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BLACKWOODS EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.
REMOTE CAUSES OF THE REFORM PASSION.
By the Author of “ Parliamentary Reform, and the French Revolution.”
Great changes in human affairs, the drop which made the
cup or great alterations in human charac- flow : Kellerman's charge, indeed, ter, never take place from trivial fixed Napoleon on the throne; but it causes. The most important events, was the glories of the Italian cam. indeed, are often apparently owing paigns, the triumphs of the Pyramids, to inconsiderable springs; but the which induced the nation to hail his train has been laid in all such cases usurpation with joy: the charge of by a long course of previous events. the Toth hussars broke the last coA fit of passion in Mrs Masham ar- lumns of the imperial army ; but the rested the course of Marlborough's foundation of the triumph of Welvictories, and preserved the totter- lington had been laid by the long ing kingdom of France; a charge course of the Peninsular victories, of a few squadrons of horse under and the bloody catastrophe of the Kellerman at Marengo fixed Napo- Moscow campaign. leon on the consular throne, and It is the same with the Reform another, under Sir Hussey Vivian, mania which now ravages the naagainst the flank of the Old Guard tion, and promises to inflict upon its at Waterloo, chained him to the rock inhabitants such a long series of disat St Helena. Superficial observers asters. The change of Ministers, the lament the subjection of human af- rashness and ambition of the Grey fairs to the caprice of fortune, or the administration, was the exciting casualties of chance; but a more en
cause; but unless they had found larged philosophy teaches us to re- the train laid by a long course of cognise in these apparently trivial preceding events, even their reckless events the operation of general laws, hands could not have ventured to and the last link in a chain of causes, fire it. Such prodigious innovations which have all conspired to produce as they threatened-such demolithe eneral result. Mrs Masham's tion of ancient institutions as they passion was the ultimate cause of proposed, would at once have hurled Marlborough's overthrow; but that any preceding government from the great event had been prepared by helm, and consigned them to the the accumulating jealousy of the na. dust amidst the applauses of the peotion during the whole tide of his vic- ple. The voice of the nation would tories, and her indignation was but have been raised in execrations, loud,
VOL. XXXII. NO. CLXXXIX.
long, and irresistible; and the ap- sideration. Such is the weight of plause of the Jacobin mob drowned the argument against them, that it in the indignation of all the virtuous will admit of almost any concession, part of mankind.
and derives confirmation from the Even if it were true, as the con- most vehement writings in favour of servative party maintain, that the freedom prior to the fall of the Duke whole distractions and anarchy of of Wellington's administration. No the country are owing to the prodi- more emphatic condemnation of the digious and unnecessary addition Reform Bill is to be found than in which the governmert proposed to the sayings of Mr Fox in 1797, or make to the political power of the the speech of Earl Grey in 1817: no lower class of kouseholders, still that more profound exposition of the would only remove the difficulty a principles of the conservative party step farther back. For the question than in the History of Sir James remains, how has it happened that Mackintosh, or the Whig writings of twelve men were to be found in Mr Hallam. We have never yet Great Britain of sufficient rank, tậ- heard the Lord Chancellor refute lents, and character, to construct a the masterly sketches of Henry cabinet, who would engage in a Brougham on this subject :. we have scheme of innovation so impetuous, looked in vain to the Lord Advocate and in the destruction of institutions for an answer to the arguments so sanctified by so long a train of recol- long and powerfully urged by Franlections ? That some of the Ministers cis Jeffrey : we have listened in vain, are most able men, is evident from in the speeches of the noble mover their speeches : that many of them of the bill, for a reply to the obserare amiable and good men, we can vations of Lord John Russell on the testify from personal intercourse: constitution. So rapid, so fatally that most of them are possessed of rapid, has been the progress of revogreat fortune is universally known: lutionary ideas, since this firebrand that they are all gentlemen is cer- was thrown into the bosom of the tain: that some of them are of old nation, that the conservative party and dignified families, is evident require now to refer to no other aufrom the classic names of Russell thority but the arguments and prinand Spencer which they bear. How, ciples of the authors of the bill a few then, has it happened that a cabinet years back, and they, in their turn, composed of such men should have are driven to the doctrines of the launched out in so astonishing a Jacobin and revolutionary party, manner upon the sea of innovation: whom their abilities, till they came that they should have engaged in into office, were successfully exerted measures which history will class, in refuting. in point of rashness, with the visions This moral phenomenon will apof Mirabeau, and, in point of peril, pear still more extraordinary when with the conspiracy of Catiline : that the character of the people among they should have been blinded alike whom this tempest has arisen is to the lessons of history, the dictates taken into consideration," It is a of wisdom, and the results of expe- remarkable fact,” says Turgot," that rience: that they should have for- while England is the country in the gotten equally all that the sages of world where the freedom of the ancient wisdom had bequeathed, and press has existed for the longest all that the tears of modern suffering time, and where discussion on public had taught: that they should have affairs has gone on for centuries in implicitly followed the footsteps of the most fearless manner, it is at the the French innovators, and periled same time the country in which the their lives and their estates, in a people have the greatest reverence course which had brought their mi- for antiquity, and are most obstiserable forerunners to an untimely nately attached to old institutions. I end ?
could alter fashions, laws, or ideas, This will appear still more extra- ten times in a despotic monarchy, ordinary, if the principles and wri. for once that they could be moved in tings of these men themselves, who the popular realm of England.”have urged on these disastrous mea- The observation is perfectly just, and sures, in early life, is taken into con- bas been exemplified by the history of England since the foundation of faith, than any other of the reformed the monarchy. The rudiments of our churches, and its cathedrals still rise present constitution, the institutions in grey magnificence through the which still prevail, like Gothic castles realm, to overshadow the temples of amidst the ephemeral structures of modern sectarians, and testify the modern times, are coeval with the undecaying devotion of its rural inunion of the Heptarchy. The insti- habitants. - When Stuart oppression tutions of Aldermen, Hundreds, and combined with fanatical zeal to light Tithings; of County Courts, and re- the flames of civil warfare, and the gular Circuits for the administration sword of Cromwell stifled the fury of Justice ; of Parliaments, Juries, of the great rebellion, the kingly and the Supreme Tribunals of West- power and the authority of the lords minster Hall, date from the reign of were alone subverted ; the courts of Alfred. During all the severity of law still continued to administer Norman rule, it was to the custom- justice on the old precedents ; the ary laws of Saxon freedom that the protectorate parliaments recognised people of England looked back with all the statutes of the fallen dynasty; fond and unavailing regret; and when and, with the exception of a change the cup of national indignation was in the family on the throne, the great full, and the Barons rose in open re- body of the people perceived but volt at Runnymede, it was not any little change in the system of governimaginary system for which they con- ment.*-When the tyranny of the tended, but the old laws of Edward Stuarts could no longer be borne, and the Confessor that they re-establish- the whole people revolted against the ed and confirmed by additional safe- arbitrary measures of James II., it guards; tempering thus, even amidst was not any new or experimental the triumph of barbarous power, the constitution
which they formed, but excitement of feudal ambition, by the old and ancient rights of the the hereditary regard to old institu- people which they re-established; tions. During the long and anxious 5 the people have inherited this freestruggle which prevailed between dom," was the emphatic language of Saxon freedom and Norman severity, the Bill of Rights; and a dynasty under the Plantagenet Kings, it was was expelled from the throne, withnot any innovation for which they out the slightest change in the laws, contended, but the ancient liberties institutions, or security of the insurof the people which they sought to gent people. During the century re-establish, and instead of enacting and a half which has since elapsed, new statutes, they two-and-thirty the attachment of the people to the times ratified and re-enacted the Great constitution has increased with all Charter. When Papal ambitionstrove the glories of which it was the to obtain the mastery over British parent; it withstood the rude shock independence, the Barons of England of American independence, and the at Mertoun refused to submit to the contagious poison of French demoaggression; and their reply, Nolumus cracy; and brought the country trileges Angliæ mutari, has been the umphantly through a struggle in watchword and glory of their de- which their minds were assailed by scendants for seven hundred years.- deadlier weapons than the sword of When the great earthquake of the Napoleon, or the navies of Europe. sixteenth century convulsed the How, then, has it happened that so neighbouring states, the English large a portion of the people should tempered the fury even of religious so suddenly and unexpectedly have discord, by the sacred reverence for changed their principles--that the antiquity; the Reformation, which affections, the babits, and the recollevelled to the dust the ecclesiastical lections of a thousand years, should institutions of so many other nations, at once have been abandoned ; and bent, but did not subvert the British that a revolution, which neither the hierarchy; the Church of England tyranny of the Normans, nor the differed less in its precepts and its frenzy of the Covenant, nor the proestablishment from the Catholic scriptions of the Roses, could pro
* Lingard, xi, 7, 8.
duce, should have been all but ac- so great, but they were in a state of complished during a period of pro- rapid and certain progression; the found peace, unexampled prosperity
, freedom of the press was unbounded; The immense majority of the Re- quiring additional strength in the formers, indeed, are as unfit to judge House of Commons ; the close of the questions on which they have boroughs were at every election decided, as they are to solve a ques- yielding to the extended influence of tion in Physical Astronomy, or follow liberal principles; and commercial thefluxionary calculus of La Grange. wealth, doubled since the peace, had But still there are other men whose overspread the land with unheard of judgment is of a different stamp, prosperity. The restrictions on the who have been carried away by the freedom of thought by the Test and innovating passion. While every Corporation Acts had been abandonman' of sense and experience must ed; Catholic Emancipation had been perceive in ten minutes' conversa- unwillingly conceded to the loud detion, that nine-tenths of the Reform- mands of the popular party; a new ers are destitute of all the informa- system of trade, founded on the retion which is necessary to enable commendations of the Whigs, had them to form an opinion on the sub- been adopted; the severities of the ject, he must also have perceived criminal code were rapidly disap, that there are others, for whose aber- pearing; the burden of taxation had rations no such apology can be found; been diminished by L.20,000,000. awho are possessed of ability, genius, year since the general peace; and and judgment, in their separate walks the legislature, occupied in plans of of life, and exhibit on this one ques- practical beneficence, more truly detion a rashness and precipitancy, served the confidence of the people which stand forth in painful contrast than it had ever done in any former with the maturity and soundness of period of English history. Every their general opinions. It is the de- man of reflection saw, that so far lusion of such men which forms the from Reform being necessary to enreal prodigy, and on which history able the people to withstand the inwill pause in anxious enquiry into creasing influence of the Crown its cause.
and the aristocracy, some additional A similar and much more universal safeguard for them was loudly called delusion prevailed in France during for, to counterbalance the immense the early years of the Revolution increase of democratic power. All there, whether high or low, rich For the existence of the Reform
poor, patrician or plebeian, passion among any men of sense and were earnest in favour of some information, in such circumstances, changes in the political system; and it is impossible to discover any satisit was not till after the States-Ge- factory account on the ordinary prinneral were assembled, that a majority ciples of human thought. It won't of the noblesse, perceiving the ten- do to say it is a mere mania, which dency of the current they had set in is rapidly subsiding as the eyes of motion, strove to retard it. But in the country become opened to what France a host of real grievances ex- was proposed to them. It is, no isted, which, if they did not require a doubt, subsiding among the ignorevolution for their remedy, at least rant millions, who raised the cry for demanded far-spread changes: the the bill at the late election; and political system was so rotten; the among a vast majority of the men of energies of the people so cramped property, who previously had no deby feudal restraints, that it was im- cided opinion on the subject, but now possible to set them free without perceive the terrible consequences such fundamental changes as neces- to which it is rapidly leading. But sarily unhinged the frame of society, among the thorough-paced Reformand unlocked the perilous torrent ers, whether with or without proof democratic ambition. But in perty, there neither has been, nor Great Britain, when the fever of in- ever will be, any reaction whatever. novation began, the reverse of all Their minds seem differently conthis was the case.
The liberties of structed from those of the conservathe people had not only never been tive party; arguments which appear
to the latter utterly unanswerable, tianity alone aimed at a different are as much lost on the former as on object. Prescribing no rule for the the winds of heaven. Reason, ex- formation of society; dictating noperience, history, philosophy, the thing to the forms of government, events of the day, the wisdom of it has concentrated all its energies ages, their own previous opinions, to coerce the human heart: it is their own recorded arguments, pro- against its depravity that all its preduce no more impression on them cepts are directed; to restrain its than a feather on adamant. Such passions that all its fetters are mould.
are utterly irreclaimable ; ed. The consequence has been, that they will live and die Reformers, its progress has been as steady and though the Jacobin dagger were at progressive as that of other religions their throat, the revolutionary halter has been transient and ephemeral. about their necks, or the torch of Mahometanism is already falling anarchy in their dwellings. It is into decay, and its gigantic frame evident that the rivers of human crumbling with the corrupted mass thought have been turned by their whose energies it has confined; but source; the poison has mingled with Christianity, walking free and unthe fountains of knowledge, and in- fettered in the silver robe of innostead of its waters flowing in a deep cence, adapts itself equally to all and healthful stream, covering the ages, and sways the heart of man frontiers of civilisation from the in- alike in every period of civilisation. vasion of error, they have formed Other religions have sought, by reonly a noxious and pestilential cur- gulating the frame of society, to rent, carrying death and desolation direct the human mind: but Chrisinto all the people through whom tianity, aiming only at reforming the they flow.
internal spirit of the individual, has It cannot be an useless or unin wrought, and will for ever work, the teresting subject of discussion, to greatest and most salutary changes endeavour to trace the causes of this on society.” extraordinary phenomenon, and per- It is the counterpart of the truth haps even amidst the darkest features contained in these eloquent words which it exhibits, we may discover that we are now destined to witness. traces of the incipient operation of As the fetters which Christianity the healing powers of nature, and imposed upon the selfish and maligsigns of the wisdom which governs, nant passions of the human heart amidst the madness of the passions is the real cause of the freedom, which desolate, the world.
intelligence, and superiority of mo. “Other religions,” says the ablest dern Europe ; so it is in the abanand most philosophical of living his- dopment of its precepts, the disretorians,* proposed to establish the gard of its injunctions, the contempt welfare of society by positive regu- for its restraints, that the remote lations, and laid down a code for cause of the present distracted state the government of mankind in all the of society is to be found. The temvaried walks of life; but society soon pest of passion has been let loose outgrew its fetters, and the code of upon a guilty world, because the an antiquated theocracy was thrown unseen spirit which swayed their aside, or burst asunder by the ex- violence, and steadied the fabric of pansion of the human mind. Chris- society, by purifying the hearts of
Guizot.-— We have long intended to make our readers acquainted with the prosound and philosophical writings of this great man, which, as usual with all works of sterling ability, in these days of journal disquisition and party vehemence, are almost totally unknown to the British public. They exbibit the first instance of the resur, rection of the human mind in republican France, against the torrent of infidelity, and the doctrines of fatalism; and unfold the blessed influence of Christianity on modern society, with an eloquence which must overwhelm the declamations of the sceptic, and a research which will satisfy the doubts of the antiquary. The first breathing.time from the pressure from domestic danger which is allowed us, we shall devote to his writings : promising to our thoughtful readers that there are few more exhilarating or instructive subjects of meditation.