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Thus every man who then meddled with public affairs took his life in his hand. The consequence was that men of gentle natures stood aloof from contests in which they could not engage without hazarding their own necks and the fortunes of their children. This was the course adopted by Sir William Temple, by Evelyn, and by many other men who were, in every respect, admirably qualified to serve the State. On the other hand, those resolute and enterprising men who put their heads and lands to hazard in the game of politics naturally acquired, from the habit of playing for so deep a stake, a reckless and desperate turn of mind. It was, we seriously believe, as safe to be a highwayman as to be a distinguished leader of Opposition. This may serve to explain, and in some degree to excuse, the violence with which the factions of that age are justly reproached. They were fighting, not merely for office, but for life. If they reposed for a moment from the work of agitation, if they suffered the public excitement to flag, they were lost men. Hume, in describing this state of things, has employed an image which seems hardly to suit the general simplicity of his style, but which is by no means too strong for the occasion. “Thus," says he, “the two parties actuated by mutual rage, but cooped up within the narrow limits of the law, levelled with poisoned daggers the most deadly blows against each other's breast, and buried in their factious divisions all regard to truth, honour, and humanity."
From this terrible evil the Revolution set us free. The law which secured to the judges their seats during life or good behaviour did something. The law subsequently passed for regulating trials in cases of treason did much more. The provisions of that law show, indeed, very little legislative skill. It is not framed on the principle of securing the innocent, but on the principle of giving a great chance of escape to the accused, whether innocent or guilty. This, however, is decidedly a fault on the right side. The evil produced by the occasional escape of a bad citizen is not to be compared with the evils of that Reign of Terror, for such it was, which preceded the Revolution. Since the passing of this law scarcely one single person has suffered death in England as a traitor, who had not been convicted on overwhelming evidence, to the satisfaction of all parties, of the highest crime against the State. Attempts have been made in times of great excitement, to bring in persons guilty of high treason for acts which, though sometimes highly blamable, did not necessarily imply a design falling within the legal definition of treason. All those attempts have failed. During a hundred and forty years no statesman, while engaged in constitutional opposition to a government, has had the axe before his eyes. The smallest minorities, struggling against the most powerful majorities, in the most agitated times, have felt themselves perfectly secure. Pulteney and Fox were the two most distinguished leaders of Opposition since the Revolution. Both were personally obnoxious to the Court. But the utmost harm that the utmost anger of the Court could do to them was to strike off the “ Right Honourable" from before their names.
But of all the reforms produced by the Revolution, perhaps the most important was the full establishment of the liberty of unlicensed printing. The Censorship which, under some form or other, had existed, with rare and short intermissions, under every government, monarchical or republican, from the time of Henry the Eighth downwards, expired, and has never since been renewed.
We are aware that the great improvements which we have recapitulated were, in many respects, imperfectly and unskilfully executed. The authors of those improvements sometimes, while they removed or mitigated a great practical evil, continued to recognise the erroneous principle from which that evil had sprung. Sometimes, when they had adopted a sound principle, they shrank from following it to all the conclusions to which it would have led them. Sometimes they failed to perceive that the remedies which they applied to one disease of the State were certain to generate another disease, and to render
another remedy necessary. Their knowledge was inferior to ours : nor were they always able to act upto their knowledge. The pressure of circumstances, the necessity of compromising differences of opinion, the power and violence of the party which was altogether hostile to the new settlement, must be taken into the account. When these things are fairly weighed, there will, we think, be little difference of opinion among liberal and right-minded men as to the real value of what the great events of 1688 did for this country.
We have recounted what appear to us the most important of those changes which the Revolution produced on our laws. The changes which it produced in our laws, however, were not more important than the change which it indirectly produced in the public mind. The Whig party had, during seventy years, an almost uninterrupted possession of power. It had always been the fundamental doctrine of that party, that power is a trust for the people ; that it is given to magistrates, not for their own, but for the public advantage; that, where it is abused by magistrates, even by the highest of all, it may lawfully be withdrawn. It is perfectly true, that the Whigs were not more exempt than other men from the vices and infirmities of our nature, and that, when they had power, they sometimes abused it. But still they stood firm to their theory. That theory was the badge of their party. It was something more. It was the foundation on which rested the power of the houses of Nassau and Brunswick. Thus, there was a government interested in propagating a class of opinions which most governments are interested in discouraging, a government which looked with complacency on all speculations favourable to public liberty, and with extreme aversion on all speculations favourable to arbitrary power. There was a King who decidedly preferred a republican to a believer in the divine right of Kings; who con. sidered every attempt to exalt his prerogative as an attack on his title ; and who reserved all his favours for those who declaimed on the natural equality of men, and the popular origin of government. This was the state of things from the Revolution till the death of George the Second. The effect was what might have been expected. Even in that profession which has generally been most disposed to magnify the prerogative, a great change took place. Bishopric after bishopric and deanery after deanery were bestowed on Whigs and Latitudinarians. The consequence was that Whiggism and Latitudinarianism were professed by the ablest and most aspiring churchmen.
Hume complained bitterly of this at the close of his history. “The Whig party,” says he, "for a course of near seventy years, has almost without interruption enjoyed the whole authority of government, and no honours or offices could be obtained but by their countenance and protection. But this event, which in some particulars has been advantageous to the state, has proved destructive to the truth of history, and has established many gross falsehoods, which it is unaccountable how any civilised nation could have embraced with regard to its domestic occurrences. Compositions the most despicable, both for style and matter,"-in a note he instances the writings of Locke, Sydney, Hoadley, and Rapin, -- "have been extolled and propagated and read as if they had equalled the most celebrated remains of antiquity. And forgetting that a regard to liberty, though a laudable passion, ought commonly to be subservient to a reverence for established government, the prevailing faction has celebrated only the partisans of the former.” We will not here enter into an argument about the merit of Rapin's History, or Locke's political speculations. We call Hume merely as evidence to a fact well known to all reading men, that the literature patronised by the English Court and the English ministry, during the first half of the eighteenth century, was of that kind which courtiers and ministers generally do all in their power to discountenance, and tended to inspire zeal for the liberties of the people rather than respect for the authority of the government.
There was still a very strong Tory party in England. But that party was
in opposition. Many of its members still held the doctrine of passive obedience. But they did not admit that the existing dynasty had any claim to such obedience. They condemned resistance. But by resistance they meant the keeping out of James the Third, and not the turning out of George the Second. No Radical of our times could grumble more at the expenses of the royal household, could exert himself more strenuously to reduce the military establishment, could oppose with more earnestness every proposition for arming the executive with extraordinary powers, or could pour more unmitigated abuse on placemen and courtiers. If a writer were now, in a massive Dictionary, to define a Pensioner as a traitor and a slave, the Excise as a hateful tax, the Commissioners of the Excise as wretches, if he were to write a satire full of reflections on men who receive “the price of boroughs and of souls,” who “explain their country's dear-bought rights away,” or
“Whom pensions can incite
To vote a patriot black, a courtier white," we should set him down for something more democratic than a Whig. Yet this was the language which Johnson, the most bigoted of Tories and High Churchmen, held under the administration of Walpole and Pelham.
Thus doctrines favourable to public liberty were inculcated alike by those who were in power and by those who were in opposition. It was by means of these doctrines alone that the former could prove that they had a King de jure. The servile theories of the latter did not prevent them from offering every molestation to one whom they considered as merely a King de facto.
The attachment of one party to the House of Hanover, of the other to that of Stuart, induced both to talk a language much more favourable to popular rights than to monarchical power. What took place at the first representation of Cato is no bad illustration of the way in which the two great sections of the community almost invariably acted. A play, the whole merit of which consists in its stately rhetoric, a rhetoric sometimes not unworthy of Lucan, about hating tyrants and dying for freedom, is brought on the stage in a time of great political excitement. Both parties crowd to the theatre. Each affects to consider every line as a compliment to itself, and an attack on its opponents. The curtain falls amidst an unanimous roar of applause. The Whigs of the Kit Cat embrace the author, and assure him that he has ren. dered an inestimable service to liberty. The Tory secretary of state presents a purse to the chief actor for defending the cause of liberty so well
. The history of that night was, in miniature, the history of two generations.
We well know how much sophistry there was in the reasonings, and how much exaggeration in the declamations of both parties. But when we compare the state in which political science was at the close of the reign of George the Second with the state in which it had been when James the Second came to the throne, it is impossible not to admit that a prodigious improvement had taken place. We are no admirers of the political doctrines laid down in Blackstone's Commentaries. But if we consider that those Commentaries were read with great applause in the very schools where, seventy or eighty years before, books had been publicly burned by order of the University of Oxford for containing the damnable doctrine that the English monarchy is limited and mixed, we cannot deny that a salutary change had taken place. “The Jesuits,” says Pascal, in the last of his incomparable letters, " have obtained a Papal decree, condemning Galileo's doctrine about the motion of the earth. It is all in vain. If the world is really turning round, all mankind together will not be able to keep it from turning, or to keep themselves from turning with it.” The decrees of Oxford were as ineffectual to stay the great moral and political revolution as those of the Vatican to stay the motion of our globe. ' That learned University found itself not only unable to keep the mass from moving, but unable to keep itself from moving along with the mass. Nor was the effect of the discussions and speculations of that period confined to our own country. While the Jacobite party was in the last dotage and weakness of its paralytic old age, the political philosophy of England began to produce a mighty effect on France, and, through France, on Europe.
Ilere another vast field opens itself before us. But we must resolutely turn away from it. We will conclude by advising all our readers to study Sir James Mackintosh's valuable Fragment, and by expressing our hope that they will soon be able to study it without those accompaniments which have hitherto impeded its circulation.
LORD BACON. (July, 1837.) The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England. A new Edition. By
BASIL MONTAGU, Esq. 16 vols. 8vo. London : 1825-1834. We return our hearty thanks to Mr Montagu for this truly valuable work. From the opinions which he expresses as a biographer we often dissent. But about his merit as a collector of the materials out of which opinions are formed, there can be no dispute ; and we readily acknowledge that we are in a great measure indebted to his minute and accurate researches for the means of refuting what we cannot but consider as his errors.
· The labour which has been bestowed on this volume has been a labour of love. The writer is evidently enamoured of the subject. It fills his heart. It constantly overflows from his lips and his pen. Those who are acquainted with the Courts in which Mr Montagu practises with so much ability and success well know how often he enlivens the discussion of a point of law by citing some weighty aphorism, or some brilliant illustration, from the De Augmentis or the Novum Organum. The Life before us doubtless owes much of its value to the honest and generous enthusiasm of the writer. This feeling has stimulated his activity, has sustained his perseverance, has called forth all his ingenuity and eloquence : but, on the other hand, we must frankly say that it has, to a great extent, perverted his judgment.
We are by no means without sympathy for Mr Montagu even in what we consider as his weakness. There is scarcely any delusion which has a better claim to be indulgently treated than that under the influence of which a man ascribes every moral excellence to those who have left imperishable monuments of their genius. The causes of this error lie deep in the inmost recesses of human nature. We are all inclined to judge of others as we find them. Our estimate of a character always depends much on the manner in which that character affects our own interests and passions. We find it difficult to think well of those by whom we are thwarted or depressed ; and we are ready to admit every excuse for the vices of those who are useful or agreeable to us. This is, we believe, one of those illusions to which the whole human race is subject, and which experience and reflection can only partially remove. It is, in the phraseology of Bacon, one of the idola tribus. Hence it is that the moral character of a man eminent in letters or in the fine arts is treated, often by contemporaries, almost always by posterity, with extraordinary tenderness. The world derives pleasure and advantage from the performances of such a man. The number of those who suffer by his personal vices is small, even in his own time, when compared with the number of those to whom his talents are a source of gratification. In a few years all those whom he has injured disappear. But his works remain, and are a source of delight to millions. The genius of Sallust is still with us. But the Numidians whom he plundered, and the unfortunate husbands who caught him in their houses at unseasonable hours, are forgotten. We suffer ourselves to be delighted
by the keenness of Clarendon's observation, and by the sober majesty of his style, till we forget the oppressor and the bigot in the historian. Falstaff and Tom Jones have survived the gamekeepers whom Shakspeare cudgelled and the landladies whom Fielding bilked. " A great writer is the friend and benefactor of his readers; and they cannot but judge of him under the deluding influence of friendship and gratitude. We all know how unwilling we are to admit the truth of any disgraceful story about a person whose society we like, and from whom we have received favours; how long we struggle against evidence, how fondly, when the facts cannot be disputed, we cling to the hope that there may be some explanation or some extenuating circumstance with which we are unacquainted. Just such is the feeling which a man of liberal education naturally entertains towards the great minds of former ages. The debt which he owes to them is incalculable. They have guided him to truth. They have filled his mind with noble and graceful images. They have stood by him in all vicissitudes, comforters in sorrow, nurses in sickness, companions in solitude. These friendships are exposed to no danger from the occurrences by which other attachments are weakened or dissolved, Time glides ong fortune is inconstant; tempers are soured ; bonds which seemed indissoluble are daily sundered by interest, by emula. tion, or by caprice. But no such cause can affect the silent converse which we hold with the highest of human intellects. That placid intercourse is disturbed by no jealousies or resentments. These are the old friends who are never seen with new faces, who are the same in wealth and in poverty, in glory and in obscurity. With the dead there is no rivalry. In the dead there is no change. Plato is never sullen. Cervantes is never petulant. Demosthenes never comes unseasonably. Dante never stays too long. No difference of political opinion can alienate Cicero. No heresy can excite the horror of Bossuet.
Nothing, then, can be more natural than that a person endowed with sensibility and imagination should entertain a respectful and affectionate feeling towards those great men with whose minds he holds daily communion. Yet nothing can be more certain than that such men have not always deserved to be regarded with respect or affection. Some writers, whose works will continue to instruct and delight mankind to the remotest ages, have been placed in such situations that their actions and motives are as well known to us as the actions and motives of one human being can be known to another; and unhappily their conduct has not always been such as an impartial judge can contemplate with approbation. But the fanaticism of the devout worshipper of genius is proof against all evidence and all argument. The character of his idol is matter of faith; and the province of faith is not to be invaded by reason. He maintains his superstition with a credulity as boundless, and a zeal as unscrupulous, as can be found in the most ardent partisans of religious or political factions. The most decisive proofs are rejected; the plainest rules of morality are explained away; extensive and important portions of history are completely distorted. The enthusiast misrepresents facts with all the effrontery of an advocate, and confounds right and wrong with all the dexterity of a Jesuit ; and all this only in order that some man who has been in his grave during many ages may have a fairer character than he deserves.
Middleton's Life of Cicero is a striking instance of the influence of this sort of partiality. Never was there a character which it was easier to read than that of Cicero. Never was there a mind keener or more critical than that of Middleton. Had the biographer brought to the examination of his favourite statesman's conduct but a very small part of the acuteness and severity which he displayed when he was engaged in investigating the high pretensions of Epiphanius and Justin Martyr, he could not have failed to produce a most valuable history of a most interesting portion of time. But this most ingenious and learned man, though