Imágenes de página

resources and credit more flourishing than they had ever been. Foremost among his measures was his free-trade policy, worthy of a pupil of Adam Smith, indeed, but far in advance of the ideas of his time; the commercial treaty with France, and the encouragement he gave to unrestricted commerce between this country and the United States, not only showed political wisdom, but added largely to the national wealth. Pitt, too, was almost the first of our statesmen who perceived that the reduction of duties might be compensated by increased consumption, and by judiciously adopting this course he all but put an end to the wholesale system of smuggling which was eating up the revenue, and ultimately augmented the income of the State. From 1784 to 1792 there were no signs of the reckless profusion, due to the exigencies of the great contest in which the nation was engaged, which marked the finance of Pitt in the revolutionary war.

Abroad, too, the administration of Pitt increased the power and the renown of the Empire. He had learned a lesson from the American war, and, though his scheme for protecting our coasts was defeated by old traditions and jealousies, he succeeded in fortifying some of our foreign stations. Mr. Lecky has barely glanced at his Indian policy ; but his India Bill, Macaulay has observed, was framed on correct and well-planned lines, and created a form of government admirable for the time. He took the right course in the great affair of Hastings, and his selection of Cornwallis as governor-general was an eminently wise and bappy appointment. His continental policy in these years was remarkable for its prudence and skill; and, as we have said, England, which in 1784 was a defeated power without an ally, was in 1792 a leading state of Europe. Mr. Lecky has done justice to a phase in the career of Pitt hitherto but little noticed, and has clearly brought out the great part he played in the interest of peace and in the Eastern Question from 1788 to 1791. The refusal of France, which in 1785 had become the dominant power in the Netherlands, to interfere in the affairs of other states in the Revolution of 1786-7-a refusal due to her increasing weakness--gave Pitt an opportunity he ably seized. The son of Chatham did not appeal in vain to the memories of the Seven Years' War and to the successor of our great German ally; and the triple alliance of England, Holland, and Prussia at once restored our influence abroad, and had a decisive effect on European affairs. England regained that position in the Low Countries

which her greatest statesmen have sought to attain; she became once more the chief power in the West, and France and Spain quailed before her determined attitude as regards Spanish pretensions on the American coast.

The Triple Alliance, moreover, saved Gustavus III. from the hands of Catherine, and though it did not prevent the unnatural league between Catherine and Joseph II. for the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire-a league condemned by every impartial statesman-it contributed to its final discomfiture. The ability of Pitt in these years, however, was most conspicuous in his successful efforts to counteract the ambition of Prussia, and to re-establish peace in Eastern Europe. Prussia, true to her traditional policy, and ever jealous of the power of Austria, was eager at this time to get a slice of Poland, to deprive Austria of her Galician provinces, and to detach the Netherlands from the Empire, and, largely relying on the support of England, she was ready to attack Catherine and Joseph II., and she actually signed a treaty with the Turks in order to attain her coveted objects. Pitt, however, determined to avert a conflict in which all Europe would have been perhaps involved, addressed himself to thwart these greedy designs, and, taking his stand on international right and on the principle of the renunciation of conquests, succeeded, by the exercise of infinite tact and of extraordinary diplomatic skill, in defeating Prussia's rapacious policy, and even in bringing the war in the East to a close. Mr. Lecky has quoted at much length from his correspondence and that of our ministers at Vienna and Berlin on this subject; it is a model of discretion, good taste, and judgement; and the peace of Sistova, and even that of Jassy, which possibly saved the Turkish Empire, must in a great measure be ascribed to Pitt.

The foreign policy, however, of Pitt failed in an important point at this juncture. He was the first English statesman who perceived the danger of the growth of Russia to our Indian Empire, and who understood the value of Turkey to us; he appreciated, too, the importance of Poland as a barrier against the Muscovite power; and he would have gone to war with Catherine in 1791 had he found the support he wished in Parliament. The House of Commons, however, was not inclined to depart from the traditional policy which had hitherto favoured a Russian alliance, and, in the affair of Oczakow, Pitt was only saved from defeat by giving up a project which marks the beginning of a great VOL. CLXVI. NO. CCCXL,


change in the system of our continental politics. Mr. Lecky has given us ample evidence that England and Russia were on the verge of a contest, and that Catherine even then had an eye on India.

The following is interesting as affording proof that Irish disaffection at the present day, fawned on without shame by political renegades, was as ready in 1791 as it is in 1887 to perpetrate the basest and most atrocious crimes:

• In July Whitworth sent home a circumstantial account of a plot to burn the English fleet at Portsmouth by means of several incendiaries of different nationalities who were in Russian pay. Two Irish Roman Catholics, named Keating and Swanton, who had been in the French service, and who were acquainted with England and with the town of Portsmouth, were to conduct the enterprise, and were at this time actually in London.'

The policy of this great statesman contained the germs of prolific fruits, and anticipated, in many respects, the future; he was the author of our present system of finance; he heralded the advent of the reign of free trade; in the constitution he framed for Canada he laid down the principles of our colonial rule; and he influenced for long years the attitude of England as to the Eastern Question. Mr. Lecky is far from just when he contrasts the wisdom of Pitt's views and of his domestic measures with the ex* treme paucity of his actual achievements. As a parliamentary reformer Pitt, no doubt, was less earnest and bold in office than he had been as an independent member, and he ultimately refused to deal with the problem; though opposed throughout his career to the slave trade, he did not see abolition triumph, and never risked defeat for the cause; he more than once rejected the claims of the Dissenters to a measure of relief, the opportunity not having arisen; and he ought certainly to have insisted that the recognition of the just rights of the Catholic priesthood, and Catholic emancipation in the widest sense, should have been a sine que non of the Union. But though Pitt, we have said, may have departed from principle in more than one instance, he was in all these questions on the side of right, and held large and enlightened views upon them; and in estimating his conduct it is not fair to keep out of sight how the ultimate results must, in some measure, be ascribed to him. Pitt, moreover, it ought to be borne in mind, was a constitutional and parliamentary minister; he was compelled to temporise and to adjust his policy with a continual reference to the opinion of the day, and to passion and prejudice in high places; and

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

certainly, could he have obtained the support of the House of Commons and of George III., he would have reformed Parliament, have put an end to a traffic persistently and most eloquently denounced by him, have repealed the Test and Corporation Acts, and have established the Irish Union on the firm basis of equity and of religious freedom.

Another consideration of extreme importance, not, indeed, omitted by Mr. Lecky, but not fully taken into account, deserves to be weighed and specially noticed. The French Revolution not only compelled Pitt to forego a policy of wise improvement, and drove him upon a reactionary course; it had so tremendous an effect on the mind of England, that reforms became for many years impossible; and it alike prevented the accomplishment of the judicious measures to which the minister was really inclined, and in the general revulsion of public opinion to the side of force, privilege, and a narrow Toryism, checked the growth of liberal ideas in him, and turned him aside from the

ways of progress. But for that calamitous event, it may not be too much to assert that, had Pitt lived to the full age of man, most of the great legislative, economic, and social changes, which have been witnessed in this generation, would have been carried out happily under his auspices.

We turn from this country to the ill-fated island which, at this as at all times, has been a thorn in our side. In 1782 Ireland had become a separate state ; the Irish Parliament was, in theory, a co-ordinate power with that of England, supreme in all merely local affairs, and with a concurrent authority on imperial questions; and, from a constitutional point of view, the only link between the two countries was the Irish Executive appointed and controlled by the British Minister. Such an arrangement obviously was perilously insecure, and certain to lead to discord and trouble; and the vices of a bad political system were greatly aggravated by the inveterate ills that affected the structure of Irish society. Three nations at this time were to be found in Ireland: the aristocracy of the dominant Church, supreme in the legislature, the owners of the land, enjoying a monopoly of privilege and power; the great Presbyterian middle class of Ulster, associated with their superiors, in some measure, by the ties of race and of a common Protestantism but kept in a position of unjust dependence; and the descendants of the conquered septs and clans, the long oppressed and subjugated Catholic people, only just emerging froin abject thraldom, and still excluded from most

rights of citizens. In a community thus laid out and divided, elements of misgovernment, of discontent, of violence, were, from the nature of the case, abundant; and while the ruling and favoured class was, in the main, loyal and true to England, the sentiments of the Presbyterian and Catholic Irish were, in different ways, of an opposite kind, and of evil omen to careful observers. Though some of the ills, however, of the new Irish polity became cvident from the first inoment, and Mr, Lecky has set them clearly forth, its worst mischiefs were not at once disclosed; the Parliament in College Green, independent in name, was practically controlled by the Imperial Government, through the influence of an executive external to it, of patronage and corruption without stint, and of the interest of the dominant order; and if sounds of widespread discontent were heard, they were easily suppressed, and were scarcely formidable. The first subject that seriously engaged attention was the state and the constitution of the Irish Parliament, which had recently acquired a great increase of power, and yet in no sense represented the nation. Mr. Lecky has fully and fairly described the nature and composition of this strange legislature, though his description scarcely falls in with his theory that it really accomplished great things for Ireland; suffice it here to say that if splendid genius and eloquence, exaggerated in tone, but brilliant, have thrown over it a deceptive lustre, it was essentially the organ of a mere class, and an instrument of power directed by illegitimate means. In a nation of which three-fourths were Catholics, both Houses were wholly made up of Protestants; and the House of Commons was an assembly composed of the nominees of a handful of peers, of officials and pensioned servants of the Crown, and of representatives of the landed interest, mostly held together by corrupt influence, with the exception of a few independent men. Two projects of reform were, at this period or some time afterwards, proposed and agitated, and Mr. Lecky has described them at length. Flood sought to diminish the power of the Crown and of the great borough-mongering nobles, by excluding holders of pensions from the House of Commons, and by enlarging the areas of certain boroughs; he wished also widely to extend the franchise; and he would have limited the duration of Parliament to three years. But Catholic Ireland had no place in his scheme; he refused to admit a race he despised to any share of political rights ; and whatever it might have done for the Irish Protestants, his reform would have left the mass of the nation serfs.


« AnteriorContinuar »