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judgement, which at the best can only approximate to accuracy. Once more, as the temper of hope, the prerogative of youth, yields to that of caution, a spirit of conservatism naturally blends more and more with the aspiration after a better order of things; and the ardent republican of twenty sobers down into the just-mediumist of sixty. We scarcely know which is the more unnatural and disagreeable person, the young conservative or the hoary radical. The former is generally a heartless, selfish coxcomb; the latter, a superannuated visionary or reckless misanthropist.
On grounds like these, a candid explanation may be given of Burke's change of political sentiment, without imputing to him a mercenary dereliction of his early principles.
The present Writer, indeed, avows, that he can see nothing like the astonishing revolution in all his sentiments and modes of thinking, which some affect to discover. He does not contend, that his consistency extends to every subordinate topic and every particular mode of expression; but that, throughout life, the general spirit and tendency of his political system was still
the same; so much so, that a careful consideration of his con* duct and writings before the French Revolution, would have enabled an impartial observer to predict that that event would not meet with his approbation.'
· The chief characteristics of his whole system of political opinion were, a horror of the abstract principles of political science, as applied to the actual circumstances of nations; an opposition to all changes of any magnitude, if proposed to be suddenly accomplished; the application of practical remedies to practical grievances, without any regard to theoretical perfection; and the timely, and therefore gradual reform of abuses and corruptions. These are the leading principles which, if we mistake not, will be found to pervade his whole system of politics; this was the system that informed and animated it. We are not now contending that that system was either right or wrong, or, if neither the one nor the other, how far it partook of both: its general consistency is all that is contended for. His system might somewhat vary in appearance; it was its very character to do so; it might put on different aspects with different circumstances; it might even submit to some important modifications; it might have its youth, its maturity, its period of hoary experience, or, if its enemies will, its dotage ; its essential identity through all these changes, is all that is at present maintained. It was just these principles which actuated him throughout the whole of the American War. He never debated (till actually compelled) whether it was abstractedly right to tax the colonies or not; he declared that he . abhorred such abstractions'; his arguments constantly were, that it was inexpedient to do so, because it was a great and dangerous innovation ; and that it was best to let well alone.” It was this same principle which induced him to oppose parliamentary reform throughout the whole of his long political career; it was these principles which pervaded the whole of his admirable plan of econo
mical reform, and determined him equally both in what he did and in what he left undone. And we hesitate not to say, that the opinions he formed of the French Revolution were not really (though apparently) in stricter harmony with those principles than his conduct on all the occasions to which we have referred. This, we are convinced, any close and impartial student of his works will admit. That these principles, when applied under totally different circumstances, would bear the appearance of inconsistency, may be easily conceived. Now called to resist the encroachments of the Crown, and now the excesses of the people—now employed in defending one part of the constitution, and now another, he would be thought by many to be a traitor to each party, while, in fact, he was the friend of all, and was but varying his means to maintain the unity of his end.'
2. While we admit that there is much truth in this ingenious and eloquent apology, we must nevertheless think that the explanation of the variable consistency, or consistent variableness, so well described, comes very nearly to this ; that Burke was through life the apostle of political expediency; that he resolved all wisdom into prudence; that his system of government had not merely general expediency for its end, but expedients for its means, and that his leading principle was the exclusion of principles. This was the very opposite to the cast of his mind, for no man dealed more in abstract principles than the orator who professed so much horror of them * But, having once fairly committed himself to the advocacy and defence of existing interests, and adopted as his governing axiom, that whatever is, is best, he of necessity shunned and decried those abstract principles which were at war with his conclusions. And to this characteristic feature of his later writings, he is indebted for the almost idolatrous deference paid to his authority by the modern Conservatives, who regard him as a sort of posthumous oracle, and worship him chiefly for his opposition to reform, and his hatred of France.
One of the ablest champions of the Conservative party in the present day, the writer in the Standard newspaper, in one of those unguarded moments in which he betrays his better thoughts, deprecates the fashionable axiom, that politicians never do stupid
things. The very reverse,' he remarks, is the fact. Politi' cians are men, men commonly blinded by temporary interests,
and heated by personal passions; and such men will rarely do any thing else but stupid things. At the best, the history of human life is a history of folly; but the life of the politician is
very worst specimen of human life. We say again, that politicians rarely do any thing but stupid things; and the wisdom of public men is best seen by doing nothing beyond defending
*' And too fond of the right to pursue the expedient.'-Goldsmith.
what they find already done.' Now Mr. Burke, though born a philosopher, was, by force of circumstances, a politician ; and as such, he seems to have had much the same notion of the wisdom of public men as this writer. But he did not always confine himself to defending what he found already done; and it is impossible to reconcile the spirit of his earlier speeches and writings with the prevailing tone of his sentiments after his union with Lord North. For instance, how can we for a moment admit, that his speech on Sir George Savile's motion for a bill to secure the rights of electors in Feb. 1771, is in harmony with the general spirit and tendency of his speeches in 1784 and 1785, in opposition to parliamentary reform? Or that the spirit of his own plan of economical reform in 1779 is in harmony with his opposition to Mr. Pitt's bill for reforming the public offices in March 1785? His present Biographer has made some citations from his earlier and later writings, with a view to shew the substantial identity
of his political creed. This identity we do not deny, although it would be difficult to deduce the precise articles of that creed from any of his writings. That all government, all virtue, is ' founded on compromise and barter?;—that popular election is necessary to good government, and yet is itself a mighty evil';that “the constitution stands on a nice equipoise'; --these, and other positions of the same vague or paradoxical nature, can hardly be said to form a creed or theory, but might be thrown out by the politician of any school. But let us see how he deals with practical and tangible things at different periods of his parliamentary
We have no wish to detract from the just fame of this truly great man, or to impute to him tergiversation or a want of integrity. That he might be equally sincere in advocating and in opposing the reform of abuses, we can believe ; but to claim consistency for the author and utterer of sentiments so diametrically at variance as the following, is assuredly going much too far for even the most allowable partiality of admiration. CHARACTER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
But why should we be surprised at this treachery (in ministers), when the complaints of the people about the Middlesex election * remain unregarded ? I do not say that we are not a legal House of Commons. I do not countenance the insolence of Westminster and the capital. But I must and will say, many sober and good citizens, who are swayed by the authority of Locke and other constitutional politicians, may have their doubts on this head. They may suspect us to be a · House of Commons only de facto, and not de jure. When ' such an opinion prevails, is it safe for us, at such a critical
* Standard newspaper.
Nov. 15, 1833.
period, to take upon ourselves the odium of imposing taxes, • and all the other burdens and evils necessarily attending upon a war?
None will say so, but those who are on a par with our present ministers in policy and prudence.'* (Nov. 13, 1770.)
Since the Revolution, at least, the power of the nation has all flowed with a full tide into the House of Commons. · The House of Commons, as it is the most powerful, is the most “corruptible part of the whole constitution. Our public wounds
cannot be concealed : to be cured, they must be laid open. • The public does think we are a corrupt body. In our legislat‘ive capacity we are, in most instances, esteemed a very wise
body. In our judicial, we have no credit, no character at all. • Our judgements stink in the nostrils of the people. They ' think us to be not only without virtue, but without shame. * Therefore the greatness of our power, and the great and just opinion of our corruptibility and our corruption, render it necessary to fix some bound, to plant some landmark which we are never to exceed.' + (Feb. 7, 1771.)
Now let us hear the same--no, not the same Mr. Burke in June 1784.
• Our political architects have taken a survey of the fabric of * the British constitution. It is singular that they report nothing against the Crown, nothing against the Lords; but in the House of Commons every thing is unsound; it is ruinous in every part. It is infested by the dry rot, and ready to tumble about our ears without their immediate help. . . . The great object of most of these Reformers is to prepare the destruction
of the Constitution, by disgracing and discrediting the House • of Commons. . For a man to discredit the only government
which he either possesses or can project, what is this but to detroy all government ? and this is anarchy.' # (June 16, 1784.)
The speech from which this last extract is taken, was delivered in the debate on Mr. Alderman Sawbridge's motion for a Committee to take into consideration the present state of the representation. The motion was supported by both Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox, as well as by Mr. Beaufoy, Mr. Burgoyne, Mr. Sheridan, and others : it was opposed by Lord North, Mr. Dundas, and Mr. Burke. Fatal and discreditable association! The eloquent anti-reformist with difficulty obtained a hearing, and the report of what he said is taken from his MS. papers. He concluded with the following happy metaphor: 'I look with filial reverence on the constitution of my country, and will never cut it in pieces, and put it in the kettle of any magician, in order to boil ' it with the puddle of their compounds into youth and vigour.
* Speeches, (cd. 1816,) Vol. I. p. 57.
Vol. III. pp. 44, 52, 53.
+ Vol. I. p. 74.
On the contrary, I will drive away such pretenders; I will nurse its venerable age, and with lenient arts extend a parent's • breath.
We turn back to his early speeches for a few miscellaneous extracts breathing the spirit of indignant reform.
ON THE POPULAR DISCONTENTS.-" The noble lord has told us, Sir, that the people have been persuaded there are grievances, by writing, meeting, and speaking ; but if it is a fault to persuade by writing, meeting, and speaking, let him tell us what means of persuasion more eligible he has discovered. Writing, • and meeting, and speaking about grievances, do not make
them: it has, indeed, been insinuated that our grievances are 'imaginary, because they are such as the peasants or artificers of ' Yorkshire would not immediately feel, nor perhaps discover till ' they felt. But if those who see oppression in its distant though certain approach,-if those who see the subversion of liberty in ' its cause, are always few, does it follow that there never are approaches to oppression, or remote causes of the subversion of liberty? If the few who can and do discover effects in their causes open
the eyes of others,--if those who see the rights of election invaded in Middlesex, acquaint the graziers and cloth'iers of remote counties with their interest in the event and its consequences, are they, for that reason, leaders of a faction, actuated by personal and selfish views? If all who are interested see their danger and seek redress, does it follow that they “implicitly re-echo à causeless complaint? Or when redress is ‘ refused them, can it be pretended that they are well affected ?
• The ministers of the unhappy Charles the First told the same tales that are told now, and practised the same arts of delusion. When the people were ready to tear the crown from ' his head, they persuaded him that he was the idol of their “ hearts ; that there was no discontent but among those who endeavoured to open his eyes; and that he had no enemies, but those who endeavoured to remove from his
presence ' who were bringing him to the block. He was soothed with this ' fatal falsehood to his dying hour, and was weak enough to be“ lieve even upon the scaffold, that his affectionate people would not let him suffer.
* But some of our ministerial gentlemen insist, that there are 6
no grievances; others venture to deny that there are complaints. • Those who admit that there are complaints, but deny that there * are grievances, say, that the rabble, the base-born, the scum of the earth, are always discontented, and eagerly fasten upon any thing that is held up before them, as a justification of their discontent: the other deny that even this rabble, this scum of the • earth are discontented; they have travelled the country through, 6 and they find no discontent any where: both representations