« AnteriorContinuar »
with Mitford-Hume or Clarendon with Ralph or Mrs M-Aulay; and it will be difficult to believe that these different writers are speaking of the same persons and things.
The work before us, we have already said, is singularly free from faults of this description. It is written, we do think, in the true spirit and temper of historical impartiality. But it has faults of a different character; and, with many of the merits, combines some of the appropriate defects, both of a contemporary and a philosophical history. Its details are too few and too succinct for the former-they are too numerous and too rashly selected for the latter ;-while the reasonings and speculations in which perhaps its chief value consists, seem already to be too often thrown away upon matters that cannot long be had in remembrance. We must take care not to get entangled too far among the anecdotes—but the general reasoning cannot detain us very long.
It is the scope of the book to show that France must have a free government--a limited monarchy-in express words, a constitution like that of England. This, Mad. de S. says, was all that the body of the nation aimed at in 1789—and this she says the great majority of the nation are resolved to have still--undeterred by the fatal miscarriage of the last experiment, and undisgusted by the revival of antient pretensions which has accompanied its close. Still, though she maintains this to be the prevailing sentiment of the French people, she thinks it not altogether unnecessary to combat this discouragement and this disgust;--and the great object of all that is argumentative in her book, is to show, that there is nothing in the character or condition, or late or early history of her countrymen, to render this regulated freedom unattainable by them, or to disqualify them from the enjoyment of a representative government, or the functions of free citizens.
For this purpose she takes a rapid and masterly view of the progress of the different European kingdoms, from their primitive condition of feudal aristocracies, to their present state of monarchies limited by law, or mitigated by the force of public opinion; and endeavours to show, that the course has been the same in all, and that its unavoidable termination is in a balanced constitution like that of England. The first change was the reduction of the Nobles, chiefly by the aid which the Commons, then first pretending to wealth or intelligence, afforded to the Crown-and, on this basis, some small states, in Italy and Germany especially, erected a permanent system of freedom. But the necessities of war, and the substitution of hired forces for the feudal militia, led much more generally to the establishment of an arbitrary or despotical authority; which was accomplished in France, Spain and England, under Lewis XI., Philip II., and Henry VIII. Then came the age of commerce, luxury, and taxes, —which necessarily ripened into the age of general intelligence, individual wealth, and a sense both of right and of power in the people ;-and those led irresistibly to a limitation on the powers of the Crown by a representative assembly.
England having less occasion for a land army-and having been the first in the career of commercial prosperity, led the way in this great amelioration. But the same general principles have been operating in all the continental kingdoms, and must ultimately produce the same effects. The peculiar advantages which she enjoyed did not prevent England from being enslaved by the tyranny of Henry VIII., and Mary ;-and she also experienced the hazards, and paid the penalties which are perhaps inseparable from the assertion of popular rights. She also overthrew the monarchy, and sacrificed the monarch in her first attempt to set limits to his power. The English Commonwealth of 1648, originated in as wild speculations as the French of 1792—and ended, like it, in the establishment of a military tyranny, and a restoration which seemed to confound all the asserters of liberty in the general guilt of rebellion :-Yet all the world is now agreed that this was but the first explosion of a flame that could neither be extinguished nor permanently repressed; and that what took place in 1688, was but the sequel and necessary consummation of what had been begun 40 years before and which might and would have been accomplished without even the slight shock and disturbance that was then experienced, if the Court had profited as much as the leaders of the people by the lessons of that first experience. Such too, Mad. de S. assures us, is the unalterable destiny of France;--and it is the great purpose of her book to show, that but for circumstances which cannot recur-mistakes that cannot be repeated, and accidents which never happened twice, even the last attempt would have led to that blessed consumma: tion—and that every thing is now in the fairest train to secure it, without any great effort or hazard of disturbance.
That these views are supported with infinite talent, spirit, and cloquence, no one who has read the book will probably dispute; and we should be
sorry indeed to think that they were not substantially just. Yet we are not, we confess, quite so sanguine as the distinguished writer before us; and though we do not doubt either that her principles are true, or that her predictions will be ultimately accomplished, we fear that the period of their triumph is not yet at hand; and that it is far more doubtful than she will allow it to be, whether that triumph will be easy,
peaceful, and secure. The example of England is her great, indeed her only authority ; but we are afraid that she has run the parallel with more boldness than circumspection, and over. looked a variety of particulars in our case, to which she could not easily find any thing equivalent in that of her country. It might be invidious to dwell much on the opposite character and temper of the two nations; though it is no answer to say, that this character is the work of the government. But can Mad. de S. have forgotten, that England had a Parliament and a representative legislature for 500 years before 1648; and that it was by that organ, and the widely spread and deeply founded machinery of the elections on which it rested, that the struggle was made, and the victory won, which ultimately secured to us the blessings of political freedom? The least reflection upon the nature of government, and the true foundations of all liberty, will show what an immense advantage this was in the contest; and with what formidable obstacles those must have to struggle, who are obliged to engage in a similar conflict without it.
All political power, even the most despotic, rests at last, as was profoundly observed by Hume, upon Opinion. A government is just, or otherwise, according as it promotes, more or less, the true interests of the people who live under it. But it is stable and secure, exactly as it is directed by the opinion of those who really possess, and know that they possess, the power of enforcing it, and upon whose opinion, therefore, it constantly depends;--that is, in a military despotism, on the opinion of the Soldiery;-in all rude and ignorant communities, on the opinion of those who monopolize the intelligence, the wealth, or the discipline which constitute power-the Priesthood - the landed proprietors-the armed and inured to war;mand, in civilized societies, on the opinion of that larger proportion of the people who can bring their joint talents, wealth and strength, to act in concert when occasion requires. A government may indeed subsist for a time, although opposed to the opinion of those classes of persons; but its existence must always be precarious, and it probably will not subsist long. The natural and appropriate Constitution, therefore, is, in every case, that which cnables those who actually administer the government, to ascertain and conform themselves in time to the opinion of those who have the power to overturn it; and no government whatever can possibly be secure where there are no arrangements for this purpose. Thus it is plainly for want of a proper Despotic Constitution--for want of a regular and safe way of getting at the opinions of their Armies, that the Sultans and other Asiatic sovereigns are so frequently beheaded by their janissaries or insurgent soldiery: and, in like manner, it was for want of a proper Feudal Constitution, that, in the decline of that system, the king was so often dethroned by his rebellious Barons, or excommunicated by an usurping Priesthood. In more advanced times, there is the same necessity of conforming to the prevailing opinion of those more extended and diversified descriptions of persons in whom the power of enforcing and resisting has come to reside; and the natural and only safe constitution for such societies, must therefore embrace a Representative assembly. A government may no doubt go on, in opposition to the opinion of this virtual aristocracy, for a long time after it has come into existence. For it is not enough that there is wealth, and intelligence, and individual influence enough in a community to overbear all pretensions opposed to them. It is necessary that the possessors of this virtual power should be aware of their own numbers, and of the conformity of their sentiments or views; and it is very late in the progress of society before the means of communication are so multiplied and improved, as to render this practicable in any tolerable degree. Trade and the press, however, have now greatly facilitated these communications; and in all the central countries of Europe, they probably exist in a degree quite sufficient to give one of the parties, at least, very decided impressions both as to its interests and its powers.
In such a situation of things, we cannot hesitate to say that a Representative government is the natural, and will be the ultimate remedy; but if we find, that even where such an institution existed from antiquity, it was possible so fatally to miscalculate and misjudge the opinions of the nation, as proved to be the case in the reign of our King Charles, is it not manifest that there must be tenfold risk of such miscalculation, in a country where no such constitution has been previously known, and where, from a thousand causes, the true state of the public mind is so apt to be oppositely misconceived by the opposite parties, as it is up to the present hour in France ?
The great and cardinal use of a representative body in the legislature, is to afford a direct, safe and legitimate channel, by which the public opinion may be brought to act on the government: But, to enable it to perform this function with success, it is by no means enough, that a certain number of deputies are sent into the legislature by a certain number of electors. Without a good deal of previous training, the public opinion itself can neither be formed, collected, nor expressed in an authentic or effectual manner; and the first establishment of the
representative system must be expected to occasion very nearly as much disturbance as it may ultimately prevent. In countries where there never has been any political elections, and few local magistracies, or occasions of provincial and parochial assemblages
for public purposes, the real state of opinion must be substantially unknown even to the most observant resident in each particular district;--and its general bearing all over the country can never possibly be learned by the most diligent inquiries, or even guessed at with any reasonable degree of probability. The first deputies, therefore, are necessarily returned, without any firm or assured knowledge of the sentiments of their constituents and they again can have nothing but the most vague notions of the temper in which these sentiments are to be enforced-while the whole deputies come together without any notion of the dispositions, talents, or designs of each other, and are left to scramble for distinction and influence, according to the measure of their zeal, knowledge, or assurance. In England, there were no such novelties to be hazarded, either in 1640 or in 1688. The people of this country have had an elective Parliament from the earliest period of their history—and, long before either of the periods in question, had been trained in every hamlet to the exercise of various political franchises, and taught to consider themselves as connected, by known and honourable ties, with all the persons of influence and consideration in their neighbourhood, and, through them, by an easy gradation with the political leaders of the State ;-while, in Parliament itself, the place and pretensions of every man were pretty accurately known, and the strength of each party reasonably well ascertained by long and repeated experiments, made under all variety of circumstances. The organization and machinery, in short, for collecting the public opinion, and bringing it into contact with the administration, was perfect, and in daily operation among us, from the most ancient times. The various conduits and channels by which it was to be conveyed from its first faint springs in the villages and burghs, and conducted in gradually increasing streams to the central wheels of the government, were all deep worn in the soil, and familiarly known, with all their levels and connexions, to every one who could be affected by their condition. In France, when the new sluices were opened, not only were the waters universally foul and turbid, but the quantity and the currents were all irregular and unknown; and some stagnated or trickled feebly along, while others rushed and roared with the violence and the mischief of a torrent. But it is time to leave these perplexing generalities, and come a little closer to the work before us.
It was the Cardinal de Richelieu, according to Mad.de S., whe completed the degradation of the French nobility, begun by Louis XI. ;-and the arrogance and Spanish gravity of Louis XIV., assumed, as she says, pour eloigner de lui la familiarité des jugemens,' fixed them in the capacity of courtiers; and put an