« IndietroContinua »
In this state of things, what is to prevent the people of England from meeting by their delegates in convention, to devise a general reform of the Constitution? The right to do so, has been, on the most solemn occasions, recognized as the birthright of Englishmen. Such a measure is familiar to them from our example; and the history of their own liberties dates from a similar convention of all those who, at that day, were allowed to have any rights,—the Barons at Runnymede. There is no doubt, that such a measure is in accordance with the spirit of the
age, and with the temper of a large majority of the people of England; and if the troops could not be depended on to suppress the preliminary movements, required for such a convention, we see nothing to prevent its taking place.* And that some such course will be adopted, we have little doubt; we might almost say, that it is the general belief in England, that a radical change is impending in the Constitution of the country. It is conceded that the proposed measure of reform is forced upon the ministry, by the fears of popular convulsion. Of this measure, the Duke of Wellington, as the head of the last administration, has lately declared in the House of Lords, from the lights of an experience of fortyfive years in the public service, that it will be fatal to the Constitution of the country; while Lord Grey, the responsible
* We beg leave to observe, that this article was written and sent to press, before the reception of the intelligence of the loss of Lord John Russell's bill, and the consequent dissolution of Parliament. In these and the subsequent events we find confirmation of the positions, which we have ventured to take. We cannot but remark on the extraordinary character of the King's message, and its tendency toward the adoption of the measure (a convention) alluded to in the text :
My Lords and Gentlemen,--I have come to meet you for the purpose of proroguing this Parliament, with a view to its immediate dissolution.
I have been induced to resort to this measure for the purpose of ascertaining the sense of my people, in the only way in which it can be most conveniently and authentically expressed, for the purpose of making such changes in the representation as circumstances may appear to require, &c.
It cannot escape the dullest apprehension, that a new Parliament, (by admission of the King's ministers) so far from being an authentic way of expressing the sense of the people,' expresses only the sense of the four or five hundred individuals, who nominate the majority of the House of Commons. There can be no authentic way of expressing the sense of the people, (in default of a popular representation) but that of a convention,
author of the proposed plan, offers it as the least that would satisfy the public demand, and as a measure, which would content the people for a long time. It seems to us, that these are but two forms of expressing one and the same prevailing, undefined, and alarming idea, that the present Constitution of England cannot last.
We have already remarked, that we see no intrinsic difficulty in the adoption by England and the other countries in Europe, of a Constitution like ours; and we believe it will take place; with what ease and tranquillity on the one hand, or violence on the other, must depend upon the resistance of the party opposed to change. If the liberal party, as a class, are to undertake the business of reform, with halters round their necks, they will of course go desperately to work; and if they triumph, the blood of their adversaries will flow. But if, as appears to be the intention of the privileged orders at present, they allow the measures of amelioration proposed, to take a parliamentary course, although we are far from believing the plan now in agitation will content the people of England for a long time, yet we see no reason why it should be productive of any convulsions, either while it lasts, or in the transition to still more popular institutions. One thing is certain, the feudal system is worn out, and with it all the institutions that rested on it; so that the form cannot much longer be kept up. The state of the world requires a simpler action of Government ; and despotism or liberty is the alternative. Hume has paradoxically said, that the English monarchy would find its Euthanasia in despotism. Hume certainly was never claimed for the liberal party ; but it is not easy to imagine what ideas he could have had of the objects of any Government, that enabled him to view the degeneracy of the English system into a despotism, as an Euthanasy. But if despotism is to be its Euthanasia, we believe republicanism will be its resurrection. If it must die an absolute Government, it will revive a popular one.
The period and the progress of this change will be greatly dependent on the result of the present movements in Europe, of which, as we have ventured to express the hope, we have no doubt the final result will be favorable to the cause of liberty, although the most terrific fluctuations and vicissitudes of sortune may prolong the struggle for generations. But what are thirty, what are a hundred years, in the history of a movement, destined in all probability to create a new era in the world ? It was just two generations from the commencement of the social war in Italy, which sealed the fate of the Roman republic, to the battle of Actium which established the empire.
We cannot in the meantime, but feel the peculiarly delicate position, in which our own country is placed. With a majority of the great European powers we stand in iinportant relations. In the event of a maritime war, our neutrality will again be exposed to encroachment and violation. On the wisdom, talent, and patriotism of the Government of the United States it depends, to preserve the country in what may, without exaggeration, be called a crisis in the world's affairs. We could wish, that the part, to which the United States were summoned, might not be confined merely to that of a cold selfpreservation. At this anxious moment in Europe, it would be gratifying to have our beloved country universally regarded as a city of refuge, to the victims of power, disaster, and chance. Such it has hitherto been; and it is no small consolation to us, amidst the untiring obloquy directed against our institutions, by the absolute party in Europe, that the United States are the region, to which the mind instinctively turns, in that quarter of the world, when some dreadful vicissitude overtakes what they call their permanent establishments.
But we ought to do more. It rests with us to make the popular system attractive and respectable. Our political errors will not only fall heavily upon ourselves, but they will, in the most exaggerated form, be held up to discountenance their imitation in Europe. We can in no way so much accelerate the political emancipation of the old world, as by showing mankind that liberty is a spirit of justice, law, morality, and intellectual improvement. At present the word revolution is a word of dread, made by the reign of terror in France, the abhorrence of mankind. Let us show to the world, that blood is not the natural cement of liberal institutions; that the arts of society flourish under their influence, and that man is not the worst enemy of his neighbor or himself.
ART. VIII. Popular Sports and Festivals.
The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England. By Joseph STRUTT. A New Edition, with a Copious Index. By WILLIAM HONE. London. 1830. If Seged, emperor of Ethiopia, had thought fit to consult the poets before he set bimself seriously at work to be happy, he might have spared himself seven days' useless labor. Those of England would have told him in plain terms, that his project came altogether too late in the day; for Goldsmith, one of the most trustworthy of their number, had seen the rural virtues embark for the purpose of leaving the country, and no intelligence had ever been received of their arrival elsewhere ; while the poets of antiquity would have claimed the merit of promulgating the same doctrine some centuries earlier. He would have ascertained, in short, that the days of simplicity and innocence were all gone by; and that the traditional recollections of a golden age were not very likely to be realized in any thing present or to come.
Nor are the poets the only persons who have been haunted by these melancholy visions.
Orators have proclaimed, that the age of chivalry is gone ; philosophers have exhausted their eloquence to induce mankind to cast away the arts of civilization, and return to the independence of the savage state ; and even sorne political economists have reached the same conclusion by a different process; for if the danger of the overstocking of the earth with inbabitants be as imminent as they pretend, it is obvious, that the farther we retreat from their millennium of famine, the better.
Now, though most of these opinions are little better than mere heresies, we can all of us detect in ourselves a lurking disposition to believe in them; and the reason is, that we see
1 them by a sort of candle-light, which makes them appear to greater advantage, than the broad clear light of noon. It is as hard to ascertain the latitude of the good old time on the chart of history, as to fix the precise compass of the memory of the oldest inhabitant; and this uncertainty produces the same effect, as that of distance upon the landscape. We think of past times with a feeling similar to that, with which we see the places which have been consecrated by some great event, or some act of generous self-devotion. Who is there that does not figure to himself with delight, the array of Can
terbury pilgrims issuing from the Court of the Tabard inn, Queen Mab and Oberon leading the dances in the moon-light ring,--the proud bearing of the mailed knight, and the peerless charms of the lady of his love ? It seems hard that truth should appear to read the charm backwards, and put to flight these truant fancies. We hardly admit our obligations to the sturdy chronicler, who reminds us, that all this belongs to a time of superstition and feudal bondage, and that there are higher accomplishments in the world, than the art of dealing hard blows. It is like waking from a delightful dream; and this is a dream more liable to such an interruption than any other. Mr. Irving has made the world in love with the innocent simplicity of old English manners; but a conscientious misgiving came over him, when he witnessed the battle which disfigured his May-day festival, and he reluctantly owned, that his swains were somewhat less Arcadian ihan he previously thonght them. He touched, however, very lightly on the error, for the same reason which prevents him from undeceiving people in regard to a ghost story,—an unwillingness to disturb their comfort. Without adhering to this poetical faith, we are willing to believe, that the simplicity of old-fashioned manners was not without its charm ; and that the sports and festivals of early times carried happiness to many humble hearts, to which what is now called comfort was wholly unknown. The habits generated by artificial modes of life are, in some respects, less propitious to many valuable qualities of heart, than the unpretending quietness of rural life ;—the refinements of society, undoubtedly, repress the display of much honest warmth and sincerity of feeling; and if we look only at the disadvantages of our present condition, and select all that is attractive in the other, the world must appear to be losers by the exchange ; but reason, to say nothing of political economy, will hardly admit the equity of this mode of comparison.
The elaborate work of Mr. Strutt was designed to give an account of the sports and pastimes of the people of England from the earliest period to the present time; and we trust it is unnecessary to say more in proof of its importance and value, than that it is the same which was constantly kept by Mr. Slingsby in his school-house near Bracebridge hall, in order to teach the boys to amuse themselves after the fashion of former times. Mr. Hone's contributious, which consist only of an index, do not add much to its substantial value ; but he pro