« AnteriorContinuar »
traffic, to the indignation of Mr Cobbett, without any qualification. But we are by no means certain that its confequences are fo extremely injurious to the conftitution as he appears to imagine. A venal borough is a borough which Government has not bought; and which may therefore be bought by Mr Cobbett, or any other independent man. When a feat in Parliament is advertized for fale, a pretty fair competition, we think, is opened to politicians of all defcriptions. The independent and well affected part of the nation is far richer than the government, or the peerage; and if all feats in parliament could be honeftly and openly fold for ready money, we have no fort of doubt that a very great majority would be purchafed by perfons unconnected with the Treafury, or the Houfe of Lords. Wealth is one of the democrattcal elements in this trading and opulent country; and an arrangement which gave it more immediate political efficacy, probably would not be at all unfavourable to that part of our conftitution. '.i J' i *' !\'.t . . :.ri: q . .i'..*.;
The great objection, on the other hand, is, that no honourable man will purchase a seat, and that those who do pay money for one, may be presumed to intend to make money by it, and to sell, themselves the first good opportunity. The first observation sounds plausible; and yet every body knows it not to be true. There certainly are many men whose private honour is unimpeachable, who sit for venal boroughs. 'How this is managed we do not exactly know. Whether the end is thought to sanctify the means, or whether the frequency of the transaction has legalized it in the ideas of the world, like the orchard thefts of schoolboys, and the plunder of Border chieftains of old ;—or whether the seat is bought for the young patriot, as the living is bought for the young priest, while they themselves are kept pure from the stain of bribery or simony—we really itto, not pretend to understand. With regard to the other conclusion, that when the seatis bought, the sitter niusf:mean to.be :sold,—it is as certainly at variance with fact, and has a smaller share:.of probability.. The most moderate contest will generally cost more than the dearest borough in the market; and as, .in trying tunes, .contests will be very frequent, it must he the most economical and prudent way for a patriotic party to provide for as many as they can by purchase, before they try the more costly and honourable road.of open competition-; o ^ihahe whole, however, we have no great' affection for.'ratteri'Wroughs; but Ichiefty* because-, :we think that the:practice ofpurchasing!them tends to abate the love pf .liberty^ ahck 4hfei;pridei of.'independence >amomg' t!ve people; and that it is to their feelings, and not to the composition of the Legislature, that we must always look for the.fountain and. vital spring of our freedom.
Upon Upon the whole, we hope we have said something to justify our love of our actual constitution—our aversion to Mr ^Jpbbett's schemes of reform—and our indignation at his attempts to weaken the respect and attachment of the people to forms and establishments, without which, we are persuaded, there would be no security for their freedom. To some among" the higher. classes of our readers, an apology may appear to be requisite for the time and attention we have bestowed on a writer of this description. The higher orders of society, however, we are afraid, are but little aware, either of the great influence which such a writer possesses, or of the extent to which many of his sentiments prevail among the middling classes of the community. In his contempt for the Legislature, and his despair of public virtue or energy, Mr Cobbett, we believe, has rather followed than fashioned - the impressions of those for whom his publications are intended. There is a very general spirit of discontent, distrust, and contempt for public characters, among the more intelligent and resolute portion of the inferior ranks of society. We can see, as well as Mr Cobbett, the seeds of a revolution - in the present aspect and temper of the nation; anil though we look forward to it, we trust, with other feelings and other dispositions, we are not the less sensible of the hazard in which we are placed. We anticipate little from such an event, but general degradation and misery; we have stepped beyond the limits of our duty, to express our horror at the suggestion; and have contributed our feeble aid to rouse or to undeceive those- who may have been misled by different anticipations. At the same time, we cannot bs.blind to the tendency of public opinion; and are afraid that, .in the event of any- great emergency or disaster, no reasonings, and no motives of prudence, will be sufficient to uphold the establisked forms of the constitution, unless some effort be made on the part of public men to wipe off the imputations which are now thrown upon their characters,—to show that, in a great crisis, they caji forget party, and prejudice, and- self-interest,—and that they have either talents to form plans adequate to the emergency, and resolution to carry them into execution,--or magnanimity to retire from a situation, to the duties of which they are unequal, and to give place to those, upon whose firmness and prudence and talents the nation can rely with assurance. We do not think that this would be done, by making Sir Francis Burdett first Lord of the Treasury, and Mr Home ,Tooke secretary for the Home Department. But much'must be done,—and more desisted from,—before they and their advocates are disarmed of theix most effectual means of delusion. A. '.
Art. J£. Questiones Criticas sobre varios Puntos de Historia Econotnica, Politico y Militar. Su autor D. Antonio de Capmany. 8vo. pp.305, Madrid. 1807. . • .
"VJo opinion has been more universally received by political *^ writers, than that Spain was once a rich, populous, and commercial kingdom; and many ingenious and plausible theories have been proposed, to account for its decline. The expulsion of the Jews and Moriscoes ;—the discovery and conquest of America ;—the foreign and domestic wars, in which for more than two centuries the Spanish monarchy was continually engaged ;— the religious bigotry and intolerance of its government;—the excessive number and pernicious influence of its clergy ;—the abject and debasing superstition of its subjects;—the oppressive and ruinous system of taxation established in the greater part of its provinces ;—the monopolies and other restraints on commerce, which narrow views of interest and mistaken calculations of profit have dictated to its rulers;—its vexatious and intermeddling, though weak and inefficient, police, which harasses and torments, without protecting or defending the people ;—and, lastly, the want of security for the liberty and property of the subject, in a country where individuals are liable to exile and imprisonment, without even the form of a trial;—where the course of justice, always slow and uncertain, is sometimes openly infringed by interpositions of royal authority, and still oftener secretly perverted by private intrigues and solicitations ;—and where the necessities of a prodigal, unprincipled court, lead to arbitrary exactions and irregular means of supply, which are happily unknown in the rest of Europe, the dominions of Turkey only excepted:— Such are the causes to which the decline of Spain has been attributed: And it must be confessed, that, in a country where grievances like these exist, arts and civilization cannot advance, nor the state keep pace with the progress of other nations which possess a better form of government, or enjoy, at least, a more wise and equitable administration of affairs.
The spectacle of a great, powerful and opulent nation, reduced to weakness, poverty and contempt, by the vices of its government, presents a curious and instructive, though melancholy object of contemplation. But, to judge fairly and without exaggeration, of so lamentable a reverse of fortune, we must not rest satisfied with ascertaining the existence, but must inquire inta the extent of the calamity. What was the. state of Spain, it may be asked, before the evils of a bad government were felt in the conduct of its affairs I What evidence have we that there has
been fceen any positive diminution of its antient wealth or resources? "What reason have we for believing, that it has actually declined in population, or that its inhabitants were ever more industrious, or more addicted to commerce than they are at present? Such a previous inquiry seems necessary to appreciate justly the bad effects of its government; and yet, obvious and essential as. it appears to a correct judgment of the case, it has been hitherto entirely neglected, or pursued in the most superficial and carelessi manner, by those who have written and speculated on Spanish affairs.
National vanity and false patriotism have misled all the Spanish authors who have turned their thoughts to this subject. Fully persuaded that their own country was the most fertile, and. the most bountifully supplied by nature of any in Europe, but, unable to disguise from themselves its real backwardness and inferiority to other states, they sought for consolation in pompous and exaggerated descriptions of its ancient grandeur, and gravely explained, conformably to the prevailing theory of their day, the causes of a decline, which had no existence but in their own imagination. Sometimes it was the neglect of sheep, and sometimes the neglect of agriculture, which had ruined their country. Sometimes they complained of the number of strangers who overspread the land like so many locusts, and devoured the subsistence of its inhabitants; and sometimes they lamented the national prejudices against foreigners, which prevented the arts and manufactures of other countries from being introduced into Spain. Sometimes they complained of the exportation of wool, and the importation of cloth; and sometimes they recommended duties on the exportation of their own manufactures, that foreigners might not have the fruits of their industry for nothing. Sometimes they urged their government to expel its own subjects, with every degree of cruelty and injustice; and sometimes they succeeded in persuading it to import foreigners, with ostentatious pretences of benevolence and hospitality. At one moment they declaimed against luxury, and obtained the enactment of sumptuary laws; and next moment they recommended bounties to foreign artists, and preached up the advantage of fixing and establishing the arts of luxury in Spain. At one and thfr same time they built palaces for beggars, and pronounced orations in praise of industry; and, with the same breath that they held. up commerce as the chief object of national attention, they accused their merchants of selfishness, and vainly endeavoured to. wean them from an undue regard to their private interests. But, whatever might be the diversity of their opinions, with regard to &e causes and the cure of the many evils under which their
country country suffered, they were unanimous in their accounts.of > its aritient prosperity. Even those who were not the dupes .of such ridiculous and extravagant fables, adopted and repeated them, in the hopes of rousing their countrymen to industry and exertion., by flattering pictures of the former opulence and grandeur. of their land. ".i
. Foreigners, who turned their attention to the affairs of Spain, were deceived by the positive and confident tone with which the native writers described the ancient greatness, and deplored the subsequent decline of their prosperity. And, indeed, when they considered that,. fof a century and a half, the great object of modern politics had been the maintenance and defence of the.other states of Europe against the overgrown power of Spain, and contrasted their past fears and apprehensions with the weakness and total
.insignificance into which that kingdom afterwards sunk, they
i were easily persuaded to give credit to the Spanish authors, and
.to believe that the fall of so mighty a power must have been preceded by some great and sensible decline in the heart and centre of the monarchy itself. They forgot, that it is not the absolute, but the relative power of a state, which renders it formidable to
. its neighbours; and that a nation may decline. in its relative strength, without any absolute diminution of its resources, by remaining stationary while other states are advancing. They forgot, that the alarming preponderance of the Spanish monarchy arose from the combination of a variety of causes, some of them accidental, and others temporary ;—from the union of so many rich and extensive states under one Sovereign ;—from the pos
. session of Mexico and Peru, while its rivals were excluded from both the Indies;—from the civil and religious discussions of its neighbours ;—from the bigotry and fanaticism of the age, which placed the kings of Spain at the head of the Catholic part of Europe;—and, lastly, from the valour and discipline of the Spanish armies, and from the wisdom and sagacity ot the Spanish councils. Yet the slight and hardly perceptible impression of the Spanish arms on the enemies of that monarchy, during the victorious reigns of Charles V. and Philip II., while these advantages were entire, might have tended, in some degree, to cor
•rect the traditional accounts of the greatness of its former power. The ressitance maintained by Francis I. and Henry II. against the arms of Charles V., and the successes of Elizabeth and of the Dutch commonwealth over Philip II., might have suggested the reflection, that the danger from Spain must have been more apparent than real. While its miserable decline during the 17th century, and the slowness of its recovery during the 18th,
".. . ; i - . ». . might