« ПредишнаНапред »
LONDON CRITICAL JOURNAL.
Art. I. A Vindication of Mr. For's History of the early
Part of the Reign of James the Second. By Samuel Heywood, Serjeant at Law. London: printed for J. Johnson and Co.
St. Paul's Church-yard; and John Ridgeway, Piccadilly. A
PUBLICATION by the Right Honourable George Rose, in the year 1809, entitled," Observations on the Historical Work of the Right Honourable Charles James Fox,' has given birth to the volume which we have now undertaken the task of examining. Mr. Rose in the introduction to his observations, after paying the usual compliment to Mr. Fox's acknowledged virtues, the fidelity of his friendships, and his social affections, remarks upon the tendency of those qualities, when long exposed to the habitual influences of party connections, to create a bias towards certain views and considerations of political actions and events, inconsistent with that strict principle of impartiality by which a historian should be governed. “ He breathed,” says Mr. Rose, “ an atmosphere of party, by which the constitution and temperament of his own mind could hardly fail to be affected. And the bent of his mind was to apply every historical incident to the support of the principles which he had maintained in parliament.” This argument of the writer of the observations Mr. Serjeant Heywood thinks ought to be considered as being quite as strong against Mr. Rose's qualification to appreciate Mr. Fox's work, as against Mr. Fox's ability to execute such a work with impartiality. “We may justly doubt,” says the Serjeant, “ whether Mr. Rose himself, having long breathed this atmosphere, is entitled to be ranked among the fortunate few who have escaped the contagion.” “ If the political influence," continues the learned Serjeant, “ Mr. Rose alludes to, were con
VOL. II. NO, III.
fined merely to the leaders of parties, he might perhaps be free from it. But he does not confine it to them, and there is no good reason why it should not extend to those who have filled inferior situations; on the contrary, they, surely, must be in greater danger, who are attached not only to the party by common principle, but to its leader by still stronger ties of personal interest, gratitude, and affection."
We are so far from a disposition to dispute the propriety of these remarks either of Mr. Rose or Mr. Serjeant Heywood, that we feel inclined rather to extend their application. There appears to us to be but too much reason to suspect that neither the writer of the History, or of the Observations, or even of the Vindication, has escaped the contagious influence of the atmosphere of party. We cannot (speaking in the language of Shakespear) ascribe to either of them that dolphin-like' elevation of character, that shews its back above the element it lives in. We are very far, however, from imputing to either of these respectable names, least of all to Mr. Serjeant Heywood, the smallest taint of those baser characteristics of party feeling, which, beginning by vitiating the moral relish of what is great or good, just or true, abstractedly from the service in which we are en gaged, or the society into which we are engrafted, ends with falsifying the qualities of actions, perverting the standard of moral appreciation in our minds, and destroying the springs of general usefulness. But we confess, that in perusing his book, we have sometimes seemed to ourselves to discern (perhaps mistakingly) marks of that prescriptive turn of thinking, and pre-occupation of mind, which betray the party-man. The writer is certainly not the vassal of a party, but we have sometimes doubted whether he maintains (if we may so express it) the jurisdiction of his faculties with that paramount independence of thinking which is the franchise of the true philosopher. We have always lamented the prevalence of party-spirit; we see it, with sorrow, usurping the place of national feeling in all questions of whatever moment to the peace and prosperity of the country, and can we wonder that it should extend its influence to the pages of history and criticism--of history and criticism concerning subjects of proximate interest, and composed by men of public life and associations ? Although it will appear in the progress of this article, that we feel and are ready to allow the great success of the work before us, as a vindication of Mr. Fox's history from the particular animadversions of Mr. Rose, we must hazard the displeasure of the writer, by avowing our suspicions that the parliamentary and social' habits of Mr. Fox had an effect on the
colour of his narrative, and the tendency of his reflections, not altogether friendly to the grave and legitimate purpose of history,
When Providence has bestowed upon an individual those original gifts which denote a destination to the noblest
purposes, his country has cause to deplore the iniquitous mischance which gives his early and blooming talents to the selfish intrigues and narrow contests of party. Such a school may form the public man, in the vulgar view of that character, but the true patriot and virtuous statesman can never be the product of such a culture. When the young and ardent mind is made to receive the first elements of polity, in strict and inseparable conjunction with the ambitious objects of a particular set of men, to lisp its political creed in the idiom of a party, and to confound the great interests of a nation with the fortunes and fluctuations of particular bodies, rare indeed must be its native strength burst these barriers, and run the race of honour with the patriots of antiquity. There is something so delightful to youth in jumping into honours; and in acquiring, without delay or drudgery, a beardless renown, that we cannot wonder that the shortest road should be selected which leads to distinction. The shortest method is to fall into the ranks of some disciplined corps, and without the knowledge necessary to appreciate its cause, to help to talk it into victory. The true value of measures is thus gradually lost in the contemplation of partial objects, and the tongue is suborned to celebrate feelings in which the bosom has no part. The profession of politics is embarked in as an adventure, or speculation of profit, not as a field of duty and beneficence.
When to youthful talents, and the recommendations of high birth, is joined, as too frequently happens, an exorbitant addiction to pleasure and expence, the natural propensity to partypolitics is powerfully assisted. Minds of this turn are usually characterized by dispositions more than ordinarily social. But they are apt to build attachment, not on grounds of just and legitimate esteem, but on conformity of character and reciprocity of praise; on a coalition, in short, which gives to habits of dangerous example, the countenance of numbers, and the name and credit of virtue. But this is not the laboratory in which are to be found the ingredients proper for the composition of a patriot; this is not the soil in which the plant of virtue can grow to the altitude of the great statesman. We speak not of party in power, or party in opposition, but of the quality of party itself, and its sure tendency to force into the mind bigotry in the shape of principle, and ambition in the disguise of patriotism. To whatever side, to whatever body of men the youth of birth and talent devotes himself, independently of measures, he ceases to present himself to his countrymen in an attitude of real dignity, and exchanges the charter of intellectual freedom for what Lord Shaftesbury very justly calls a mean, shifting, and gaudy servitude.
We are not, however, so visionary as to think that each man qught, substantively, to depend upon himself in his endeavours for his country's good, and stand alone, like Pompey's pillar in the desart. If in many of those things which are of the most individual interest, man still finds society his proper element of action; in a concern so eminently social as the business of a commonwealth, it were an absurdity to expect that we should act in independence of each other." Political arrangement,” said a great man and statesman,“ as it is a work for social ends, must be brought about by social means; mind must conspire with mind.” We can suppose a case, too, where corruption, incapacity, and radical error, systematically displayed by an administration, under a misjudging and misguided monarch, may justify systematic opposition, and an almost indiscriminate party-hostility. The casual instances of virtue and discretion which such an administration may, by starts, exbibit, will be so far from redeeming the whole of its conduct, that they may really contribute to make it more injurious; just as a literary work of general mischievous tendency may more effectually accomplish its purpose by mingling secondary truths with substantial errors. It may be observed, too, in defence of party under the limitations, and justified by the motives above alluded to, that there is some security against rash projects, and speculative ardour, in the necessity of conciliating others, and maintaining the harmony of co-operation ; for, as large bodies can seldom agree among themselves except in fundamentals, measures of excess, unless they grow out of the principles admitted by all, are too apt to endanger the solidity and strength of the mass, to be ventured upon by single persons. No union can be compact nor steadily operative to a common purpose, unless the complexional peculiarities, and speculative differences of the individuals composing it, are compressed and kept down to the level of those principles in which the suffrages of all unite.
We do not mean to deny, therefore, that situations may be supposed in which there may be considerable advantages springing out of political confederations. Their value must depend upon the necessity by which they are begotten, and the spirit by which they are informed. Where public virtue is a prevailing sentiment among a people, and the nation's welfare has the nation's heart, the contention of political bodies may be pursued with little hindrance to the business of the country; while it may sustain and exercise some of the best feelings and faculties of our nature. But for this to be the case, we must suppose a very particular conjuncture of national affairs, and a very rare elevation of national character. We must figure to ourselves the return of those glowing æras, when the love of country was the great master-principle of public action, keeping in due subordination all the selfish passions. The diffusion of luxury, the difficulty of supporting appearances, the pressure of public burthens, the power attendant upon wealth, and the increase of official patronage, have hardly left us the just estimation and reverence of public virtue. The profession of it is applauded and suspected, the exercise of it is admired and pitied. A great statesman of the last century was accustomed to rally the young politicians of his day, whose budding patriotism was so soon to blossom in ambitious dependence. Modern patriots do not expose themselves to this sort of raillery. At the moment of emancipation into life, with his memory bursting with quotations from the amatory and epic poets of antiquity, and comparatively but little furnished from the stores of the philosophers and historians, ere the rotatory succession of his diurnal tasks at school and college have given a moment's place to quiet thought and mellowing reflection, incumbered with his learned trappings, and reeling under his borrowed treasures, the young candidate for distinction, having decided upon his party, and learned its creed and its vocabulary, rushes confidently into the councils of his country, and untrembling touches the ark
“ of her magnificent and awful cause." In such a career his fortune may advance, but his mind can scarcely receive a proportionate enlargement; or mount by such steps to that elevation, from which the prospect of humanity expands itself over centuries, and brings man under the view in all his varieties of condition.
Where objects of selfishness and vanity engage the thoughts in the outset of political life, it is of little consequence to dignity of character whether the party in power, or the party in opposition is adopted. When, however, the choice is made, if that choice is on the side of government, something may be said in justification of a systematic adherence. In measures of doubtful expediency, (and great must be the number of such in every state) modesty of sentiment, as well as a principle of duty, will incline the patriot politician to the side of government. If it be right in a monarchy to reverence the king, it is right also to respect the power with which the constitution invests him; and, as a general proposition, we fear not to affirm, that it is our duty