Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

a constitution with an hereditary monarch, whose person they declare inviolable and sacred, and swear to defend him with their lives. Next they murder this monarch, and declare themselves a republic.-This second constitution they destroy, and frame a third, with two chambers and five co-equal kings. After having spent five years in making war, in the name of liberty and equality, upon arms, stars, garters, crosses, and every other exterior sign of superiority of rank, they very peaceably and tamely suffer their masters to dub themselves with what titles they please, and exclusively to assume garbs and badges of distinction far more numerous than those which formerly existed in France.” Had Messrs. Wakefield and Fox in these days contrasted French illumination with English darkness, we should, perhaps, not have found the contemporary antidote in Mr. Cobbeti's pages. But we will allow this our modern, and we understand now retiring, reformer, that Bonaparte has effectually enlightened the people of France since the days of Peter Porcupine : and when we reflect that, at the period of Mr. Fox's letter above, he had just seceded from the duty of enlightening the English people in parliament, as Mr. Cobbett by the discontinuance of his Register has done at the present period, we should be equally ready to excnse both these gentlemen at the respective periods of their retirement from duty, for “ some natural tears” of compassion over the necessarily ensuing state of darkness in England.

In letter 56 we have some curious reasons of Mr. Wakefield's, why petitioning is not likely to be attended with much success. Amongst others he refers to the

more extended speculations of some, who cannot acquiesce in those formalities of language respecting loyalty and parliaments which commonly enter into those petitions !” We confess we looked forward here with some eagerness to the next letter of the British senator, concluding that Mr. Wakefield had at length ventured whither the utmost latitude of constitutional free thinking could never allow Mr. Fox to follow; but the

wary statesman answers him to never a word;”—and we are left to deplore in the same strains the abdication by Mr. Fox of an opportunity for instructing his heretical correspondent on the true value and respectability of king, lords, and commons in England, as those in which we have before lamented Mr. Wakefield's omission of duty towards Mr. Fox in regard to the doctrines of Lucretius. *. But petitioning, “even now, in this last stage of degradation,” says Mr. Fox, in letter 55, "may not be without its effect.” And though we have seen before that he considers “ the liberty of the press as virtually destroyed,” yet by his zealous prosecution of literary inquiries he does not appear to be carried the whole length ‘of his correspondent, whose genius, wild and luxuriant as we have always deemed it, seems to have been utterly cramped and incarcerated by the malignant genius of the government. “These studies are really in their infancy, and will continue so till better forms of government leave the human race at large more leisure to cultivate their intellects !" Letter 14. We should have been glad to see the form of government which would have left the feverish, restless spirit of Mr. Wakefield more leisure to pursue his studies, except one indeed, which would have condemned him to perpetual blisters and phlebotomy. But not to weary our readers any more with these senseless hyperboles, which from Mr. Wakefield make us smile, but coming from Mr. Fox deserve a still severer treatment; we shall once for all offer a few.concluding observations on the use of that figure of speech so common, and apparently so necessary to violent reformists. 1. By proving so much wrong and representing so many abuses in the constitution of the country, they seem to exclude the hope of doing any thing; they dissuade from the attempt at a moderate reform, and seem to threaten nothing short of a total subversion to the quiet citizen, who might otherwise give his voice for moving a few stones in the building for the better. They, in fact, plunge us into all the remediless filth of the Augean stables, and then tell us to begin sweeping for our life.-2. Such kind of assertions are easily refuted, and therefore lose all authority with common men, who when they have disproved one count in the indictment, are apt to dismiss the charge as frivolous and vexatious altogether. The liberty of the press is not either actually or virtually destroyed. Sixteen years after that foolish assertion was made, the press teems with the most odious libels on every thing great, and almost every thing good. Socinians have just obtained liberty to publish their trash; and scarcely a check is given to the expression of the most licentious passions of men political and religious, but that antidote to most moral poison,its native folly and inherent insipidity. The same may be said of the other rhetorical extravagances of abuse contained in these letters.-3. These modes of speech greatly tend to invalidate the character of those who use them; and shew them to be under the influence either of passion, prejudice, or the sinister motives of in terest. Should it ever have been suggested, and it has been frequently so, that Mr. Fox's grand aim was power, and that he made use of the name and courted the good will of the people only to obtain it; such a suggestion will receive abundant confirmatioid from assertions apparently made only“ ad captandum valgus ;" and his private communications of this nature with Mr. Wakefield will be considered as little more than a necessary act of consistency towards a man whose services he needed, whilst he laughed at his credulity. We fear enough is known on the other hand of Mr. Wakefield's character, even to permit us to doubt in what corner of his brain the reason will be looked for his wild notions and impracticable propositions for a new state of civil society; and in proportion to the charge brought against his understanding, must be the detraction made from his authority.

-4. This superlative language is attended with what we consider the worst of all its consequences, namely, the utter perversion of language, with a corresponding perversion in meu's lastes and judgments, both with respect to persons and actions; till at length they come to liave neither the will nor the power to judge correctly of either. By the frequent use of this language, a certain degree of exaggeration becomes necessary to season argument; and attention cannot be excited or kept up without a series of false or overstated positions. Small abuses are stigmatised as great ones, till we come to care as little for great ones as for small: and the cry of distress so often repeated without foundation, is at length repealed in vain when the clamour is sincere and the danger real.

The general result of our perusal of this small, but on the whole, interesting volume, as well as of our reflection on the personal qualities of the respective writers, may be summed

up in a few last words. The statesman leaves on our minds the impression of a person possessed of a calm and dispassionate mind, carefully examining its own operations, weighing its opinions, suggesting with a diffidence, apparently unaffected, the results of a mature and penetrating judgment, and even in a great political measure (that of returning, after his secession, to parlia ment), professing to have been guided by the sentiments of others*. On the other hand, we see the self-important scholar verifying to the close of life that justly earned and too applicable epithet; equally vehement and authoritative in maintaining the most ancient and most novel doctrines, the most certain facts, and most questionable hypotheses; and demanding, in truth, a homage to his opinions which others might have blushed to receive unasked. How much does the glance of an unavailing

* Vid. p. 133.

regret increase our chagrin when it supposes the picture revers

ed when it imagines the former character drawing from the -resources of his own great mind alone, those resolutions and plans of actions which might have made him the reformer and guide, instead of being the dupe and the tool, of a weak but domineering party : and to have seen the other throwing up those reins of proud independence, which every stage of life proved bim less and less fit to hold; and under the prudent guidance of some experienced director of his course illuminating with his rays that world, which he had well nigh set on fire like Phaeton, by his presumptuous indiscretion.

Again we see, with some mixture of pleasing emotion, an apparent frankness, sincerity, and warmth of feeling on the part of Mr. Wakefield, which we in vain looked for in the expressions of his correspondent. Mr. Fox, guarded, shrewd, and self-possessed, like a true man of the world, discerning the strong and weak points of the other, adapting himself to them, and evidently as contented with the easy enjoyment of a literary correspondence with his friend in gaol as with his friend at home --Mr. Fox, we must say, seems to us to have wanted, or to have worn away many of those noble and tender sensibilities, of which the undue and unrestrained indulgence so much misled Mr. Wake- field; but which, in niisleading him, made him no less an object of pity to the feeling, and regret to the reflecting, than one of caution to the wise, and of terror to the peaceful. - In both characters we see instanced the lamentable operation of false or defective principles. We see these "two men, confessedly in one of the most important crises which their country · had ever experienced, more intent on settling the final ý and the Æolic digamma, or the precedence of Ovid and Virgil, than on those portentous events which, in public, they represented as involving every thing important to the highest interests of man. In Mr. Fox's correspondence we see little or no zeal expressed for right opinions on the constitution of that country of whose cause he was the patriotic defender: in that of Mr. Wakefield's letters we perceive as little attention to the cause of a religion of which he professed himself at once the preacher and reformer. They had evidently much to learn on these points, each respectively of the other. Though it was the misfortune, or rather fault, of both to believe but little, yet each believed something in his peculiar province which we have reason to fear was not admitted by the other, Mr. Fox it is true did not systematically scoff at revelation, (he was too wise), nor did Mr. Wakefield openly proclaim anarchy and regicide, he was too decent : yet had each used t he opportunity be possessed for the improvement of the other, VOL. Y. NO. IX.

9

we might have been relieved from many apprehensions as to what were really the views of both : and some proofs, let us indulge the hope, might have been added, to the very few hitherto produced by their respective friends, of the social virtue of a Wakefield, and the Christian belief of a Fox.

Art. XII.-Suggestions to the Promoters of Dr. Bell's System of Tuition ; with an Account of the Hampshire Society for the Éducation of the Poor. The Proceedings of the different diocesan and district Institutions already formed ; a general List of Schools, and the Number of Children now receiving In struction on the new Plan, in the Principles of the established Church. By the Rev. Frederick Iremonger, M.A. F.L.S. one of the Secretaries of the Hampshire Society. Printed for W. Jacob, Winchester; and Longman and Co. London. 1813.

We

e are inclined sometimes to envy those who are living witnesses of any event which has had a striking influence on the moral history of man. We fancy, that an epoch thus marked must have produced a strong and universal interest; and that an extraordinary share of excitement, the game we are most of us in quest of, must have fallen to the lot of the spectators of so important a scene in the great drama.

Our own experience might teach us better. The fact is, that we see in the gross, with all its leading features strongly brought out, what they saw in detail, and with a natural attention to minutiæ, which escape our notice. We are at a better distance from the picture for effect. It is only on this principle that we can account for the apathy which prevails among so large a portion of our countrymen on a subject in which posterity will think that the whole nation must, at this period, have taken a lively interest,--the general diffusion of the benefits of education by the introduction of a system admirably calculated to facilitate its process.

It will be said, perhaps, that this is an unjustifiable reflection on a nation, in all parts of which societies are forming, and plans are in agitation, for the establishment of schools. The respectable list of subscribers to the national society instituted for this purpose. may also be quoted against us. But it must be remem

« AnteriorContinuar »