« IndietroContinua »
The government of this country has long and justly been considered the best among the nations of Europe ; and the English people have ever evinced a proportionate desire for information in its proceedings. But in the earlier days of our constitution, we shall find that much jealousy on the part of our rulers debarred the people from access to the national deliberations. Queen Elizabeth, with a sagacity that derived no assurance from the precedents of former times, foresaw the mighty power of the press, as an engine applied to state purposes, and accordingly aroused the spirit of her subjects, by causing the first gazettes to be published in the year of the armada“: and D'Ewes's journals of her parliaments contain the earliest reports of parliamentary debates.
The first volume of the commons' journals comprises the debates from the accession of James the first, to the cessation of parliaments under Charles the first. The publication, in 1766, of a member's notes, furnished authentic debates of the session in 1621. Rushworth, in his voluminous collections, presents us with many of the debates during the civil wars. Gray's more regular debates succeeded. From these, until the times that followed the
a See sir J. Mackintosh's Defence in the Peltier case.
glorious revolution in 1688, we have no reports of parliamentary proceedings, interesting as they must have been, on which we can place any more reliance, than on those of Dr. Johnson, which, we shall presently see, cannot pretend to the character of faithful reports, however deservedly eminent they are as eloquent and energetic compositions. But the revolution was not immediately followed by a liberal diffusion of parliamentary intelligence, for the newspapers of William's reign only give occasionally a detached speech. That sovereign scarcely allowed liberty of speech to the members of parliament themselves, and was fully as tyrannical in disposition as his predecessor on the throne; but, happily for the English nation, he was tied and bound by the strong fetters of law.
The stormy period that ensued on William's death, is somewhat illustrated by Boyer's POLITICAL STATE. The HISTORICAL REGISTERS which appeared on the accession of George the first, may be considered as more faithful depositories of political information than Boyer's partial publication. The spirited opposition to sir Robert Walpole excited an unprecedented anxiety in the nation to learn the internal proceedings of parliament. This wish on the part of constituents to know and scrutinize the conduct of their representatives, which to us appears so reasonable a claim, was regarded in a different light by our ancestors. But the frown of authority in the reign of George the second began to have less power to alarm a people whose minds were undergoing progressive illumination. A general desire was then loudly expressed for parliamentary information, which Cave sought to gratify by the insertion of the debates in the GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE. The jealousy of the houses, however, subjected that indefatigable man to the practices of stratagem for the accom
plishment of his design. He held the office of inspector of franks in the postoffice, which brought him into contact with the officers of both houses of parliament, and afforded him frequent and ready access to many of the members. Cave, availing himself of this advantage, frequented the houses when any debate of public interest was expected, and, along with a friend, posted himself in the gallery of the house of commons, and in some retired station in that of the lords, where, unobserved, they took notes of the several speeches. These notes were afterwards arranged and expanded by Guthrie, the historian, then in the employment of Cave, and presented to the public, monthly, in the Gentleman's Magazine. They first appeared in July, 1736, and were perused with the greatest eagerness. But it was soon intimated to Cave, that the speaker was offended with this freedom, which he regarded in the light of a breach of privilege, and would subject Cave, unless he desisted, to parliamentary censure, or perhaps punishment. To escape this, and likewise to avoid an abridgment of his magazine, Cave had recourse to the following artifice. He opened his magazine for June, 1738, with an article entitled, “ Debates in the senate of Magna Lilliputia ;” in which he artfully deplores the prohibition that forbids him to present his readers with the consultations of their own representatives, and expresses a hope that they will accept, as a substitute, those of that country which Gulliver had so lately rendered illustrious, and which untimely death had prevented that enterprising traveller from publishing himself. Under this fiction he continued to publish the debates of the British parliament, hiding the names of persons and places by the transposition of letters, in the way of anagram. These he con
Gent. Mag. vol. vi.