a year than could be found in all the dominions of the Emperor Nicholas. The neat and commodious houses which have been built in London and its vicinity, for people of this class, within the last thirty years, would of themselves form a city larger than 'be capitals of some European kingdoms. And
tries have outrun them. But we suspect that they had been positively, though not relatively, advancing. We suspect that Holland is richer than when she sent her navies up the Thames; that Spain is richer than when a French king was brought captive to the footstool of Charles the Fifth.
ing, and all the arts of life approaching nearer and nearer to perfection, in spite of the grossest corruption and the wildest profusion on the part of rulers.
The present moment is one of great distress. But how small will that distress appear when we think over the history of the last forty years;-a war, compared with which all other wars sink into insignificance; taxation, such
as the most heavily taxed people of former times could not have conceived; a debt larger than all the public debts that ever existed in the world added together; the food of the people studiously rendered dear; the currency imprudently debased, and imprudently restored. Yet is the country poorer than in 1790? We fully believe that, in spite of all the misgovernment of her rulers, she has been almost constantly becoming richer and richer. Now and then there has been a stoppage, now and then a short retrogression; but as to the general tendency there can be no doubt. A single breaker may recede, but the tide is evidently coming in.
If we were to prophesy that in the year 1930, a population of fifty millions, better fed, clad, and lodged than the English of our time, will cover these islands; that Sussex and Huntingdonshire will be wealthier than the wealthiest parts of the West-Riding of Yorkshire now are; that cultivation, rich as that of a flowergarden, will be carried up to the very tops of Ben Nevis and Helvellyn; that machines, constructed on principles yet undiscovered, will be in every house; that there will be no highways but railroads, no travelling but by steam; and our debt, vast as it seems to us, will appear to our great-grandchildren a trifling encumbrance, which might easily be paid off in a year or two, many people would think us insane. We prophesy nothing; but this we say-If any person had told the Parliament which met in perplexity and terror after the crash in 1720, that in 1830 the wealth of England would surpass all their wildest dreams; that the annual revenue would equal the principal of that debt which they considered as an intolerable burden; that for one man of 10,000l. then living, there would be five men of 50,000%; that London would be twice as large and twice as populous, and that nevertheless the mortality would have diminished to one-half what it then was; that the postoffice would bring more into the exchequer than the excise and customs had brought in together under Charles II. ; that stage-coaches would run from London to York in twenty-four hours; that men would sail without wind, and would be beginning to ride without horses, our ancestors would have given as much credit to the prediction as they gave to Gulliver's Travels. Yet the prediction would have been true; and they would have perceived that it was not altogether absurd if they had considered that the country was then raising every year a sum which would have purchased the fee-simple of the revenue of the Plantagenets, ten times what supported the government of Elizabeth, three
times what, in the time of Oliver Cromwell, had been thought intolerably oppressive. To almost all men the state of things under which they have been used to live seems to be the necessary state of things. We have heard it said that five per cent. is the natural interest of money, that twelve is the natural number of a jury, that forty shillings is the natural qualification of a county voter. Hence it is that, though in every age everybody knows that up to his own time progressive improvement has been taking place, nobody seems to reckon on any improvement during the next generation. We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error, who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all who came before us, and with just as much apparent reason. "A million a year will beggar us," said the patriots of 1640. "Two millions a year will grind the country to powder," was the cry in 1660. "Six millions a year, and a debt of fifty millions!" exclaimed Swift; "the high allies have been the ruin of us." "A hundred and forty millions of debt!" said Junius; "well may we say that we owe Lord Chatham more than we shall ever pay, if we owe him such a load as this." "Two hundred and forty millions of debt!" cried all the statesmen of 1783 in chorus; "what abilities, or what economy on the part of a minister, can save a country so'burdened?" We know that if, since 1783, no fresh debt had been incurred, the increased resources of the country would have enabled us to defray that burden at which Pitt, Fox, and Burke stood aghast-to defray it over and over again, and that with much lighter taxation than what we have actually borne. On what principle is it, that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?
It is not by the intermeddling of Mr. Sou they's idol. the omniscient and omnipotent State, but by the prudence and energy of the people, that England has hitherto been carried forward in civilization; and it is to the same prudence and the same energy that we now look with comfort and good hope. Our rulers will best promote the improvement of the people by strictly confining themselves to their own legitimate duties; by leaving capital to find its most lucrative course, commodities their fair price, industry and intelligence their natural reward, idleness and folly their natural punishment; by maintaining peace, by defending property, by diminishing the price of law, and by observing strict economy in every department of the state. Let the government do this-the people will assuredly do the rest
MOORE'S LIFE OF LORD BYRON.*
[EDINBURGH REVIEW, 1831.]
We have read this book with the greatest pleasure. Considered merely as a composition, it deserves to be classed among the best specimens of English prose which our age has produced. It contains, indeed, no single passage equal to two or three which we could select from the Life of Sheridan. But, as a whole, it is immeasurably superior to that work. The style is agreeable, clear, and manly; and when it rises intó eloquence, rises without effort or ostentation. Nor is the matter inferior to the manner.
general epistles, meant to be read by a large circle, we expected to find them clever and spirited, but deficient in ease. We looked with vigilance for instances of stiffness in the language, and awkwardness in the transitions. We have been agreeably disappointed; and we must confess, that if the epistolary style of Lord Byron was artificial, it was a rare and admirable instance of that highest art, which cannot be distinguished from nature.
Of the deep and painful interest which this book excites, no abstract can give a just no tion. So sad and dark a story is scarcely to be found in any work of fiction; and we are littl disposed to envy the moralist who can read i without being softened.
It would be difficult to name a book which exhibits more kindness, fairness, and modesty. It has evidently been written, not for the purpose of showing, what, however, it often shows, how well its author can write; but for the pur- The pretty fable by which the Duchess of pose of vindicating, as far as truth will per- Orleans illustrates the character of her son the mit, the memory of a celebrated man who can regent, might, with little change, be applied to no longer vindicate himself. Mr. Moore never Byron. All the fairies, save one, had been bidthrusts himself between Lord Byron and the den to his cradle. All the gossips had been public. With the strongest temptations to profuse of their gifts. One had bestowed noegotism, he has said no more about himself bility, another genius, a third beauty. The than the subject absolutely required. A great malignant elf who had been uninvited came part, indeed the greater part of these volumes, last, and, unable to reverse what her sisters had consists of extracts from the Letters and Jour-done for their favourite, had mixed up a curse nals of Lord Byron; and it is difficult to speak with every blessing. In the rank of Lord too highly of the skill which has been shown Byron, in his understanding, in his character, in the selection and arrangement. We will in his very person, there was a strange union not say that we have not occasionally remark- of opposite extremes. He was born to all that ed in these two large quartos an anecdote men covet and admire. But in every one of which should have been omitted, a letter those eminent advantages which he possessed which should have been suppressed, a name over others, there was mingled something of which should have been concealed by aste- misery and debasement. He was sprung from risks; or asterisks which do not answer the a house, ancient indeed and noble, but depurpose of concealing the name. But it is graded and impoverished by a series of crimes impossible, on a general survey, to deny that and follies, which had attained a scandalous the task has been executed with great judg-publicity. The kinsman whom he succeeded ment and great humanity. When we consider had died poor, and, but for merciful judges, the life which Lord Byron had led, his petu- would have died upon the gallows. The young lance, his irritability, and his communicative-peer had great intellectual powers; yet there ness, we cannot but admire the dexterity with which Mr. Moore has contrived to exhibit so much of the character and opinions of his friend, with so little pain to the feelings of the living.
was an unsound part in his mind. He had naturally a generous and tender heart; but his temper was wayward and irritable. He had a head which statuaries loved to copy, and a foot the deformity of which the beggars in the The extracts from the journals and corres- streets mimicked. Distinguished at once by the pondence of Lord Byron are in the highest de- strength and by the weakness of his intellect, gree valuable--not merely on account of the affectionate yet perverse, a poor lord, and a information which they contain respecting the handsome cripple, he required, if ever man redistinguished man by whom they were written, quired, the firmest and the most judicious trainbut on account, also, of their rare merit as coming. But, capriciously as nature had dealt positions. The Letters, at least those which were sent from Italy, are among the best in our language. They are less affected than those of Pope and Walpole; they have more matter in them than those of Cowper. Knowing that many of them were not written merely for the person to whom they were directed, but were
with him, the relative to whom the office of forming his character was intrusted was more capricious still. She passed from paroxysms of rage to paroxysms of fondness. At one time she stifled him with her caresses, at another time she insulted his deformity. He came into the world, and the world treated him as his mother treated him-sometimes with kind* Letters and Journals of Lord Byron; with Notices of kis Life. By THOMAS MOORE, ESQ. 2 vols. 4to. Lon-ness, sometimes with severity, never with don: 1830.
justice. It indulged him without discrimina