« AnteriorContinuar »
THE present is the age of political speculation ; new and old systems of government are now at issue. The partisans of both are guilty of considerable error in the mode of conducting their respective causes : the defenders of the old systems are stubbornly bent upon not relaxing in the slightest particular, but rather upon winding up every spring of established prejudice and power to its utmost extent; the defenders of the new, if they be not too large in their demands, at least are much too impatient in their hopes of a change. It is necessary for the welfare of both that both should come nearer to each other. The favourers of establishments should be willing, were it only for their own safety, to favour a gradual and moderate improvement, and the pleaders for innovation should be satisfied, provided they kept their great o ect continually in view,
and obtained slow and partial, but uninterrupted approaches to it. • The turbulence of either party leads them to favour strong exertions and projects of violence. The tempest is brewing, the po. litical horison is overcast, and the waves are full of that restless commotion which precedes a storm. At so awful a crisis he is the common friend of mankind who endeavours, with the oil of truth, to assuage the fury that nou rages upon the waters. It is truth only, calm and dispassionate truth, truth drawn from the bosom of philosophy, and not the wild declamation of party bigots, that can divert the calamities that already hover over the human race. There are many benevolent individuals aloof from the violence of this portentous broil, that are sensible of this, and benevolently devote their labours to the pianting, through the medium of instruction, the seeds of future amity and consent.
But unfortunately in the present day truth has an unfashionable and ungracious odour. The vehement advocates of existing governments confess their enmity to impartial and ünfettered discussion, and he who, with the purest intentions, should listen only to the
voice of reason, and repeat her dictates, must expect to be branded with the most opprobrious epithets.
It was this train of thinking which suggested the idea of the following compilation. “ I do not expect,” said its author, “ that “ my countrymen should lend a long, a pa“tient and laborious attention to any thing as my good-will might incline me to offer: “ but if I cannot be heard for my own sake, “ and speak in my own words, some defe« rence will at least be paid to those illus. “ trious writers, who, in all ages and in all “countries, have born testimony to the “ great principles of public good.” Accordingly in the present volume the reader will find scarcely a single word from the individual by whom it is now laid before him ; and the authorities are in most instances such, that no man can refuse to hear, and afterwards advance his pretensions to candour and liberality.
Several of the writers, such as Milton, Rousseau, Helvetius, and a writer of very modern standing, whose name will repeatedly occur, Godwin, are authors who are certainly favourable to the speculative principles, taken in their most sober and mode
rate sense, upon which the French Revolution has been founded. Many others are adherents of a system diametrically opposite. It will not be unamusing to observe how authors of ability and research, however various may be their creed, consent in the support of some common and irresistible dogmas. It will not be uninstructive to perceive, how truth, all powerful, all radiant truth, extends its illuminations to the bosoms of men, especially if they be men of the highest talents, who have devoted their services to the cause of error. If the compiler of this work had possessed more leisure, it is not to be doubted that he might have extracted a code of civil liberty and the most generous equality, entirely from passages of the most celebrated writers, and writers favouring the highest tone of authority, which have dropped from them unawares, inconsistently with their professed hypotheses, and, on that account, entitled to tenfold credit.
Let it then be recollected what is the nature and fair inference of such a collection as the present. It holds out an appeal to the most scrupulous doubter, or the most zealous adversary of public liberty. The doubter who would guard against the contagion of