« EdellinenJatka »
THE FALL OF THE CONSTITUTION
(BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE, JULY 1832] *
If any man had predicted sixteen years ago—when the British Constitution bad survived, majestic and unharmed, the shock of the French Revolution; when the Duke of Wellington received, amidst an uncovered House of Commons and a nation's transports, the thanks of the Speaker for a prostrated Napoleon and a delivered world—that, during the lifetime of the existing generation, this constitution should be overthrown, and that hero become the object of popular obloquy, he would have been deemed the most visionary prophet that ever libelled a grateful people. If he had predicted that this terrible revolution was to be accomplished, not by the single efforts of the lower orders, or the party who, in every age, are inclined to revolutionary measures, but by the proudest and the haughtiest, and those once esteemed the wisest in the realm ; that the Ministers of the Crown were to force on the frantic innovation, and the Sovereign to be implicated in undermining the monarchy; that a large part of the aristocracy were to place themselves at the head of the Revolution, and a great majority of the House of Commons to vote for the abolition of the ancient constitution; that the rural freeholders were to be deluded into voting away their own power, and placing themselves beneath an insolent and domineering urban faction; that the House of Peers was to be chained with fetters of iron, and its greatest and noblest driven into seclusion to avoid instant destruction ; that the wealth, and intelligence, and property of the country were to stand aloof during the fearful struggle, and behold their birthright and liberties, the laws of their forefathers, and the constitution of ages violently torn from them by a reckless and desperate democratic faction; that the Throne itself was to be pledged to the work of destruction, and its highest prerogatives turned to the overthrow of its bravest defenders; it would have been thought that the heaven itself would fall before such a change could be accomplished. Yet we have lived to see all this come to pass. Within the tapestried chamber which still recounts the destruction of the Spanish Armada; under the roof which covered the hall of William Rufus; close to the sacred walls which yet contain the bones of Edward the Confessor; on the spot where Alfred established, a thousand years ago, the foundations of the monarchy, the triumphant destroyer has stood, and a peal of exultation broke from the Demons of wickedness on earth and in hell, at the fall of the noblest monument of wisdom, the firmest bulwark of virtue, that the blessing of God ever bestowed upon a suffering world.
* Written on the passing of the Reform Bill.
Dreadful as has been the consternation, profound the grief, unmeasured the indignation, of all the wise and the good throughout the land at this terrible revolution, it is not the part of those who love their country, and are resolved to do their duty to it while a plank of the vessel remains together, to give way either to hopeless dejection or unmanly despair. There is a point of depression, says Hume, in human affairs, from which the transition is necessarily to the better; and though the observation has been repeated till it has become proverbial, it is in moments such as the present that we especially feel its truth. During the long struggle of virtue with wickedness, of religion with infidelity, of tempered freedom with brutal oppression, the defenders of order are often doomed to witness the melancholy spectacle of the utter hopelessness of all their efforts to save the people from self-destruction. They see falsehood generally inhaled; truth in vain urged against the passions of the moment; fraud and treachery triumphant in the senate ; virtue, wisdom, and knowledge trampled under foot by the multitude. To struggle against such a torrent—to portray the inevitable consequences of popular delusion—to oppose to passion reason, to falsehood truth, to excited imagination sobered judgment—is often a painful, and, to all appearance, a hopeless task. But truth is one and eternal, error is mutable and transient; magna est veritas et prævalebit, should be the maxim of the wise and the good in the worst aspect of human affairs. The success which damps and extinguishes futile or ill-considered opposition, confirms and renders immutable the cause of truth. Thenceforward it becomes matter of history: party excitation, momentary passion, are no more; and the bitter fruits of error, ripening under the laws of an unchangeable Providence, bring home to the most infatuated the lamentable delusions under which they have acted.
It is with these feelings of sorrow for our country, but increased confidence in our own principles—of indignation at the recklessness of others, and the proud consciousness of having done our own duty-that we regard the recent fall of the British Constitution. The fond wish of the patriot and the hero in so many past ages, Esto perpetua, is now no more. The long glories of its steady and tranquil reign; the matchless celebrity of its arts and its arms; the steady growth of its industry; the dignified and majestic tenor of its administration; the general freedom which it developed ; the relief to suffering which it afforded"; the restraint to vice which it occasioned; the religious institutions which it had created_all, all are lost. Henceforth the country is a mere urban democracy. Governed by the interests, impelled by the passions of cities, the steadiness of patrician sway is at an end, and, in its stead, the vacillating and unstable rule of the multitude is established.
This prospect, which, to those who regard only the fate of their own country, is fraught with such melancholy feelings, is the source of very different emotions to those who contemplate the progress of the human race. We have struggled long and resolutely to arrest the evil, but the revolutionary spirit has prevailed : the rock of Sisyphus has been rolled to the summit of the mountain, and it is about, in its recoil, to crush the hands that raised it. The work is finished. Human madness and guilt have run their course, and the laws of nature are about to resume their immortal reign. We are soon to witness the long period of national punishment; to see delusion expire under the pressure of suffering, and anarchy sink under the fury it has excited, and ambition prostrated by the passions it has awakened. We are destined to see a nation which neglected and despised all the choicest blessings of Providence, which ran riot in the fulness of national prosperity, and was drunk with the intoxication of national glory, sink and suffer under the worst instruments of the Divine vengeance, the lash of its own passions and vices. With their own hands they have pulled down the ancient and undecayed fabric which sheltered their fathers, and the old time before them; with their own hands they have written their sentence—with their own lips they have pronounced their doom. It was in the midst of the triumph of revolution, the riot of rejoicing, and the blaze of illuminations, that the handwriting on the wall appeared to the people of England ; and while they were celebrating, like the Assyrians of old, their victory over an imaginary enemy, their empire was taken from them and given to another people.
Dark and disastrous, however, as is the future prospect of the British empire, we do not think its case hopeless, or that, after having gone through the degradation, distraction, and suffering which must follow the destruction of the Constitution, it may not yet witness, in the decline of its days, some gleams of sunshine and prosperity. The laws of nature have now come to aid the cause of order; its usual suffering will attend the march of revolution ; experience will soon dispel the fumes of democracy; the reign of Political Unions, of Jacobin Clubs, and tricolor flags, must ere long come to an end; the suffering, anxiety, and distress consequent on their despotic rule, the suspension of all confidence, and the ruin of all credit, must consign them to the dust, amidst the execrations of their country, if they are not subverted by the ruder shock of civil warfare and military power. The distress, misery, and stagnation in every branch of industry, already consequent on the Reform Bill, have been so extreme, that they must long ago have led to its overthrow, not only without the resistance, but with the concurrence, of all the Reformers who are not revolutionists, had it not been for the delusion universally spread by the revolutionary journals, that the existing distress was not owing to Reform, but to the resistance which it had experienced, and that the danger of revolution, great in the event of the measure being thrown out, was absolutely nugatory in the event of its being passed. These two sophisms have alone carried the bill through the resistance it experienced from the property, education, and talent of the country, and blinded men's eyes to the enormous evils which not only threatened to follow its triumph, but attended its progress. But these delusions cannot much longer be maintained. Reform is now victorious : the bill is passed unmutilated and unimpaired, and its whole consequences now rest on the heads of its authors, and its authors alone. When it is discovered that all the benefits promised from it are a mere delusion ; that stagnation, distress, and misery have signalised its triumph ; that trade does not revive with the contracted expenditure of the rich, nor confidence return with the increased audacity of the poor; that the ancient and kindly relations of life have been torn asunder in the struggle, and the vehemence of democracy has provided no substitute in their stead; that interest after interest, class after class, is successively exposed to the attacks of the revolutionists, and the ancient barrier which restrained them is removed ;—the eyes of the nation must be opened to the gross fraud which has been practised upon it.
Then it will be discovered that the aristocratic interest, and the nomination boroughs, which supported their influence in the Lower House, were the real bulwark which protected all the varied interests of the country from the revolutionary tempest, and that every branch of industry is less secure, every species of property is less valuable, every enterprise is more hazardous, every disaster is more irretrievable, when its surges roll unbroken and unresisted into the legislature.
It is upon this very circumstance, however, that our chief, and indeed our only hope of the country is founded. Hitherto the great body of the middle classes have stood aloof from the contest, or they have openly joined the reforming party. They were carried away by the prospect of the importance which they would acquire under the new Constitution, and did not perceive that it was their own interests which were defended, their own battle which was fought, their own existence which was at stake, in the