Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

travagance and luxury, for the use of substantial service, a revenue of near four hundred thousand pounds. The reform of the finances, joined to this reform of the court, gives to the public nine hundred thousand pounds a year, and upwards.

The minister who does these things is a great man ; but the king who desires that they should be done is a far greater. We must do justice to our enemies: these are the acts of a patriot king. I am not in dread of the vast armies of France; I am not in dread of the gallant spirit of its brave and numerous nobility; I am not alarmed even at the great navy which has been so miraculously created. All these things Louis the Fourteenth had before. With all these things, the French monarchy has more than once fallen prostrate at the feet of the public faith of Great Britain. It was the want of public credit which disabled France from recovering after her defeats, or recovering even from her victories and triumphs. It was a prodigal court, it was an ill-ordered revenue, that sapped the foundations of all her greatness. Credit cannot exist under the arm of necessity. Necessity strikes at credit, I allow, with a heavier and quicker blow under an arbitrary monarchy than under a limited and balanced government; but still necessity and credit are natural enemies, and cannot be long reconciled in any situation. From necessity and corruption, a free state may lose the spirit of that complex constitution which is the foundation of confidence. On the other hand, I am far from being sure that a monarchy, when once it is properly regulated, may not for a long time furnish a foundation for credit upon the solidity of its maxims, though it affords no ground of trust in its institutions. I am

afraid I see in England, and in France, something like a beginning of both these things. I wish I may be found in a mistake.

This very short and very imperfect state of what is now going on in France (the last circumstances of which I received in about eight days after the registry of the edict *) I do not, Sir, lay before you for any invidious purpose. It is in order to excite in us the spirit of a noble emulation. Let the nations make war upon each other, (since we must make war,) not with a low and vulgar malignity, but by a competition of virtues. This is the only way by which both parties can gain by war. The French have imitated us : let us, through them, imitate ourselves,- ourselves in our better and happier days. If public frugality, under whatever men, or in whatever mode of govern ment, is national strength, it is a strength which our enemies are in possession of before us.

Sir, I am well aware that the state and the result of the French economy which I have laid before you are even now lightly treated by some who ought never to speak but from information. Pains have not been spared to represent them as impositions on the public. Let me tell you, Sir, that the creation of a navy, and a two years' war without taxing, are a very singular species of imposture. But be it so. For what end does Necker carry on this delusion? Is it to lower the estimation of the crown he serves, and to render his own administration contemptible ? No! No! He is conscious that the sense of mankind is so clear and decided in favor of economy, and of the weight and value of its resources, that he turns himself to every species of fraud and artifice to obtain the mere reputation of it. Men do not affect a conduct that tends to their discredit. Let us, then, get the better of Monsieur Necker in his own way; let us do in reality what he does only in pretence; let us turn his French tinsel into English gold. Is, then, the mere opinion and appearance of frugality and good management of such use to France, and is the substance to be so mischievous to England ? Is the very constitution of Nature so altered by a sea of twenty miles, that economy should give power on the Continent, and that profusion should give it here? For God's sake, let not this be the only fashion of France which we refuse to copy!

* Edict registered 29th January, 1780.

To the last kind of necessity, the desires of the people, I have but a very few words to say. The ministers seem to contest this point, and affect to doubt whether the people do really desire a plan of economy in the civil government. Sir, this is too ridiculous. It is impossible that they should not desire it. It is impossible that a prodigality which draws its resources from their indigence should be pleasing to them. Little factions of pensioners, and their dependants, may talk another language. But the voice of Nature is against them, and it will be heard. The people of England will not, they cannot, take it kindly, that representatives should refuse to their constituents what an absolute sovereign voluntarily offers to his subjects. The expression of the petitions is, that, before any new burdens are laid upon this country, effectual measures be taken by this House to inquire into and correct the gross abuses in the expenditure of public money."

This has been treated by the noble lord in the blue ribbon as a wild, factious language. It happens,

[ocr errors]

however, that the people, in their address to us, use, almost word for word, the same terms as the king of France uses in addressing himself to his people; and it differs only as it falls short of the French king's idea of what is due to his subjects. “ To convince," says he," our faithful subjects of the desire we enter.. tain not to recur to new impositions, until we have first exhausted all the resources which order and economy can possibly supply,” &c., &c.

These desires of the people of England, which come far short of the voluntary concessions of the king of France, are moderate indeed. They only contend that we should interweave some economy with the taxes with which we have chosen to begin the war. They request, not that you should rely upon economy exclusively, but that you should give it rank and precedence, in the order of the ways and means of this single session.

But if it were possible that the desires of our constituents, desires which are at once so natural and so very much tempered and subdued, should have no weight with an House of Commons which has its eye elsewhere, I would turn my eyes to the very quarter to which theirs are directed. I would reason this matter with the House on the mere policy of the question ; and I would undertake to prove that an early dereliction of abuse is the direct interest of government, — of government taken abstractedly from its duties, and considered merely as a system intending its own conservation.

If there is any one eminent criterion which above all the rest distinguishes a wise government from an administration weak and improvident, it is this: 6 well to know the best time and manner of yielding

[ocr errors]

what it is impossible to keep.” There have been, Sir, and there are, many who choose to chicane with their situation rather than be instructed by it. Those gentlemen argue against every desire of reformation upon the principles of a criminal prosecution. It is enough for them to justify their adherence to a pernicious system, that it is not of their contrivance, that it is an inheritance of absurdity, derived to them from their ancestors, that they can make out a long and unbroken pedigree of mismanagers that have gone before them. They are proud of the antiquity of their house; and they defend their errors as if they were defending their inheritance, afraid of derogating from their nobility, and carefully avoiding a sort of blot in their scutcheon, which they think would degrade them forever.

It was thus that the unfortunate Charles the First defended himself on the practice of the Stuart who went before him, and of all the Tudors. His partisans might have gone to the Plantagenets. They might have found bad examples enough, both abroad and at home, that could have shown an ancient and illustrious descent. But there is a time when men will not suffer bad things because their ancestors have suffered worse. There is a time when the hoary head of inveterate abuse will neither draw reverence nor obtain protection. If the noble lord in the blue ribbon pleads, “ Not guilty,to the charges brought against the present system of public economy, it is not possible to give a fair verdict by which he will not stand acquitted. But pleading is not our present busi

His plea or his traverse may be allowed as an answer to a charge, when a charge is made. But if he puts himself in the way to obstruct reformation, then

ness.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »