Page images
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Sic, mea Glycerium, apud Ter.; Servitia suæ libertatis immemores, apud Liv. §.

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

But, if you'll neither laugh nor play,
At least don't stop me in my way.
Yet sure one moment you might steal,
To see the lovely Miss O'Neil:
One hour to relaxation give;
Oh! lend one hour from life--to live.
And here's a bird, and there's a flower--
Dear Duty, walk a little slower."

"My morning's task is not half done,"
Cries Duty with an inward groan;
"False colours on each object spread,
I know not whence, or where, I'm led!
Your bragg'd enjoyments mount the wind,
And leave their venom'd stings behind.
Where are you flown ?"-Voices around
Cry," Pleasure long hath left this ground;
Old Age advances; haste away!
Nor lose the light of parting day.
See Sickness follows, Sorrow threats-
Waste no more time in vain regrets:
O Duty! one more effort given
May reach perhaps the gates of Heaven;
Where only, each with each delighted,
Pleasure and Duty live united !"
Νου, 5, 1821.


To Christopher

THE ready insertion which you gave
to my former letters, has emboldened
me to address you, in the same free
style, on a more general topic.

I think, sir, that it is of some use
to myself, and may also be useful to
others, to take, from time to time, a
bird's-eye view of the state of public
opinion, and to consider what has been
resolved into principle, and what is
still but notion and sentiment. Per-
haps, for a long period of years, there
has been no epoch at which this could
be so advantageously done as the pre-
sent. The last embers of the Revolu-
tionary conflagration, which so long
agitated and alarmed the world, have
just been extinguished. Everywhere
the ancient governments have been
restored; throughout the whole of
Christendom, such is the apparent
resuscitation of the past, that it would
puzzle one who was familiar with the
previous state of Europe, but accident-
ally unacquainted with the events
which have occurred in the interim,
to say that any material alteration, be-
yond what might have been anticipa-
ted from the progress of time and the
casualties of human life, has taken
place in the frame of society since the
autumn of 1788.

North, Esq.

This is curious, a renovation so singular, after a dissolution so general, might almost justify me to call the present state of the world a marvellous resurrection, if the phenomenon were in substance what it is in seeming-if it possessed that original life, nature, and conformation, which belonged to the system prior to the Revolutionary destruction. But when we approach to examine it, the apparition passes from our grasp; as we advance it retires, and we are appalled when, instead of the living and practical being to which we were reverentially disposed to do homage as to a restored and beloved object, we find it is but the phantom of a charnel-house, and that we are surrounded by the shreds of those honours, and the skeletons of those powers, which gave grace and energy to the olden condition of man!

Ina word, to consider the present appearance of the political state and relations of the world as endowed with any substance or principle of vitality, would be to deny the influence of moral and of physical sensation; for statesmen to reason and to act how according to the maxims of their predecessors-that is, of those who were in power before the French Revolu

tion, and who, by not discerning how much of a change in political dogmas was involved in the evolutions of that catastrophe, accelerated its devastations, would be to contemn the instruction of history, and to betray a total ignorance of the character and spirit of the age.

It was a wise, and it was a brave policy, during the deluge of French principles, to maintain that the ancient institutions of Europe were sacred things; that to them we owed whatever was estimable and delightful in society, and that if they were allowed to perish, it was impossible to foresee or to provide against the anarchy that might ensue. The wisdom

of that policy derived an awful confirmation from the excesses of Parisian guilt, and the extravagance of Parisian theory; but now when the flood has subsided, when the guilt has been punished and the extravagance cut off, it may be safely re-adopted as a maxim of government and legislation, that the institutions so much venerated were not the causes, but the effects of the virtues ascribed to them, and that to enable them to preserve the affection so eloquently and so effectually claimed for them during the reign of Consternation, they must be modified and adapted to suit the wants, and to satisfy the judgment of the people. That modification, and that adaptation, is not, however, more now, than in the Revolutionary period, to be effected by general and entire changes. There is in fact never any such exigency in human affairs, nor in the very nature of things can there be such, as to require a sudden alteration in the institutions of any country, while it must be admitted, that in a progressive state of society, some sort of corresponding improvement ought to take place in them, and will necessarily take place in despite of all opposition.

All governments have their origin in the usurpations of some accidental union of moral and physical strength; hence there ever exists of necessity a natural controversy between what may be called the spirit of government, and the spirit of the people; the latter constantly endeavouring to procure concessions from the former in the shape of laws and institutions, that will enable individuals to manage their particular interests less and less subject to the interference of public func

tionaries, either with respect to conduct, industry, or pleasure. The natural tendency of a progressive state of political institutions, is not to induce, as Owen, and Godwin, and the other defective reasoners and visionaries allege an agreement among mankind to constitute a community of goods, but the very reverse; or, in other words, to induce institutions which, while they bind society closer together, will leave individuals freer to pursue the bent of their respective characters. This, however, is a topic too important to be so slightly alluded to. On some other occasion I will address you on it exclusively.

The only free constitution which can exist practically applicable to human wants and properties, is that which is governed in its deliberations and measures by a temperate and regulated deference to public opinion. Of this kind I regard the British, according to the state of society in this country, and the genius of the people to be curiously admirable. There is so much of ancient partialities mixed up with modern expedients among us,so much of ascertained fact with theoretical opinion and undetermined experiment, that we require, as we possess, a constitution that will work in such a manner as to give each and all of them occasionally their due predominance. In so far, therefore, as the practice of the legislature is concerned, the British constitution "works well," and we see that the executive government, though it is so swayed by public opinion, as to render it a very nice question to determine whether the circumstances of the kingdom have become so changed as to call for any alteration in the constitution, such as we hear commonly spoken of by the name of Parliamentary Reform -I say it is a very nice question, merely because the proposition has advocates and opponents among the shrewdest, the most enlightened, and the most patriotic gentlemen in the country. But in the discussions to which the question has given rise, both within and without the House, it has never been sufficiently considered, that during the last century, the constitution both in the Peers and Commons has been twice essentially and radically altered-I would say reformed.

Let us, sir, consider this dispassionately.

First then, in the reign of Queen Anne, the whole government of Great Britain, which had previously undergone a revision in theoretic dogmas, by the re-assertion of popular rights at the Revolution, was virtually changed by the union of Scotland and England. The Two distinct ancient governments of both kingdoms were virtually abrogated, and ONE was substituted, in which, though the constitution of England preponderated, yet it was essentially modified, by an addition of peers and commoners into the legislature, chosen by electors, constituted on principles which had nothing previously similar, either in the constitution of Scotland or of England. Sixteen elected peers were added to the Lords, which peers, unlike their compeers in the house, were not the organs, strictly speaking, of their own sentiments, but the representatives of the sentiments of others. Thus, there was admitted into the permanent and unchangeable department of the legislature, a new constituary principle, that cannot but have had some considerable influence on its proceedings and deliberations. The introduction of the forty-five new members into the House of Commons was of itself a great accession of the means of conveying the influence of public opinion into the measures of government. But it has not been enough considered in what manner these members are cho


Admitting for a moment the utmost degree of corruption, of which the Scottish boroughs are accused, still it should be recollected, that as they return by districts, each borough of each district respectively operates as a check on the other. The English radicals, when they hear of a member for an obscure and mangy Fife town, think he has been returned much in the same sort of way as the worthy burgesses from Cornwall. They are not aware that he represents five different towns; that although each of those towns may be what is called a close borough, still it is governed by a numerous corporation, and that each corporation is, in the case of a contested election, liable to be divided in choosing, not the member, but the delegate, who is to vote for the member, by which, in point of fact, the members for the Scottish boroughs undergo a much severer ordeal in the process of election than is at all un

derstood on the south side of the Tweed. Then, again, the Scottish county members are not generally chosen by the proprietors of the land, but by persons who may be said to possess transferable eharters for exercising the elective franchise.

The constitution of Scotland, in so far, therefore, as respects the county members, is at once curious and enlightened. It comprehends a principle of deputation from the landholders who grant the elective charters, by which the landlord, without parting with his property in the soil, denudes himself of the political privilege attached to it, and transfers it to another person, who has wealth without land. Thus, as the country, since the Union, has prodigiously increased in capital, it cannot be questioned by any one, who looks over the lists of freeholders, and also sees how many landless persons possess county votes, that a very material popular influence is exercised in the choice of the Scottish county members, which, practically speaking, must have produced a material effect on the House of Commons; and which, when taken into consideration with the state of the Scottish borough representation, fully justifies me in saying that an important radical change and reformation was effected in the House of Commons by the Union with Scotland.

You will readily anticipate that the other change to which I have alluded is the Union with Ireland, and therefore I shall say but little respecting it.

Now, will it be denied that the people of the United Kingdom have not acquired an accession of power and influence in the House of Commons by the two Unions, which two Unions have added no less than one hundred and fortyfive members to a popular branch of the constitution, besides materially improving the principle in many cases upon which the returns are made? It may, however, be said, that the addition to the English House of Commons, and the erection of an Imperial Parliament, is not equivalent to the loss which the people of Ireland and of Scotland have sustained by the dissolution of their Parliaments. To this, however, I would say, and leave the proof till the postulatum is denied, that a great general council for legislative purposes is infinitely preferable to a number of small ones.

But not

to dwell on what is so obvious, I would simply ask of those who deny the ad

vantages of a reform in the House of Commons, and of those who demand it, if it is not the fact, that two great and important practical changes have been made during the last century? and then I would say to the former, have they not been attended with great and manifest advantages to the country and the empire at large? The fair, the true, and the undeniable answer to these questions, reduces the question of Parliamentary Reform into a very narrow compass-indeed, to so little as this: has there any such change taken place in the state of the country, since the Union with Ireland, as to require the introduction of any more members, or any new principle? I shall perhaps be answered, no-we admit that, so far as respects the number of members; but it is not to the number, it is to the manner in which the members are returned, that we require a reform. So that the whole question of Parliamentary Reform is reduced to the manner of election.

Let us suppose, then, that the mode of election were altered, is it probable, practically speaking, I would ask, that the returns would be very essentially different to what they are at present? Would the orators, whose speeches we read in all important debates, not probably be returned? and if the sense of the House is in any measure governed by their opinions, would we see much alteration produced in the phase of the house, if I may use the expression, from what it appears to be at present?

But to bring this clause of my subject to a conclusion, although it cannot be denied that there does exist a strong desire among the operative classes for some change in the legislative department of the State, it may well be asserted, that the change is not required by anything in the constitution of the Lords or Commons. It is, however, required, and it must, sooner or later, in some shape or form, be conceded to the extended concerns and interests of the empire at large.

It is clear and indisputable, that Parliament interferes and regulates many things which in the existing state of the empire, would be better managed by another council. There exists no reason whatever, why the deliberations of parliament should not be restricted to the concerns of the United Kingdom, while a thousand may be given, to shew that general questions, af

fecting the colonies and foreign dependencies, should be deliberated upon by an assembly, in which, in common with the United Kingdom, they should have representatives. How such an assembly should be constituted, whether by an addition to the House of Commons, or whether by the creation of a Supreme Parliament in which the elective principle, already admitted into the House of Peers, should be adopted for the general formation of an upper house, and a district representation, the principle of which was first introduced at the Union with Scotland-for the formation of a lower house, is a question too multiform to be discussed here. All I intend by alluding to it, is to shew, that in the spirit and circumstances of the times, something is gravitating towards such an issue. Already have we lost thirteen provinces, and in them constituted our most formidable rival, by the want of some such supreme legislature; already have the inhabitants of Jamaica loudly protested against the interference of the Parliament of the United Kingdom with their insular affairs, and already in other colonies, to which it is unnecessary to allude, have there not been threatenings of the same spirit? It appears, indeed, from the very nature of all political organizations, that, unless some common tie is formed between a parent country and her colonies, the colonies will, as soon as they can, maintain themselves; or, as soon as they find their interests sacrificed to those of the parent, separate themselves, or seek some other alliance.

Now, it so happens, from the extent and ramifications of our commercial and manufacturing interests, that out of our dealings with the colonies, and other foreign dependencies, the colonies and dependencies have always strong pecuniary motives to induce them to cancel their connection with this country. They send us but raw materials, and receive from us the enriched products of our looms and of our skill; and, in consequence, they are always indebted to us a considerable something between the value of the raw material which we receive from them, and that of the manufactured article which we send them back. There is ever, therefore, a burden of debt due to us from the colonies, and which, without at all disparaging their honesty, they must naturally wish to throw off. The only thing that can make them

« PreviousContinue »