Imágenes de páginas

• administration of justice in all the various cases brought before • it;' and all must acknowledge that the impolicy of multiplying . hereditary peerages prevents the Crown from placing in the • House persons whose peculiar talents and acquirements would • be extremely beneficial to the country.' Not to speak of the advantage to be derived from men of experience and practical wisdom in originating, revising, and amending legislative acts, it is manifest that the judicial business of the country cannot be transacted without the introduction of lawyers, whose fortunes are often insufficient to found a family competent to maintain the dignity and independence of the peerage. We have seen the premature death of an eminent lawyer, who had been forced into the House of Lords, leave his son in entire dependence on the bounty of the Crown. We have seen others, whose chief inheritance has lain in sinecure offices, now abolished, in their fathers' gift. Diplomatic peerages in such circumstances have been less common, yet we have known them conferred on persons who merited the honour, but left it as a burden to their posterity.

The chief objection to peerages for life has been the facility it would afford to ministers of securing a majority in the House of Lords, when not deterred, as at present, from creating peers by the salutary dread of making permanent additions to the peerage. But in proportion as the political weight of the Lords is diminished, that objection vanishes. There can be no motive for creating a majority where no strength is to be gained by it. But the political importance of the Lords has been long on the wane, and recent events have exposed, in the clearest light, their weakness. The chief power of the state has been gradually transferred to the House of Commons, and while the administration of the Government continues to depend on the annual grants of that assembly, there it must abide. Since the accession of the House of Hanover, the influence exercised by the Lords has been chiefly derived from the members they were able to return to the House of Commons. That source of authority is taken away. As proprietors, the Peers will still have weight in elections, but the days of nomination have passed away. Left to their own resources, they may harass and disturb, but they cannot overturn an administration which has the confidence of the King, and is supported by the country and the House of Commons. Many symptoms indeed indicate that they are sensible of their own political weakness. Though violent in their hostility to the Reform Bill, they withdrew their opposition to it at the last moment, and, in an agony of dismay and disappointment, suffered it to pass. In the last session of Parliament their conduct manifested the same conviction. The Administration was broken



up—the opposition had three-fifths of the House of Lords on their side-but fear of a collision with the Commons prevailed, and, with anguish and regret, they saw the Government reconstructed on its former basis without an effort to prevent it. They have since rejected the Irish Tithe Bill; and if their present humour lasts, they may throw out every bill of reform sent up to them from the Commons. But what political consequences have followed from the line of conduct they have chosen to adopt ? Have the Ministers resigned on the loss of their bill? Has the King sent to them for their seals of office? Nothing of the kind has happened. Many have lamented the loss of the bill and anticipated the most fatal consequences from its rejection. But no one ever dreamed that the rejection of the bill would be followed by a change of Ministry. Every one felt that the Lords alone could not form an administration. The Lords themselves seem to have had the same impression. They rejected the bill, but proposed no address for the dismissal of Ministers; and if they had, would it not have been a sufficient answer, in the emphatic language of our forefathers, that God ne reson wol that this • lande stande withouten governaunce;' and that, without the concurrence of the Commons, to form another ministry was impracticable ?

We see little probability of the House of Lords regaining the political importance it has lost. The ancient feudal aristocracy was powerful, because it had enormous wealth, and because it cultivated popular principles, and had the support of the democracy in its contests with the Crown. After the accession of the House of Hanover, the Whig Lords acquired an ascendency by the profuseness and magnificence of their expenditure, and by the resources they were enabled to draw from the public purse, in a country advancing steadily in wealth and commerce. The present Lords are, with some few exceptions, too poor and too much embarrassed in their circumstances to spend much money of their own ; and the Commons and people are too vigilant to permit the former drafts on the public purse to be continued. Popularity the Lords of the present day are not in general much disposed to cultivate. Too many of them, we lament the fact, seem to have abjured and to hold in detestation the popular principles of their predecessors. Educated and receiving their first impressions during the horrors of the French Revolution, or in the frenzy that succeeded the restoration-impregnated with the fears and resentments which for many years pervaded the aristocracy of Europe, so dissimilar from the feelings and inclinations of the Whig Lords in 1688 and 1715—they have no sympathy with the people, and the people have no sympathy or regard for them. The prejudices of the ancient French noblesse, which the English nobility used formerly to deride, are unhappily rooted in the minds of too many of the present generation. If a measure be popular, they regard it with aversion. If it tend to curb or limit any liberty of the subject, they hail it with approbation. If it be directed to the diffusion of general knowledge, they view it with scorn, and oppose it with bitterness. Whatever adds to the enjoyments of their inferiors, appears to them to be so much taken from themselves. They cannot bear that streets should be lighted with gas, that communications should be facilitated by railroads, or that stage-coaches should be rendered as commodious for travelling as private carriages. So small a matter as the act to legalize

the sale of game was not wrung from them without difficulty. To have something exclusive is their delight. Almacks we excuse. They have a right to select the society in which they live ; but, let them not grudge to others the advantages which nature and art have provided for all.

None who are acquainted with the feelings and impressions but too prevalent in the higher classes of society, will consider the picture we have drawn overcharged or exaggerated. There are many exceptions, it is true. Some have never swerved from their popular principles. Some, after temporary deviations during the excesses of the French Revolution, have reverted to more liberal opinions. Some, taught by their good sense and observation of what was passing around them, have caught the spirit and adopted the sentiments of their age. But the majority, and, we are sorry to add, the majority of the younger members of the aristocracy, are adverse to the extension of popular rights. Youth, which used to be the season of generous illusions, is enlisted on the side of selfish interests and antiquated prejudices. The consequences to public liberty might be fatal, if the democracy were not too powerful and too intelligent to be baffled or divided by such opponents.

Without fortune to command, or disposition to conciliate, how can the Aristocracy recover the ground they have lost ? The Church, which used to be their best ally, instead of lending them assistance, is reduced, like Prior Aylmer in • Ivanhoe,' to call out lustily for aid. An ardent spirit of religion has gone forth, which is unfriendly to establishments. The puritanism of the seventeenth century is revived, with no predominant sect ready to yault into the saddle of the Church.

The present state of the House of Lords removes, as we have said, the chief objection to the creation of Peers for life. Where no political object is to be obtained, no political Peerages will be created. When a Minister not only may, but must, continue in office, though a majority of the Lords are opposed to his government, so long as he has the approbation of the King, the support of the Commons, and the confidence of the country, he is under no necessity, and can have no political motive, for adding to the Peerage. The only case that could justify him for advising such an exercise of prerogative, would be the existence of a majority in the Lords, who, from temper, spleen, or invincible prejudice, had shown a determination to reject every bill for national improvement, that came to them from the Commons, though sanctioned by public opinion, and called for by the general sense of the country. But, if such obstinacy and waspishness appeared, who will say there ought not to be some remedy found against them? With the exception of such an extraordinary and hardly supposable case, the Lords, we may be assured, convinced by experience of their political weakness, will cease in future to embarrass the government by their political opposition. The Lords, convinced of their political weakness, will cease to embarrass the Government by their opposition, and confine themselves to the useful office of preparing and amending Legislative Acts. The crude, violent, impracticable Bills of the Commons, hurried away, as they often are, by partial clamour and delusion, or biassed by the private interests and prejudices of their constituents, will be revised and corrected by an Assembly, free from political passions and agitations, and anxious only to acquire reputation and authority, by the calm, just, and deliberate discharge of its duty.

The advantages of this scheme to the present race of hereditary Peers, are sufficiently obvious. It will raise the consequence and dignity of their families. It will enable the Crown to supply deficiencies in the Lords, without adding permanently to their numbers. A lawyer may be wanted for the despatch of judicial business ;-a foreign minister who returns from abroad, may useful in Parliament;-a general or admiral may gain a victory, who has not fortune to sustain his family in the Peerage ;-a member of the House of Commons, who has grown gray in the service of his country, may be no longer equal to the fatigue of an assembly, which none but the young and robust can long endure :- let these men have seats for life in the House of Lords, without encumbering the Exchequer with pensions for three generations, or calling into existence a race of noble paupers, who must in time bring nobility into contempt. That this plan is consistent with, and is, in fact, a renovation of ancient practice, is proved to demonstration in the pamphlet before us; and that it has analogies in the present constitution of the House of Lords, is shown in the Bishops, and, to a certain degree, in the Scotch and Irish representative Peers.


It has been objected to this plan, that if peerages were conferred for life, they would be granted with too lavish a hand-yielded to importunity or bestowed from favour and caprice—by which the peerage would be degraded in public estimation as other dignities and titles of honour have become. That peerages will be more easily obtained when they are granted for life, may be admitted; and yet the consequences apprehended from this laxity, may not follow. To be a member of the legislature is not an empty honour, but a real acquisition of power. It is a seat for life in an assembly, which, though shorn of its preponderance in affairs of state, has still important vocations to fulfil. To have the right to discuss, amend, and decide on every act of parliament, is a privilege that must ever draw after it consideration and respect

It might, on the contrary, be argued, that peers for life, selected for the services they have done, or for the services they are expected to perform, would add weight and lustre to the House of Lords, and in some degree restore it to the political importance it once enjoyed. Power must be founded either on property or on ability. If we cannot give the one, we may furnish the other. That assembly, which contains the men of greatest name and reputation, cannot fail to acquire authority by the influence it must exert on public opinion.

It is not necessary that an entire stop should be put to the creation of hereditary peerages, or that any limits in that respect should be set to the present prerogative of the Crown. It will be sufficient, if the introduction of peers for life enables the King to reward merit, supply inevitable deficiencies in the House of Lords, and qualify it for the perfect discharge of its legislative duties, without permanently adding to an overgrown body, which, if it ever came to be factious, might become troublesome and unmanageable.

Art. III.-Lives of the Necromancers; or an Account of the

most Eminent Persons, in successive Ages, who have claimed for themselves, or to whom has been imputed by others, the exercise of Magical Power. By WILLIAM Godwin, 8vo. London: 1834,


HE interest which has lately been excited by the Letters of

Sir Walter Scott on Demonology and Witchcraft,' has drawn the public attention to the kindred subject of Magic and Necromancy, and various works have been published to gratify this appetite for the marvellous. In the work on the Occult

« AnteriorContinuar »