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THREE LETTERS

ADDRESSED TO

A MEMBER OF THE PRESENT PARLIAMENT,

ON THE

PROPOSALS FOR PEACE WITH THE REGICIDE

DIRECTORY OF FRANCE.

1796-7.

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M Y DEAR SIR, — Our last conversation, though

W not in the tone of absolute despondency, was far from cheerful. We could not easily account for some unpleasant appearances. They were represented to us as indicating the state of the popular mind; and they were not at all what we should have expected from our old ideas even of the faults and vices of the English character. The disastrous events which have followed one upon another in a long, unbroken, funereal train, moving in a procession that seemed to have no end, — these were not the principal causes of our dejection. We feared more from what threatened to fail within than what menaced to oppress us from abroad. To a people who have once been proud and great, and great because they were proud, a change in the national spirit is the most terrible of all revolutions.

I shall not live to behold the unravelling of the intricate plot which saddens and perplexes the awful drama of Providence now acting on the moral theatre of the world. Whether for thought or for action, I am at the end of my career. You are in the middle of yours. In what part of its orbit the nation with which we are carried along moves at this instant it is not easy to conjecture. It may, perhaps, be far advanced in its aphelion, — but when to return ?

Not to lose ourselves in the infinite void of the conjectural world, our business is with what is likely to be affected, for the better or the worse, by the wisdom or weakness of our plans. In all speculations upon men and human affairs, it is of no small moment to distinguish things of accident from permanent causes, and from effects that cannot be altered. It is not every irregularity in our movement that is a total deviation from our course. I am not quite of the mind of those speculators who seem assured that necessarily, and by the constitution of things, all states have the same periods of infancy, manhood, and decrepitude that are found in the individuals who compose them. Parallels of this sort rather furnish similitudes to illustrate or to adorn than supply analogies from whence to reason. The objects which are attempted to be forced into an analogy are not found in the same classes of existence. Individuals are physical beings, subject to laws universal and invariable. The immediate cause acting in these laws may be obscure : the general results are subjects of certain calculation. But commonwealths are not physical, but moral essences.

They are artificial combinations, and, in their proximate efficient cause, the arbitrary productions of the human mind. We are not yet acquainted with the laws which necessarily influence the stability of that kind of work made by that kind of agent. There is a not in the physical order (with which they do not appear to hold any assignable connection) a distinct cause by which any of those fabrics must necessarily grow, flourish, or decay; nor, in my opinion, does

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