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moved; it stands a conspicuous and magnificent concentration of the mind, and soul, and strength of the commonwealth, resistless for good, weak only for evil; an image of an earthly providence, perhaps as perfect as it may be permitted to our intellects to form. No ministry has ever been able to despise the national feeling with impunity.[a] It is their business to lead; but, to make their power perfect, it must be shared; to lead, they must in some degree follow; the noble equipment and tackling of the ship of the state will not carry it forward over the first surge, without the mighty impulse, the “popularis aura.” Their system, stately and illustrious as it may be, must stop, in all its orbits, with the first stoppage of that invisible and fluctuating ocean in which they float, which they impel, and by which they are impelled. It is in the spirit of that wisdom which built up the constitution, that the national mind should govern itself ; that administration should chiefly display its high opportunities in hints and suggestions of good, in clearing away the obstructions to the view of the general interests, rather than in the absolute compulsion of the public mind, to whatever rank of virtue. And this wisdom works well, for it is grounded in a knowledge of that human nature which will act vigorously only where it acts upon conviction, and which feels no conviction complete but the result of its own labours.
The charge of corruption in the popular heart is fully made out. On what other principle are we to account for the sudden insolence of the agitators of the rabble, the power of every outcast to raise a popular ferment, the new faculty of ignorance to wage battle against knowledge ;-of beggary and shame to shake honourable opulence and ancient dignity ;-of blasted tergiversation and vulgar ferocity, in all its shapes of burlesque and terror, to stir up rebellion in the bosom of the land. Can there be a more singular, or more fearful phenomenon than this, to see the multitude suddenly giving unlimited reliance to individuals, to whom pot the most trusting Reformist of the hundred thousand would lend five shillings on his personal faith ; to see offences against the state and religion registered among the first claims to confidence, until the very brand of the law becomes a badge of distinction, and Newgate a necessary step to the power of inflaming the people?
That there should be candidates for those desperate and guilty distinctions, is to be wondered at only by those who are ignorant of the cravings of poverty and vice, or how rapidly they are maddened by gross ambition and personal hostility. From the beginning of bistory, the temptation, the mind, and the means
[a Aristocrats appear to have just discovered the value of public opinion.]
of all demagogues, have identified the family. The casual difference in their close, makes but slight distinction in this long pedigree of guilt. The same habits of flagitiousness and profligacy,
black falsehood and thirsty cupidity, stooping to any prostration to slake its throat in the sacred well of the national freedom, property and blood, are characteristics of the race. But of those men, some have been of a rank of accomplishment and ability, that might almost excuse their influence on the national fates,-potent and lofty spirits, made to wield the elements of disorder, and awing men into a brief admiration even of their violence, by its splendour. But our disturbance is fated to come from a lower source; we are to have none of the excuses of a vague wonder at the noble influences convertible to our misfortune. We are not to be withered by the lightning ; no generous future superstition is to dignify our raiments, as of the victims of what in the moral world might be looked on as little less than a resistless destiny,—a stroke of the lightning that makes the spot memorable, if not hallowed. We are to be consumed by the steams of the marsh, that nothing but our own indolence suffers to remain, offending Earth and Heaven. It is this strange submission to an influence which it requires only the common feeling of a manly mind to extinguish, this shrinking before baseness, disgrace, and imposture, that marks the peculiarity of the moment, and with it makes the necessity for the union of all honest men. The keys of our Citadel are not to be given up to the requisition of the first insolent outlaw that comes with a troop recruited from the jail and the highway, and dares to beard the armed and lawful strength within.
If Associations in this spirit had been fixed in the more important towns, it is impossible to doubt that the libel, outrage, and treason against church and state, which have, for the last two years, covered a large portion of England with all but open insurrection, would have been crushed at once. Would the corrupring and infamous caricatures against the King have stared upon us from every stall in every village ? Would the missionaries of plunder and massacre have made their regular visitations, through the land, not simply untouched by authority, but in its defiance? Would the whole Host of Rebellion have been suffered to muster and equip itself
in the face of day, and receive its hourly orders from the Staff in London, without the seizure of a despatch ? If those things have been done, and are doing, even while my pen is tracing this paper, it is because there have not been Associations to put a stop to the system at once. Government have been vigilant, but it must again be said, that the direction of its services must be rather to suggest than to act. They are the grand jury of the constitution.
They examine in the first instance; but beyond that brief office, the greater part of their duty is devolved into other hands. The true court is the nation; and there is passed the only sentence that can be enforced without reproach or fear.
We have before our eyes a remarkable instance of the superior advantage with which the rights of the community may sometimes be vindicated by an Association. The government prosecutions for blasphemy bad failed to an alarming extent; something scarcely less than a conspiracy to acquit, seemed to have grown up in the jury box, and the officers of government were avowedly repelled from prosecutions where no verdict was to be found, and where the simple fact of having been thought culpable by the legislature made the fortune of the culprit. There is a fashion in all things; the fashion of acquittal in all cases of blasphemy was advancing into an established rule; and the outrageous menaces, mixed with outrageous panegyrics, which were used to break down the timid, or bring over the fools of popularity, were on the eve of destroying all confidence in the administration of the laws. The whole transaction is matter of history, and of the most instructive nature to those who would judge of the force of fanaticism, and of its fitting remedy. The evil of the blasphemy was notorious; it glared upon the public eye from every corner of the realm. The Hydra had ten thousand heads, all alike armed and active, but not one was cut away.
To the remonstrances against this course, and some of those remonstrances were made by the very men who had “fed the dragon, and worshipped before it;" the answer, even in Parliament, was given, by asking, “ Are we to throw down the law before this new madness ? Are we to assist in raising bankrupt villany to wealth and popular notice? Are we to give loathsome imposture and brutal atrocity a direct claim to the subscriptions of Radical Baronets, Peers, and Dukes, by proving the criminal to be deserving of the severest exercise of justice? No,—we must wait for better times, the delusion of the day will expire with the day. We will not hazard all that remains of dignity to British Legislation, by committing it in a struggle with offences which look to our prosecution as their necessary seal of reward.”
In this exigency, and nothing could be more pregnant with alarm to the well-wishers of English freedom, an Association, unconnected with Government, honourably came forward, and, with wbatever hopelessness, dragged a notorious trafficker in impiety and sedition before the tribunal. It can be no aspersion to a jury who did their duty, to say, that the private nature of the prosecution was of advantage to the soundness of their judgment. Politics were not standing on the table to overawe or corrupt. It was a decision of scarcely more than private quarrel. Carlile,
after an attempt to earth himself in the old refuge of rabble passions, was dragged out, and, upon the clearest evidence of wilful and boastful villany, convicted. But this sentence was not upon a solitary ruffian. It struck the whole tribe at once. The fact that a blasphemer could be convicted, broke the spell both of the inactivity of the friends of order, and of the impunity of its enemies. From that hour every prosecution (I believe without a single exception) succeeded. The dungeon or banishment has relieved the country of the burthen of nearly all the original malefactors. But the breed is not extinguished. While the union of passion with ignorance is to be found in the heart, it will find room for discontent. In that mighty mine of the national spirit, there will be the material of explosions mixed with its nobler products; and it is to make these innoxious, by the letting in of light and air, that human science may be most wisely employed. Popular ignorance of the Truth is the natural stimulant, as it is the common security of the disturbers of civilized lise. The cavern shelters the robber, and sometimes the robber is tempted by the cavern. It may be, that all our human diligence will not be able to conquer the malignant influences that are made to desolate and destroy. But it is something to be able to remove the evil from our doors, to sit in the midst of our families without seeing the spirits of our children tainted by infidelity, to lay our heads on the pillow without dreading in every sound of the night, the footsteps of massacre. If there must be a reserve of evil to show the future age the contrast, produced by religion and the laws, to that fearful period when the moral world was a waste, abandoned to the dominion and wanderings of savage nature ; it must be our honour to raise the great fence against this rabid appetite for blood; to appoint to the lion and the tiger its wilderness, beyond which it must not stray; and as our strength grows, push into the thicket and the swamp, and subdue their sterility, and drive their monsters farther within their place of desolation.
A feature of the highest importance in the objects of the “ Constitutional Association,” is new, or has been but feebly shadowed out before. It is the 3d Resolution, “That they will encourage persons of integrity and talent in the literary world, to exert their abilities in confuting the sophistries, dissipating the illusions, and exposing the falsehoods, which are employed by wicked and designing men to mislead the people.” Under what forms this service may be summoned, is yet to be developed. But the establishment of the principle is invaluable. The feeling against the abuse of the press is universal. But the abuse is not to be checked by impotent alarm. The press is not to be put down by power. As well might we attempt to put down the
pestilence by imprisoning the air. The abuse is to be purified by the use. The same instrument, that “pastorale signum,” which the lips of sedition inspire with sounds of discord and bloodshed, must be taught the sounds of peace. It will echo the one as truly as the other. The activity of the public mind cannot be extirpated, but it is the part of wisdom to turn this weedy and pernicious exuberance into productiveness and beauty. The press must be taught to speak the truth, no less to the people ihan to the King Hitherto the instances have been few, in which it has spoken the truth to either. The literary resources of England are of incalculable variety, opulence, and vigour. The number and talent of her public writers, admirable as a class, and as such fully justifying her claim to a new Augustan age, may give but a faint impression of the means which she hides within her bosom for the day of soliciting her treasures. What she now shows, are perhaps but the indications, the jutting fragments of silver that are to lead the eye to the inexhaustible ore buried in the caverns of the intellectual Potosi.
[We publish the preceding merely as literary curiosities.]
Arr. VI. Speech of Lord John Russell in the House of Com
mons, on the 14th December, 1919, for transferring the Elective Franchise from Corrupt Boroughs to Unrepresented Great Towns. 8vo. London, 1920.
It is now two years since we promised to lay before the public such thoughts as had occurred to us “on those plans of Con“ stitutional Reform which might gradually unite the most rea" sonable friends of Liberty, and of which we should not despair " to see some part adopted under the guidance of a liberal and “ firm government.”a However uncertain the accomplishment of our hopes may now appear, the circumstances of the times will no longer allow us to delay the performance of this promis The establishment of new constitutions in foreign countries, increases the general importance of this subject : But the progress of discontent and agitation at home, renders its consideration a matter of immediate and paramount urgency.
It would be a fatal error to suppose that the destruction of despotisın is necessarily attended by the establishment of liberty. Revolutions do not bestow liberty. They only give a chance for it;-a great indeed and unspeakable blessing, worthy of being pursued at every hazard; but not to be confounded with the institution of a free government. It is easy to burn a bad house,
a Edinburgh Review, vol. xxxi. p. 199.