« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
getfulness. He is at issue with the party before the present, and, if ever he can reach it, before the coming generation.
The author, several months previous to his publication, well knew that two gentlemen, both of them possessed of the most distinguished abilities, and of a most decisive authority in the partŷ, had differed with him in one of the most material points relative to the French Revolution : that is, in their opinion of the behavior of the French soldiery, and its revolt from its officers. At the time of their public declaration on this subject, he did not imagine the opinion of these two gentlemen had extended a great way beyond themselves. He was, however, well aware of the probability that persons of their just credit and influence would at length dispose the greater number to an agreement with their sentiments, and perhaps might induce the whole body to a tacit acquiescence in their declarations, under a natural and not always an improper dislike of showing a difference with those who lead their party. I will not deny that in general this conduct in parties is defensible ; but within what limits the practice is to be circumscribed, and with what exceptions the doctrine which supports it is to be received, it is not my present purpose to define. The present question has nothing to do with their motives; it only regards the public expression of their sentiments.
The author is compelled, however reluctantly, to receive the sentence pronounced upon him in the House of Commons as that of the party. It proceeded from the mouth of him who must be regarded as its authentic organ. In a discussion which continued for two days, no one gentleman of the
opposition interposed a negative, or even a doubt, in favor of him or his opinions. If an idea consonant to the doctrine of his book, or favorable to his conduct, lurks in the minds of any persons in that description, it is to be considered only as a peculiarity which they indulge to their own private liberty of thinking. The author cannot reckon upon it. It has nothing to do with them as members of a party. In their public capacity, in everything that meets the public ear or public eye, the body must be considered as unanimous.
They must have been animated with a very warm zeal against those opinions, because they were under no necessity of acting as they did, from any just cause of apprehension that the errors of this writer should be taken for theirs. They might disapprove; it was not necessary they should disavow him, as they have done in the whole and in all the parts of his book ; because neither in the whole nor in any of the parts were they directly, or by any implication, involved. The author was known, indeed, to have been warmly, strenuously, and affectionately, against all allurements of ambition, and all possibility of alienation from pride or personal pique or peevish jealousy, attached to the Whig party. With one of them hé has had a long friendship, which he must ever remember with a melancholy pleasure. To the great, real, and amiable virtues, and to the unequalled abilities of that gentleman, he shall always join with his country in paying a just tribute of applause. There are others in that party for whom, without any shade of sorrow, he bears as high a degree of love as can enter into the human heart, and as much veneration as ought to be paid to human creatures; because he firmly believes that they are endowed with as many and as great virtues as the nature of man is capable of producing, joined to great clearness of intellect, to a just judgment, to a wonderful temper, and to true wisdom. His sentiments with regard to them can never vary, without subjecting him to the just indignation of mankind, who are bound, and are generally disposed, to look up with reverence to the best patterns of their species, and such as give a dignity to the nature of which we all participate. For the whole of the party he has high respect. Upon a view, indeed, of the composition of all parties, he finds great satisfaction. It is, that, in leaving the service of his country, he leaves Parliament without all comparison richer in abilities than he found it. Very solid and very brilliant talents distinguish the ministerial benches. The opposite rows are a sort of seminary of genius, and have brought forth such and so great talents as never before (amongst us at least) have appeared together. If their owners are disposed to serve their country, (he trusts they are,) they are in a condition to render it services of the highest importance. If, through mistake or passion, they are led to contribute to its ruin, we shall at least have a consolation denied to the ruined country that adjoins us : we shall not be destroyed by men of mean or secondary capacities.
All these considerations of party attachment, of personal regard, and of personal admiration rendered the author of the Reflections extremely cautious, lest the slightest suspicion should arise of his having undertaken to express the sentiments even of a single man of that description. His words at the outset of his Reflections are these :
" In the first letter I had the honor to write to you, and which at length I send, I wrote neither for nor from any description of men; nor shall I in this. My errors, if any, are my own. My reputation alone is to answer for them." In another place he says, (p. 126,*) "I have no man's proxy. I speak only from myself, when I disclaim, as I do with all possible carnestness, all communion with the actors in that triumph, or with the admirers of it. When I assert anything else, as concerning the people of England, I speak from observation, not from authority."
To say, then, that the book did not contain the sentiments of their party is not to contradict the author or to clear themselves. If the party had denied his doctrines to be the current opinions of the majority in the nation, they would have put the question on its true issue. There, I hope and believe, his censurers will find, on the trial, that the author is as faithful a representative of the general sentiment of the people of England, as any person amongst them can be of the ideas of his own party.
The French Revolution can have no connection with the objects of any parties in England formed before the period of that event, unless they choose to imitate any of its acts, or to consolidate any principles of that Revolution with their own opinions. The French Revolution is no part of their original contract. The matter, standing by itself, is an open subject of political discussion, like all the other revolutions (and there are many) which have been attempted or accomplished in our age. But if any considerable number of British subjects, taking a factious interest in the proceedings of France, begin publicly to incorpo rate themselves for the subversion of nothing short of the whole Constitution of this kingdom, - to incorporate themselves for the utter overthrow of the body of its laws, civil and ecclesiastical, and with them of the whole system of its manners, in favor of the new Constitution and of the modern usages of the French nation, - I think no party principle could bind the author not to express his sentiments strongly against such a faction. On the contrary, he was perhaps bound to mark his dissent, when the leaders of the party were daily going out of their way to make public declarations in Parliament, which, notwithStanding the purity of their intentions, had a tendency to encourage ill-designing men in their practices against our Constitution.
* Reflections, &c., 1st ed., London, J. Dodsley, 1790. — Works, Vol. III. p. 343, in the present edition.
The members of this faction leave no doubt of the nature and the extent of the mischief they mean to produce. They declare it openly and decisively. Their intentions are not left equivocal. They are put out of all dispute by the thanks which, formally and as it were officially, they issue, in order to recommend and to promote the circulation of the most atrocious and treasonable libels against all the hitherto cherished objects of the love and veneration of this people. Is it contrary to the duty of a good subject to reprobate such proceedings? Is it alien to the office of a good member of Parliament, when such practices increase, and when the audacity of the conspirators grows with their impunity, to point out in his place their evil tendency to the happy Constitution which he is chosen to guard ? Is it wrong, in any sense, to render the people of England sensible how much they must suffer, if, unfortunately, such