Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

a

a

violent spirit is raised, which the presiding minds, nuisance ? What motive has any rational man, after a time, find it impracticable to stop at their who thinks in that manner, to spill his blood, or pleasure, to controul, to regulate, or even to direct. even to risk a shilling of his fortune, or to waste a

This shews, in my opinion, how very quick and moment of his leisure, to preserve it? If he has awakened all men ought to be, who are looked up any duty relative to it, bis duty is to destroy it. to by the publick, and who deserve that confi- A constitution on sufferance is a constitution con

a dence, to prevent a surprise on their opinions, demned. Sentence is already passed upon it. The when dogmas are spread, and projects pursued, execution is only delayed. On the principles of by which the foundations of society may be affect-these gentlemen it neither has, nor ought to have, éd. Before they listen even to moderate altera- any security. So far as regards them, it is left tions in the government of their country, they naked, without friends, partisans, assertors, or proought to take care that principles are not propagat- tectors. ed for that purpose, which are too big for their Let us examine into the value of this security object. Doctrines limited in their present applica- upon the principles of those who are more sober ; tion, and wide in their general principles, are never of those who think, indeed, the French constitumeant to be confined to what they at first pretend. tion better, or at least as good, as the British, If I were to form a prognostick of the effect of the without going to all the lengths of the warmer present machinations on the people, from their politicians in reprobating their own. Their secusense of any grievance they suffer under this con- rity amounts in reality to nothing more than this; stitution, my mind would be at ease. But there that the difference between their republican is a wide difference between the multitude, when system and the British limited monarchy is not they act against their government, from a sense of worth a civil war. This opinion, I admit, will pregrievance, or from zeal for some opinions. When vent people, not very enterprising in their nature, men are thoroughly possessed with that zeal, it is from an active undertaking against the British condifficult to calculate its force. It is certain, that stitution. But it is the poorest defensive principle its power is by no means in exact proportion to that ever was infused into the mind of man against its reasonableness. It must always have been dis- the attempts of those who will enterprise. It will coverable by persons of reflection, but it is now tend totally to remove from their minds that very obvious to the world, that a theory concerning terrour of a civil war which is held out as our sole government may become as much a cause of fa- security. They who think so well of the French naticism as a dogma in religion. There is a boun- constitution, certainly will not be the persons to dary to men's passions when they act from feeling ; carry on a war to prevent their obtaining a great none when they are under the influence of imagi- benefit, or at worst a fair exchange. They will nation. Remove a grievance, and, when men act not go to battle in favour of a cause in which their from feeling, you go a great way towards quieting defeat might be more advantageous to the publick a commotion. But the good or bad conduct of a than their victory. They must at least tacitly abet government, the protection men have enjoyed, or those who endeavour to make converts to a sound the oppression they have suffered, under it, are of opinion ; they must discountenance those who no sort of moment, when a faction, proceeding would oppose its propagation. In proportion as upon speculative grounds, is thoroughly heated by these means the enterprising party is strengthagainst its form. When a man is, from system, ened, the dread of a struggle is lessened. See furious against monarchy or episcopacy, the good what an encouragement this is to the enemies of conduct of the monarch or the bishop has no other the constitution ! A few assassinations, and a very effect, than further to irritate the adversary. He great destruction of property, we know they conis provoked at it as furnishing a plea for preserv- sider as no real obstacles in the way of a grand ing the thing which he wishes to destroy. His political change. And they will hope, that here, mind will be heated as much by the sight of a if antimonarchical opinions gain ground, as they sceptre, a mace, or a verge, as if he had been have done in France, they may, as in France, acdaily bruised and wounded by these symbols of complish a revolution without a war. authority. Mere spectacles, mere names, will be- They who think so well of the French constitucome sufficient causes to stimulate the people to tion cannot be seriously alarmed by any progress war and tumult.

made by its partisans. Provisions for security are Some gentlemen are not terrified by the facility not to be received from those who think that there with which government has been overturned in is no danger. No! there is no plan of security to France. The people of France, they say, had no- be listened to but from those who entertain the thing to lose in the destruction of a bad constitu- same fears with ourselves; from those who think tion; but, though not the best possible, we have that the thing to be secured is a great blessing; still a good stake in ours, which will hinder us and the thing against which we would secure it a from desperate risks. Is this any security at all great mischief. Every person of a different opinion against those who seem to persuade themselves, must be careless about security. and who labour to persuade others, that our con- I believe the author of the Reflections, whether stitution is an usurpation in its origin, unwise in its he fears the designs of that set of people with reacontrivance, mischievous in its effects, contrary to son or not, cannot prevail on himself to despise the rights of man, and in all its parts a perfect them. He cannot despise them for their numbers,

a

which, though small, compared with the sound from substantial personal bondage. Inhabitants part of the community, are not inconsiderable: he of cities, before without privileges, placed in the cannot look with contempt on their influence, consideration which belongs to that improved and their activity, or the kind of talents and tempers connecting situation of social life. One of the most which they possess, exactly calculated for the work proud, numerous, and fierce bodies of nobility and they have in hand, and the minds they chiefly gentry ever known in the world, arranged only apply to. Do we not see their most considerable in the foremost rank of free and generous citizens. and accredited ministers, and several of their party Not one man incurred loss, or suffered degradaof weight and importance, active in spreading mis- tion. All, from the king to the day-labourer, were chievous opinions, in giving sanction to seditious improved in their condition. Every thing was writings, in promoting seditious anniversaries? kept in its place and order ; but in that place and and what part of their description has disowned order every thing was bettered. To add to this them or their proceedings ? When men, circum- happy wonder (this unheard-of conjunction of stanced as these are, publickly declare such admi- wisdom and fortune) not one drop of blood was ration of a foreign constitution, and such con- spilled; no treachery; no outrage; no system of tempt of our own, it would be, in the author of slander more cruel than the sword; no studied inthe Reflections, thinking as he does of the French sults on religion, morals, or manners; no spoil ; constitution, infamously to cheat the rest of the no confiscation; no citizen beggared; none imnation to their ruin, to say there is no danger. prisoned ; none exiled: the whole was effected

In estimating danger, we are obliged to take with a policy, a discretion, an unanimity and seinto our calculation the character and disposition crecy, such as have never been before known on of the

enemy into whose hands we may chance to any occasion ; but such wonderful conduct was fall. The genius of this faction is easily discerned, reserved for this glorious conspiracy in favour of by observing with what a very different eye they the true and genuine rights and interests of men. have viewed the late foreign revolutions. Two have Happy people, if they know how to proceed as passed before them. That of France and that of they have begun! Happy prince, worthy to bePoland. The state of Poland was such, that there gin with splendour, or to close with glory, a race could scarcely exist two opinions, but that a re- of patriots and of kings: and to leave formation of its constitution, even at some expence of blood, might be seen without much disapproba

A name, which ev'ry wind to heav'n would bear, tion. No confusion could be feared in such an en

Which men to speak, and angels joy to hear. terprise ; because the establishment to be reformed To finish all—this great good, as in the instant it was itself a state of confusion. A king without is, contains in it the seeds of all further improveauthority; nobles without union or subordination ; ment; and may be considered as in a regular a people without arts, industry, commerce, or progress, because founded on similar principles, liberty; no order within, no defence without; no towards the stable excellency of a British constieffective publick force, but a foreign force, which tution. entered a naked country at will, and disposed of Here was a matter for congratulation and for every thing at pleasure. Here was a state of things festive remembrance through ages. Here moralists which seemed to invite, and might perhaps justify, and divines might indeed relax in their temperance, bold enterprise and desperate experiment. "But in to exhilarate their humanity. But mark the chawhat manner was this chaos brought into order ? racter of our faction. All their enthusiasm is kept The means were as striking to the imagination, as for the French Revolution. They cannot pretend satisfactory to the reason, and soothing to the mo- that France had stood so much in need of a change ral sentiments. In contemplating that change, as Poland. They cannot pretend that Poland has humanity has every thing to rejoice and to glory not obtained a better system of liberty, or of goin; nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to suffer. vernment, than it enjoyed before. They cannot So far as it has gone, it probably is the most pure assert, that the Polish Revolution cost more dearly and defecated publick good which ever has been than that of France to the interests and feelings of conferred on mankind. We have seen anarchy and multitudes of men. But the cold and subordiservitude at once removed; a throne strengthened nate light in which they look upon the one, and for the protection of the people, without trench- the pains they take to preach up the other of these ing on their liberties; all foreign cabal banished, revolutions, leave us no choice in fixing on their by changing the crown from elective to heredi- motives. Both revolutions profess liberty as their tary; and what was a matter of pleasing wonder, object; but in obtaining this object the one prowe have seen a reigning king, from an heroick love ceeds from anarchy to order; the other from order to his country, exerting himself with all the toil, to anarchy. The first secures its liberty by estabthe dexterity, the management, the intrigue, in lishing its throne; the other builds its freedom favour of a family of strangers, with which ambi- on the subversion of its monarchy. In the one tious men labour for the aggrandizement of their their means are unstained by crimes, and their own. Ten millions of men in a way of being settlement favours morality. In the other, vice freed gradually, and therefore safely to themselves and confusion are in the very essence of their purand the state, not from civil or political chains, suit, and of their enjoyment. The circumstances which, bad as they are, only fetter the mind, but in which these two events differ, must cause the

2

difference we make in their comparative estimation.ries to commemorate the most monstrous, cruel, These turn the scale with the societies in favour and perfidious of all the proceedings of that facof France. Ferrum est quod amant. The frauds, tion—the question is, whether their conduct was the violences, the sacrileges, the havock and ruin to be regarded in silence, lest our interference of families, the dispersion and exile of the pride should render them outrageous ? Then let them and flower of a great country, the disorder, the deal as they please with the constitution. Let the confusion, the anarchy, the violation of property, lady be passive, lest the ravisher should be driven the cruel murders, the inhuman confiscations, to force. Resistance will only encrease his desires. and in the end the insolent domination of bloody, Yes, truly, if the resistance be feigned and feeble. ferocious, and senseless clubs — These are the But they who are wedded to the constitution will things which they love and admire. What men not act the part of wittols. They will drive such admire and love, they would surely act. Let seducers from the house on the first appearance of us see what is done in France; and then let their love-letters and offered assignations. But if us undervalue any the slightest danger of fall- the author of the Reflections, though a vigilant, ing into the hands of such a merciless and savage was not a discreet, guardian of the constitution, let faction !

those, who have the same regard to it, shew them* But the leaders of the factious societies are selves as vigilant and more skilful in repelling the ' too wild to succeed in this their undertaking.' attacks of seduction or violence. Their freedom I hope so. But supposing them wild and ab- from jealousy is equivocal, and may arise as well surd, is there no danger but from wise and re- from indifference to the object, as from confidence flecting men ? Perhaps the greatest mischiefs in her virtue. that have happened in the world have happened On their principle, it is the resistance, and not from persons as wild as those we think the the assault, which produces the danger. I admit, wildest. In truth, they are the fittest beginners indeed, that if we estimated the danger by the of all great changes. Why encourage men in value of the writings, it would be little worthy of a mischievous proceeding, because their absur- our attention : contemptible these writings are in dity may disappoint their malice ? • But noticing every sense. But they are not the cause, they are

them may give them consequence. Certainly the disgusting symptoms, of a frightful distemper. But they are noticed ; and they are noticed, They are not otherwise of consequence than as not with reproof, but with that kind of counte- they shew the evil habit of the bodies from whence nance which is given by an apparent concurrence they come. In that light the meanest of them is (not a real one, I am convinced) of a great party, a serious thing. If however I should under-rate in the praises of the object which they hold out to them, and if the truth is, that they are not the imitation.

result but the cause of the disorders I speak of,

surely those who circulate operative poisons, and But I hear a language still more extraordinary, give, to whatever force they have by their nature, and indeed of such a nature as must suppose, or the further operation of their authority and adopleave, us at their mercy. It is this— You know tion, are to be censured, watched, and, if pos• their promptitude in writing, and their diligence sible, repressed.

in caballing; to write, speak, or act against them, At what distance the direct danger from such • will only stimulate them to new efforts.”—This factions may be, it is not easy to fix. An adapway of considering the principle of their conduct tation of circumstances to designs and principles pays but a poor compliment to these gentlemen. is necessary. But these cannot be wanting for any They pretend that their doctrines are infinitely long time in the ordinary course of sublunary beneficial to mankind: but it seems they would affairs. Great discontents frequently arise in the keep them to themselves, if they were not greatly best constituted governments, from causes which provoked. They are benevolent from spite. Their no human wisdom can foresee, and no human oracles are like those of Proteus, (whom some people power can prevent. They occur at uncertain pethink they resemble in many particulars,) who riods, but at periods which are not commonly far never would give his responses unless you used him asunder. Governments of all kinds are adminisas ill as possible. These cats, it seems, would not tered only by men; and great mistakes, tending give out their electrical light without having their to inflame these discontents, may concur. The backs well rubbed. But this is not to do them indecision of those who happen to rule at the criperfect justice. They are sufficiently communi-tical time, their supine neglect, or their precipitate cative. Had they been quiet, the propriety of any and ill-judged attention, may aggravate the publick agitation of topicks on the origin and primary misfortunes. In such a state of things, the prinrights of government, in opposition to their pri- ciples, now only sown, will shoot out and vegevate sentiments, might possibly be doubted. But, tate in full luxuriance. In such circumstances the as it is notorious, that they were proceeding as minds of the people become sore and ulcerated. fast, and as far, as time and circumstances would They are put out of humour with all publick admit, both in their discussions and cabals—as it men, and all publick parties; they are fatigued is not to be denied, that they had opened a cor- with their dissensions; they are irritated at their respondence with a foreign faction, the most wick-coalitions; they are made easily to believe, (what ed the world ever saw, and established anniversa- much pains are taken to make them believe,) t.2: all oppositions are factious, and all courtiers base minds are once vitiated by passion or by evil prinand servile. From their disgust at men, they are ciple, are by no means a security from their acsoon led to quarrel with their frame of govern- tually taking their part against the public tranment, which they presume gives nourishment to quillity. We see to what low and despicable the vices, real or supposed, of those who administer passions of all kinds many men in that class are

Mistaking malignity for sagacity, they are ready to sacrifice the patrimonial estates, which soon led to cast off all hope from a good might be perpetuated in their families with splenadministration of affairs, and come to think that dour, and with the fame of hereditary benefactors all reformation depends, not on the change of to mankind, from generation to generation. Do actors, but upon an alteration in the machinery. we not see how lightly people treat their fortunes, Then will be felt the full effect of encouraging when under the influence of the passion of gamdoctrines which tend to make the citizens despise ing? The game of ambition or resentment will their constitution. Then will be felt the plenitude be played by many of the rich and great, as desof the mischief of teaching the people to believe, perately, and with as much blindness to the conthat all ancient institutions are the results of ig- sequences, as any other game.

Was he a man of norance; and that all prescriptive government is no rank or fortune, who first set on foot the disin its nature usurpation. Then will be felt, in all turbances which have ruined France ? Passion its energy, the danger of encouraging a spirit of blinded him to the consequences, so far as they litigation in persons of that immature and imper-concerned himself; and as to the consequences fect state of knowledge which serves to render them with regard to others, they were no part of his susceptible of doubts, but incapable of their solu- consideration, nor ever will be with those who tion. Then will be felt, in all its aggravation, the bear any resemblance to that virtuous patriot and pernicious consequence of destroying all docility lover of the rights of man. in the minds of those who are not formed for find- There is also a time of insecurity, when interests ing their own way in the labyrinths of political of all sorts become objects of speculation. · Then theory, and are made to reject the clue, and to it is, that their very attachment to wealth and imdisdain the guide. Then will be felt, and too late portance will induce several persons of opulence will be acknowledged, the ruin which follows the to list themselves, and even to take a lead, with disjoining of religion from the state; the separa- the party which they think most likely to prevail, tion of morality from policy; and the giving con- in order to obtain to themselves consideration in science no concern and no coactive or coercive some new order or disorder of things. They may force in the most material of all the social ties, the be led to act in this manner, that they may secure principle of our obligations to government. some portion of their own property; and perhaps

I know too, that besides this vain, contradic- to become partakers of the spoil of their own tory, and self-destructive security, which some order. Those, who speculate on change, always men derive from the habitual attachment of the make a great number among people of rank and people to this constitution, whilst they suffer it fortune, as well as amongst the low and the indiwith a sort of sportive acquiescence to be brought gent. into contempt before their faces, they have other What security against all this?-All human grounds for removing all apprehension from their securities are liable to uncertainty. But if any minds. They are of opinion, that there are too thing bids fair for the prevention of so great a camany men of great hereditary estates and influ-lamity, it must consist in the use of the ordinary ence in the kingdom, to suffer the establishment means of just influence in society, whilst those of the levelling system which has taken place in means continue unimpaired. The public judgFrance.

This is very true, if in order to guide the ment ought to receive a proper direction. All power, which now attends their property, these weighty men may have their share in so good a men possess the wisdom which is involved in early work. As yet, notwithstanding the strutting and fear. But if through a supine security, to which lying independence of a braggart philosophy, such fortunes are peculiarly liable, they neglect nature maintains her rights, and great names have the use of their influence in the season of their great prevalence. Two such men as Mr. Pitt and power, on the first derangement of society, the Mr. Fox, adding to their authority in a point in nerves of their strength will be cut. Their estates, which they concur, even by their disunion in every instead of being the means of their security, will thing else, might frown these wicked opinions out become the very causes of their danger. Instead of the kingdom. But if the influence of either of of bestowing influence they will excite rapacity. them, or the influence of men like them, should, They will be looked to as a prey.

against their serious intentions, be otherwise perSuch will be the impotent condition of those verted, they may countenance opinions which (as men of great hereditary estates, who indeed dis- I have said before, and could wish over and over like the designs that are carried on, but whose again to press) they may in vain attempt to condislike is rather that of spectators, than of parties troul. In their theory, these doctrines admit no that may be concerned in the catastrophe of the limit, no qualification whatsoever. No man can piece. But riches do not in all cases secure even say how far he will go, who joins with those who an inert and passive resistance. There are always, are avowedly going to the utmost extremities. in that description, men whose fortunes, when their what security is there for stopping short at all in

[ocr errors]

these wild conceits? Why, neither more nor less because it is found there; but it is found there than this—that the moral sentiments of some few because it is conformable to truth and nature. In amongst them do put some check on their savage this we do not follow the author; but we and the theories. But let us take care. The moral senti- author travel together upon the same safe and ments, so nearly connected with early prejudice as middle path. to be almost one and the same thing, will assuredly The theory contained in his book is not to furnot live long under a discipline, which has for its nish principles for making a new constitution, but basis the destruction of all prejudices, and the for illustrating the principles of a constitution making the mind proof against all dread of con- already made. It is a theory drawn from the fact sequences flowing from the pretended truths that of our government. They who oppose it are bound are taught by their philosophy.

to shew, that his theory militates with that fact. In this school the moral sentiments must grow Otherwise, their quarrel is not with his book, but weaker and weaker every day. The more cautious with the constitution of their country. The whole of these teachers, in laying down their maxims, scheme of our mixed constitution is to prevent any draw as much of the conclusion as suits, not with one of its principles from being carried as far, as, their premises, but with their policy. They trust taken by itself, and theoretically, it would go. Allow the rest to the sagacity of their pupils. Others, that to be the true policy of the British system, and these are the most vaunted for their spirit, not then most of the faults with which that system only lay down the same premises, but boldly draw stands charged will appear to be, not imperfections the conclusions to the destruction of our whole into which it has inadvertently fallen, but excelconstitution in church and state. But are these lencies which it has studiously sought. To avoid conclusions truly drawn? Yes, most certainly. the perfections of extreme, all its several parts are The principles are wild and wicked. But let jus- so constituted, as not alone to answer their own tice be done even to phirensy and villainy. These several ends, but also each to limit and controul teachers are perfectly systematick. No man who the others : insomuch, that take which of the prinassumes their grounds can tolerate the British ciples you please—you will find its operation constitution in church or state. These teachers checked and stopped at a certain point. The whole profess to scorn all mediocrity; to engage for per- movement stands still rather than that any part fection; to proceed by the simplest and shortest should proceed beyond its boundary. From thence course. They build their politicks, not on con- it results, that in the British constitution, there is venience but on truth; and they profess to conduct a perpetual treaty and compromise going on, somemen to certain happiness by the assertion of their times openly, sometimes with less observation. To undoubted rights. With them there is no com- him who contemplates the British constitution, as promise. · All other governments are usurpations, to him who contemplates the subordinate material which justify and even demand resistance. world, it will always be a matter of his most

Their principles always go to the extreme. They curious investigation, to discover the secret of this who with the principles of the ancient Whigs, mutual imitation. which are those contained in Mr. Burke's book, never can go too far. They may indeed stop short

-Finita potestas denique cuique

Quanam sit ratione, atque alte terminus hærens? of some hazardous and ambiguous excellence, which they will be taught to postpone to any reasonable They who have acted, as in France they have degree of good they may actually possess. The done, upon a scheme wholly different, and who opinions maintained in that book never can lead aim at the abstract and unlimited perfection of to an extreme, because their foundation is laid in power in the popular part, can be of no service to an opposition to extremes. The foundation of go- us in any of our political arrangements. They, who vernment is there laid, not in imaginary rights of in their headlong career have overpassed the goal, men, (which at best is a confusion of judicial with can furnish no example to those who aim to go no civil principles,) but in political convenience, and further. The temerity of such speculators is no in human nature; either as that nature is univer- more an example than the timidity of others. The sal, or as it is modified by local habits and social one sort scorns the right; the others fear it; both aptitules. The foundation of government (those miss it. But those, who by violence go beyond who have read that book will recollect) is laid in the barrier, are without question the most misa provision for our wants, and in a conformity to chievous; because to go beyond it they overturn our duties; it is to purvey for the one; it is to and destroy it. To say they have spirit, is to say enforce the other. These doctrines do of them- nothing in their praise. The untempered spirit of selves gravitate to a middle point, or to some point madness, blindness, immorality, and impiety, denear a middle. They suppose indeed a certain serves no commendation. He that sets his house portion of liberty to be essential to all good govern- on fire because his fingers are frost-bitten, can ment; but they infer that this liberty is to be never be a fit instructor in the method of providblended into the government; to harmonize with its ing our habitations with a cheerful and salutary forms and its rules; and to be made subordinate warmth. We want no foreign examples to reto its end. Those who are not with that book are kindle in us the flame of liberty. The example of with its opposite. For there is no medium besides our own ancestors is abundantly sufficient to mainthe medium itself. That medium is not such, tain the spirit of freedom in its full vigour, and to

go

« ZurückWeiter »