« PreviousContinue »
This is necessarily matter of much more dry research and patient investigation than the discussion of treaties, or the celebration of victories. If these topics, however, exclude the more luxuriant flowers of eloquence, they necessarily tend to create a terse, condensed, and energetic style of speaking, suited to subjects, sober and practical indeed in their character, but yet connected with all the interesting principles of philosophy and morals, and tending to the permanent improvement and happiness of society in all its classes. Among these supremely important topics for legislative consideration, the condition of the laws stands foremost; —foremost in the importance of its results ; foremost in the wide scope and field which it presents; foremost in the skill and knowledge, and, above all, the labour and judgment required in those who undertake its amendment.
Mr. Peel, and other members, who have of late devoted their time and attention to this subject, have done essential good, not only by the acts which they have introduced, but also by strongly and repeatedly calling the attention of parliament to the condition of the statute-law, and pointing out the evils arising from the manner in which our ancestors have been wont to frame their enactments. Much, very much, remains to be achieved— the first steps only in the road of improvement have been made. Mr. Peel, no question, intends to proceed with the consolidation and purification of the different branches of the criminal law; but a wide field remains open, which, we trust, will be occupied by other improvers. The talents, acquirements, and influence of those members of the government and legislature, who have received the advantage of a legal education-particularly of the right honourable gentlemen at the head of the Woods and Forests and of the Board of Control-might, if their official duties permitted, be most beneficially directed to promoting and patronising further consolidations of the laws. Mr. Peel's efforts certainly evince that an important portion of the general work of consolidation and revision of the law may be effected by an individual legislator aided by active professional assistants. It is perhaps, however, too much to expect that the whole work can be accomplished by the mere exertions of single members of parliament, however ably assisted; a commission of members and professional individuals, or of the latter alone, may, perhaps, be found necessary to execute the details of a general consolidation of the statute law. Whatever may be the means resorted to, we think it is now clear that the improvements already effected must needs lead the way to many more. It is now no longer matter of doubt and speculation, whether verbose laws can or cannot be abridged, and conflicting, confused, and accumulated laws sim
plified, condensed, and rendered perspicuous. This task has, in several important branches of law, been accomplished with such signal success as to silence all mere theoretical reasonings against the plan. Not only have the public witnessed and applauded this advance towards an improved system-Mr. Peel has acted throughout his task with the advice and concurrence of technical lawyers, and the approbation and assistance of the experienced judges of the realm. In the judicious caution which has restrained him from pushing his reforms beyond the point to which they could be accompanied by the concurrence of the practical executors and ministers of the law, he has even stopped short, in some instances, of the extent to which lawyers conceived he might proceed. Well knowing the value of opinion, respecting even the prejudices of habit, and bearing in mind that the success of laws in their practical operation, must ever mainly depend on the acceptation in which they are held by those who put them in force, he has, with a truly statesman-like moderation, consented to waive something of the completion of his own designs, out of deference to those not so far advanced in their views as himself. By this wise caution he has secured the confidence of the public, and, while he has acquired for himself the character not more of an enlightened than of a safe and practical legislator, he has paved the way for an easy accomplishment of further improvements, when time and circumstances render them fitting. We cannot help adding, that the professors of the law, from the judges downwards, have encouraged and aided these reforms in legislation in a spirit which abundantly refutes the sneers which the vulgar sometimes indulge against them, as desiring to check legal improvements from illiberal, and even sordid motives. To those who know them best, it is needless to say that a more enlightened, liberal, and truly generous body—one more incapable of sacrificing really useful objects to selfish considerations—cannot be found ; though from an accurate and practical kuowledge of the laws of their country, and from the habit of penetrating through false appearances, and detecting sophistries, they may often attach small value to empirical schemes of amendment which, to more superficial and less informed observers, may appear deserving of all patronage. To the practical, well considered, and cautious improvements lately made in the criminal code, Mr. Peel bears testimony that they have, one and all, with whom he communicated, given zealous and disinterested attention, and every co-operation which their knowledge could afford.
VOL, XXXVII. NO. LXXIII.
Art. VII.—The Constitutional History of England, from the
Accession of Henry VII. to the Death of George II. By Henry
Hallam. London. 1827. 2 vols. 4to. MR
R. HALLAM tells us that the title which he has adopted
appears to exclude all matters not referrible to the state of government, or what is loosely denominated the constitution ;' this part of history being, he says, in many respects, most congenial to his own studies and habits of mind. He has generally, therefore, abstained from mentioning, except cursorily, either military or political transactions which do not seem to bear on this primary subject. “It must, however,' he proceeds to say, “be evident that the constitutional and general history of England, at some periods, nearly coincide; and I presume, that a few occasional deviations of this nature will not be deemed unpardonable, especially where they tend, at least indirectly, to illustrate the main topic of inquiry. Nor will the reader, perhaps, be of opinion that I have forgotten my theme in those parts of the following work which relate to the establishment of the English church, and to the proceedings of the state with respect to those who have dissented from it; facts certainly belonging to the history of our constitution in the large sense of the word, and most important in their application to modern times, for which all knowledge of the past is principally valuable.'
The experiment of separating history into its constituent parts, civil and military, ecclesiastical, constitutional, literary, moral and commercial, was made upon a large scale by the industrious Henry, who thereby established for himself no inconsiderable reputation, notwithstanding the nefarious malignity with which Gilbert Stuart endeavoured to blast the fruit of his labours, ruin him in his fortunes, and break his heart. * As yet, however, Dr. Ranken (in a history of France) has been his only imitator. For the advantages are more specious than solid; and history is in reality rendered more complicated by this scheme for simplifying it. A book so arranged may be convenient for the facilities of reference which it affords; and, therefore, it is well that there should be histories composed upon such a plan. But a narrative, which proceeds according to the course of time and events, and records things as they are intermingled in the multifold concerns of society, is read with more pleasure, and remembered with more profit. The relation of civil and military transactions, of laws, literature, manners,
* Mr. D'Israeli, in his Calamities of Authors, has given a curious account of this Literary Hatred, exhibiting a Conspiracy against an Author.' Its materials are derived from Stuart's own letters, who little thought, while he was seeking to destroy the reputation of another, that he was heaping up infamy for himself,
and religion, their mutual connexion, their influence and dependence upon each other, are better perceived and comprehended by the historian himself, if he be competent to the task which he undertakes, when he follows the natural order of narration; and things presented in that order appear to the reader in their proper place, and bearings, and proportions.
It would not be obvious what is meant by a Constitutional History, if Mr. Hallam had not, in the preface, explained what he intended by this designation. In common parlance, to call an historical work constitutional, would be analogous to giving the epithet of orthodox to a theological one; it would be understood as implying that the author was attached by principle and feeling to the established institutions of his country; consequently, that the book might be recommended as designed to inculcate safe opinions and sound doctrines relating to church and state. So far as the title may seem to imply this, it is a misnomer. The book is the production of a decided partisan; presenting not the history itself, but what is called the philosophy of history, and to be received with the more suspicion, because it deals in deductions and not in details. There are many ways in which history may be rendered insidious; but there is no other way by which an author can, with so much apparent good faith, mislead his readers. For if he enter into details, he must either relate them faithfully, and in that case, however his own mind may be biassed, the true statement will induce the true conclusions; or, he must misrepresent them, at the hazard of being traced to his authorities, and detected in misrepresentation. This, indeed, is little regarded by those who labour to serve the interests of a party or of a sect, sure as they are of obtaining credit with the faction which is thus served. There is a proverb imputed to the Spaniards, (and not improbably, when we remember the Machiavelian politics of Ferdinand, the Catholic king, and the Austrian dynasty,) that a lie, if it will last half an hour, is worth telling :' authors' lies last longer. A Frenchman, in the 17th century, published a book, in which he valiantly denied that Francis I. had been taken prisoner by the Spaniards. His very countrymen marvelled at the audacity of this falsehood; but when he was asked how he could venture upon sending such an assertion into the world, he replied, that he had done so advisedly, because in the course of an hundred years his denial of the fact would become sufficient authority for calling it in question, and thus it would be rendered doubtful.
He spoke and acted in the gaiety and frankness of his heart for the honour of France; and books are still composed in that country from the same motive upon the same principle. It would be possible to compile a history of the Peninsular War from French memoirs, and
official reports to the French Imperial government, by which it should appear that the English were defeated in every action during that war, and that the enemy, after a series of skilful and brilliant operations, concluded their career of success by obtaining a signal victory before Thoulouse.
If the mere spirit of nationality will induce men thus to impose upon the world narrations which they know to be essentially and impudently false, much more may a like effect be expected from religious or factious zeal: for men prefer their religion to their country (as they must of necessity do, if they sincerely hold the opinions which they profess); and they prefer their faction to their country also, for the same reason which, in a collision of interests, would make them prefer their own to that of their faction: and as there is no other country in which factions, both civil and religious, have struck such deep roots and sent up their scions so widely as in England, so there is none in which historical transactions have been so perseveringly and systematically falsified; nor has this ever been done more elaborately than in the present times. They who have the worst cause are generally the most alert and indefatigable in promoting it. There is a restless principle of activity in faction, error and wickedness, even as in disease and contagion, -the moral constitution of things resembling in this respect the physical, The falsehoods which are thus propagated, obtain sometimes a long currency; and the false impressions which they make, produce consequences grievously injurious to mankind. The comfortable maxim of our own homely old Georgics, that • Time tries the truth in every thing,' fails unhappily in such cases. Systems, indeed, of every kind are brought to the test by time; physical errors are disproved and exploded; and fine-spun theories, political and economical, are demolished as effectually when attempted in practice, as they have been triumphantly demonstrated in lengthy speeches and in wire-drawn volumes. But there are historical falsehoods which are continually kept alive by the evil feelings and intentions (not to say the evil principle) which originally produced them. Generation after generation they are repeated, with a pertinacity which no disappointment relaxes, and with an effrontery which nothing can abash, and which, therefore, is only hardened and exasperated by the infamy of repeated exposures; and thus the work of delusion and mischief, for which they were designed, is carried on through successive centuries and ages. Such, for instance, are the impious fables concerning our Lord and Saviour, which are at this day received among the Jews, and contribute to harden them in their unbelief. Such (to adduce less awful examples) are the calumnies which the Roman Catholics everlastingly repeat against Luther, Calvin,