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would be most uncandid to attribute to sordid motives actions which admit of a less discreditable explanation. We think that the conduct of these persons has been precisely what was to be expected from men who were gifted with strong imagination and quick sensibility, but who were neither accurate observers nor logical reasoners. It was natural that such men should see in the victory of the third estate of France the dawn of a new Saturnian age. It was natural that the rage of their disappointment should be proportioned to the extravagance of their hopes. Though the direction of their passions was altered, the violence of those passions was the same. The force of the rebound was proportioned to the force of the original impulse. The pendulum swung furiously to the left, because it had been drawn too far to the right.
We own that nothing gives us so high an idea of the judgment and temper of Sir James Mackintosh as the manner in which he shaped his course through those times. Exposed successively to two opposite infections, he took both in their very mildest form. The constitution of his mind was such that neither of the diseases which wrought such havoc all round him could in any serious degree, or for any great length of time, derange his intellectual health. He, like every honest and enlightened man in Europe, saw with delight the great awakening of the French nation. Yet he never, in the season of his warmest enthusiasm, proclaimed doctrines inconsistent with the safety of property and the just authority of governments. He, like almost every other honest and enlightened man, was discouraged and perplexed by the terrible events which followed. Yet he never in the most gloomy times abandoned the cause of peace, of liberty, and of toleration. In that great convulsion which overset almost every other understanding, he was indeed so much shaken that he leaned sometimes in one direction and sometimes in the other; but he never lost his balance. The opinions in which he at last reposed, and to which, in spite of strong temptations, he adhered with a firm, a disinterested, an ill-requited fidelity, were a just mean between those which he had defended with youthful ardour and with more than manly prowess against Mr. Burke, and those to which he had inclined during the darkest and saddest years in the history of modern Europe. We are much mistaken if this be the picture either of a weak or of a dishonest mind.
What the political opinions of Sir James Mackintosh were in his later years is written in the annals of his country. Those annals will sufficiently refute what the Editor has ventured to assert in the very advertisement to this work. “Sir James Mackintosh,” says he, “was avowedly and emphatically a Whig of the Revolution: and since the agitation of religious liberty and parliamentary reform became a national movement, the great transaction of 1688 has been more dispassionately, more correctly, and less highly estimated.” If these words mean anything, they must mean that the opinions of Sir James Mackintosh concerning religious liberty and parliamentary reform went no further than those of the authors of the Revolution ; in other words, that Sir James Mackintosh opposed Catholic Emancipation, and approved of the old constitution of the House of Commons. The allegation is confuted by twenty volumes of Parliamentary Debates, nay by innumerable passages in the very Fragment which this writer has defaced. We will venture to say that Sir James Mackintosh often did more for religious liberty and for parliamentary reform in a quarter of an hour than most of those zealots who are in the habit of depreciating him have done or will do in the whole course of their lives.
Nothing in the Memoir or in the Continuation of the History has struck us so much as the contempt with which the writer thinks fit to speak of all things that were done before the coming in of the very last fashions in politics. We think that we have sometimes observed a leaning towards the same fault in writers of a much higher order of intellect. We will therefore take this opportunity of making a few remarks on an error which is, we fear, becoming common, and which appears to us not only absurd, but as pernicious as almost any error concerning the transactions of a past age can possibly be.
We shall not, we hope, be suspected of a bigoted attachment to the doctrines and practices of past generations. Our creed is that the science of government is an experimental science, and that, like all other experimental sciences, it is generally in a state of progression. No man is so obstinate an admirer of the old times as to deny that medicine, surgery, botany, chemistry, engineering, navigation, are better understood now than in any former age. We conceive that it is the same with political science. Like those physical sciences which we have mentioned, it has always been working itself clearer and clearer, and depositing impurity after impurity. There was a time when the most powerful of human intellects were deluded by the gibberish of the astrologer and the alchemist; and just so there was a time when the most enlightened and virtuous statesmen thought it the first duty of a government to persecute heretics, to found monasteries, to make war on Saracens. But time advances; facts accumulate ; doubts arise. Faint glimpses of truth begin to appear, and shine more and more unto the perfect day. The highest intellects, like the tops of mountains, are the first to catch and to reflect the dawn. They are bright, while the level below is still in darkness. But soon the light which at first illuminated only the loftiest eminences, descends on the plain, and penetrates to the deepest valley. First come hints, then fragments of systems, then defective systems, then complete and harmonious systems. The sound opinion, held for a time by one bold speculator, becomes the opinion of a small minority, of a strong minority, of a majority of mankind. Thus, the great progress goes on, till schoolboys laugh at the jargon which imposed on Bacon, till country rectors condemn the illiberality and intolerance of Sir Thomas More.
Seeing these things, seeing that, by the confession of the most obstinate enemies of innovation, our race has hitherto been almost constantly advancing in knowledge, and not seeing any reason to believe that, precisely at the point of time at which we came into the world, a change took place in the faculties of the human mind, or in the mode of discovering truth, we are reformers: we are on the side of progress. From the great advances which European society has made, during the last four centuries, in every species of knowledge, we infer, not that there is no more room for improvement, but that, in every science which deserves the name, immense improvements may be confidently expected.
But the very considerations which lead us to look forward with sanguine hope to the future prevent us from looking back with contempt on the past. We do not flatter ourselves with the notion that we have attained perfection, and that no more truth remains to be found. We believe that we are wiser than our ancestors. We believe also, that our posterity will be wiser than we. It would be gross injustice in our grandchildren to talk of us with contempt, merely because they may have surpassed us : to call Watt a fool, because mechanical powers may be discovered which may supersede the use of steam ; to deride the efforts which have been made in our time to improve the discipline of prisons, and to enlighten the minds of the poor, because future philanthropists may devise better places of confinement than Mr. Bentham's Pan
opticon, and better places of education than Mr. Lancaster's Schools. As we would have our descendants judge us, so ought we to judge our fathers. In order to form a correct estimate of their merits, we ought to place ourselves in their situation, to put out of our minds, for a time, all that knowledge which they, however eager in the pursuit of truth, could not have, and which we, however negligent we may have been, could not help having. It was not merely difficult, but absolutely impossible, for the best and greatest of men, two hundred years ago, to be what a very commonplace person in our days may easily be, and indeed must necessarily be. But it is too much that the benefactors of mankind, after having been reviled by the dunces of their own generation for going too far, should be reviled by the dunces of the next generation for not going far enough.
The truth lies between two absurd extremes. On one side is the bigot who pleads the wisdom of our ancestors as a reason for not doing what they in our place would be the first to do; who opposes the Reform Bill because Lord Somers did not see the necessity of Parliamentary Reform ; who would have opposed the Revolution because Ridley and Cranmer professed boundless submission to the royal prerogative; and who would have opposed the Reformation because the Fitzwalters and Mareschals, whose seals are set to the Great Charter, were devoted adherents to the Church of Rome. On the other side is the sciolist who speaks with scorn of the Great Charter, because it did not reform the Church ; of the Reformation, because it did not limit the prerogative; and of the Revolution, because it did not purify the House of Commons. The former of these errors we have often combated, and shall always be ready to combat. The latter, though rapidly spreading, has not yet, we think, come under our notice. The former error bears directly on practical questions, and obstructs useful reforms. It may, therefore, seem to be, and probably is, the more mischievous of the two. But the latter is equally absurd; it is at least equally symptomatic of a shallow understanding and an unamiable temper: and, if it should ever become general, it will, we are satisfied, produce very prejudicial effects. Its tendency is to deprive the benefactors of mankind of their honest fame, and to put the best and the worst men of past times on the same level. The author of a great reformation is almost always unpopular in his own age. He generally passes his life in disquiet and danger. It is therefore for the interest of the human race that the memory of such men should be had in reverence, and that they should be supported against the scorn and batred of their contemporaries by the hope of leaving a great and imperishable name. To go on the forlorn hope of truth is a service of peril. Who will undertake it, if it be not also a service of honour ? It is easy enough, after the ramparts are carried, to find men to plant the flag on the highest tower. The difficulty is to find men who are ready to go first into the breach; and it would be bad policy indeed to insult their remains because they fell in the breach, and did not live to penetrate to the citadel.
Now here we have a book which is by no means a favourable specimen of the English literature of the nineteenth century, a book indicating neither extensive knowledge nor great powers of reasoning. And, if we were to judge by the pity with which the writer speaks of the great statesmen and philosophers of a former age, we should guess that he was the author of the most original and important inventions in political science. Yet not so: for men who are able to make discoveries are generally disposed to make allowances. Men who are eagerly pressing forward in pursuit of truth are grateful to every one who has cleared an inch of the way for them. It is, for the most part, the man who has just capacity enough to pick up and repeat the commonplaces which are fashionable in his own time who looks with disdain on the very intellects to which it is owing that those commonplaces are not still considered as startling paradoxes or damnable heresies. This writer is just the man who, if he had lived in the seventeenth century, would have devoutly believed that the Papists burned London, who would have swallowed the whole of Oates's story about the forty thousand soldiers, disguised as pilgrims, who were to meet in Gallicia, and sail thence to invade England, who would have carried a Protestant flail under his coat, and who would have been angry if the story of the warming-pan had been questioned. It is quite natural that such a man should speak with contempt of the great reformers of that time, because they did not know some things which he never would have known but for the salutary effects of their exertions. The men to whom we owe it that we have a House of Commons are sneered at because they did not suffer the debates of the House to be published. The authors of the Toleration Act are treated as bigots, because they did not go the whole length of Catholic Emancipation. Just so we have heard a baby, mounted on the