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Of the borough proprietors, it must be admitted, that they have a stake in the country; and they will be amongst the first to feel the consequences of any serious errors which are committed by our rulers. Their interests are identified with the security of established order. Granting, therefore, that their intentions are to serve themselves, these can only be carried into effect by consulting the wellbeing of the country. At least they must be very shortsighted not to see that their own interests are insecure, in whatever degree the honour, the dignity, and the stability of the government are endangered. Brown. And, in point of fact, the steadiness and consistency which have characterised our government, could only have been produced by the manner in which the legislative body have been brought under the influence of a responsible executive, by means of the close boroughs. It was thus only that the credit of the country could be maintained, its colonial possessions secured, and its good faith preserved inviolate. A government depending upon mob popularity, may be said to be living from hand to mouth. The most they can do is to make provision for the day passing over them.
Court. In truth, sir, the change which we are about to undergo, will be felt by the statesman to be like passing from a trade-wind into the region of storms. There are few of our reformers who possess the power of saying to the troubled elements which they have excited, "Peace, be still."
Brown. I believe there are still fewer who possess the inclination.
Court. But let me not be under
stood as saying, that demagogues are without their use. They excite the public spirit; they keep alive a constitutional jealousy of oppression. When thus occupied, they are in their proper place, and not when they are at the head of the national councils. They resemble salt, which, though not fit to be used for food by itself, is the means of preserving food much longer than it could be kept without it. In fact, one of my objections to this Bill is, that it will take the demagogues out of that position, where they may be innocently, if not advantageously employed,
and put them into one where they must be mischievous. This is a great evil. We stand, at present, upon the verge of the precipice, and the blind are about to lead the blind.
Brown. If they were only blind, the evil would not be so great; conscious blindness begets a sense of helplessness. The misfortune at present is, that our political buzzards fancy they can see better than other people. By and bye they will find their mistake.
Court. Not, I fear, until it may be too late for the country to retrace its steps. A little folly may do more harm than much wisdom can repair. It is easy to pull down: That_only requires physical strength. It is difficult to build up: That requires much physical strength and moral wisdom.
Brown. The late Opposition will make but a bad Ministry, and the late Ministry but a bad Opposition.
Court. I am not so sure of the latter proposition. It is true that the present Opposition cannot brandish the tomahawk or the scalping knife with either the recklessness or the skill of their late opponents; but they have been, at length, thoroughly excited and united, by the dangers with which they are threatened; and will, it is to be hoped, oppose themselves to the tide of innovation, as one man. All is lost if they now should cherish any petty jealousies
Brown. But there is no hope of stopping the Bill in the Commons?
Court. No. And I am, therefore, of opinion, that the conservative party should not even attempt to qualify it. They should suffer it to pass in its naked deformity, and to go to the dernier resort with all its imperfections on its head.
Brown. Aye:-the longer and the more conspicuously the cloven foot is exposed, the better. There are many who may yet be brought to see the difference between what is divine and what is diabolical. The tempter has succeeded with the Commons, by saying, "All these will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship To the Lords he uses a different language, and threatens, if they are not obedient to his bidding, "to take from them even that which they have,”
Court. In the Lords must be fought the great battle of the constitution;-a battle which will determine the fate of England for at least a century to come. The Barons at Runnymede did not act a more important part than that which must be acted by the Peers spiritual and temporal of the present Parliament. It is fearful to contemplate the possible result.
Bird. It is indeed, if the Lords should be insane enough to reject a measure upon which the people may now be said to have decided. They may, perhaps, delay, they cannot stop it; and, in the end, it will be worse for themselves.
Court. Is this the language of a man who contends that the popular branch of the constitution requires additional power?
Bird. I hope they will always have power enough to assert their rights. Court. I only hope that they may have a sufficient sense of right to confine themselves within the bounds of their legitimate authority. If the Lords threatened them for not passing a Bill which originated in the Upper House, what a cry would be raised of unconstitutional interference? How would the country resound with denunciations against the invaders of liberty? But when they are threatened for not passing a Bill which has originated in the Lower House, and which meditates an almost total extinction of their authority, against such overweening arrogance, such contumelious injustice, no voice is raised, and they are thought the most unreasonable men alive because they do not submit, without a struggle, to what amounts to political annihilation. One is reminded of the story which Johnson tells of the man who was skinning the eels, and who damned them "for not lying still !"
Brown. Unquestionably, it is a great aggravation of all this, that it is done upon the supposition, that the Lords are too powerful for the Commons!
Court. Yes. Upon a supposition falsified by the spirit of the whole proceeding! The Lords are told they have too great an influence in the Commons, in the very breath which tells them, that it is only by a tame acquiesence in the decision of
the Commons, that they have any chance of preserving their independence! They are bullied as being too weak, while they are calumniated as being too powerful! There is something ludicrous in the present position of affairs, which would provoke merriment, if the consequences were not so fatal. What it will end in, God only knows.
Bird. It will end in the defeat of an odious oligarchy.
Court. What you call an oligarchy is identified with a race of glory and prosperity, which, either for splendour or continuance, is unexampled in the history of the world. No nation has ever yet enjoyed so much liberty, and been free at the same time from foreign and domestic evils. If the government may be judged of by its results, if the tree may be known by its fruits, where will you find fairer fruits of trade and commerce, of virtue and happiness, of science and civilisation, than in the hitherto happy England? Bird. What do you call the national debt?
Court. The cheap purchase with our money of a national security, which other nations were unable to purchase with their blood. You know well that there never was a war more universally popular than that in which it was contracted. It was literally forced upon a minister, who had all but predetermined to remain at peace, and whose earliest and most cherished anticipations of fame, were founded upon the hope of being able to place the finances of the country upon a solid basis, during a season of tranquillity and retrenchment. But he was forced to give way to the universal feeling, that neither our honour nor our interest could permit us to endure the aggression of Jacobin France any longer. When he was once fairly engaged in the contest, he carried it on with a noble ardour. And let it not be forgotten, that the war may be said to have, in a great measure, created its own resources. Our prosperity, during every year of its continuance, more than kept pace with its expenses. The manufacturing interest was prodigiously benefited by it; and more waste lands were reclaimed in Ireland, by reason of the demand for corn to which it
gave rise, than had been brought into cultivation for the preceding century. When, therefore, the national debt is mentioned, it is enough to say, that it was incurred in the prosecution of a just and necessary war; and that resources were developed during the progress of it, which rendered it, even in a pecuniary point of view, rather a gain than a loss to the country. If the influence which the minister possessed in the House of Commons was required for carrying it on, that, in itself, is sufficient to prove that such influence is sometimes necessary.
Brown. When I hear the national debt referred to as one of the evils arising out of the borough system, I am tempted to think that, in case the proposed reform should take place, the national creditor will not be very safe. Indeed, he is already denounced by those who are either indiscreet or honest enough to confess the lengths to which they are ready to go, when once the mob have become our masters.
Court. Yes. This great measure will, in that particular, operate the very reverse of a statute of bankrupt cy, and make debtors arbitrators of the fair demands of their creditors. The question will no longer be how much they honestly owe, but how much they are willing to pay. The difference between "" meum and tuum," will soon be lost sight of, and Cobbett will have an opportunity of rejoicing at the all but universal reception of what has long been with him a favourite principle, that the payment of our debts ought to be regulated by our convenience. But the Church will probably be the first to suffer. By attacking the Funds, our reformers would only be gratifying their cupidity:-by attacking the Church, they would at the same time gratify their cupidity and their resentment.
Brown. And when these two great interests are thus destroyed, what becomes of the security of private property?
Bird. I think, gentlemen, you are reckoning without your host. If we may judge from the state of the funds, the stock-holders do not conceive themselves in very great danger.
Court. Neither did they when the
South Sea bubble was afloat! All I shall say is, that my fears are not dissipated by their credulity. The phenomenon to which you allude, is, however, remarkable. You take it as demonstrating the force of truth; I look upon it as exemplifying the prevalence of delusion.
Bird. But can it be seriously supposed, that the noblemen and gentlemen who have espoused the cause of reform, would do so if they considered apprehensions like yours well founded? Surely, if the constitution is, as you suppose, to be subverted by the present measure, Lord Grey, and his colleagues and supporters, could not sanction it. You will allow, at least, that they have a stake in the country, which they ought not to place upon the hazard of such a die.
Court. Do you think Lord Grey and his colleagues could have remained in office if they had not brought forward the present measure?
Bird. Candidly, I do not think they could. Some such measure was absolutely necessary to rally round them the support of the country. The people would not be satisfied with any thing short of a substantial measure of reform.
Court. Then that is quite sufficient to prove that they are not men who, in this instance at least, sacrifice power for the sake of principle;
and however we may respect their arguments, we are not called upon to shew any great deference to their authority. You say they have adopted the only means by which they could secure the support of the people. I say they have adopted the only means by which the "Ambubiarum collegia, pharmacopoliæ," the ruffianism of England, of every grade and order, could be conciliated, and brought to bear, in its concentrated energy, against the party to whom they have always been opposed. We are not, therefore, to consider their acts as evidence only of their unbiassed and deliberate judgment. We know not how far the desire of power, of which they had begun to taste the sweets, and the indisposition to surrender that power into the hands of hated enemies, may have blinded them to a percep
tion of impending dangers. But the fullest description of such dangers might be altogether insufficient to extort from them a renunciation of their official emoluments and considerations. They seem to have played their political part with the recklessness and desperation of gamesters, who are, generally speaking, as well convinced of the ruinous nature of the propensity which they indulge, as any moralist by whom their conduct is criticised; the only difference is, that they are more under the influence of a passion which stifles conscience, and tyrannizes
Brown. Besides, if men of high rank and consideration were never drawn into revolutionary projects, revolutions never could occur. fore, therefore, the reformers persuade us that a revolution is not at present likely to occur, because the patrons of the present Bill are men of station and property, they should attempt to prove to us that no revolution has occurred in the history of the world. The truth is, that many wise men desire some reform; many weak men desire a very consider able reform; and the Ministers have, by the present measures, contrived to unite these with the still more numerous party of wicked men who will be satisfied with no reform, but that which must, eventually, subvert the constitution.
Court. I confess, I am more disposed to impute the errors into which men fall upon that subject, to ignorance, than to wickedness. Wickedness implies more capacity than I think they possess. It is not so much that they desire to destroy, as that they do not understand the constitution. Socrates used to say of the Athenian government, that he never pitied them for the turbulence which they experienced, as they never took any sufficient pains to instruct the people.
Brown. At least, that cannot be said of our government;-as more public money has already been spent in the cause of education, than would purchase the fee-simple of all Greece!
Court. Alas! But to how little purpose! all that has as yet been done has only served to superadd to ignorance, conceit and presump
Bird. Nay, nay, Mr Courtney, I think you are now downright illiberal. I did not believe that there was any one who denied the great progress which the minds of the people have made in our day in almost every species of knowledge. Surely you must allow, that the amount of education is much more considerable than it was a century ago?
Court. There is more information, there may be more knowledge, but there is certainly less wisdom-that is, the wisdom of the present day bears a smaller proportion to the existing stock of information and knowledge, than it did at almost any former period.
Brown. I should be glad to hear you explain yourself on that subject more at large.
Court. It lies in a nutshell. "A little learning is a dangerous thing." Our people know just enough to excite their vanity, without knowing sufficient to enlighten their judgments. They have lost the modesty of ignorance, and have acquired nothing better in its stead. It was far safer that they should feel a sense of helplessness, which made them depend upon others, than be, as they are, puffed up by a groundless confidence in themselves. And what is the consequence? The present state of things. The cobblers and tailors of our day have learned to sneer at the wisdom of our ancestors.
Brown. But, surely, every thing must have a beginning. The rude mass must first be taught to read. We are not to expect that they shall pass, all at once, from the rudiments of learning to sound knowledge. That would be as vain as to expect that there should be a coincidence between the periods of seed-time and harvest. Let us cast our bread upon the waters," by giving all the encouragement in our power to elementary education, and we may be sure that we " shall find it after many days."
Court. There never was a period when elementary instruction of every kind was more within the reach of all classes of the people; at least of all those classes who are capable of receiving any instruction at all. That is, certainly, not the want under which the people labour. They may be doomed "to perish for lack of knowledge," but not for lack of ele
mentary instruction. I should as soon think of constructing a tank in a country irrigated by natural streams, as of endowing institutions for the purpose of giving the people what they have such ample opportunities of procuring for themselves. No. My complaint against our course of proceeding in these matters is this. In the first stages of their progress, we encumber the people with assistance which they do not want. In the after stages, we leave them without that assistance when it is absolutely necessary. They require no great encouragement to be induced to learn to read; but, in the precise scope and tendency of their studies, they do stand in need of counsel and direction. We are ready enough to furnish all that can stimulate, we are slow to afford that which would steady them. And, as we have sown, so we must reap. We have "sown the wind," and, I fear, we are destined to " reap the whirlwind!"
Brown. But no system of instruction which could be devised would make the people all philosophers. I think we do all that we can do. We facilitate the acquisition of those acquirements which are indispensable to the attainment of knowledge. The use they make of them must depend upon themselves.
Court. In what consists the necessity of facilitating what is at present so very obvious and so very easy? We are industriously occupied in removing the mole-hills which lie in the way of the acquisition, while we do not even so much as attempt to remove the mountains which so greatly obstruct the proper use of knowledge. We do the thing we should not do, and we leave undone the thing, and the only thing, to which we should have applied ourselves with any extraordinary solicitude. If we were half as anxious about learning made useful, as we profess to be about learning made easy, all might be well.
Brown. Pray, what is your notion of the precise mode in which government should proceed upon that important subject?
Court. I do not think it wise in government to interfere much in the details of national education. These may be left, and should be left to the people themselves. They cannot,
however, be too careful in training the race of men by whom the people are to be educated. For these they should have model schools. The course of instruction should be such as to disabuse them of many of the popular errors and prejudices which too frequently belong to that class of persons, and which they are so mischievously efficacious in disseminating amongst the people. Every encouragement should be given to them to carry this education beyond those limits within which it is at least as liable to be perverted to evil, as to be employed for good purposes; and thus to establish them upon the "terra firma" of sound principle. The misfortune is, that up to that point to which the acquisition of knowledge is agreeable, it may be mischievous; and some way must be made upon that part of the road, which is both steep and rough, before it can become decidedly useful. It should, therefore, be the object of every wise government to encourage, in that class of humble aspirants after literary distinctions, (to whose lot it will fall, whether well or ill educated, to form the opinions of the little circles of which they are the centres,) such a degree of knowledge as may prove an antiseptic to the dangerous opinions, both moral and political, which are, at present, so prevalent, and which cannot spread much farther, or continue much longer, without subverting the foundations of social order.
Brown. The idea is a good one; I wonder it has not been adopted.
Court. Nothing is more certain than that all minds above the common order are naturally insubordinate;-and it is not until they are instructed and disciplined by much thought and some experience, that they learn to value and respect those artificial distinctions which are necessary for the wellbeing of civil society. Now, those who feel within them claims to personal consideration, are much more disposed to desire the acknowledgment of them, than to follow up that course of study, by the prosecution of which they must be disabused of their vain ideas of self-importance. The former course is easy, agreeable, and, as it would appear, personally advantageous;-the latter, irksome,