« AnteriorContinuar »
a portion of their legislative power, and allow | tion in former days used to be the envy of the it to incapacitate without their consent. This, world; it was the pattern for politicians; the indeed, Mr. Burke clearly perceived. "When theme of the eloquent; the meditation of the the House of Commons," says he, "in an en- philosopher in every part of the world.-As to deavour to obtain new advantages at the ex- Englishmen, it was their pride, their consola pense of the other orders of the state, for the tion. By it they lived, and for it they were benefit of the commons at large, have pursued ready to die. Its defects, if it had any, were strong measures, if it were not just, it was at partly covered by partiality, and partly borne least natural, that the constituents should con- by prudence. Now all its excellencies are nive at all their proceedings; because we our- forgot, its faults are forcibly dragged into day, selves were ultimately to profit. But when this exaggerated by every artifice of misrepresenta submission is urged to us in a contest between tion. It is despised and rejected of men; and the representatives and ourselves, and where no- every device and invention of ingenuity or thing can be put into their scale which is not idleness is set up in opposition, or in prefertaken from ours, they fancy us to be children ence to it." We neither adopt nor condemn when they tell us that they are our representa- the language of reprobation which the great tives, our own flesh and blood, and that all the orator here employs. We call him only as stripes they give us are for our good." These witness to the fact. That the revolution of sentences contain, in fact, the whole explana-public feeling which he described was then in tion of the mystery. The conflict of the seventeenth century was maintained by the Parliament against the crown. The conflict which commenced in the middle of the eighteenth century, which still remains undecided, and in which our children and grandchildren will probably be called to act or suffer, is between a large portion of the people on the one side, and the crown and the Parliament united on the other.
progress is indisputable; and it is equally indisputable, we think, that it is in progress still.
To investigate and classify the cause of so great a change, would require far more thought, and far more space, than we at present have to bestow. But some of them are obvious. During the contest which the Parliament carried on against the Stuarts, it had only to check and complain. It has since had to govern. As an attacking body, it could select its points of attack, and it naturally chose those on which it was likely to receive public support. As a ruling body, it has neither the same liberty of choice, nor the same interest to gratify the people. With the power of an executive government, it has drawn to itself some of the vices and all the unpopularity of an executivé
The privileges of the House of Commons, those privileges which, in 1642, all London rose in arms to defend, which the people considered as synonymous with their own liberties, and in comparison with which they took no account of the most precious and sacred principles of English jurisprudence, have now become nearly as odious as the rigours of mar-government. On the House of Commons, tial law. That power of committing, which the people anciently loved to see the House of Commons exercise, is now, at least, when employed against libellers, the most unpopular power in the constitution. If the Commons were to suffer the Lords to amend money-bills, we do not believe that the people would care one straw about the matter. If they were to suffer the Lords even to originate money-bills, we doubt whether such a surrender of their constitutional rights would excite half so much dissatisfaction as the exclusion of strangers from a single important discussion. The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm. The publication of the debates, a practice which seemed to the most liberal statesmen of the old school full of danger to the great safeguards of public liberty, is now regarded by many persons as a safeguard, tantamount, and more than tantamount, to all the rest together.
above all, possessed as it is of the public purse, and consequently of the public sword, the nation throws all the blame of an ill-conducted war, of a blundering negotiation, of a disgraceful treaty, of an embarrassing commercial crisis. The delays of the Court of Chancery, the misconduct of a judge at Van Diemen's land, any thing, in short, which in any part of the admi nistration any person feels as a grievance, is attributed to the tyranny, or at least to the negligence, of that all-powerful body. Private individuals pester it with their wrongs and claims. A merchant appeals to it from the courts of Rio Janeiro or St. Petersburg. A painter, who can find nobody to buy the acre of spoiled canvass, which he calls an historical picture, pours into its sympathizing ear the whole story of his debts and his jealousies. Anciently the Parliament resembled a member of opposition, from whom no places are expected, who is not required to confer favours and propose measures, but merely to watch and censure; and who may, therefore, unless he is grossly injudicious, be popular with the great body of the community. The Parliament now resembles the same person put into office, surrounded by petitioners, whom twenty times his patronage would not satisfy, stunned with complaints, buried in memorials, compelled by the duties of his station to bring forward measures simi lar to those which he was formerly accustomed
Burke, in a speech on parliamentary reform, which is the more remarkable because it was delivered long before the French Revolution, has described, in striking language, the change in public feeling of which we speak. "It suggests melancholy reflections," says he, "in consequence of the strange course we have long held, that we are now no longer quarrelling about the character, or about the conduct of men, or the tenour of measures; but we are grown out of humour with the English to observe and to check, and perpetuaily en constitution itself; this is become the object of countered by objections similar to those which the animosity of Englishmen. This constituit was formerly his business to raise. VOL. I-13
on the subject is loud and vehement. But it seems to us that, during the remissions, the feeling gathers strength, and that every suc cessive burst is more violent than that which preceded it. The public attention may be for a time diverted to the Catholic claims or the mercantile code; but it is probable that at no very distant period, perhaps in the lifetime of the present generation, all other questions will merge in that which is, in a certain degree, connected with them all.
A great statesman might, by judicious and timely reformations, by reconciling the two great branches of the natural aristocracy, the capitalists and the landowners, by so widening the base of the government as to interest in its defence the whole of the middling class, that
Perhaps it may be laid down as a general rule, that a legislative assembly, not constituted on democratic principles, cannot be popular long after it ceases to be weak. Its zeal for what the people, rightly or wrongly, conceive to be their interest, its sympathy with their mutable and violent passions, are merely the effects of the particular circumstances in which it is placed. As long as it depends for existence on the public favour, it will employ all the means in its power to conciliate that favour. While this is the case, defects in its constitu- Already we seem to ourselves to perceive tion are of little consequence. But as the close the signs of unquiet times, the vague presentiunion of such a body with the nation is the ment of something great and strange which effect of an identity of interest, not essential, pervades the community; the restless and turbut accidental, it is in some measure dissolved bid hopes of those who have every thing to from the time at which the danger which pro-gain, the dimly-hinted forebodings of those who duced it ceases to exist. have every thing to lose. Many indications Hence, before the Revolution, the question might be mentioned, in themselves indeed as of parliamentary reform was of very little im-insignificant as straws; but even the direction portance. The friends of liberty had no very of a straw, to borrow the illustration of Bacon, ardent wish for it. The strongest Tories saw will show from what quarter the hurricane is no objections to it. It is remarkable that Cla- setting in. rendon loudly applauds the changes which Cromwell introduced, changes far stronger than the Whigs of the present day would in general approve. There is no reason to think, however, that the reform effected by Cromwell made any great difference in the conduct of the Parliament. Indeed, if the House of Com-brave, honest, and sound-hearted class, which mons had, during the reign of Charles the Se- is as anxious for the maintenance of order and cond, been elected by universal suffrage, or if the security of property as it is hostile to cor all the seats had been put up to sale, as in the ruption and oppression, succeed in averting a French Parliaments, it would, we suspect, have struggle to which no rational friend of liberty acted very much as it did. We know how or of law can look forward without great apstrongly the Parliament of Paris exerted itself prehensions. There are those who will be in favour of the people on many important contented with nothing but demolition; and occasions; and the reason is evident. Though there are those who shrink from all repair. it did not emanate from the people, its whole There are innovators who long for a President consequence depended on the support of the and a National Convention; and there are people. From the time of the Revolution the bigots who, while cities larger and richer than House of Commons was gradually becoming the capitals of many great kingdoms are callwhat it now is a great council of state, con- ing out for representatives to watch over their taining many members chosen freely by the interests, select some hackneyed jobber in bo people, and many others anxious to acquire roughs, some peer of the narrowest and smallthe favour of the people; but, on the whole, est mind, as the fittest depositary of a forfeited aristocratical in its temper and interest. It is franchise. Between these extremes there lies very far from being an illiberal and stupid oli- a more excellent way. Time is bringing around garchy; but it is equally far from being an another crisis analogous to that which occurred express image of the general feeling. It is in the seventeenth century. We stand in a influenced by the opinion of the people, and situation similar to that in which our ancestors influenced powerfully, but slowly and circuit- stood under the reign of James the First. It ously. Instead of outrunning the public mind, will soon again be necessary to reform, that as before the Revolution it frequently did, it we may preserve; to save the fundamental now follows with slow steps and at a wide principles of the constitution, by alterations in distance. It is therefore necessarily unpopu-the subordinate parts. It will then be possible, lar; and the more so, because the good which as it was possible two hundred years ago, to it produces is much less evident to common protect vested rights, to secure every useful perception than the evil which it inflicts. It institution-every institution endeared by anfears the blame of all the mischief which is tiquity and noble associations; and, at the done, or supposed to be done, by its authority same time, to introduce into the system imor by its connivance. It does not get the provements harmonizing with th criginal credit, on the other hand, of having pre-plan. It remains to be seen whether two hunvented those innumerable abuses which do dred years have made us wiser. not exist solely because the House of Commons exists.
A large part of the nation is certainly desirous of a reform in the representative system. How large that part may be, and how strong its desires on the subject may be, it is difficult to say. It is only at intervals that the clamour
We know of no great revolution which might not have been prevented by compromise early and graciously made. Firmness is a great virtue in public affairs, but it has its proper sphere. Conspiracies and insurrections in which mall minorities are engaged, the outbreakings of popular violence unconnected
contents which have agitated the country during the late and the present reign, and which, though not always noisy, are never wholly dormant, will again break forth with aggravated symptoms, is almost as certain as that the tides and seasons will follow their appointed course. But in all movements of the human mind which tend to great revolutions, there is a cri sis at which moderate concession may amend, conciliate, and preserve. Happy will it be for England if, at that crisis, her interests be confided to men for whom history has not recorded the long series of human crimes and follies in
with any extensive project or any durable prin-
SOUTHEY'S COLLOQUIES ON SOCIETY.*
[EDINBURGH REVIEW, 1830.}
Part of this description might, perhaps, apply to a much greater man, Mr. Burke. But Mr. Burke, assuredly possessed an understanding admirably fitted for the investigation of truth-an understanding stronger than that of any statesman, active or speculative," of the eighteenth century-stronger than every thing, except his own fierce and ungovernable sensibility. Hence, he generally chose his side like
Ir would be scarcely possible for a man of Mr. Southey's talents and acquirements to write two volumes so large as those before us, which should be wholly destitute of information and amusement. Yet we do not remember to have read with so little satisfaction any equal quantity of matter, written by any man of real abilities. We have, for some time past, observed with great regret the strange infatuation which leads the Poet-laureate to abandon those de-a fanatic, and defended it like a philosopher. partments of literature in which he might excel, and to lecture the public on sciences of which he has still the very alphabet to learn. He has now, we think, done his worst. The subject, which he has at last undertaken to treat, is one which demands all the highest intellectual and moral qualities of a philosophical statesman-an understanding at once comprehensive and acute-a heart at once upright and charitable. Mr. Southey brings to the task two faculties which were never, we believe, vouchsafed in measure so copious to any human being; the faculty of believing without a reason, and the faculty of hating without a provoca
His conduct, in the most important events of his life, at the time of the impeachment of Hastings, for example, and at the time of the French Revolution, seems to have been prompted by those feelings and motives which Mr. Coleridge has so happily described:
"Stormy pity, and the cherish'd lure
Of pomp, and proud precipitance of soul." Hindostan, with its vast cities, its gorgeous pagodas, its infinite swarms of dusky population, its long-descended dynasties, its stately etiquette, excited in a mind so capacious, so tense interest. The peculiarities of the costume, imaginative, and so susceptible, the most inIt is, indeed, most extraordinary that a mind of the manners, and of the laws, the very myslike Mr. Southey's, a mind richly endowed in tery which hung over the language and origin many respects by nature and highly cultivated of the people seized his imagination. To plead by study, a mind which has exercised con- in Westminster Hall, in the name of the English siderable influence on the most enlightened people, at the bar of the English nobles, for generation of the most enlightened people that great nations and kings separated from him by ever existed, should be utterly destitute of the half the world, seemed to him the height of hupower of discerning truth from falsehood. Yet man glory. Again, it is not difficult to perceive, such is the fact. Government is to Mr. Southey cipally arose from the vexation which he felt, that his hostility to the French Revolution prinone of the fine arts. He judges of a theory or at having all his old political associations disa public measure, of a religion, a political turbed, at seeing the well-known boundaryparty, a peace or a war, as men judge of a pic-marks of states obliterated, and the names and ture or a statue, by the effect produced on his distinctions with which the history of Europe imagination. A chain of associations is to him had been filled for ages, swept away. He felt what a chain of reasoning is to other men; like an antiquary whose shield had been and what he calls his opinions, are in fact scoured, or a connoisseur who found his Ti merely his tastes. tian retouched. But however he came by an best to make out a legitimate title to it. His opinion, he had no sooner got it than he did his reason, like a spirit in the service of an en.
Sir Thomas More; or Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Socity. By ROBERT SOUTHEY, Esq., LL.D. Poet Laureate. 2 vols. 8vo. London. 1829.
chanter, though spell-bound, was still mighty. therefore an advantage to him to be furnished It did whatever work his passions and his imagination might impose. But it did that work, however arduous, with marvellous dexterity and vigour. His course was not determined by argument; but he could defend the wildest course by arguments more plansible than those by which common men support •pinions which they have adopted, after the fullest deliberation. Reason has scarcely ever displayed, even in those well-constituted minds of which she occupies the throne, so much power and energy as in the lowest offices of that imperial servitude.
Now, in the mind of Mr. Southey, reason has no place at all, as either leader or follower, as either sovereign or slave. He does not seem to know what an argument is. He never uses arguments himself. He never troubles himself to answer the arguments of his opponents. It has never occurred to him, that a man ought to be able to give some better account of the way in which he has arrived at his opinions, than merely that it is his will and pleasure to hold them, that there is a difference between assertion and demonstration, that a rumour does not always prove a fact, that a fact does not always prove a theory, that two contradictory propositions cannot be undeniable truths, that to beg the question is not the way to settle it, or that when an objection is raised, it ought to met with something more convincing than "scoundrel" and "blockhead."
with an outline of characters and events, and to have no other task to perform than that of touching the cold sketch into life. No writer, perhaps, ever lived, whose talents so precisely qualified him to write the history of the great naval warrior. There were no fine riddles of the human heart to read, no theories to found, no hidden causes to develope, no remote consequences to predict. The character of the hero lay on the surface. The exploits were brilliant and picturesque. The necessity of adhering to the real course of events saved Mr. Southey from those faults which deform the original plan of almost every one of his poems, and which even his innumerable beauties of detail scarcely redeem. The subject did not require the exercise of those reasoning powers the want of which is the blemish of his prose. It would not be easy to find, in all literary history, an instance of a more exact hit between wind and water. John Wesley, and the Peninsular War, were subjects of a very different kind, subjects which required all the qualities of a philosophic historian. In Mr. Southey's works on these subjects, he has, on the whole, failed. Yet there are charming specimens of the art of narration in both of them. The Life of Wesley will probably live. Defective as it is, it contains the only popular account of a most remarkable moral revolution, and of a man whose eloquence and logical acuteness might have rendered him eminent in literature, whose It would be absurd to read the works of such genius for government was not inferior to that a writer for political instruction. The utmost of Richelieu, and who, whatever his errors may that can be expected from any system promul- have been, devoted all his powers, in defiance gated by him is, that it may be splendid and of obloquy and derision, to what he sincerely affecting, that it may suggest sublime and considered as the highest good of his species. pleasing images. His scheme of philosophy is The History of the Peninsular War is already a mere daydream, a poetical creation, like the dead: indeed the second volume was dead. Domdaniel caverns, the Swerga, or Padalon; born. The glory of producing an imperishable and, indeed, it bears no inconsiderable resem-record of that great conflict seems to be reblance to those gorgeous visions. Like them it has something of invention, grandeur, and brilliancy. But, like them, it is grotesque and extravagant, and perpetually violates that conventional probability which is essential to the effect even of works of art.
served for Colonel Napier.
The Book of the Church contains some stories very prettily told. The rest is mere rubThe adventure was manifestly one bish. which could be achieved only by a profound thinker, and in which even a profound thinker The warmest admirers of Mr. Southey will might have failed, unless his passions had scarcely, we think, deny that his success has been kept under strict control. In all those almost always borne an inverse proportion to works in which Mr. Southey has completely the degree in which his undertakings have re- abandoned narration, and undertaken to argue quired a logical head. His poems, taken in moral and political questions, his failure has the mass, stand far higher than his prose been complete and ignominious. On such works. The Laureate Odes, indeed, among occasions his writings are rescued from utter which the Vision of Judgment must be classed, contempt and derision, solely by the beauty are, for the most part, worse than Pye's and as and purity of the English. We find, we conbad as Cibber's; nor do we think him generally fess, so great a charm in Mr. Southey's style, happy in short pieces. But his longer poems, that, even when he writes nonsense, we gethough full of faults, are nevertheless very ex-nerally read it with pleasure, except indeed traordinary productions. We doubt greatly when he tries to be droll. A more insuffera. He very often atwhether they will be read fifty years hence; ble jester never existed. but that if they are read, they will be admired, tempts to be humorous, and yet we do not we have no doubt whatever. remember a single occasion on which he has But though in genera! we prefer Mr. Sou-succeeded farther than to be quaintly and flipthey's poetry to his prose, we must make one exception. The Life of Nelson is, beyond all doubt, the most perfect and the most delightful of his works. The fact is, as his poems most abundantly prove, that he is by no means so skilful in designing as filling up. It was
pantly dull. In one of his works, he tells us that Bishop Sprat was very properly so called, inasmuch as he was a very small poet. And in the book now before us, he cannot quote Francis Bugg without a remark on his unsa vory name. A man might talk folly like this
by his own fireside; but that any human being, | Jew, delivered over to the secular arm after a after having made such a joke, should write it relapse. down, and copy it out, and transmit it to the printer, and correct the proof-sheets, and send it forth into the world, is enough to make us ashamed of our species.
We have always heard, and fully believe, that Mr. Southey is a very amiable and hu mane man; nor do we intend to apply to him personally any of the remarks which we have The extraordinary bitterness of spirit which made on the spirit of his writings. Such are Mr. Southey manifests towards his opponents the caprices of human nature. Even Uncle is, no doubt, in a great measure to be attri- Toby troubled himself very little about the buted to the manner in which he forms his opi- French grenadiers who fell on the glacis of nions. Differences of taste, it has often been Namur. And when Mr. Southey takes up his remarked, produce greater exasperation than pen, he changes his nature as much as Capdifferences on points of science. But this is tain Shandy when he girt on his sword. The not all. A peculiar austerity marks almost only opponents to whom he gives quarter are all Mr. Southey's judgments of men and ac- those in whom he finds something of his own tions. We are far from blaming him for fix- character reflected. He seems to have an ining on a high standard of morals, and for stinctive antipathy for calm, moderate menapplying that standard to every case. But for men who shun extremes, and who render rigour ought to be accompanied by discern- reasons. He has treated Mr. Owen of Lanark, ment, and of discernment Mr. Southey seems for example, with infinitely more respect than to be utterly destitute. His mode of judging he has shown to Mr. Hallam or to Dr. Linis monkish; it is exactly what we should ex-gard; and this for no reason than we can dispect from a stern old Benedictine, who had cover except that Mr. Owen is more unrea been preserved from many ordinary frailties sonably and hopelessly in the wrong than any by the restraints of his situation. No man speculator of our time. out of a cloister ever wrote about love, for example, so coldly and at the same time so grossly. His descriptions of it are just what we should hear from a recluse, who knew the passion only from the details of the confessional. Almost all his heroes make love either like seraphim or like cattle. He seems to have no notion of any thing between the Platonic passion of the Glendoveer, who gazes with rapture on his mistress's leprosy, and the brutal appetite of Arvalan and Roderick. In Roderick, indeed, the two characters are united. He is first all clay, and then all spirit, he goes forth a Tarquin, and comes back too ethereal to be married. The only love-scene, as far as we can recollect, in Madoc, consists of the delicate attentions which a savage, who has drunk too much of the Prince's metheglin, offers to Goervyl. It would be the labour of a week to find, in all the vast mass of Mr. Southey's poetry, a single passage indicating any sympathy with those feelings which have consecrated the shades of Vaucluse and the rocks of Meillerie.
Mr. Southey's political system is just what we might expect from a man who regards po litics, not as a matter of science, but as a mat ter of taste and feeling. All his schemes of government have been inconsistent with themselves. In his youth he was a republican; yet, as he tells us in his preface to these Colloquies, he was even then opposed to the Catholic claims. He is now a violent UltraTory. Yet while he maintains, with vehemence approaching to ferocity, all the sterner and harsher parts of the Ultra-Tory theory of government, the baser and dirtier part of that theory disgusts him. Exclusion, persecution, severe punishments for libellers and dema gogues, proscriptions, massacres, civil war, if necessary, rather than any concession to a discontented people-these are the measures which he seems inclined to recommend. A severe and gloomy tyranny, crushing opposi tion, silencing remonstrance, drilling the minds of the people into unreasoning obedience, has in it something of grandeur which delights his imagination. But there is nothing fine in the Indeed, if we except some very pleasing shabby tricks and jobs of office. And Mr. images of paternal tenderness and filial duty, Southey, accordingly, has no toleration for there is scarcely any thing soft or humane in them. When a democrat, he did not perceive Mr. Southey's poetry. What theologians call that his system led logically, and would have the spiritual sins are his cardinal virtues-led practically, to the removal of religious dishatred, pride, and the insatiable thirst of vengeance. These passions he disguises under the name of duties; he purifies them from the alloy of vulgar interests; he ennobles them by aniting them with energy, fortitude, and a severe sanctity of manners, and then holds them up to the admiration of mankind. This is the spirit of Thalaba, of Ladurlad, of Adoinda, of Roderick after his regeneration. It is It is high time, however, that we should pro the spirit which, in all his writings, Mr. Sou-ceed to the consideration of the work, which is they appears to effect. "I do well to be angry," our more immediate subject, and which, inseems to be the predominant feeling of his deed, illustrates in almost every page our mind. Almost the only mark of charity which general remarks on Mr. Southey's writings. he vouchsafes to his opponents is to pray for In the preface, we are informed that the author, their conversion, and this he does in terms not notwithstanding some statements to the con unlike those in which we can imagine a Por trary, was always opposed to the Catholic tuguese priest interceding with Heaven for a claims. We fully believe this; both because
tinctions. He now commits a similar error. He renounces the abject and paltry part of the creed of his party, without perceiving that it is also an essential part of that creed. He would have tyranny and purity together; though the most superficial observation might have shown him that there can be no tyranny without corruption.