Immagini della pagina

tion from the fatal precipitance with which they were made. I saw on that night many good and worthy deputies who literally wept for joy at seeing the work of regeneration advance so rapidly, and at feeling themselves every instant carried on the wings of enthusiasm so far beyond their most ardent hopes. The renunciation of the privileges of provinces was made by their respective representatives; those of Brittany had engaged to defend them, and therefore they were more embarrassed than the rest; but carried away by the general enthusiasm, they advanced in a body, and declared in a body, that they would use their utmost efforts with their constituents to obtain the renunciation of their privileges. That great and superb operation was necessary to confer political unity upon a monarchy which had been successively formed by the union of many independent states, every one of which had certain rights of its own anterior to their being blended together.

"On the following day, every one began to reflect on what had been done, and sinister presentiments arose on all sides. Mirabeau and Sieyes, in particu

lar, who had not been present at that famous sitting, condemned in loud terms its enthusiastic follies. This is a true picture of France, said they; we spend a month in disputing about words, and we make sacrifices in a night which overturn every thing that is venerable in the monarchy. In the subsequent meetings, they tried to retract or modify some of these enormous concessions, but it was too late; it was impossible to withdraw what the people already looked upon as their rights. The Abbé Sieyes, in particular, made a discourse full of reason and

justice against the extinction of tithes, which he looked upon with the utmost aversion. He demonstrated, that to extinguish the tithes, was to spoliate the clergy of its property, solely to enrich the proprietors of the lands; for every one having bought or inherited his estate minus the value of the tithe, found himself sud

denly enriched by a tenth, which was given to him as a pure and uncalled for gratuity. It was this speech, which never can be refuted, which terminated with the well-known expression: They would be free, and they know not how to be just.' The prejudice was so strong, that Sieyes himself was not listened to; he was regarded merely as an ecclesiastic, who could not get the better of his personal interest, and paid that tribute of error to his robe. A little more would have made him be hooted and hissed. I

saw him the next day, full of bitter indignation against the injustice and brutality of the Assembly, which in truth he never afterwards forgave. He gave vent to his indignation, in a conversation with Mirabeau, who replied, ・ My dear Abbé, you have unchained the bull, do you expect he is not to gore with his horns ?


"These decrees of Aug. 4, were so far from putting a period to the robbery and violence which desolated the country, that they only tended to make the people acquainted with their own strength, and impress them with the conviction that all their outrages against the nobility would not only not be punished, but actually rewarded. Again I say, every thing which is done from fear, fails in accomplishing its object; those whom you expect to disarm by concessions, only redouble in confidence and audacity."-Pp. 146-149.}}

Such is the conclusion of this enlightened French Reformer, as to the consequences of the innovations and concessions, in promoting which he it was then confidently expected, took so large a share, and which would not only pacify the people but regenerate the monarchy, and

commence a new era in the history of the world. These opinions coming from the author of the Rights of Man, the preceptor of Mirabeau, the fellow labourer of Bentham, should, if any thing can open the eyes of our young enthusiasts, who are so vehement in urging the necessity of concession, avowedly from the effects of intimidation, who expect to "let loose the bull and escape his horns."

It is on this question of the effects to be expected from concession to public clamour, that the whole question of Reform hinges. The supporters of the bill in both Houses have abandoned every other argument. "Pass this bill, or anarchy will en sue," is their sole principle of aetion. But what says Dumont, taught by the errors of the Constituent Assembly?"Pass this bill, and anarchy will ensue.?? "Whatever is done," says he, "from fear, fails in its object; those whom you expect to disarm by concession, redouble in con fidence and audacity. This is the true principle; the principle confirmed by universal experience, and yet the Reformers shut their eyes to its application. The events which have occurred in this age are so decisive on this subject, that nothing

more convincing could be imagined, if a voice from the dead were to proclaim its truth.'

Concession, as Dumont tells us, and as every one acquainted with history knows, was tried by the French government and Assembly, in the hope of calming the people, and arresting the Revolution. The monarch, at the opening of the States-General, made "greater concessions than ever king made to his people;" the nobles abandoned, on their own motion, in one night, all their rights; and what was the consequence? The revolutionary fervour was urged into a fury; the torrent became a cataract, and horrors unparalleled in the history of the world ensued..

Resistance to popular ambition, a firm opposition to the cry for Reform, was at the same period, under a lionhearted King and an intrepid Minister, adopted in the midst of the greatest dangers by the British government. What was the consequence? Universal tranquillityforty years of unexampled prosperity-the triumph of Trafalgar the conquest of Waterloo.

Conciliation and concession, in obedience, and with the professed design of healing the disturbances of that unhappy land, were next tried in Ireland. Universal tranquillity, contentment, and happiness, were promised from the great healing measure of emancipation. What has been the consequence? Disturbances, massacres, discord, practised sedition, threatened rebellion, which have made the old times of Protestant rule be regretted.

[ocr errors]

Conciliation and concession were

again put in practice by the Whig Administration of England. What was the result? Perils greater than assailed the monarchy from all the might of Napoleon; dissension, conflagration, and popular violence, unexampled since the great rebellion; a falling income and an increasing expenditure; the flames of a servile war in Jamaica; and general distress unequalled since the accession of the House of Brunswick.

[ocr errors]

Resistance, bold determined resistance, was made by the barons of England to the fatal torrent of innovation, and what has been the consequence? A burst of fury excited VOL. XXXI. NO. CXCIV.

and kept alive by the partisans o Reform to support a sinking administration, followed by a torpor and indifference to the objects of popu lar ambition, from which all the fury of the reforming journals has sought. in vain to arouse the great body of the people. Within six months after the concessions of Louis and the French nobility, the whole institutions of the monarchy were overturned, and the career of revolution rendered inevitable; within six months after the rejection of the bill by the House of Peers, in October last, the public fervour, and with it the public danger, has so much subsided, that you can hardly believe you are living in the same age of the world.

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

The character of Mirabeau, both as a writer and orator, and an individual, is sketched with no ordinary power by this author, probably better qualified than any man in existence to portray it with accuracy :

[ocr errors]

"Mirabeau had within his breast a sense of the force of his mind, which sustained his courage in situations which would have crushed a person of ordinary character; his imagination loved the vast; his mind seized the gigantic; his taste was natural, and had been cultivated by the study of the classical authors. He knew little; but no one could make a better use of what he had acquired. During the whirlwind of his stormy life he had little leisure for study; but in his prison of Vincennes he had read extensively, and improved his style by translations, as well as extensive collections from the writings of great orators. He had little confidence in the extent of his erudition; but his eloquent and impassioned soul animated every feature of his countenance when he was moved, and nothing was easier than to inflame his imagination, youth upwards he had accustomed himself to the discussion of the great questions of erudition and government, but he was not calculated to go to the bottom of them. The labour of investigation was not adapted to his powers; he had too much warmth and vehemence of disposition for laborious application; his mind proceeded by leaps and bounds, but sometimes they were prodigious. His style abounded in vigorous expressions, of which he had made a particular study.

From his

"If we consider him as an author, we must recollect that all his writings, without one single exception, were pieces of

3 D

Mosaic, in which his fellow-labourers had at least as large a share as himself, but he had the faculty of giving additional eclat to their labours, by throwing in here and there original expressions, or apostrophes, full of fire and eloquence. It is a peculiar talent, to be able in this manner to disinter obscure ability, entrust to each the department for which he is fitted, and induce them all to labour at a work of which he alone is to reap the glory.

"As a political orator, he was in some respects gifted with the very highest talents a quick eye, a sure tact, the art of discovering at once the true disposition of the assembly he was addressing, and applying all the force of his mind to overcome the point of resistance, without weakening it by the discussion of minor topics. No one knew better how to strike with a single word, or hit his mark with perfect precision; and frequently he thus carried with him the general opinion, either by a happy insinuation, or a stroke which intimidated his adversaries. In the tribune he was immovable. The waves of faction rolled around without shaking him, and he was master of his passions in the midst of the utmost vehemence of opposition. But what he wanted as a political orator, was the art of discussion on the topics on which he enlarged. He could not embrace a long series of proofs and reasonings, and was unable to refute in a logical or convincing manner. He was, in consequence, often obliged to abandon the most important motions, when hard pressed by his adversaries, from pure inability to refute their arguments. He embraced too much, and reflected too little. He plunged into a discourse made for him on a subject on which he had never reflected, and on which he had been at no pains to master the facts; and he was, in consequence, greatly inferior in that particular to the athlete who exhibit their powers in the British Parliament.". P. 277.

What led to the French Revolution? This question will be asked and discussed, with all the anxiety it deserves, to the end of the world. -Let us hear Dumont on the subject.

"No event ever interested Europe so much as the meeting of the States- General. There was no enlightened man who did not found the greatest hopes upon that public struggle of prejudices with the lights of the age, and who did not believe that a new moral and politi.

cal world was about to issue from the chaos. The besoin of hope was so strong, that all faults were pardoned, all misfortunes were represented only as accident; in spite of all the calamities which it induced, the balance leaned always towards the Constituent Assembly.—It was the struggle of humanity with despotism.

"The States-General, six weeks after their convocation, were no longer the States-General, but the National Assembly. Its first calamity was to have owed its new title to a revolution; that is to say, to a vital change in its power, its essence, its name, and its means of authority. According to the constitution, the commons should have acted in conjunction with the nobles, the clergy, and the king. But the commons, in the very outset, subjugated the nobles, the clergy, and the king. It was in that, that the Revolution consisted.

"Reasoning without end has taken place on the causes of the Revolution ; there is but one, in my opinion, to which the whole is to be ascribed; and that is, the character of the king. Put a king of character and firmness in the place of Louis XVI., and no revolution would have ensued. His whole reign was a preparation for it. There was not a single epoch, during the whole Constituent Assembly, in which the king, if he could only have changed his character, might not have re-established his authority, and created a mixed constitution far more solid and stable than its ancient monarchy. His indecision, his weakness, his half counsels, his want of foresight, ruined every thing. The inferior causes which have concurred were nothing but the necessary consequence of that one moving cause. When the king is known to be weak, the courtiers become intriguers, the factious insolent, the people audacious; good men are intimidated, the most faithful services go unrewarded, able men are disgusted, and ruinous councils adopted. A king possessed of dignity and firmness would have drawn to his side those who were against him; the Lafayettes, the Lameths, the Mirabeaus, the Sieyes, would never have dreamed of playing the part which they did; and, when directed to other objects, they would no longer have appeared the same men."-Pp. 343, 344,

These observations are of the very highest importance. The elements of discord, rebellion, and anarchy, rise into portentous energy when weakness is at the head of affairs. A reforming, in other words a de

mocratic, administration, raise them into a perfect tempest. The progress of time, and the immense defects of the ancient monarchical system, rendered change necessary in France; but it was the weakness of the king, the concessions of the nobility and clergy, which converted it into a revolution. All the miseries of that country sprung from the very principle which is incessantly urged as the ruling consideration in favour of the Reform Bill.

No body of men ever inflicted such disasters on France, as the Constituent Assembly, by their headlong innovations and sweeping demolitions. Not the sword of Marlborough nor the victories of Wellington-not the rout of Agincourt nor the carnage of Waterloo-not the arms of Alexander nor the ambition of Napoleon, have proved so fatal to its prosperity, From the wounds they inflicted, the social system may revive-from those of their own innovators recovery is impossible. They not only destroyed freedom in its cradle-they not only induced the most cruel and revolting tyranny; but they totally destroyed the materials from which it was to be reconstructed in future, they bequeathed slavery to their children, and they prevented it from ever being shaken off by their descendants. It matters not under what name arbitrary power is administered: it can be dealt out as rudely by a reforming assembly, a dictatorial mob, a Committee of Public Safety, a tyrannical Directory, a military despot, or a citizen King, as by an absolute monarch or a haughty nobility. By destroying the whole ancient institutions of France-by annihilating the nobles and middling ranks, who stood between the people and the Throne-by subverting all the laws and customs of antiquity-by extir pating religion, and inducing general profligacy, they have inflicted wounds upon their country which can never be healed. Called upon to revive the social system, they destroyed it: instead of pouring into the decayed limbs the warm blood of youth, they severed the head from the body, and all subsequent efforts have been unavailing to restore animation. It is now as impossible to give genuine freedom, that is, complete protection

to all classes, to France, as it is to restore the vital spark to a lifeless body by the convulsions of electricity. The balance of interests, the protecting classes, are destroyed: nothing remains but the populace and the Government: Asiatic has succeeded to European civilisation; and, instead of the long life of modern freedom, the brief tempests of anarchy, and the long night of despotism, are its fate.

The Constituent Assembly, however, had the excuse of general delusion: they were entering on an untrodden field: the consequences of their actions were unknown: enthusiasm as irresistible as that of the Theatre urged on their steps. Great reforms required to be made in the political system: they mistook the excesses of democratic ambition for the dictates of ameliorating wisdom: the corruption of a guilty court, and the vices of a degraded nobility, called loudly for amendment. But what shall we say to those who adventured on the same perilous course, with their fatal example before their eyes, in a country requiring no accession to popular power, tyrannized over by no haughty nobility, consumed by no internal vices, weakened by no foreign disasters? What shall we say to those who voluntarily shut their eyes to all the perils of the headlong reformers of the neighbouring kingdom; who roused passions as impetuous, proposed changes as sweeping, were actuated by ambition as perilous, as that which, under their own eyes, had torn civilisation to pieces in its bleeding dominion? What shall we say to those who did this in the state where freedom had existed longer, and was at their accession more unfettered, than in any other country that ever existed; where prosperity unexampled existed, and virtue uncorrupted was to be found, and glory unparalleled had been won? Who adventured on a course which threatened to tear in pieces the country of Milton and Bacon, of Scott and Newton, of Nelson and Wellington ? History will judge their conduct: no tumultuous mobs will drown its voice: from its decision there will be no appeal, and its will be the voice of ages.


SIR, Among the artifices extensively used by the adherents of the present Ministers, is the attempt to familiarize an unthinking people with this notion, that all the evils with which, in the midst of many blessings, this country is afflicted, are to be attributed to the misrule of Tory governments. The allegation is usually made without any precision as to persons, time, or measures; though we sometimes hear of forty years, and Mr Pitt; and occasionally of seventy years, to embrace the whole reign of George the Third. This glance at names and periods is just sufficient to procure for the allegation, from those who will not read history, the merit of a foundation in fact; and thus to dispose them to receive favourably the second part of the story, much the more important to those who spread it, wherein the present Ministers are represented as Whigs, differing, and having always differed from the Tories, professing principles opposed to those of Tory misrule; guiltless, therefore, of all their country's wrongs, and likely to redress them!

I propose, with your permission, to expose the fallacies of this representation, which might, indeed, with some truth, be styled "the whisper of a faction;" because no man ventures to enunciate it in an audible voice, still less to justify it by facts.

The first fallacy indeed that is a very mild word-consists in the assumption, that there have been, for the whole period under consideration, two parties of Whig and Tory, totally distinct and opposed, in person, principle, and conduct; that the measures adopted or espoused by the two have been totally different that the Tories have had the government of the country, uninterruptedly, through a long period, and that their Tory measures have been uniformly unsuccessful and ruinous; and, above all, that the present Ministers inherit and represent all the virtues of the Whig party, while their opponents, consisting of the late Ministers, are in like manner responsible for all the alleged misdeeds of the Tories. The greater part of all this is a mere fancy!


I will take the more remote of the periods assigned for Tory misrule; namely, the commencement of the reign of George the Third, when the Jacobites were conciliated, and a good-hearted king endeavoured to get rid of those unmeaning names, which had been during four reigns the watchwords of faction. I will admit, that from this period there has been in the government of the country a greater portion of those who would not respond to the name of Whig, and were not ashamed of that of Tory; perhaps, it would be more correctly said, that during this period the distinction did not exist, but I will, for the present argument, consent to describe as Tories the several Ministers who governed the country in the reigns of George the Third and George the Fourth. On the same principle, we must assume, as we may much more correctly, that the Ministers of George the First and George the Second were Whigs.

Now, then, for the "misrule" of the Tories. I must be permitted to demand, in the name of justice and of accuracy, that this "misrule" be tried by comparison with something which has had actual existence. If we were merely lamenting the infirmity of human nature, or the limitation of human wisdom, we might try former Ministers by a standard of perfection furnished by the heroes of imagination, or (which is much the same) of antiquity; but as the very point in dispute is the comparative merit of two parties in this state, we cannot appreciate the misdeeds of the one, without estimating the worthier actions of the other.

Now, who will say that the Whigs, who were superseded in the govern ment by the Tories about the middle of the last century, had distinguished themselves by their sympathy with the people; by the absence of corruption; by religious toleration; by freedom in commercial regulations; by the mildness of their criminal code; by the declaration, or the patronage, of liberal sentiments in political science?

The revolution of 1688, undoubtedly, was a very strong and success

« IndietroContinua »