Imágenes de página
PDF

point and great political moral of the history of England, during the eighteenth century, is to be found.

The truth on this subject could not so long have been kept out of view, bad it not been that, till very recently, no historian at all worthy of the name has approached the subject of English history during the eighteenth century. The immortal work of Hume, as all the world knows, comes down only to the Revolution of 1688; and of the subsequent period, down to that when his history was written, in 1760, he has told us only that the monopoly of offices, places, and opinions, by the dominant Whig party, had been so close and uninterrupted, that it had well-nigh rendered it impossible to arrive at the truth on the subject. Smollett, whose continuation of Hume is to be seen in every bookseller's window beside its great predecessor, is wholly unworthy of the honourable place which chance, and the neglect of others, have hitherto assigned it. Admirable as a novelist—at least as that character was understood in those days—graphic, entertaining, humourous—Smollett had none of the qualities necessary for a historian. He was neither a soldier nor an orator, a poet nor a philosopher. The campaigns of Marlborough, the eloquence of Chatham, were alike lost upon him. 'He was neither warmed by the victory of Blenheim nor the death of Wolfe : the adventures of Charles Edward and the disasters of Saratoga, were narrated with the same imperturbable phlegm. As to philosophic views of the progress of society, or the social and political effects of the Revolution of 1688 and the Reformation, the thing was out of the question: it neither belonged to his age nor character, to dream of any thing of the kind. He was, in his history at least, a mere bookseller's hack, who compiled a very dull and uninteresting work from the information, scanty during his period, which the Annual Register and Parliamentary History afforded. If a greater annalist than he do not arise to do justice to his merits, the fame even of Marlborough will never descend, at least in its full proportions, to future generations.

It is deeply to be regretted that Sir JamesMackintosh did not complete

his long-cherished design of continuing Hume's history. No man, ainco Hume's time, possessed so many qualifications for the undertaking. To an incomparable talent for depicting character, and a luminous philosophic mind, he joined great erndition, extensive knowledge, and a practical acquaintance both with statesmen and ordinary life. Though he was a party man, and had early taken, in his 17mdicicB GaUicee, a decided part against Burke, in apology of the French Revolution, yet he possessed great candour of mind, and had magnanimity enough, in maturer years, to admit, that he had been far led astray in early life by the inexperience and ardour of yonth. When a man possesses this equanimity and justice of mind, it is wholly immaterial to what political party he belongs, and with what preconceived opinions he undertakes the task of narrating events. Truth will shine out in every page— justice will preside over every decision—facts will inevitably lead to the correct conclusion. It is perverted genins, skilful partisanship, imagination brought to the aid of party, and learning dedicated to the support of delusion, which is really to be dreaded. Mackintosh's mind was essentially philosophical: this appears in every page of his Life by his sons—one of the most interesting pieces of biography in the English language. His characters of statesmen, orators, and poets, in England during the eighteenth century, chiefly written at Bombay, or during the voyage home, are perhaps unparalleled in our language for justice and felicity. They show how richly stored his mind was; how correctly his taste had been formed on the best models; how vast a stock of images, comparisons, and associations, he brought to bear on the events and characters which he passed in survey. He had not a poetical mind, and was destitnteof a pictorial eye. Hishistory, therefore, never would have been adorned by those moving scenes, those graphic pictures, which are the life and soul of the highest style of history, and which have given immortality to the writings of Livy, Sallust, and Tacitus. But the eighteenth century, though by no means destitute of events calling for such imaginative powers, has perhaps less of them than any equal period in English history. What is mainly required for it is a philosophic mind, to appreciate the effects of the great convulsions of the preceding century, and an impartial jndgment, to discern the causes which were preparing the still more terrible catastrophe of the nineteenth. Mackintosh possessed these great and valuable qualities in a very high degree; and his history, if he had succeeded in completing it, would unquestionably have taken its place with those of Hume, Robertson, andGibbon. The thing really to be lamented is, that the time which Providence allotted to him, and which was amply sufficient for the completion even of so great an undertaking, was wasted amidst the attractions and frivolity of high London society, and that, more even than the heroic Swede in captivity, ho was

"Condomn'd a needy suppliant to wait, While ladies interpose, and slaves debate"

Lord Mahon has conferred essential obligations on English history. He has urought to the annals of the British empire during tho eighteenth century, qualities nearly the revorso of those of Mackintosh, but which are, nevertheless, not less essential than those of the Scotch philosopher, for a right appreciation and correct delineation of the period. He is a scholar, a gentleman, and a man of the world. Possessed of great knowledge of his subject, vigorous application, and a classical turn of expression, he has united to these qualities those, ht historical writers, still rarer, of a practical acquaintance with statesmen, both in Parliament and private liie, and a thorough knowledge of the lending public characters, both military, literary, and dignified, of his own time. Every one must see what valuable qualities these are, for a correct appreciation and faithful narrative of the history of England during the eighteenth century—great part of which was not distinguished by any enthusiasm or impulse in the public mind, and during which the springs of events were to bo found rather in the intrigues of tho court, tho coteries of tho nobility, or the cabals of Par

liament, than in any great movements of the people, or mighty heaves of the human mind. In truth, no one bnt a person moving in the sphere and possessed of the connexions which Lord Mahon enjoys, could either obtain the knowledge, or understand the real springs of events, during a great part of the period he has embraced in his work. But still the history of the eighteenth century remains to be written. Lord Mahon has remarkable talents as a biographer; his account of the Rebellion in 1745, and subsequent adventures of Charles Edward, is not surpassed in interest by any thing in the English language, and is justly referred to by Sismondi, in his History of France, as by far the best account of that interesting episode in British history. But his History of England are "Mcmoires pour scrvir a l'histoirc," rather than history itself. We want in his pages the general views drawn from particular facts, tho conclusions applicable to all ages, which mark the philosophic historian. His volumes will always occupy a distinguished place in English literature, and will prove of essential service to every succeeding writer who may undertake to treat of the period which they embrace; but the mantle of Hume is destined to fall on other shoulders.

Walpole's correspondence and memoirs, in many respects, are highly valuable, and will always be referred to, as throwing much important light on the parliamentary and court transactions of the middle of the eighteenth century. They develope much that was known to no other man, at least to no other with whose writings we are yet acquainted, who has left any record of his information to future times. In this respect, his memoirs are invaluable. It is astonishing how much information thero is afloat in tho higher political circles, in every ago, which is generally known at the time to all who frequent them, which, on that very account, perishes altogether with that generation. No one thinks of committing it to paper any more than they do the stages to London, or the names of the months in theyear,or the usual forms of society— because every one knows them. Thus the information, often of essential value to future historians, perishes like the beauty of the women which has adorned the age, unless some garrulous gossip, in his correspondence or memoirs, has been trifling enough for his age, and wise enough for the next, to commit it to paper. Horace Walpole was that garrulous gossip. His correspondence with Sir II. Mann, embracing altogether a period of twenty years, which had previously been published, and his Memoirs of the Reign of George III., which have recently appeared, contain an account, tinged no doubt by strong party feelings, but still an account of a very long and important period of English history; and abound not only in curious facts, interesting to the antiquary or the biographer, but contain many important revelations of essential value to the national or general historian of the period.

The praise of these volumes, however, must be taken with much alloy. Horace Walpole was a man of the world and a courtier; he had quick natural parts and much acquired discernment. He was a good scholar, was fond of antiquities, and a passionate admirer of curiosities, which he collected with indefatigable industry, and no small success, from every quarter. He had lived too long in the political and the great world not to have learned its selfishness and appreciated its heartlessness; not to have become acquainted with many political secrets, and seen enough of political baseness. He had considerable powers of observation, and occasionally makes a profound remark, especially on the selfish tendencies and the secret springs of the human heart. His characters are all drawn from the life; and often with great power both of observation and expression. But he had not sufficient steadiness of thought or purpose to achieve any thing considerable, or draw any important conclusions even from the multifarious information of which he was master, or the powers of observation which he possessed. There was nothing grand or generous in hiscomposition. No elevated thoughts, no lofty aspirations, no patriotic resolves, are visible in his writings. Political insouciance was his prevailing habitnde of mind; an invincible

tendency to u laissez aller" the basis of his character. But he did not lie by and observe events, like Metternich and Talleyrand, to become embued with their tendency, and ultimately gain the mastery of them; he let them take their course, and in reality cared very little for the result. He was an epicurean, not a stoic, in politics. His character approaches very nearly to that which common report has assigned to Lord Melbourne. He had strong party attachments, and still stronger party antipathies; he seems to have devoutly swallowed the creed so common to party men of overy age, that all those on his side were noble and virtuous, and all those against him, base and selfish. He had much of the wit of Erasmus, but he had also a full share of his aversion to martyrdom. But we shall find abundance of patriotic declamation, cutting invective, and querulous complaint. The misfortune is, that the declamation is always against the trinmph of the Tories; the invective against the astuteness of Lord Bute; the complaint against the disunion of the Whig leaders, or the Tory influences at court.

There is a class of readers considerable among men, numerous among women, in whom the appetite for scandal is so strong, that it altogether overleaps the bounds of time and faction, and seizes with nearly as much avidity on the private gossip of the past as of thepresent age. With such persons, the next best thing to discovering a, faux pas among their acquaintances, is to hear of it among their grandmothers; the greatest comfort, next to laying bare political baseness in their rulers, is to discover it in the government which ruled their fathers. We confess we do not belong to this class. We have little taste for scandal, either in the male or female great world. We see so much of selfishness, envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness, around us, that their details have not only entirely lost the charm of novelty, but become absolutely sickening by repetition. To such readers the first volume of Wraxall's Memoirs must be a precious morsel. We never doubted that the aneedotes he told were in the main true, from the moment we saw the Quarterly and Edinburgh Reviews combined in running him down. Nothing but truth could have produced so portentous an alliance. They combined in saying that what he said was a libel. Doubtless they were right, upon the principle, that the greater the truth the greater the libel. To such readers we would strongly recommend the Memoirs and Correspondence of WatpoU. They will find a mass of scandal adequate to satiate the most voracious appetite; evidence of general corruption sutlicient to satisfy the most vehement political opponent.

It is in the evidence which these volumes afford, of the general corruption of Great Britain during the greater part of the eighteenth century, that, in our humble opinion, the most valuable lesson of political wisdom is to be found which that period conveys. We rise from the long series of his amusing volumes with the firm conviction, that in his days all parties were base, and all statesmen in a certain sense corrupt. They absolutely render the common story credible, that during the days of Sir R. Walpole, when the members of Parliament were invited to dine with the prime-minister, each found a L.500 bank-note under his napkin, when he took it off his plate at dinner. At any rate the long, and in many respects beneficent, reign of that veteran statesman was maintained entirely by patronage and corruption. Horace Walpole himself tells us that it was commonly said, at the accession of George III. in 1761, that the country was governed by two hundred noblemen, who received more from the government than they gave to it. The influence of these two hundred noblemen, in their respective counties or boroughs, was maintained by the most unsparing use, sometimes of actual bribery, always of government patronage, to secure the adherence of every political partisan, even of the very lowest grade. With truth it might be said of England at that time, as it was of France before the Revolution, that "no one was so great as to be beyond the hatred of a minister, nor so little as to escape the notice of a comptroller of excise." Every office in the state, from the prime minister down to the humblest employe in the post-office or

customs, was conferred to secure the fidelity of political supporters. Liberality to opponents, the public good, fair dealing, the claims of long service to the country, destitution, charity, noble descent, patriotic conduct, were alike scouted, and by common consent banished from the consideration of public men. Political support was the one thing needful; and to secure it nothing was -grndged, without it nothing was to be got. Johnson's well-known definition of an exciseman, shows the profound indignation which this universal and unsparing system of corruption excited, among the few resolute and generous spirits which its long continuance had left in the country. We heard nothing of the evils of this system from the Whigs, during the seventy years subsequent to the Revolution, when it was practised by themselves; but we have heard enough of it from them since that time, when the state machine they had erected has been worked by their opponents.

The Emperor Nicholas Said to the Marquis Custino, with much bitterness and some truth—" I can understand a democracy, where the popular voice is every thing, and the magistrates implicitly obey its mandates. I can understand a despotism, where the monarch's voice is every thing, and the people merely obey his commands. But a constitutional monarchy, where the people are mocked by a show of liberty which they do not possess, and bribed into submission by corruption, by which they are really degraded— that I do not understand, and 1 hope in God never again to see it. I had enough of it in the government of Poland." Amidst all the blessings of a limited and representative monarchy, which no one who surveys the mighty empire of Great Britain can dispute, there is, it must bo confessed, some truth in this caustic remark. Walpole has told us of the astonishing extent to which corruption was carried w his day, by Lord Bute and the Tories, who got possession of the corrupting government in 1761, which the Whigs had been constructing since 1688. The untoward issue of the war, which terminated in 1749 in the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, the disgraceful commencement of the SevenYears' War, unjustly expiated by the blood of Byng, gloriously redeemed by the genins of Chatham; the disasters of the American contest; the frequent defeats of the first years of the Revolutionary war, afford decisive evidence how deeply this degrading and corrupting system had entered into the vitals of the nation during the eighteenth century. Every one knows that America was lost in consequence of the imbecility and selfish views of the commanders, whom the corrupt system of government in Great Britain had raised to the head of affairs. On several occasions, they might, with a little energy, have terminated the war with glory to themselves and their country. The disasters of Flanders, in 1793 and 179-1, were in a great measure owing to the same cause. During peace, influential imbecility is constantly rising to the head of affairs, and the consequences immediately appear on the first breaking out of hostilities. Nothing but the pressure and disasters of war, can drive government out of the inveterate vice of purchasing parliamentary support by the promotion of incapable and improper persons. The Whigs, since they were driven from the helm of affairs in 1761, have been constantly declaiming against this system, which they themselves had introduced and matured during the preceding seventy years; and the clamour they raised at last became so violent, that it brought about the great organic change of 1832. But no sooner were they again seated in power, than the same system was not only pursued by them, but extended: patronage was augmented in every possible way; a new machine for influence, adapted to the time—that of commissions — was introduced and largely worked, and promotions in every department were rigidly confined to political partisans. It has been a frequent subject of complaint against the Tory government, both before the Revolution of 1832, and on their return to power in 1841, that they were too liberal to their opponents, and forgetful of their friends, in the dispensing of the public patronage; and we have only to take up the Red Book, to see that this praise or imputation justly belongs to them. But no man alive

ever heard of a Whig, during the ten years they were in power, being accused of giving any thing to a Tory. The saying, which had passed into a proverb during that period, that "the Whigs could do with impunity many things to which the Tories could never set their faces," proves how rapidly this degrading system of official corruption was again spreading, during the Whig teunre of power, in domestic government. The disasters of Affghanistan, the shaking of our power in India, the abortive first two years' hostilities with China, show with what dreadful danger it was attended to our external power and even national existence.

We have said that it is the decisive mark of a party writer to ascribe political and private vices to his opponents, from which he represents his own side as exempt; and we have immediately afterwards said, that the wide-spread corruption, and constant promotion of influential imbecility, which, ever since 1688, has been the bane of Great Britain, and the chief, if not the sole, cause of all the disasters we have undergone, and of ninetenths of the debts we have contracted, is mainly to be ascribed to the Whigs, who, during the long period of seventy years, immediately subsequent to the Revolution, were exclusively in power, and had the entire moulding of the constitution, both in church and state, in their hands. Having taken the mote out of our neighbour's eye, we proceed to take the beam out of our own. We hasten to show, that we do not ascribe greater political baseness to one party than another. We will not follow the example of Walpole, who represents Chatham, and all his Whig followers, as patriotic angels; Bute, and all his Tory supporters, as selfish devils. We assume it as the basis of all just or rational historical discussion, that, though there may be a wide and most important difference in the beneficial or ruinous effects with which their measures are attended, the real character, the moral purity of the motives, of men of opposite parties, in the same age, is much alike. There is, mdeed, a wide difference in the virtue and public spirit of different ages, and of men in the same community, under

« AnteriorContinuar »