ePub 版

volved in the political success of a man who wanted some of the requisites we have deemed essential to the success of the man of ambition, that the times in which he flourished somewhat resembled France of the present day. England had only recently passed through a cycle of intense political excitement, and lasstude, corruption, and want of public principle had been the natural result of the reaction; a desire to make money had replaced the desire of glory, whether on the field of battle or in the equally exciting field of revolutionary politics. In such a state of society any power which offers protection to the "men of order" is sure of the adhesion of the majority, and the very mediocrity of its professions, the "safeness" of its character, only increases its strength. Preserve property, foster trade, promote public companies, and a nation just recovering from a revolution can do for a time without glory and without excitement other than that of gambling.

Lord Brougham devotes considerable space to a consideration of the character of Bolingbroke. It is a finished portrait, painted con amore, perhaps from the latent idea that there was something in the character of Bolingbroke akin to his own.

Bolingbroke has left a reputation of being the greatest of English orators, though there is not in existence a solitary speech of his whereby we may test the accuracy of the common report. His fastidious contemporaries thought his eloquence supernatural, and when we consider that Swift and Pope were among them, we know not of any other English orator to whose excellence such testimony can be brought. And Pitt, looking to this great traditional fame, thought that a speech of Bolingbroke was a greater desideratum than any of the missing classics; while Brougham agrees as to this general opinion, on independent grounds.

If Bolingbroke spoke as he wrote he must have been the greatest of modern orators, as far as composition goes; for he has the raci ness and spirit, occasionally even the fire, perhaps not the vehemence, of Fox, with richer imagery and far more correct diction; the accurate composition of Pitt, with in

finitely more grace and variety; the copiousness, almost the learning, and occasionally the depth of Burke, without his wearily elaborate air; his speech never degenerates for an instant into dissertation, which Burke scarcely ever avoids.

We cannot resist the temptation of inserting one of the passages from Bolingbroke's writings, which Brougham adduces in support of his opinion. It is taken from the celebrated dedication to Sir Robert Walpole :

Should a minister govern in various instances of domestic and foreign management, ignorantly, weakly, or even wickedly, and yet pay this reverence and bear this regard to the constitution, he would deserve certainly much better quarter, and would meet with it too from every man of sense and honour, than a minister who should conduct the administration with great ability and success, and should at the same time procure and abet, or even connive at such indirect violations of the rules of the constitution as tend to the destruction of it; or even at such evasions as tend to render it useless. A minister who had the ill qualities of both of these, and the good qualities of neither; who made his administration hateful in some respects and despicable in others; who sought that security by ruining the constitution which he had forfeited by dishonouring the government; who encouraged the profligate and seduced the unwary to concur in this design, by affecting to explode all public spirit, and to ridicule every form of our constitution-such a minister would be looked upon most justly as the shame and scourge of his country. Sooner or later he would fall without pity, and it is hard to say what punishment would be proportional to his crimes.

We have little time to trace the orbit of this wandering star, but the leading incidents of his political life are sufficiently known to deprive him of any claim to the respect of any party in the political world. His intrigues to overthrow the government of Godolphin and Marlborough, in which he succeeded, to the infinite injury of his country; his intrigues to overthrow the Protestant succession, in which he failed to his country's advantage; his banishment; his service with the Stuarts; his desertion of them and his return to retirement, literature, ennui, and political infamy, are known to every reader of history. But the political Satan had amiable points in his character; his

attachment to his friends was warm and zealous, and they cultivated it and looked up to him with somewhat like idolatry.

His spirit was high and manly, his courage, personal and political, was without a stain. He had no sordid propensities; his faults were not mean or paltry; they were, both in his private life and his public, on a large scale, creating for the most part wonder or terror more than scorn or contempt.

That the genius which he displayed in the Senate his wisdom, his address, his resources in council - should, when joined to fascinating manners and literary accomplishments, have made him shine in society without a rival, can easily be comprehended. So great an orator, so noble a person in figure and demeanour, one so little under dominion of the principle which makes men harsh, and the restraint which renders their manners formal, was sure to captivate all superficial admirers, and even to win the more precious applause of superior minds.

Such was Bolingbroke; one of those men who to the rarest endowments of genius add an almost total want of principle, and whose influence, both on their contemporaries and on posterity, is almost entirely evil, lending attractions to vice and prestige to a course of conduct setting at defiance all notions of duty.

Nor in such cases is there any sufficient antidote. The desire of fame is the great motive influencing the nobler order of public men. Power may

have its attractions, and even the desire of wealth has urged many to climb the difficult ascent of state preferment; but it is the aspiration after the praise of future ages-a motive perhaps irrational and ideal, but noble and chivalrous-which has been the main sustaining motive of all those who have left their impress on history; but when, as in a case like Bolingbroke's, this crowning glory is seen to be secured without the aid, and even in defiance of virtue, the spring of moral excellence is poisoned in its purest source, and the stream which otherwise would fertilize nations, forced into the narrow channels of egotism, becomes a torrent devastating the face of society.

Perhaps the best corrective against the influence of such anarchs of history is to point out that in general their career results in the shipwreck

of their personal fortunes; and the reason is, that they want one set of those dual qualifications which we have mentioned as necessary in the successful man of ambition. Thus, for instance, Bolingbroke, unhesitating in action--whose whole career, in fact, was a series of coups d'et it--was deficient in that party honour which alone can secure adherents; and though no man could be less accused of allowing the grass to grow under his heels, he was utterly destitute of that patience and perseverance essentrial to any lasting result.

In this and in other respects his character presents an instructive contrast to that of Walpole, who, while deficient in the qualities which rendered Bolingbroke notorious and pernicious, was eminently endowed with those which, if they could not have added to Bolingbroke's fame, would to a certainty have made him an eminently useful man in the state. While, on the other hand, had somewhat of Bolingbroke's dash been added to the laissez-aller nature of Walpole, his name might be mentioned with admiration by those young and ardent spirits who are the heralds of fame, and who now accord to him only a very dubious respect, if they do not absolutely decry his memory.

We now accompany Lord Brougham to the portrait of a statesman who, to all Bolingbroke's ability and impetuosity, combined a sagacity equal to that of Walpole, with a high and unstained honor without a parallel.

No man occupies so pure and unsullied a page in English history as that greatest of statesmen and patriots, William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. Lord Brougham is among his sincere admirers, as, indeed, who is the Englishman of what party or sect soever, who does not admire that pure and lofty patriot who knew no party or sectarian policy, save the good of his country?

The following is one of several delineations of Chatham's character by our author :--

The first place among the great qualities which distinguished Lord Chatham is unquestionably due to firmness of purpose, resolute determination in the pursuit of his objects. Quicquid vult, id valde vult, and although extremely apt to exist in excess, it

must be admitted to be the foundation of all true greatness of character. Everything, however, depends on the endowments in company of which it is found; and in Lord Chatham these were of a very high order. The quickness with which he could ascertain his object and discover his road to it, was fully commensurate with his perseverance and his boldness in pursuing it; the firmness of grasp with which he held his advantage was fully equalled by the rapidity of the glance with which he discovered it. Add to this a mind eminently fertile in resources ; a courage which nothing could daunt in the choice of his means; a resolution equally indomitable in their application; a genius, in short, original and daring, which bounded over the petty obstacles raised by ordinary men-their squeamishness, and their precedents, and their forms and their regularities-and forced away his path through the entanglements of this base undergrowth to the worthy object ever in view, the prosperity and renown of his country. In pursuing his course towards that goal, he disregarded alike the frown of power and the gales of popular applause, exposed himself undaunted to the vengeance of the court, while he battled against its corruptions, and confronted unappalled the rudest shocks of public indignation, while he resisted the dictates of pernicious agitators, and could conscientiously exclaim, with an illustrious statesman of antiquity," Ego hoc animo semper fui, ut invidiam virtute partam, gloriam non invidiam putarem."

The success of the administration of Chatham is familiar to every tyro of history. He found the country in the most depressed state in which it had ever stood in the Commonwealth of Europe, he left it undisputably, and for the first time in history, the paramount power of the world.

These," said Horace Walpole, "are the doings of Mr. Pitt, and they are marvellous in our eyes."

His ministry was the despotism of genius :--

Upon his first proposition for changing the conduct of the war he stood single among his colleagues, and tendered his resig nation should they persist in their dissent; they at once succumbed, and from that hour ceased to have an opinion of their own upon any branch of public affairs. Nay, so absolutely was he determined to have the control of these measures, of which he knew the reponsibility rested upon him alone, that he insisted upon the First Lord of the Admiralty not having the correspondence of his own department; and no less eminent a naval character than Lord Anson, as well as his

junior Lords, was obliged to sign the naval orders issued by Mr. Pitt, while the writing was covered over from their eyes.

None but a man who held his commission to rule direct from nature could have acted in this way, and none other would have been obeyed. "Can I choose my own king?" says the erudite Teufelsdrockh. "I can choose my own King Popinjay, and play what farce and tragedy I may with him, but he who is to be my ruler, whose will is to be higher than my will, was chosen forme in Heaven."


Chatham's whole mind was kingly. While fighting what he thought the battle of the Constitution in the person of Wilkes, he took special care to mark his abhorrence of that demaas one not deservgogue's character, ing to be ranked with the human species." Nor did he lower the lofty tone which was his by right even to hereditary royalty; and George III., obstinate as he was and inflated with ideas of his prerogative, had to yield, like others, to the will of this man.

We have scanty materials for estimating his great reputation as an orator. His speech on the employment of the Indians in the American war is the longest extant, but it is somewhat hacknied, and loses its effect from our familiarity with it since our school days. Brougham gives some other selections not so well known, a few of which we will in

[blocks in formation]

Lords, old as I am, that I shall see the question brought to an issue, and fairly tried between the people and government.

In an argument on Parliamentary Privilege, he says:

The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it, the storm may enter, the rain may enter-but the King of England cannot enter! All his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.

"These examples," says Brougham, 'may serve to convey a pretty accurate idea of the peculiar vein of eloquence which distinguished this great man's speeches. It was of the very highest order; vehement, fiery, close to the subject, concise, sometimes eminently, even boldly figurative; it was original and surprising, yet quite natural. To call it argument would be an abuse of terms; but it had always a sufficient foundation in reason to avoid any appearance of inconsistency or error, or wandering from the point."

It cannot be denied that Chatham was deficient in some of the requisites we have desiderated in the successfully ambitious man. He had no compromise about him. He was commanding, imperious, and seldom used conciliation. He walked straight forward to his object, despising and overthrowing all obstacles, and yet, notwithstanding his vehemence, his political life was unstained by any violent act of authority. For Chatham was one of nature's autocrats, to whom people yielded by instinct. It was not necessary for him to persuade when he could command, nor to strain his legal authority when there was no opposition to his wishes.

Burke, Pitt, Fox, have been drawn by the masters of every school, and we are thus acquainted with their minutest lineaments seen under all varieties of light. Yet let us not through this familiarity, deprive these great men of the high consideration to which they are entitled. And to keep us from any such error, let us simply ask ourselves what statesmen since their death have ap proached, or even equalled them?

Who among those who since their time have guided the destinies of England, with the solitary exception of Wellington, have carried captive in their career the most distinguished of their contemporaries? With the one exception, England has had no natural leaders since. The days of allegiance to uncrowned merit are gone, not because there is any want of willing subjects, but because the dynasty of the kings by right divine has disappeared. Party men now are kept together purely by party ties; the spirit of clique has seized on the vacant throne of genius. Political adhesion now depends either on connection by marriage, or on the natural attraction inherent in the dispensers of patronage for the time being; and the most obsequious of political adherents feels in his inner nature a protest in favour of his own independence-a tacit caveat that his obedience is not to be construed into an admission of any natural right to command in the party obeyed, and that the fact of the one ruling and the other obeying is merely an accident.


But it is not alone in politics that this want of the Koenig is felt. feel the void everywhere in society. There is no one to look up to. No one whom if undressed, literally and metaphorically, we would see any propriety in obeying This arises not so much from the intellectual mediocrity of the age as from its moral degradation. Our aristocracy have lost much of their nobility. Gentlemanly feeling is dying awaythe old way of estimating things which was somewhat confused and hazy, because viewed through the light of a hundred emotions of the heart, undefined in their limits and fluctuating in their obligations with all the varieties of character among individual men--a grand fine Turner painting, after all-has given place to a precise, definite system by which the value of every one, human and divine, can be ascertained within a hundred pounds. Adhesion to statesman A, will give me a probable chance of a post worth £300 per annum; and adhesion to B, will give me a chance of £600 per annum, therefore I will adhere to B. I have no definite conviction on the question which of

[ocr errors][merged small]

their principles is best for the country; there is a good deal to be said on both sides, and individually they are both very "respectable" men; but I have the chance of getting twice as much from B as from A, and it is a duty I owe to my family and to myself, to stand by her Majesty's Government, to whom God be gracious, and send a speedy appreciation of my merits, else I may feel it my duty to turn a patriot.

But to return to our three states


It is a common mistake among those who have not read Burke's works, to call him a mere theorist, but he was the most cautious and practical of statesmen, thoroughly aware of the intense action and reaction in human affairs, and therefore never attempting to carry principles to their extreme consequences. He knew that constitutions grew, and could not be spun out of logic; and so he laboured rather to ameliorate than to change-to modify than to subvert. In fact, the political ideas he propounded were not unlike those of the Idée Napoleonienne," only expressed in richer language, and modified by their adaptation to a constitutional system of government. He had the same preference as the two Napoleons for a perfect machine, with as few clogs or useless wheels as may be; but Burke's machine behoved to go by wind, by water, or by steam, and sometimes to stand still; whereas the engine of the Bonapartes was constructed with a view to perpetual motion under the influence of steam only, and that always at high pressure.

Brougham thinks Burke exaggerated the mischiefs to be apprehended from the French revolution. He might, he says, have foreseen the possibility of a new, orderly, and profitable government" rising out of the ruins of the Republic. "All this we now see clearly enough," he says, "having survived Mr. Burke forty years." We who have survived another eighteen years since Brougham made this remark, have seen this "new, orderly, and profitable government" disappear from the face of the earth, and another government, very orderly, though somewhat like a despotism, occupy its place. Burke has not yet been proved to have been wrong.

The career of this distinguished statesman corroborates our remarks as to the qualifications necessary to gain the prizes of ambition. Burke's mind was of the meditative cast, and he was far too honest to make use of coups d'etat to further his advancement, while, great man though he was, he had not the majesty of Chatham to enable him to rise without them. The consequence was, that his career as a statesman, so far as his personal advancement was concerned, was a failure.

Brougham gives a discriminating, and of course an incongruous character of Fox. With such capacities to rise in his higher nature, and such facility of sinking in his lower nature, no one presents so puzzling a problem as Fox, if we attempt a moral estimate of his character. He seems, while we contemplate him, to undergo a perpetual metempsychosis. At one time he is Cato, and again he is Me phistopheles. We see him now as Socrates, scattering maxims of wisdom and morality; the morrow he is the ruined gambler, not unfrequently in a state of intoxication. Then another change comes over him : he goes to the House, and declaims in majestic terms on the rights of mankind, and his audience feel themselves elevated in moral tone as they listen to him; but next day there is a subscription to pay his gambling debts, which he accepts without hesitation. A great patriot, he yet seemed to wish for the triumph of Napoleon over his country, and he thwarted Pitt in his attempt to check the aggrandisement of Russia. Continually declaiming in favour of liberty, and denouncing the ministry as embarked in a conspiracy against the constitution, he retired with his party from the House of Commons, where it was his duty to watch over that very constitution, and defend it from all attacks.

Pitt wasa much simpler character; cold, able, statuesque, draping himself in a proud self-respect which rendered him incapable of any meanness, or of anything tending to abate the dignity of his public life; he was a statesman modelled on the schoolboy notions of the patriot of Greece or Rome; equally as perfect, uncorruptible, and uncom promising, and as little capable of sympathising with the infirmities and weaknesses of ordinary men,

« 上一頁繼續 »