Page images
PDF
EPUB

vitu decir proper of peers aderived froment dominany other perish,

cular passages, because the temper of mind on certain points may be better gathered from that, than from any expressly stated propositions, yet we have but to open the book to see that his Thoughts in 1770, were very different from those which breathe through every page of his Anti-Jacobin writings. And first of the Corinthian Capital of 1790. • I am • no friend' (says he in 1770) to aristocracy, in the sense • at least in which that word is usually understood. If it were not a bad habit to moot cases on the supposed ruin of the

constitution, I should be free to declare, that if it must perish, • I would rather by far see it resolved into any other form,

than lost in that austere and insolent domination. (Works, II. 246.) His comfort is derived from the consideration that • the generality of peers are but too apt to fall into an oblivion • of their proper dignity, and run headlong into an abject ser« vitude. "Next of the Swinish Multitude'- When popu• lar discontents have been very prevalent, it may well be af•firmed and supported, that there has been generally something • found amiss in the constitution, or in the conduct of govern

ment. The people have no interest in disorder. When they • do wrong, it is their error, not their crime. But with the

governing part of the state it is far otherwise,'-and he quotes the saying of Sully — Pour la populace ce n'est jamais par envie d'attaquer qu'elle se souleve, mais par impatience de souffrir.' (16. 224.) Again, of the people as having nothing to do with the laws but to obey them'- I see no other way • for the preservation of a decent attention to public interest in • the representatives, but the interposition of the body of the peo•ple itself,* whenever it shall appear by some fagrant and • notorious act,-by some capital innovation—that these repre

sentatives are going to overleap the fences of the law, and to • introduce an arbitrary power. This interposition is a most • unpleasant remedy. But if it be a legal remedy, it is intend

ed on some occasion to be used to be used then only when it is evident that nothing else can hold the constitution to its true principles. It is not in Parliament alone that the remedy for parliamentary disorders can be completed; hard• ly indeed can it begin there. Until a confidence in governoment is re-established, the people ought to be excited to a o more strict and detailed attention to the conduct of their re* presentatives. Standards for judging more systematically up• on their conduct ought to be settled in the meetings of coun. ties and corporations. Frequent and correct lists of the voters

* Ital. in orig.

• in all important questions ought to be procured.'. (Ib. 324.) The reasons which call for popular interposition, and made him preach it at a season of unprecedented popular excitement, are stated to be the immense revenue, enormous debt, and mighty 5 establishments;' and he requires the House of Commons to • bear some stamp of the actual disposition of the people at • large;" adding, that it would be a more natural and toler• able evil, that the House should be infected with every epide• mical frenzy of the people, as this would indicate some con

sanguinity, some sympathy of nature with their constituents, 5 than that they should in all cases be wholly untouched by the • opinions and feelings of the people out of doors. Now let us step aside for a moment to remark, that the immense re• venue' was under 10 millions; the enormous debt, 130; and the mighty establishments,' cost about 6 millions a-year. The statesman who, on this account, recommended popular interference in 1770, lived to see the revenue 24 millions; the debt, 350; the establishment, 30;' and the ruling principle of his latter days, operating with the vehemence of a passion, was the all-sufficiency of Parliament and the Crown, and the fatal consequence of according to the people any the slightest share of direct power in the state. • His theoretical view of the constitution in those days, was as different from the high monarchical tone of his latter writings. The King was then the representative of the people,' – so,' (he adds) · are the Lords—so are the Judges; they are all trustees for the people, as well as the Commons, because no power is given for the sole sake of the holder; and although govern(ment certainly is an institution of divine authority, yet its • forms, and the persons who administer it, all originate from

the people. And then comes that immortal passage so often cited, and which ought to be blazoned in letters of fire over the porch of the Commons House; illustrating the doctrine it sets out with, that their representatives are a control for the peo

ple, and not upon the people; and that the virtue, spirit, and • essence of a House of Commons consists in its being the express image of the feelings of the nation.' (Ibid. 288.)* It

* A vigilant and jealous eye over executory and judicial magis• tracy; an anxious care of public money; an openness approaching • towards facility, to public complaint; these seem to be the true cha

racteristics of a House of Commons. But an addressing House of • Commons and a petitioning nation ; a House of Commons full of confidence, when the nation is plunged in despair; in the utmost harmony with ministers whom the people regard with the utmost abhorrence;

may be superfluous to add, that one so deeply imbued with the soundest principles of a free constitution, must always have regarded the Bourbon rulers with singular dislike, while he saw in the English government the natural ally of Liberty, wheresoever she was struggling with her chains. Accordingly, in the same famous work, he exclaims, Such was the conquest • of Corsica, by the professed enemies of the freedom of man• kind, in defiance of those who were formerly its professed de• fenders.' (Ibid. 272.)

Although it cannot be denied that a considerable portion of the deference which Mr Burke's later and more celebrated opinions are entitled to command, is thus taken away, and, as it were, shared by the conflicting authority of his earlier sentiments, his disciples may, nevertheless, be willing to rest his claims to a reverent, if not an implicit observance, upon the last, as the maturest efforts of his genius. Now, it appears to us, that in this extraordinary person the usual progress of the faculties in growth and decline, was in some measure reversed; his fancy became more vivid,-it burnt, as it were, brighter before its extinction; while age, which had only increased that light, lessened the power of profiting from it, by weakening the judgment as the imagination gained luxuriance and strength. Thus, his old age resembled that of other men in one particular only; he was more haunted by fears, and more easily became the dupe of imposture as well as alarm.

It is, we apprehend, quite vain now to deny, that the unfavourable decision which those feelings led him to form of the French Revolution, was, in the main, incorrect and exaggerated. That he was right in expecting much confusion and mischief from the passions of a whole nation let loose, and influenced only by the various mobs of its capital, literary and political, in the assemblies, the club-rooms, the theatre, and the streets, no one can doubt; nor was he at all singular in the apprehensions be felt. But beyond this very scanty and not very difficult

• who vote thanks, when the public opinion calls upon them for im• peachments; who are eager to grant, when the general voice de. • mands account; who, in all disputes between the people and the ad• ministration, pronounce against the people; who punish their disor

ders, but refuse even to inquire into the provocations to them; this s is an unnatural, a monstrous state of things in the constitution. Such • an assembly may be a great, wise, awful senate; but it is not to any • popular purpose a House of Commons. (Ib. 289.)

VOL. XLVI. NO. 92.

U

portion of his predictions, it would be hard to show any signal instance of their fulfilment. Except in lamenting the excesses of the times of terror, and in admitting them to form a large deduction from the estimate of the benefits of the Revolution, it would be no easy matter to point out a single opinion of his which any rational and moderate man of the present day will avow. Those who claim for Mr Burke's doctrines in 1790, the praise of a sagacity and foresight hardly human, would do well to recollect his speech on the Army Estimates of that year: It is published by himself, corrected,* and its drift is to show the uselessness of a large force, because · France must now be

considered as expunged out of the system of Europo;' it expresses much doubt if she can ever resume her station as a

leading power;' anticipates the language of the rising genera• tion-Gallos quoque in bellis floruisse audivimus ;' and decides, that at all events her restoration to anything like a substantive existence, must, under a republic, be the work of much time.' Scarce two years elapsed before this same France, without any change whatever in her situation, except the increase of the anarchy that had expunged her from the map, declared war on Austria, and in a few months more carried her conquests so much further than Louis XIV, had done, when the firmness and judgment of King William opposed him, that Mr Burke now said a universal league was necessary to avert her universal dominion, and that it was a question whether she would suffer any one throne to stand in Europe. The same eulogists of Mr Burke's sagacity would also do well to recollect those yearly predictions of the complete internal ruin which for so long a period alternated with alarms at the foreign aggrandisement of the Republic; they all originated in his famous work—though it contains some prophecies too extravagant to be borrowed by his most servilo imitators. Thus he contends that the population of France is irreparably diminished by the revolution, and actually adopts a calculation which makes the distress of Paris require above two millions sterling for its yearly relief; a sum sufficient to pay each family above seventeen pounds, or to defray its whole expenditure in that country. Surely one so easily led away by his prejudices, can in no sense be reckoned a safe guide, or bo extolled for more than ordinary sagacity. • But on these grounds a further allowance is made, and a new, deduction introduced, from the sum total of the deference paid

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

to his authority. It is said that the sagacity and penetrativn which we are bid to reverence, were never at fault, unless on points where strong feelings interfered. The proposition must be admitted, and without any qualification. But it leads not to an abatement merely-it operates a release of the whole debt of doference and respect. For one clever man's opinion is just as good as another's, if both are equally uninfluenced by passions and feelings of every kind. Nor was it only on the French Revolution that Mr Burke's prejudices warped his judgment. Whatever subject interested him strongly, he regarded generally in false 'colours and distorted shape; always in exaggerated dimensions. The fate of society, for many years, hung upon Hastings's Impeachment; during that period he exhausted as much vituperation upon the East Indians in this country, as he afterwards did on the Jacobins; and he was not more ready to quarrel with Mr Fox on a difference of opinion about France, than he had been a year before to attack Mr Erskine with every weapon of personal and professional abusc, upon a slighter difference about the Abating of the Impeachment. Nay, after the Hastings question might have been supposed forgotten, or merged in the more recent controversy on French affairs, he deliberately enumerates, among the causes of alarm at French principles, the prevalence of the East India interest in England; ranks · Na• bobs' with the diplomatic body all over Europe, as naturally and incurably Jacobin; and warns this country loudly and solemnly against suffering itself to be overthrown by a • Bengal • junto.' - The like infirmity of a judgment weakened, no doubt, by his temper, pursues him through the whole details of every question that excites him, that is, of every question that engages his attention. But it is most conspicuous, of course, in all that rclates to France, because Franco was the master topic. He is blinded to the impressions on his very senses, not by the light

shining inward, but by the heat of his passions. He sees not what all other men behold, but what he wishes to see, or what his prejudices and fantasies suggest; and having onco pronounced a dogma, the most astounding contradictions that events can give him, assail his mind, and even his senses, in vain. Early in 1790 he pronounced France extinguished, as regarded her external force. But at the end of 1793, when the second attempt to invade her had ended in the utter discomfiture of the assailants, when she was rioting in the successes of an offensive war, and had armed her whole people to threaten the liberties of Europe, he still sccs in her situation nothing but

« PreviousContinue »