« IndietroContinua »
WILLIAM BLACKWOOD, NO. 45, george street, edinburgh;
AND T. CADELL, STRAND, London.
To whom Communications (post paid) may be addressed.
No. CLXXXIX. JANUARY, 1832.
REMOTE CAUSES OF THE REFORM PASSION.
By the Author of " Parliamentary Reform and the French Revolution.”
GREAT changes in human affairs, or great alterations in human character, never take place from trivial causes. The most important events, indeed, are often apparently owing inconsiderable springs; but the train has been laid in all such cases by a long course of previous events. A fit of passion in Mrs Masham arrested the course of Marlborough's victories, and preserved the tottering kingdom of France; a charge of a few squadrons of horse under Kellerman at Marengo fixed Napoleon on the consular throne, and It is the same with the Reform another, under Sir Hussey Vivian, mania which now ravages the naagainst the flank of the Old Guard tion, and promises to inflict upon its at Waterloo, chained him to the rock inhabitants such a long series of disat St Helena. Superficial observers asters. The change of Ministers, the lament the subjection of human af- rashness and ambition of the Grey fairs to the caprice of fortune, or the administration, was the exciting casualties of chance; but a more enlarged philosophy teaches us to recause; but unless they had found the train laid by a long course of cognise in these apparently trivial preceding events, even their reckless events the operation of general laws, hands could not have ventured to and the last link in a chain of causes, fire it. Such prodigious innovations which have all conspired to produce as they threatened-such demolithe general result. Mrs Masham's tion of ancient institutions as they passion was the ultimate cause of proposed, would at once have hurled Marlborough's overthrow; but that any preceding government from the great event had been prepared by helm, and consigned them to the
the drop which made the cup overflow: Kellerman's charge, indeed, fixed Napoleon on the throne; but it was the glories of the Italian campaigns, the triumphs of the Pyramids,
which induced the nation to hail his usurpation with joy: the charge of the 10th hussars broke the last columns of the imperial army; but the foundation of the triumph of Wellington had been laid by the long course of the Peninsular victories, and the bloody catastrophe of the Moscow campaign.
tion during the whole tide of his vic- ple. The voice of the nation would
dust amidst the applauses of the peo
tories, and her indignation
was but have been raised in execrations, loud,
VOL. XXXII. NO. CLXXXIX.
long, and irresistible; and the applause of the Jacobin mob drowned in the indignation of all the virtuous part of mankind.
Even if it were true, as the conservative party maintain, that the whole distractions and anarchy of the country are owing to the prodidigious and unnecessary addition which the government proposed to make to the political power of the lower class of householders, still that would only remove the difficulty a step farther back. For the question remains, how has it happened that twelve men were to be found in Great Britain of sufficient rank, talents, and character, to construct a cabinet, who would engage in a scheme of innovation so impetuous, and in the destruction of institutions sanctified by so long a train of recollections? That some of the Ministers are most able men, is evident from their speeches that many of them are amiable and good men, we can testify from personal intercourse : that most of them are possessed of great fortune is universally known: that they are all gentlemen is certain that some of them are of old and dignified families, is evident from the classic names of Russell and Spencer which they bear. How, then, has it happened that a cabinet composed of such men should have launched out in so astonishing a manner upon the sea of innovation: that they should have engaged in measures which history will class, in point of rashness, with the visions of Mirabeau, and, in point of peril, with the conspiracy of Catiline: that they should have been blinded alike to the lessons of history, the dictates of wisdom, and the results of experience that they should have forgotten equally all that the sages of ancient wisdom had bequeathed, and all that the tears of modern suffering had taught: that they should have implicitly followed the footsteps of the French innovators, and periled their lives and their estates, in a course which had brought their miserable forerunners to an untimely end?
This will appear still more extraordinary, if the principles and writings of these men themselves, who have urged on these disastrous measures, in early life, is taken into con
sideration. Such is the weight of the argument against them, that it will admit of almost any concession, and derives confirmation from the most vehement writings in favour of freedom prior to the fall of the Duke of Wellington's administration. No more emphatic condemnation of the Reform Bill is to be found than in the sayings of Mr Fox in 1797, or the speech of Earl Grey in 1817: no a more profound exposition of the principles of the conservative party than in the History of Sir James Mackintosh, or the Whig writings of Mr Hallam. We have never yet heard the Lord Chancellor refute the masterly sketches of Henry, Brougham on this subject: we have looked in vain to the Lord Advocate for an answer to the arguments sc long and powerfully urged by Francis Jeffrey: we have listened in vain in the speeches of the noble movei of the bill, for a reply to the obser vations of Lord John Russell on the constitution. So rapid, so fatally rapid, has been the progress of revolutionary ideas, since this firebrand was thrown into the bosom of the nation, that the conservative party require now to refer to no other authority but the arguments and prin ciples of the authors of the bill a few years back, and they, in their turn, are driven to the doctrines of the Jacobin and revolutionary party, whom their abilities, till they came into office, were successfully exerted in refuting.
This moral phenomenon will appear still more extraordinary when the character of the people among whom this tempest has arisen is taken into consideration." It is a remarkable fact," says Turgot, "that while England is the country in the world where the freedom of the press has existed for the longest time, and where discussion on public affairs has gone on for centuries in the most fearless manner, it is at the same time the country in which the people have the greatest reverence for antiquity, and are most obstinately attached to old institutions. I could alter fashions, laws, or ideas, ten times in a despotic monarchy, for once that they could be moved in the popular realm of England."The observation is perfectly just, and has been exemplified by the history