Imagens das páginas

must take their beginning, not from the despotic discretion of the state, but from private will, may enable the reader to follow out the principle to a great extent. Thus it is, that the law rules, and rules in unison with the exigencies of the time. Thus, laws are wisely measured; and thus they die away by processes merely constitutional. In stating this example—for it is but one of many similar considerations—it is necessary to add, that such principles are too essential not to be in different degrees universal. The principles of law are the prin.ciples of society, and must be found variously combined and modified in all its forms. Nor is it necessary to suppose them understood by either the makers or the dispensers of law-the contrary is, indeed, a fact too notorious. The adaptation of these principles to the wants of mankind is suggested by visible exigencies, and is, for the most part, but partial and imperfect. So far as human councils are concerned, the world is governed with little wisdom. It would be a curious, but a nice question, to show the course of causes and effects by which-in proportion as the progress of the commerce and the arts of life is peaceful and prosperous—the adaptation of constitutional principles tends more and more to the most whole and perfect development. But these are, perhaps, hazardous generalities.

It is a consequence of the peculiar condition thus described, that we cannot in the summary manner which some of our readers may expect, state the more nice and gradual steps of the changes which the same public events have effected in England. In Ireland, and to a great extent in other nations, the main transitions have been summarily produced by the immediate operation of some visible coercion. In England they have grown as from the powers of nature; and those leading events which appear in other countries in the form of causes, as plainly appear there as effects. In other countries, the history of these constitutional changes is to be written in that of their main revolutionary struggles. In England mighty struggles have come and rolled away like those tempests which rock our walls and terrify the night, and in the morning are past, leaving no trace on the calm and cheerful prospect.

The political history of England, when closely analyzed, is the history of her factions, parties, and administrations,—a vast, diversified, and unexhausted field, rich in all the possible examples of human nature, whether in its aggregate or individual workings.

We shall next state at greater length than would be quite convenient in the course of any of the succeeding memoirs, our view of some great party changes which were to have a momentous influence in the events of our own time, though they are, in principle, to be traced as the growth of that interval which is to be comprised in this immediate division of our work.

General party changes.- In some one of the memoirs, in the previous division of this work, we offered some explanation of the remarkable change of position and opinions, which many writers have noticed, as having taken place in the two main parties commonly known as whig and tory. We there endeavoured to explain how, by the natural progress of opinions subject to the influence of events, these two great parties gradually have changed ground without any real change of principle or character. The fleeting succession of atoms of which

parties are composed would, in the natural cycles of action and reaction, have replaced each other with affections and opinions which revolve in no very wide circle; like the movements of the solar system, their retrogressions and stations are but apparent, and each has, in fact, been moving onward in the course of nature. We have next to notice the far more important influences which have remarkably modified and complicated this simple movement. Our problem of moral forces and agencies is affected by perturbations far less simple than those of the physical world. It is generally known that the revolution of France was accompanied by a vast storm of opinions and theories, such as might well be expected to arise from human speculation in a wild attempt to usurp the functions of time and human nature, and to break up and reorganize the social state. The restraints of society cannot be thoroughly unloosed without first throwing aside the moral and spiritual checks of religion. Philosophy, in its madness, invested itself with an imaginary omniscience, and, as a natural consequence, brought forth atheism in the most monstrous forms, but yet, speciously dressed up in all the varied attractions which licentiousness possesses for the inferior classes of mankind, or which theories, systems, and sentiments, ever have for the heated and visionary; it is also well known how these theories were diffused among the surrounding nations ; how they were caught up by artful agitators to inflame the populace, and by turbulent fanatics with the mad enthusiasm of opinion-how also the spread of disaffection and infidelity, thus caused throughout the nations, was seized upon by persons of a far different stamp, the keen and specious infidels of the school of Hume, Gibbon, and Voltaire, as weapons of political warfare. And more tremendously effective weapons were never forged in the cavern of discord. The ravings of blasphemy and sedition, and the wild hallucinations of a most baseless and unsubstantial philosophy soon passed away, as such follies and dreams must pass from a country like England. But the subtle mischief has its root in human nature; and infidelity, the inborn taint, became developed, diffused, and vitally interwoven with radicalism.

For the quick spread and dissemination of this contagion none of the great parties was to be blamed. It spread among the vulgar, and was scattered by the basest tongues and pens. But the effect which it produced fell in well with the policy of the whigs: a virtuous and, in the main, not unwise policy, till it became thus almost unconsciously affected with this element of division and disease. The writings of this party now became plainly tinged with an infidel tone, and all the resources of the press, reviews, pamphlets, and even public institutions, were broadly stamped with its character. The cautious and. statesmanlike speech could be traced to its purpose by the more broad and daring statement of the periodical essay. The legislative policy, maintained by wise and not unjust arguments, could be referred without much difficulty to the known private views of the proposer. The whigs had ever been ready on all occasions to join in every attack upon the church, but their motives had formerly been referrible to their general tenets of religion. Now, however, there began to pervade all such attacks a tone of a very different kind-a language which contained the clearest implication of the untruth of all religion. Arguments in

behalf of toleration, and liberty of conscience, were so selected, and so expressed, as to make these important blessings of freedom depend on the principle, that all religions were equally true or false, and that the legislator should in no way be actuated by any sense of religious obligation.

But our business here with this unfortunate change is simply to point out its remarkable effect on the state of parties. An influence of a high order was thus infused into the mass of party strivings. The sense of religion, not confined to party, became thus a decomposing element in the combination of the liberalist parties. The anti-reli. gious movement had become too perceptibly defined to be mistaken, and conscience could not any longer continue secure in connivance.

Concurrently with the influential cause thus stated, there were others far more on the surface, which operated to a considerable extent. There was that indefinite working of opinion attendant on every great public question, by which, in the course of time, a balance between contending arguments is produced in numerous minds. A greater number still were maintained in a middle position, by a sense of interests, while their connexions or religious views might have weighed in the opposite scale.* Many whigs began to perceive the interminable prospect of an ascending series of demands on the side of the extreme party at their back, while numerous tories, emancipated gradually from the conventional prejudices of an old party, became anxious to arrest encroachment and complaint, on fair grounds of constitutional equality.

Among the whole of this large and variously affected cloud of persuasions, a gradual sense began to arise of the great truth of a broad and comprehensive movement, wholly independent of the objects or interests of classes. It began to be felt that many ancient strong. holds were dissolving, and that time was fast shifting the great questions of the last century. It began to be seen, by those who could see, that interests once small and separate had been enlarged—that the most insignificant party connected with the movement was the part of a mighty and irresistible whole, that could no more be turned back than the tide. Some few recollected that there was a higher overruling power, and that right and truth must prevail.

A new party sprung up-mainly, we believe, from the ranks of the whigs, and grew up by slow degrees. This new party existed without a name, or a principle of concentration, simply in its materials-partlylingering among the whigs, and partly seceding to the tories, and spreading on every side, unforeseen and silent, while it appropriated the common sense of the nation. It was, indeed, rather a constituent portion of the public mind than a party; but we use this term for conciseness. To make the notion familiar, most persons will recollect the common boast of being called a “tory among the whigs, and a whig among the tories”—persons who were zealous for catholic emancipation and

* It would not, consistently with our sketching method, be easy to give examples. On the subject of interested motives, there are some highly curious and instructive. Many protestant country gentlemen evinced a very earnest desire to rid themselves of tithes, until it began to appear that the same arguments which were advanced against the tithes, soon became as efficacious and as convincing when objected to rents.

fierce against radical reform. Thus, the elements of a great future party continued to gather numbers and force, unmarked by any name, and, for a long time quite unrecognised by those who were active in the conflicts of party-numbers of them being attached to either, and numbers floating between, without influence, or recognised leaders, or combining principles; and, if at all active in the politics of the time, rather governed by the common movements and leaders, or by the main connexions of the political section to which they might happen to be attached. But when there thus exists a strong infusion of feelings and convictions, adapted in their nature to influence public bodies, and substantially founded in reason and truth, however insignificant they may seem to the crowd who move but at their leaders' beck, or by the guidance of party maxims and prejudices—they will gradually combine with public feeling, and alter the direction of every party. And thus it was that a great middle party has grown up between the two great opposites, absorbing slowly the better portions of both, and, at a future period, to take the place of both, for the purpose of governing and accomplishing the great movement of the following period—when they were to be seen, as it were, standing out from the ranks of whig and tory, to repress, on one hand, the fanaticism of pure liberalism, that would dissolve the social state; and, on the other, to constrain the fierce prejudices that would repress the tide of time, and bind the future to the limits of ancient darkness. But we are passing our bounds; our present business is with the early commencements and influences, of which these are among the many consequences.

Religions. Among the moving causes adverted to in the foregoing section, none exerted the efficacious power of religion. We do not here mean, however, the direct contentions of hostile sects or churches—though these had, unquestionably, their share in aggravating the general effects, and, to a great extent, served to furnish the occasion and pretext for the spirit of infidelity which characterized the whole movement of the age, and marked with a family likeness its origin in the French revolution.

The spread of infidel principle cast a strong influence over the Church of England. It was soon felt, or imagined to be necessary, by its teachers, to lower the tone of the pulpit to the rationalizing spirit of the age. The pure and plainly-asserted doctrines of the New Testament, of the Articles, Liturgy, and Homilies, were filtered down in a mere system of prudential ethics:-a process the more easy, as other previous influences had long, in a lesser degree, had similar tendencies. To those who would thoroughly comprehend the extreme facility of the transition here spoken of, a few observations may be parenthetically made. We shall be as concise as possible.

If a system were to be devised to remedy the ills of life, to correct the vices of individuals, and the imperfections of society, it would be impossible to conceive so consummate a system of antagonistic influences and provisions as the entire complex of doctrines and morals contained in the whole comprehension of christianity, as it is plainly and simply presented by its Author and first teachers. But for this very reason, That it was, in fact, devised as a remedial system, and, consequently, one of thorough opposition to the predominating tendencies of human nature-it seems to be a most obvious inference, that there should be in the bosom of society a perpetual struggle against it. Nor is it difficult to perceive that there must be a perpetual current of tendencies, never long-if at any time-interrupted, to lower its tone and to fine away its requisitions. And such will ever be found a well indicated fact. When it becomes less observable in the best framed states of society, it will be still traceable in the conduct and conversation of individuals -at one time deriving a spurious sanction from opposition to the workings of fanaticism; at another, from that shallow and flippant wisdom which is best described as “ foolishness with God.” Sometimes softening down one tenet and sometimes another, but always in a spirit of adaptation to the wisdom of the world ; but, most of all, adopting that peculiar compromise which could not have a moment's existence in any other concern—the formal admission, and practical suppression of the acknowledged truth. Such was the actual conduct of the Church of England during the time to which this introduction belongs. On the inconsistency no remarks need be made-we are concerned in a great effect. The gospel, treated as if it were a mere legal fiction, invented for the purposes of state, obtained on the public mind precisely the place and practical authority of such a fiction. To deny it was indecorous—to attend to its forms, decent-to maintain its peculiar and characteristic doctrines, had some contemptuous name. Preachers delivered dissertations borrowed from Epictetus or Tullythe pulpit re-echoed of Academus and the grove, the beauty of virtue, and the prudence of temperance and honesty, and truth was qualified with the language of natural religion (as it is called), and the whole variegated mass concluded with a formal allusion to the gospel, wisely tempered to give no offence to the most fastidious nerves. But we come back to our text.

From a condition of society in which infidel professions largely blended with a state of religion virtually nothing different-not only arose the singular and monstrous phenomenon of a policy, which with one and the same breath acknowledged the church and the gospel, and asserted, in direct contradiction to it, the heathen maxim, that all religions and all churches were the same, and that religious truth was a matter of indifference; that the duties of public men released them, pro tempore, from all allegiance to God; that though they should be christians on Sunday, and in church, they might be infidel in council, and in the business of the office or senate. But religion lost its hold the church languished, lowered its sacred calling, and became degraded in the eye of the community. Vast numbers seceded in search of spiritual light, and the language of the Scriptures was to be only heard by departing from the church which has made the most complete and comprehensive provisions for the diffusion of their purest light. Such was the state of religion in England, the effect, and, by reaction, the cause, of the diffusion of revolutionary tenets.*

* This is true in two very important senses on neither of which can we now afford to be expansive. It is, in the first place, evident that, in a constitution involving christianity as an elementary principle, infidel doctrines must be, in the most direct sense, revolutionary. But in a sense less immediate, it is also appa

« AnteriorContinuar »