Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

by many other arguments and assertions, and if some of these were futile or fantastic, and such some certainly were, others were irrefragable. Amongst other things they cited the instrument by which Charles V. as king of the Sicilies, made over the dominium utile of Malta, to the knights of St. John, with the express reservation, that if they abandoned the government, it should revert to the crown from which it had been dismembered. Hence they jusdy concluded, that if considerations of right were to decide the question, the island was either the king of Sicily's or their own; the king of Sicily's in virtue of the instrument of cession, or their own b; toe title of conquest. They gained little by this logical appeal to the English cabinet, beyond the satisfaction of impaling the minister on sne of the horns of their dilemma. While he, however, was sprawling upon the stake, the British nation, if not informed, or pot sensible of the claims of justice, slowly awakened to more interested considerations, and Malta was delivered from the terror of ber knights, and of the French. Unfortunately, however, it required little shrewdness on her part, to perceive that England had paved a most unworthy part, and that her conduct was a fearful omen of what might be expected from her, on any future occasion, aten interest and policy were not, as well as honour, arrayed on the same side of the question. If any thing, however, could have appeased the resentment of the Maltese, though it could not remove their fears, it would have been the conduct of the English governor, or, to speak more correctly, the English civil commissioner, Sir Alexander Ball. The mildness of his really paternal sway formed a striking contrast to the tyranny of their former masters, and other things tended to second its natural effects. Protection from the piracies of the Barbary states, the erection of La Valletta into a free port, and the consequent influx of English capital, had opened sources of wealth of which the Maltese, who appear to have a natural disposition to commerce, availed themselves with remarkable industry and success. All again appeared to promise quiet and content: but the calm was of short duration."

Many various and unconnected causes led to new dissatisfaction, Nothing could make a stronger first impression than the conduct of Sir Alexander Ball. It was the stronger, from a conviction of the sincerity of the man, and il suo diletto popolo Maltese, so constantly in his mouth, for a long while lost little effect from repetition, because it was known to come from his heart. Moreover, his indulgence was never capricious, because it was not formed on a false estimate of the character of the people. He knew them well, their defects as well as their merits, and, as far as his policy extended, managed them with equal sagacity and discretion. But though not capricious, it was excessive; and conci

A 3

liation

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

liation has its limits. The gentleness of his nature would not allow him to temper his system with harsher yet salutary ingredients, and he could not, or he would not, believe that, were au option necessary between the two great principles of fear and love, the former, inasınuch as its impressions are more lively as well as more lasting, is the more powerful engine of government. Hence though he outlived not the love of the people at large, the latter period of his life was harassed by factions which we believe he possessed sufficient authority to have crushed. The Maltese had been long kept under by hard treatment and hunger. They were of a sudden pampered and released from restraint; it is not wonderful that, like other wild animals, they should abuse the blessings which were new to them. There is nothing more striking to an Englishman than the hourly exhibition of this spirit. The same men who dared not pass the large space before the Grand Master's palace but cap in hand, will not now shew those ordinary tokens of respect which are cheerfully paid to sex aud station by ourselves. The manner in which this humour exhibits itself is sometimes offensive, and sometiines sufficiently amusiug. A porter will jostle you in the street; nobody will ever make way for you. A hackneyman or boatman will

, perhaps, if you accept his terms, clap you on the back, and cry buono! or, if you reject them, motion you from him with the addition of Shove off, John, or Mary,' according to the sex of the party with whom he is in treaty. In short, these people are precisely like those upstarts in society who mistake rudeness for ease, and consider impertinence but as a proper assertion of independence.

But if some bad effects sprang out of good, others proceeded from a more natural source. The Maltese law, which had, perhaps, been sufficient to the purposes of justice in a simpler state of society, was soon found to be inadequate to the new order of things. The complicated relations of commerce required a system more certain in its principles and more expeditious in its proceedings. Sir Alexander Ball doubtless thought that his abolition of a court, which cut off one stage of appeals, previous to arriving at the last resort, would conduce to the last mentioned object; but where there was a suspicion of corruption, and the persuasion, how justly founded we know not, certainly exists in Malta, it inay be questioned whether such a reduction might not really remove one of the barriers which opposed it. At any rate, it was not calculated to efface the belief; a belief originating, perhaps, hot more in the inconsistence of their decisions than in the deplorable poverty of the judges.

Nor was this poverty the fate of those magistrates alone. Great as was the inilux of wealth, it was not every one who could be bene

fited

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

fited by it; to those who were not, it was injurious ; and they, whose property was unimprovable, suffered not less in reality than by contrast. In many instances, too, owing to particular local circumstances, the price of things rose beyond all just proportion to the augmented value of money. Such was the case with respect to houses: this necessarily pressed severely upon the poor, who, as it is the nature of man to contemplate his situation on the most unfavorable side, did not probably consider that they were indemnified in the increased stipend of labour, which is better paid in Malta than in Great Britain. Another evil which bore hard upon a very estensive and respectable class, we mean the middle order of society, was the rise of wages amongst the women servants, which, from the great concourse of English settlers, rose to a sudden and unnatural pitch. This has driven the natives to a sngular expedient, that of importing black female slaves from the opposite coast of Africa. We know not whether the introduction of these be clandestine, or whether slavery be a status acknowledged by the law of the island; whether it be or not, however, the sanction of it (if it ever were allowed) must have been done away by the acts of the British legislature, and we conclude, therefore, that such a traffic must be contraband, and that slaves thus imported might vindicate their liberty by an appeal to justice. To return from this short digression: by no class of people were the evils we have mentioned more severely felt than by the public functionaries of every description, whose miserable salaries, contemptible as they now appeared, had been formerly better proportioned to the relative value of money. It was difficult to apply a remedy to this evil. Malta furnished scarcely any revenue, but was, on the contrary, a source of large expenditure to Great Britain. Her goverpor could hardly, under such circumstances, apply at home for assistance, or, if he did, it is natural enough that it should have been refused. It would indeed have been easy to raise a revenue infinitely more than sufficient to such purposes, we believe adequate to the maintenance of the colony, from the island itself; not by internal taxes never levied by their former masters, but by duties imposed upon commerce: this, however, was not done, though the boon was our own, and we had a right to attach to it what conditions we pleased. As to the prudence of the measure, we need only cite the example of the Ionian islands, where the success of the experiment fully justifies what we have conjectured would have been its effect, if adopted in Malta. All the native officers of the colony were consequently left in a state of distress, which, if it did not alienate them from their attachment to England, was not likely to dispose them towards her interests; or, (if their sense of duty was proof against such a trial, at least, left them little influence or

A4

means

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

means to support them. Add to this, some of the lordlings of the isle, though they had deserved nothing of us or of their fellow citizens, probably thought they had a sufficient title to consideration in their nobility; and of those who had a better plea in their services during the blockade, some may have been, in point of morals as well as talents, unfit for situations of civil trust. At any rate, it was difficult for the English governor to reward this class according to his estimate of their deserts, impossible according to their own.

Such were the causes which, directly or indirectly, mediately or immediately, contributed to the fermentation which followed. But this was only a general spirit of restlessness; the majority were like children who cry for something but know not for what. Out of the mass, however, started a party, not indeed formidable either in its composition or its numbers, but whose objects were more defined, and whose aims were more dangerous. Thesc, unpractised in the chace which they were engaged in, were not long at a loss for instruction. They were cheered in the pursuit, if not laid on, by an English huntsman, in the shape of Mr. Eton; and if they did not evince much sagacity in unravelling the scent, it must be allowed that they approved themselves true southerit hounds in their clamour, and that a louder (we cannot say

a cry more tuneable,) Was never halloo'd to or cheer'd with horn.' All nations, from the Chippeways, who believed that their ancestors lived till their teeth were worn out with eating, to the Maltese, who fancy that they were once free, rich, and civilized, have an ideal golden age: it would be as difficult for the latter as for the former to assign its date. The first assertion of their

great national rights was, however, made in the memorial on the peace, parts of which we have so lately discussed. In this, we are informed, amongst other things, that they had been the free allies, and not the subjects, of Suily, and that they had elected their own suzerains !!! 86. &c. &c. &c. Notwithstanding, however, all the rusty rubbish in which they had raked for somewhat whereon to re-erect their supposed rights, amongst all the frivolous matter which they triumphantly fished up and most perversely misapplied, the grand piece of mummery, brought forwards with such pomp and circumstance, and this is a fact well worthy of remark,) was as yet unproduced. This was an afterthought, when that spirit had been raised, the causes of which we have endeavoured to trace.

There existed formerly in the island a body denominated the concilio pubblico, or populare, or, as is stated by the Maltese, sometimes designated as the concilio della città. This corporation was dissolved by the grand master in 1775, and all that is known of its

functions

[ocr errors]

functions is, that they had been, as far as modern history or tradition extends, administrative. This council was, however, now armed with legislative powers by the patriots, who called aloud for the re-erection of the idol, whom they had vested with such imaginary virtues. According to our view of this subject, the question respecting the rights of this assembly might be dismissed as irrelewant to the points which are at issue. Granted, that the Maltese, as they assert, received us upon condition that we preserved to them their privileges; what could such a stipulation, or such a presumption, mean, but privileges either clearly defined, or lately held and enjoyed? To illustrate the case by the first instance, and certainly it is a fair parallel, which occurs to us;-let us suppose that several years after the Norman conquest, and before the establishment of parliaments, the throne of England had been by any means racated, and a king of Denmark installed in the empty seat, upon the same terms on which, as it is affirmed, our own sovereign was feceived by the Maltese,-could his new subjects, under the plea of having had assurance of the guarantee of privileges, have pretended to the restoration of the wittenagemot? Notwithstanding, however, the light in which we view the subject, namely, that though the po litical speculators of Malta could make good their assertions, they are still but where they were in the argument respecting their pretensions, these pretensions we are ready to discuss; not in the perverse lose of pursuing any unprofitable argument, but with the desire to detect imposture and to disabuse those who have been its dupes. We have already stated that the concilio popolare was an afterthought, or an after-discovery of the Maltese. Mr. Eton, however, (for be camot saddle his battering-ram, the happily yclept Marquis Testa ferrata, or any other of his instruments, with this discoVery,) has found out that it was re-erected by the Maltese, immediately upon their rising in arms against their oppressors; and he has recognized the features, and traced the character of the deCeased, in a committee, similar to those of our late volunteer corps, created by the insurgents, in control of their chiefs, and afterwards, for their notorious misconduct, most deservedly dissolved. From this his first introduction of the subject, we are constantly revisited by the phantoms of this council and the liberties of the Maltese. We can compare these to nothing better than to Panurge's quit-rents of periwinkle and cockle-shells, not only as alike in point of insubstantiality but as being pressed upon us with the same perversely ingenious perseverance and artifice. Now absolutely affirmed, now incidentally mentioned, now referred to as things recognized, they are overlaid with such a mass of circumstance, that we are all but bored and bewildered into belief. But whoever will turn to Mr. Eton's book and take the trouble of shovelling

away

« AnteriorContinuar »