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of chivalry are almost unknown to us by name, and that these romances themselves, once the sole reading of Europe, have almost wholly perished. Most readers, perhaps, now best know the peculiarities of the chivalrous code from the immortal romance which was written to expose them; but which, as under the form of a satire against one transient folly, it ridicules all injudicious and extravagant attempts to serve mankind, has survived the remembrance of the particular fooleries lashed by it, and will endure as long as it is beneficial to turn goodness to the choice of wise means, and to the pursuit of attainable ends.'-vol. i. pp. 174-178. .
The outlines of our history being so well known to our readers, or being so easily collected from the work before us, we make no apology for passing at once from the reign of Richard of the Lion Heart to John. The great event of this passionate and feeble tyrant's career, is the acquisition by the Barons of the great charter. The most striking details of this immortal achievement, are given by Sir James Mackintosh with the most scrupulous care, and with more than his usual felicity of narration. After relating the transactions that led to the signing of this imperishable document, and giving a brief analysis of its principal provisions, the eloquent jurist concludes his observations in a strain of glowing eulogy, worthy of a Chatham or a Burke. The introduction, towards the close, of the names of our Bacons, Shakspeares, Miltons, and Newtons, is remarkably happy and beautiful. It exhibits, as it were, all the glories that crown the undying recollections of our noblest poets and philosophers, united to those which have been wreathed by the hand of victory around our liberties.
It is observable that the language of the Great Charter is simple, brief, general without being abstract, and expressed in terms of authority, not of argument, yet commonly so reasonable as to carry with it the intrinsic evidence of its own fitness. It was understood by the simplest of the unletlered age for whom it was intended. It was remembered by them ; and though they did not perceive the extensive consequences which might be derived from it, their feelings were, however unconsciously, exalted by its generality and grandeur.
• It was a peculiar advantage that the consequences of its principles were, if we may so speak, only discovered gradually and slowly. It gave out on each occasion only as much of the spirit of liberty and reformation, as the circumstances of succeeding generations required, and as their character would safely bear.
For almost five centuries it was appealed to as the decisive authority on behalf of the people, though commonly so far only as the necessities of each case demanded. Its effect in these contests was not altogether unlike the grand process by which nature employs snows and frosts to cover her delicate germs, and to hinder them from rising above the earth till the atmosphere has acquired the mild and equal temperature which insures them against blights. On the English nation, undoubtedly, the charter has contributed to bestow the union of establishment with improvement. To all mankind it set the first example of the progress of a great people for centuries, in blending their tumultuary democracy and haughty nobility with a fluctuating and
vaguely limited monarchy, so as at length to form from these discordant materials, the only form of free government which experience had shown to be reconcileable with widely extended dominions. Whoever in any
future age or unborn nation may admire the felicity of the expedient which converted the power of taxation into the shield of liberty, by which discretionary and secret imprisonment was rendered impracticable, and portions of the people were trained to exercise a larger share of judicial power than was ever allotted to them in any other civilised state, in such a manner as to secure instead of endangering public tranquillity : whoever exults at the spectacle of enlightened and independent assemblies, who, under the
eye of a well-informed nation, discuss and determine the laws and policy likely to make communities great and happy;-whoever is capable of comprehending all the defects of such institutions, with all their possible improvements, upon the mind and genius of a people, is sacredly bound to speak with reverential gratitude of the authors of the Great Charter. To have produced it, to have preserved it, to have matured it, constitute the immortal claim of England on the esteem of mankind. Her Bacons and Shakspeares, her Miltons and Newtons, with all the truth which they have revealed, and all the generous virtue which they have inspired, are of inferior value when compared with the subjection of men and their rulers to the principles of justice; if, indeed, it be not more true that these mighty spirits could not have been formed except under equal laws, nor roused to full activity without the influence of that, spirit which the Great Charter breathed over their forefathers.'-vol. i. pp. 220—222.
As the great charter was not in itself the commencement of our liberties, but only the solemn declaration of them in the form of law, so neither was it any thing like the consummation of that invaluable constitution which we now enjoy. The reign of Henry III. may be fixed upon as the true period of the origin of the present form of parliament. Its author was Sir Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, who at the battle of Evesham died unconscious of the imperishable name which he acquired, by an act which he probably considered as of very small importance,—the summoning a parliament, of which the lower house was composed, as it has ever since been formed, of knights of the shires, and members for cities and towns,' 'He thus,' continues the eloquent commentator, unknowingly determined that England was to be a free country; and he was the blind instrument of disclosing to the world that great institution of representation, which was to introduce into popular governments a regularity and order far more perfect than had heretofore been purchased by submission to absolute power, and to draw forth liberty from confinement in single cities, to a fitness for being spread over territories which, experience does not forbid us to hope, may be as vast as have ever been grasped by the iron gripe of a despotic conqueror.' Upon this important theme Sir James evinces that fine sagacity which he usually carries with him into all questions of constitutional law. We must find room for a few more of his remarks.
. The following general observations may, perhaps, throw some light on the transition by which the national assembly passed from an aristocratical legislature, representing, perhaps not inadequately, the opinions of all who could have exercised political rights if they had then possessed them; through the stage of a great council, of which the popular portion consisted of all tenants in chief who had the power and the desire to attend such meetings; and at last terminated in a parliament, of which members chosen by the lesser nobility, by the landholders, and by the industrious inhabitants of towns, were a component part. With respect to the elections for counties, the necessary steps are few and simple. The appointment of certain knights to examine avd redress the grievances in their respective counties, was likely to be the first advance. The instances of such nomination in the thirteenth century were probably, in some measure, copied from more ancient precedents, overlooked by the monkish historians. It is scarcely to be doubted, that, before the Great Charter of John, the king had employed commissioners to persuade the gentry of the provinces to pay the scutages and aids, which, though their general legality was unquestionable, were sure to be often in arrear. They were, doubtless, armed with power to compromise and to facilitate payment by an equitable distribution of the burden among the military tenants. It is a short step from this state of things to direct the inferior military tenants of the whole kingdom, to send deputies to the capital, empowered to treat with the crown respecting these contributions on general and uniform principles. The distinction made by charter between the greater barons, who were personally summoned, and the smaller barons, who were only warned to attend by general proclamation, pointed out very obviously the application to the latter of the principle of representation, by which alone they could retain any influence over the public councils.
• The other great change, namely, the admission of all who held land from any lord mesne or paramount, not by a bas tenure, to vote in the election of knights of the shire, has been generally regarded as inexplicable. Considerable light has lately been thrown upon it by one of the most acute and learned of our constitutional antiquaries.t It is universally agreed, and, indeed, demonstrated by the most early writs, that the suitors at the county court became afterwards the voters at county elections. It is now proved that the numerous free tenants of mesne lords, in every county of England, did suit and service at county courts, certainly in the reigns of Henry III., and of Edward I. ; probably in times so ancient, that we can see no light beyond them. As soon, therefore, as the suitors acquired votes, the whole body of the freeholders became the constituents in counties.
Some part of the same process may be traced in the share of representation conferred on towns. In all the countries which had been provinces of the Roman empire, these communities retained some vestiges of those elective forms, and of that local administration which had been bestowed on them by the civilising policy of the Roman conquerors, and which, though too humble to excite the jealousy, or even to attract the observation, of the petty tyrants in whose territory they were situated, yet undoubt
Hallam, Hist. Mid. Ages, ii. 215. + Mr. Allen, master of Dulwich College. Edinburgh Review, xxvi. 341.' edly contributed to fit them for more valuable privileges in better times. The splendid victory of the Lombard republics over the empire, and the greatness of the maritime states of Venice and Genoa, Pisa and Florence, rendered Italy the chief seat of European civilisation. In Germany, some towns on the Rhine, and on the northern shore, slowly acquired a republican constitution, imperfectly dependant on the imperial authority.
In Switzerland, towns became substantially independent, like those of Italy, and, as in the ancient world, reduced the surrounding territories under their rule. In these countries, the government of the towns was either retained by the people, or by degrees confined to a few, exhibiting, like the cities of Greece, many of the shades between these extreme points, and most of the combinations of which such elements are capable. In France, in the Spanish peninsula, and in the British islands, their deputies became component members of the legislative assemblies. Those of Spain were present at the cortes of 1169, forty-six years before the Great Charter, the most early infusion of a representative principle into an European legislature ; which has been ascribed to the necessity of bribing men by political privileges to garrison as well as inhabit towns exposed to the perpetual attacks of the Mahometans, from whom they had been recently conquered. In France, the exemption of towns from the jurisdiction of the tyrannical lords of their neighbourhood, which has been falsely attributed to the policy of Louis le Gros, desirous of raising up rivals to the imperious barons, in truth extended at the same time to a territory twice or thrice as extensive as his principality between the Somme and the Loire, and appears to have been extorted from him, as well as from other lords, by a simultaneous movement originating in the inhabitants of some cities in Flanders and northern France. *
• In England, the charters were early granted which exempted towns from baronial tyranny, and sanctioned the usages and by-laws which regulated their internal government. Those burghs, which were part of the ancient demesne of the crown, were subject to the payment of the feudal incidents. Talliage was exacted from them all; an impost founded on a conjectural and very uncertain estimate of the fortunes of individuals. The pature of this very arbitrary imposition made it difficult to settle the amount, and to procure the payment of it without intercourse between the king's agents and the burgesses, or their authorised proxies. These negotiations were generally committed to the judges of assize. Special commissioners often supplied their place. Nothing was more natural than to simplify these dealings by convoking a general meeting of delegates from burghs in London, to negotiate the talliage of the towns with the king's plenipotentiaries. When the consent of parliament was made necessary to the levy of talliage, of subsidies, and, in effect, of all taxes, as well as of the feudal dues in the latter years of Edward I., the burgesses became integral and essential parts of the legislature. The union, so pregnant with momentous and beneficial consequences, of the deputies of the minor nobility in the same house with those of the industrious classes, was not systematically adopted till a somewhat later period; but the tendency of
Thierry, Lettres sur l'Histoire de France, 248—509, with the ample authorities from Dom. Bouget.'
iwo bodies of elective members, 'whose chief concerns in legislation were of the same nature to form an united body, is too apparent to require more than the shortest allusion.
. It would have been vain to have legally strengthened parliament against the crown, unless it had been actually strengthened by widening its foundations, by rendering it a bond of union between orders of men jealous of each other, and by multiplying its points of contact with the people, the sole allies from whom succour could be hoped. The introduction of knights, citizens, and burgesses into the legislature, by its continuance in circumstances so apparently inauspicious, showed how exactly it suited the necessities and demands of society at that moment. No sooner had events thrown forward the measure, than its fitness to the state of the community became apparent. It is often thus, that in the clamours of men for a succession of objects, society, by a sort of elective attraction, seems to select from among them what has an affinity with itself, and what easily combines with it in its state at the time. The enlargement of the basis of the legislature thus stood the test which discriminates visionary projects from necessary repair, and prudent reformation. It would be nowise inconsistent with this view of the subject, if we were to suppose that de Montfort, by this novelty, paid court to the lower orders to gain allies against the nobility,--the surmise of one ancient chronicler, eagerly adopted by several modern historians. That he might entertain such a project as a temporary expedient, is by no means improbable. To ascribe to him a more extensive foresight, would be unreasonable in times better than his. If the supposition could be substantiated, it would only prove more clearly that his ambition was guided by sagacity; that he saw the part of society which was growing in strength, and with which a provident government ought to seek an alliance; that amidst the noise and confusion of popular complaint, he had learned the art of deciphering its often wayward language, and of discriminating the clamour of a moment from demands rooted in the nature and circumstances of society.'—vol. i. pp. 240—246.
. The division of the two houses, which subsequently took place, and the influence of representation upon society, are successively treated by the learned author in his happiest manner. The period when the commons first sat separately from the peers
is uncertain. It cannot, perhaps, be considered as completed until the reign of Edward II., in which the constitution is usually considered as having been established. The effect of the principle of representation is thus developed.
Its operation on the whole order of society became, in course of centuries, still more worthy of attention; though, as it acted by opinion rather than by law, it was neither easy to trace and measure its unfelt progress, nor in a few words to describe its nature, and to afford clear proof of its insensible but extensive influence. Its source was evidently the parliamentary union of the lesser nobility with the burgesses, which could not fail in due time to produce a correspondent union throughout society. In the reign of Edward II.* the fords between the orders were so passable,