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through the whole modern system of government in Great Britain. Enough has been said to show that the system is neither founded on the principles contended for by the old Whigs, nor on any appreciation of, or attention to, the national interests, or the dictates of experience in any respect. It has arisen entirely from a blind desire of change, and an opposition to the old system of government, whether of Whig or Tory origin, and a selfish thirst for aggrandisement on the part of the moneyed and commercial classes, whom that system had elevated to riches and power. Experience was not disregarded by this school of politicians; on the contrary, it was sedulously attended to, its lessons carefully marked. But it was considered as a beacon to be avoided, not a light to be followed. Against its conclusions the whole weight of declamation and shafts of irony were directed. It had been the cri de guerre of their enemies, the standard of Mr Pitt's policy; therefore the opposite system was to be inscribed on their banners. It was the ruling principle of their political opponents; and, worst of all, it was the system which, though it had raised the country to power and greatness, had for twenty years excluded themselves from power. Thence the modern system under which the nation has suffered, and is suffering, such incalculable misfortunes. It has been said, by an enlightened Whig of the old school, that “this age appears to be one in which every conceivable folly must be believed and reduced to practice before it is abandoned.” It is really so; and the reason is, it is an age in which the former system of government, founded on experience and brought about by necessity, has been supplanted by one based on a systematic and invariable determination to change the old system in every particular. The Liberals, whether factious or moneyed, of the new school flattered themselves they were making great advances in political science, when they were merely yielding to the same spirit which made the Calvinists stand up when they prayed, because all the world before them had knelt down, and sit still during psalms because the Roman Catholics had stood up.
But truth is great, and will prevail; experience is its test, and is perpetually contradicting the theories of man. The year 1848 has been no exception to the maxims of Tacitus and Burke. Dreadful indeed in suffering, appalling in form, are the lessons which it has read to mankind! Ten months have not elapsed, since, by a well-concerted urban tumult, seconded by the treachery of the National Guard, the throne of the Barricades was overturned in France : and what do we already see on the continent of Europe ? Vienna petitioning for a continuation of the state of siege, as the only security against the tyranny of democracy; Berlin hailing with rapture the dissolution of the Assembly, and reappearance of the king in the capital; Milan restored to the sway of the Austrians; France seeking, in the quasi imperial crown of Prince Louis Napoleon, with 90,000 soldiers in its capital, a refuge from the insupportable evils of a democratic republic. The year 1848 has added another to the numerous proofs which history affords, that popular convulsions, from whatever cause arising, can terminate only in the rule of the sword; but it has taught two other lessons of incalculable importance to the present and future tranquillity of mankind. These are, that soldiers who in civil convulsions fraternise with the insurgents and violate their oaths, are the worst enemies of the people, for they inevitably induce a military despotism, which extinguishes all hopes of freedom. The other is, that the institution of a national guard is in troubled times of all others the most absurd; and that to put arms into the hands of the people, when warmed by revolutionary passions, is only to light the torch of civil discord with your own hand, and give over the country to anarchy, ruin, and slavery.
Nor has the year been less fruitful of civil premonitions or lessons of the last importance to the future tranquillity and prosperity of Great Britain. Numerous popular delusions have been dispelled during that period. The dreains of Irish independence have been broken ; English Chartism has been crushed. The revolutionists see that the people of Great Britain are not disposed to yield their property to the spoiler, their throats to the murderer, their homes to the incendiary. Free trade and a fettered currency have brought forth their natural fruits-national embarrassment, general suffering, popular misery. One half of the wealth of our manufacturing towns has been destroyed since the new system began. Two years of free trade and
a contracted currency have undone nearly all that twenty years of protection and a sufficient currency had done. The great mercantile class have suffered so dreadfully under the effect of their own measures, that their power for good or for evil has been essentially abridged. The colossus which, for a quarter of a century, has bestrode the nation, has been shaken by the earthquake which itself had prepared. Abroad and at home, in peace and in war, delusion has brought forth suffering. The year of revolutions has been the NINTH OF THERMIDOR OF LIBERAL PRINCIPLES, for it has brought them to the test of experience.
BRITISH HISTORY DURING THE
[BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE, MARCH 1845]
No effort of genius or industry can make the history of England during the eighteenth century equal in interest to that of either the seventeenth or nineteenth centuries.
By the eighteenth century is meant the period of it ending in 1792 : the subsequent eight years begin a new era— the era of Revolutions—which properly belongs to the nineteenth. It was essentially a period of repose.
Placed midway between the great religious effort which, commencing in the middle of the sixteenth, was not closed in the British Islands till the end of the seventeenth century, and the not less vehement political struggle which began in the world with the French, or perhaps the American Revolution, and is still in uninterrupted activity, it exhibits a resting-place between the two great schisms which have distracted and distinguished modern times. It wants the ardent zcal, intrepid spirit, and enthusiastic devotion, of the former epoch, not less than the warm aspirations, fierce contests, and extravagant expectations of the latter. Passion had exhausted itself ; energy was worn out by exertion ; enthusiasm damped by disappointment. We no longer see men nobly sacrificing themselves for what they deemed the public good ; the generous had ceased to obliterate the selfish passions ; good sense was the characteristic of the period ; a desire for repose its leading principle ; selfishness its ruling motive. so with men, when vehement passions are not awakened, and the ardour of visionary pursuit has not obliterated the desire for immediate gratification.
It is ever
Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George III. London : 1845. 2 vols.
But if the eighteenth century can never rival the eras of the Reformation and the French Revolution in heart-stirring events, animated narrative, picturesque description, generous devotion, and sanguinary ambition, it is, perhaps, superior to either in the lessons of political wisdom with which it is fraught. It is so because it exhibits on a great scale, and for a long period, the results of those changes which had been the subject of that vehement struggle in the two preceding centuries, and enables us to appreciate, by actual experience, the benefits and evils of those great alterations in civil and religious institutions, which, after so long and severe a contest, had at length come to be thoroughly established. The survey is, in some respects, disheartening, but it is instructive; if it dispels many theories and blights much anticipation, it confirms many truths, and has established some principles which will probably never again be questioned. We are not aware that the history of the eighteenth century has ever yet been written in this spirit. It is understood now to be in the hands of learning and genius ; let us hope that equanimity and impartial judgment will preside as much as these brilliant qualities in the completion of the great undertaking
The great passion of the sixteenth century was for religious emancipation. The real evil which it was the object of the Reformation to shake off was the despotism of the Romish priesthood: the freedom for which the Reformers contended was the freedom of the human soul. The immediate object, the exciting cause, indeed, of Luther's movements, was the overthrow of the corrupt sale of indulgences, which, in the time of Leo X., had brought such scandal on the Church of Rome ; but religious freedom was the general and durable passion of the Reformation. It was the constrained uniformity of worship, the compulsory unity of belief, the slavish submission to authority, in the dearest concerns of existence, which was the real evil that was complained of. This want, so natural to an age of mental activity, so indispensable to one of advancing freedom, the satisfaction of which is as necessary as vital air to one of general intelligence, distinctly appeared in the forms of worship which the Reformers generally established when they had thrown off the authority of the Roman Pontiff. The Romish liturgies,