Page images

months, as the law allowed; and have thus flung the country into all the bustle and confusion of a general election, and suspended* the law which they had a few weeks before pretended to think necessary for preserving the country from revolution. Nothing can more clearly show their intimate persuasion that all the plots and insurrections had no existence but in the heated imaginations of their adherents, or the false mouths of their spies. Let them then make the only reparation the country ought to accept at their hands, by restoring those constitutional rights which in an hour of delusion they were suffered to abrogate.


We conclude with one or two more general observations. two distinguished persons whose speeches are before us, and, with them, the great body of ministerial alarmists, agree in maintaining, that the present clamour for reform, and its attendant spirit of discontent and disaffection, have been constantly afoot in this country, since the year 1793, or earlier, and have been uniformly gaining strength among us, during that eventful period: and the remedy they propose for this evil, is increased restraint on the liberties of the people, and on the freedom of speaking, writing, and complaining, which they formerly enjoyed. Now we humbly conceive, that this very account of the progress and state of the malady, affords a conclusive proof that this cannot be the remedy.

If these thirty years had been years of relaxed authority and popular encroachment-if the influence of the crown had been all that time diminishing, and the democratic elements of the constitution been proportionally multiplied and extended-if the Whigs had been all the while in office, and, in the wantonness of confirmed authority, had proscribed the principles of their opponents, and carried their own to unprecedented excess, there might have been some reason to ascribe these new and progressive disorders of the commonwealth to this new and progressive disturbance of its wholesome constitution; and to expect that its harmony might be restored by measures of an opposite tendency-by strengthening the hands of the executive, and restraining the license of the people. But it is but too notorious that our condition has been in all respects the very reverse of this. The thirty years during which this evil has been generated and diffused, have been years in which the power and influence of the crown, and the burdens of the people, have been increased to an extent not only unprecedented, but unimagined in any former period-in which the constitution has been almost as often suspended as in operation, and more restraints laid on the exercise of popular rights, than for a whole

*The provisions of the Seditious Meetings Act, are suspended from the Teste of the Writ-one of the many mitigations introduced by the Whigs.

preceding century. There have, in short, been more coercive and restraining laws passed in that period-more strength added to the crown, and more privileges, and more money taken from the people, than any one before could have imagined possible. If these are the things that have been most manifestly progressive during that period, and if discontent and impatience, and loud and angry clamours for reform have been progressive along with them, it really appears more natural to ascribe these last symptoms to the former as their causes, than to suggest that they may be removed, by multiplying and adding force and activity to these causes. If there be any plausibility in the notion, that restraints and encroachments on our liberties, are the causes of discontent, (and we cannot see any thing very extravagant in the supposition,) we cannot but think it a strange way to cure this discontent, by increasing those encroachments, and multiplying those restraints. If a system of coercion and severity be the true cure for our present disorders, it is rather unaccountable that they should have grown up under such a system, and should never have been heard of till it was adopted. The discipline which is now proposed to correct our errors, has proved insufficient to prevent them; and was no sooner recurred to, than they spread and multiplied in all directions.

Might it not be worth while, then, to try the obvious and natural remedy, of endeavouring to satisfy the discontented, instead of stifling their complaints, and punishing them for complaining? And would not a little reform of defects and abuses-and a little retrenchment of expenditure-and a little confidence in the people, be a suitable accompaniment to new punishments for libels on the government, or new restrictions on the right of petitioning?

No long-enduring and progressive discontent ever existed without reasonable causes; and it is mere drivelling, to talk of a general and increasing disaffection of thirty years standing, being produced by the seductions of wicked and designing men. There never was an instance of such a course of complaining, where the main fault was not in the government; and, though severe and repressive measures have always been resorted to, they have never failed to aggravate the evil, and to recoil on the heads of those by whom they were employed. Such a period of dissatisfaction existed almost the whole time from the restoration to the revolution; and it was then treated very much as Lord Grenville is for treating the fit that is now upon us: But did the condemnation of Russell and Sydney-the persecutions of the Cabal-the severities of Jeffries, or the still more brutal and unremitting oppressions of the Scottish government, eradicate the evil-or aggravate and force it on to a most hazardous, though glorious consummation? We have had one fortunate revolution; but we want no more. It

is an experiment far too full of peril to be steadily contemplated by any one who truly loves his country. But the guilt of bringing on such a crisis, always rests on the government which is overthrown: and that guilt uniformly consists in obstinately resisting those moderate and reasonable reforms which the long continued and progressive discontent of the people have shown to be necessary-and obstinately maintaining those abuses, without which it is absolutely impossible that any such discontent should have existed.

Since the publication of our last Number, there has a pamphlet appeared in defence of one of the two unfortunate clergymen who got into so serious a scrape, from their zeal upon the Manchester question. We then felt ourselves compelled to expose the great, but not inexcusable ignorance of these gentlemen; and one of them, Dr. Phillpotts, not knowing, it seems, when he had enough, has, in an evil hour, returned to the charge, and, as might be expected, got still deeper into the mire. We shall certainly not think of following this unhappy man through his new set of blunders, all delivered with the presumption which is called pedantry and arrogance, when accompanied with learning; but which is truly laughable when bottomed in sheer ignorance and conceit. One sample may suffice. He persists in saying, that the offence of conspiring to levy war within the realm, is a misdemeanour; and cites Judge Foster, with an air of consummate selfsatisfaction, to show that it is so. He then proceeds, in a truly edifying manner, to exult over us, as if he must be right, and we wrong, because he has that great authority on his side. Never was there a happier illustration of the maxim, that a little learning is a dangerous thing and never did hapless author labour more effectually to illustrate by examples, the remarks of his critic. We had blamed him for interfering in legal disputes, where he must needs be ill-informed; he gives us a new and striking proof how full of risk such an interference is to the half-learned. In Judge Foster's time, the offence in question was only a misdemeanour; but in 1795 it was made high treason by a statute in force at the time in question. So much for this Reverend controversialist.


As for Mr. Davison, he has had the good sense to keep where he was: But we truly regret to hear of his ill-advised speculation of writing down the Radicals, by editing a periodical paper, called the Englishman's Adviser. Of this we have seen some numbers; and a more complete failure is not upon record. Mr. Coleridge's Friend,' was only tiresome, like some others who call on us weekly, under the same title. But the Adviser,' will never irritate like so many of his namesakes; for he will never be listened to for a moment. In short, it is a truly melancholy failure; and may stand at the head of such impotent attempts to go beyond our own line, and force nature. Mr. Cobbett is far better qualified to read lectures at Oxford, than Mr. Davison to write a weekly newspaper.

[ocr errors]


[From the Quarterly Review.-London, March, 1820.]

On the same Subject.

In the moment of escape from imminent danger, or of deliverance from heavy calamity, men naturally cherish the warmest and most grateful affection towards those under whose auspices their rescue has been achieved. The promptitude and the energy of parliament appear to have been successfully exerted in averting from us that revolutionary crisis, which some of the wisest among us recently anticipated, and which the bravest could not anticipate without uneasiness. The workers of mischief are not indeed extinguished; and they are not, we fear, very likely to be reclaimed; but they have at least suffered a severe discomfiture. The measures, and even the very attitude, of our senate have had the effect of disorganizing their evil projects and damping their malignant hopes. For a season they seem driven into an ignominious though probably not an innocent obscurity, and, like certain more illustrious conspirators of old, may be said to have

[blocks in formation]

Far in the dark dislodg'd and void of rest.'

To institute any comparison between the merits of the respective speeches before us, would not only be invidious in the extreme; but, from what has been said, it will appear that, unless the spoken effect of each could be known, such an attempt would be absolutely idle. We have reason to believe that the speech of Mr. Plunket is that which has sustained the most injury by the act of passing from the oral into the written state. Let us not, however, be understood to disparage the merits of that admirable production. As might have been expected from the known character of Mr. Plunket's public speaking, it is eminent for the unlaboured clearness and compactness of its reasoning, for the noble simplicity of its style and manner, and for the soundness and elevation of its political views.

Mr. Plunket signally supports the fame of his country for genius and eloquence; yet it is remarkable that his genius and eloquence have not the same peculiarities with those of the majority of his countrymen. He is not a disciple of what may be called the Irish school. Perfectly national, we doubt not, in his feelings and attachments, nothing can be less national than his taste in oratory. The eloquence of Ireland has great and extraordinary merits. It has force, fancy, fervour, passion, grandeur; and, possessing these excellencies, it may be forgiven for occasional offences against good taste, for a proneness to profusion of imagery, exaggeration of sentiment, and hardness or inflation of style. The truth is, that it is idle to blame these qualities; which, equally with the former,

belong to a certain stage in the progress of national literature. The Irish have not advanced to so high a point of the scale as their brethren of England; and their speech bewrayeth them;—their oratory, with all the fresh and rude virtue, exhibits also many of the defects, that usually characterize the literary productions of a comparatively unrefined people. It is true that one of the distinguishing qualities of such a people is simplicity; but then it is simplicity of feeling, not of taste. Their affections are pure and sound; but, in giving them expression, if they attempt to rise beyond the language of common life, they rise into an untried region, and become affected or extravagant. In a word, rude nations, like children, are ever mistaking finery for elegance; and the same rule holds, with a graduation of force, through all the successive steps between savage nature and the highest degree of refinement. The effect of this remark is not diminished by the undeniable fact, that numbers of the higher classes of persons in our sister kingdom receive an education as refined as the utmost fastidiousness of English taste could demand. National eloquence, like national music, is moulded and fashioned according to the judgment and feeling, not of the higher and more educated members of the community, who may be said to be of no country, but of the multitude. These, let it be remembered, are the hearers, the recipients of eloquence; and to the capacity of the recipient, the thing received must in a great measure conform itself. In effect, no higher praise can be bestowed on a speaker, than that he consults the taste of his audience; and few and rarely-gifted indeed are those, who can do this without catching a little of the inclinations which they consult, and actually acquiring that character which they, in some sense, assume for the particular occasion.

Mr. Plunket, however, whatever be the reason, appears to have escaped even a tinge of these peculiarities. In his style of speaking, he is, as was said of Charles Fox, all over English; if indeed he be not something better. He is simple, nervous, collected, deliberate, consecutive; and this, without at all degenerating into tameness or preciseness. If he has not altogether those impassioned bursts, or that overwhelming and inspiring vehemence, for which the great departed orator just named was so remarkable, he has, like him, all the unpretending plainness, which belongs to the perfect style of eloquence. In fairness, at the same time, and straightforwardness of understanding, he is even superior to Mr. Fox whose love of ratiocination was such, as too frequently betrayed him into a merely gladiatorial exercise of his art, and led him to delight in the evolutions of argument, rather as affording opportunities for brilliant display, than as facilitating the discovery of truth. On the oratorical character of Mr. Plunket we have been the more diffuse, because in the English hemisphere, if we may so


« PreviousContinue »