Abbildungen der Seite

enquiries been of a more, elevated character, Three Acts, it is true, have passed, for the protection of certain noblemen and gentlemen from the qui tam penalties to which they were exposed, in consequence of their extravagant speculations on the turf; and if Parliament has been reluctant to consider the application of economical science to our Import Duties, we ought doubtless to derive some consolation from the recollection that it has been applied, with a skill worthy of Ricardo or Mill, in the Report on Gambling. Nor was the interesting subject of Dog-Stealing overlooked. Our domestic poet, Cowper, extracted moral instruction from the habits of his spaniel, by proving that

· His dog should mortify the breed

Qf man's superior race;' and as it was somewhat irreverently alleged in the honourable House, that certain analogies might be traced between the discipline to which Members of Parliament had recently been subjected and the habits of the spaniel race, Mr Liddell's Committee may have been, in more ways than one, appropriate and useful. In the House of Lords, a recollection of the contaminated sources from which the revenue of the See of Winchester had, in early times, been derived and a consciousness that the Dean and Chapter of Westminster had not been as careful to purge their estates from profligacy and vice as from Dissenting Chapels- led to an attempt at legislation in favour of female chastity, which was not quite so effectual as it was generous. In another Session this subject will, we doubt not, be resumed; but we fear that, in the mean time, the Almonry must continue, like charity, to cover a multitude of sins. Nor must it be forgotten that the House of Commons-doubtless from a modest fear of doing wrong, combined with an equal mistrust in its powers of doing right--has solved many problems, and escaped many temptations and difficulties, by a frequent recourse to the effectual process of counting out. If Sir Robert Walpole was justified in saying, at the close of a Session, " Thank God, no fur

ther mischief can be done for six months !'-it would be most unjust to entertain a doubt, that it was a conviction like that of the great Whig Minister which induced members of Parliament, by appropriately retiring from their post, thus to protect their country, during twenty-four hours at the least, from any rash or dangerous legislation. Lest such repeated secessions from publie duty should lead to any suspicion of indolence or inaptitude for public business, our considerate Ministers have, on other occasions, doubled the labours of Parliament, by calling on the House to reverse on the morrow the resolution of the preceding day!

It is really curious to examine the statutes which received the

Royal Assent, from the 3d February to the 3d July of the present year. The first four months of the Session produced no one enactment of the slightest public interest or importance; with the exception of the act for reducing the interest of the three-and a-half per cents. In all other respects, the statute book is a perfect blank, or is only filled up by Indemnity bills, Mutiny bills, and other formal measures, which do not require or exhibit any great proofs either of legislative or administrative capacity.

It is true that, towards the end of the Session, the wheel turned round with an unexampled and somewhat dangerous velocity; and if at one period measures were discussed without being passed, at another they were passed without any attempt at effeetual discussion. In apology, it is said that this must ever be the case, that this complaint is one perpetually made, that it indicates an evil for which there is no remedy:-an evil for which neither the present Parliament nor the present Government can be held peculiarly responsible. This we deny; but even if it were as true as we believe it to be false, it is no justification of some late events. The growing inattention manifested by both Houses to the performance of their functions, is, we know, daily more and more complained of; and this subject is of infinitely greater moment than it is generally considered to be. The respect and confidence which the public have been accustomed to feel for the deliberations and decisions of Parliament are, indeed, lamentably diminished. The keen interest which its proceedings formerly excited, exists no longer. Even the ambition to obtain a seat in Parliament is lessened; the difficulty of inducing well-qualified candidates to come forward is complained of; and the whole relations between the public and both Houses are, we grieve to say, altered for the worse. The tone in which public affairs are discussed is lowered, and a languid indifference is, by degrees, extending its chilling influence over the representatives of the people, and - the people themselves. Why should this great evil be? and how can it be remedied ? It is said by some that there has not been, at

any former time, a greater aggregate amount of information or ability in Parliament than at present; but that it is only more diffused. It is urged, too, that great events are required to call forth great men; and that a civil crisis is as necessary for the display of high civil endowments, as a war is for the exhibition of the ability of a great commander. It is further added, that in our more calm and tranquil times, no great opportunities are afforded to public men to vindicate their claims to the respect of their country. There may be some truth in these remarks; but we fear that the evil lies deeper. If legislators are to lead

[ocr errors]

opinion as well as to legislate, they must vindicate their claims,
individually and collectively, to a superiority over the rest of
the community. Public intelligence is daily more matured-
knowledge is more widely diffused. Is it very clear, then, that
the class from which members of Parliament are taken, pre-
serves its relative position in advance, either as relates to
reputation or to the performance of duty ? The refinements of
advancing civilization contribute to withdraw the less strenuous
and manly from contentions for which they feel an increasing
disinclination and unfitness. Taste becomes more fastidious;
and the risks of failure in public life create more apprehension than
the chances of success excite hopes. The pleasures and attrac-
tions of society are found by many to be more powerful than the
demands of a generous ambition. The hour of eight o'clock
leaves the House of Lords deserted. In the House of Com-
mons, from the hours of seven to ten, the Speaker and a
despairing quorum give some occupation to the Reporters at
night, though perhaps without much instruction to the readers
of the morrow. The want of any real interest in Parliamentary
proceedings is strongly exemplified, we think, in the neces-
sity felt by the London Journalists to provide a short abstract of
each Parliamentary discussion; thus to relieve their readers from
the toil of labouring through wearisome arguments and heavy
details, which, though gods and men may find it difficult to tole-
rate, the columns of the daily press are compelled to furnish.
Who that has read them can ever forget those noble words of
Milton, which apply so strikingly to the topics upon which we
have touched ! Lords and Commons of England, consider what
6 nation whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governors ;—a
• nation not slow and dull, but of a quick, ingenious, and piercing
• spirit--acute to invent, subtle and sinewy to discourse, not
• beneath the reach of any point the highest that human capa-

city can soar to. What wants there to such a towardly and ' pregnant soil, but wise and faithful labourers ?'

The diminution of the sinew and bone of the body politic, we believe to be traceable but in part only to the causes which we have enumerated. The increase of the evils in question, during the last three or four years, but more particularly their alarming development during the late Session, must be sought for in less general causes. The character of a deliberative assembly is to a certain degree formed, or at least influenced, by the government of the day; and we judge of a nation by its rulers. This is to a certain degree inevitable, and in a free country it is also to a certain extent just; for that which the national will tolerates and permits, it may be said to approve; and the public and Parlia



ment may be considered responsible for any government which they support, however feebly and reluctantly. It is to the proceedings and acts of the present government-it is to their character, their origin, and their conduct—that we may attribute principally, though we admit not exclusively, the lamentable and hourly increasing flatness and apathy of public feeling. The differences of party being less marked than in former times, avowals of large and intelligible principles are avoided; or they are considered as proofs of want of experience, or as evidence of a heated imagination. Another cause has tended to deaden all interest in public affairs, by lowering the interest felt in public

Strong personal attachment for the leaders of a partya generous enthusiasm in their behalf-often supplies the want of a higher principle, and renders party ties more binding as well as more graceful. These, unfortunately, are wanting. Our government has proved itself to be a government of false pretences. The mode in which their power was attained has deprived them of the confidence of their own party, and of the respect of all. The contrast between their professions and conduct is, indeed, wholly without parallel in English history. It has deprived them of strength, it has deprived them of popularity. Nor is this wonderful. Wherever bad faith has been justly imputed to public men by the British public, a loss of confidence has invariably followed. This is a glorious national characteristic. It was not the ultimate passing of the Emancipation Act which drove the government of 1829 from office; it was their previous encouragement, and disingenuous profession and countenance of principles exclusively Protestant. "The deception was more loudly condemned than the apostasy. The failure of the Duke of Wellington to form a cabinet in 1832, was not more immediately produced by the popular attachment to the Whigs and to their principles, than by the indescribable disgust excited by the announcement, that those who had been the most bitter enemies of Reform were, on the moment, prepared to carry a new and a more democratic Reform bill! Even in the far different case of Mr Canning's government of 1827, the weakness of that shortlived administration was owing, not only to the animosity of the Tories, and the irresolution of the Whigs, but to an impression, true or false, that a pledge against Roman Catholic emancipation had been extorted by the King from his new minister. But not one of these memorable instances can be viewed as on a par with the conduct of our present rulers; and at no time has any change of ministry produced so striking and so contrasted a change, as that exhibited between Conservative principles in Opposition and in office. Corn, Timber, and Sugar were the three ques

[ocr errors]


tions on which Sir Robert Peel took his stand ; and on these he has been compelled to legislate ; but to legislate in a manner differing much more widely from the expectation of his friends, than from the principles of his opponents. He evidently felt greater difficulty in divesting himself of his own cloak, than in assuming that of his adversary. The weapons on which he relies, so far as he ventures to use them, are, in fact, all borrowed or taken from the Whig Armoury.

That the failure of his government has been complete, and its loss of influence rapid and uñprecedented, may be proved from testimony the most unquestionable, namely, his own admission. On the 22d of June, Sir Robert Peel made the following remarkable declaration :-- I cannot be insensible to • the position in which we have been placed as far as con• cerns the progress in general legislation. I cannot help feel' ing that we have proposed measures, in the course both of

the last session and of the present, in respect to which that progress has not been made which we think might have been made ; and which, not having been made, leaves us certainly in an unenviable position. We must therefore, consequently, expect the same results at the close of the present * session which were witnessed at the end of the last-namely, • that we have presented measures connected with the internal ' policy of the government to the consideration of Parliament, and had not been successful in obtaining their consent. We cannot also conceal from ourselves, that in respect to some of

the measures we have proposed, they have not met all that 'cordial support and agreement from those for whose character ' and opinions we entertain the highest respect. Our intentions also have been defeated in the House of Lords in regard to one measure, which, though but an isolated one, is still very important.' Such was the humiliating confession made by a minister of the most boastful pretensions and promises, who on his accession to office commanded a parliamentary majority of ninety-two votes; and who had himself emphatically repeated the memorable declaration of Lord Melbourne, that a weak

government is the worst of all governments. Lord Dudley, in his Letters to the Bishop of Landaff, describes the Parliament of 1821 as one in wbich the Opposition out-debated Lord Liverpool's government, and the Government out-voted the Opposition. The position of our Tory leaders has been even worse than this, for they have been both out-debated and out-voted in the same session.

Conclusive as is Sir Robert Peel's authority when he gives evidence against himself and his party, it does not relieve us


« ZurückWeiter »