網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

THE

NORTH BRITISH REVIEW. MAY, 1852.

Art. I.—1. History of the Whig Administration of 1830. liy J. A. Roebuck. London, 1852. 2. Latter-Day Pamphlets, III., IV., V., and VI. By Thomas Carlyle. London, 1850. 3. The Statesman. By Henry Taylor. London, 1836. In a country in which action is so rapid, interests so varied, and occupation so intense and unremitting, as with us—where men of business, philosophers, and politicians, pursue each their own special object with exclusive and overestimating eagerness —where the whole nation is engaged with healthy cheerfulness in unremitting effort and an unpausing race, it is not easy for those to find a hearing who would call upon the actors in this exciting drama to draw up for a brief space, and consider themselves, their position, ana their aims, as becomes beings"Holding large discourse, Looking before and after." Yet these breathing moments in the hasting course of time— these Sabbatical hours of the world's quick existence—in which we may review the past, estimate where we are standing, and ascertain whither we are tending, in which we may calculate our progress and catch a clear vision of our goal, may take stock of our acquisitions and achievements, investigate the value of our objects, and compare them with the price we are paying for them, and the means which remain to us of obtaining them— such pauses for reflection, introspection, and foresight, are particularly necessary if we would not sink from the dignity of men"Who know themselves, and know the ways before them, And from among them choose considerately, VOL. XVII. NO. XXXIII. A With a clear foresight, not a blindfold courage; And having chosen, with a steadfast mind Pursue their purposes"— into mere unconscious instruments of destiny, mere unresisting floaters on the stream of time. In politics especially, a mere "hand-to-mouth1' existence— living, as the French express it, aujour le jour—can never be worthy of men who boast to be free and claim to be progressive. Yet it is the besetting peril, and has always been tne peculiar reproach of our busy British statesmen. Overwhelmed as they constantly are with a mass of routine work, which must be got through; and having literally to fight their way inch by inch against a host of antagonists, whose sole business is antagonism; knowing that every step will be a struggle, and therefore, naturally enough, stepping less where they wish and think they ought than where they must and think they can, they can rarely get sufficiently out of the press and throng to see far, or sufficiently free from the urgent demands of the moment to deliberate or muse. The position apart, the dry ground of security above, which are indispensable to the profound and patient thought out of which wisdom emerges, are almost wholly denied them. The country, too, seems content that it should be so; it is satisfied to be served by men who do the duties of the day with capacity and decorum; it is never "over-exquisite to cast the shadow of uncertain evils;" it goes on from generation to generation, meeting unforeseen emergencies with extemporized expedients, stopping up a gap with anything that comes to hand, caulking a shot-hole with the nearest hat, slitting open the leather where the shoe pinches, putting in a casual patch when the rent in the old garment becomes absolutely indecent and unbearable, cobbling up the old house as the family enlarges, or the roof decays, or the walls crumble and fall away, adding here a buttress and there a shed, and sometimes, in a crisis of severe pressure or unwonted ambition, joining a Grecian colonnade to a Gothic gable. In this strange style we have proceeded almost for centuries, till the incongruities of our dwellings, our clothing, and our policy, have grown obvious even to our unobservant and accustomed eye. We go on swearing against the Pretender long after his last descendant has been laid quietly in a foreign grave; guarding with testy jealousy against the power of the Crown long after the Crown has been shorn of its due and legitimate authority; risking the loss of our liberties from foreign aggression rather than support an adequate standing army, because in past times those liberties were threatened by a standing army in the hands of a domestic tyrant; exacting oaths in a court of justice as a security for truth long after experience and reflection have shewn

The Requirements and Dangers of the Day. 8

us that those who refuse oaths are the most truthful of all witnesses, and long after our inconsistent liberality has extorted from us the permission to every man to swear after his own fashion ;—and committing a host of similar solecisms, all shewing how entirely we are still governed by the ideas and traditions of an obsolete and inapplicable age. In an era of new requirements and encircled by new conditions, we are drawing on the arsenals and speaking in the language of the past; and while young and mighty perils, from hitherto undreamed of quarters, are threatening the precious commonwealth, we are haunted by the ghost of some ancestral enemy, or are gibbetting the carcase and demolishing the tomb of some old danger that was long ago gathered to its fathers. Our present object is to awaken among our countrymen some degree, not of uneasiness, indeed, but of perception of our dangers and our requirements, some serious and anxious inquiry into the difficulties which we have to meet and into our means of meeting them. Our foreign and international relations are becoming strangely complicated; and the principles which are to guide them in future require to be considered and decided, that our due influence be not impaired by weakness or vacillation. Our relations with our offsets and dependencies are changing and enlarging with the lapse of time; and the principles which are to regulate our colonial policy for the future must be discussed and laid down in such a manner as to avoid any risk of a disruption of our empire or of dissension among brethren. The social problems which press upon us for solution at home become daily knottier, more urgent, and more complex; and it is essential both to our safety and our welfare that they be neither evaded nor postponed. Finally, the duties of actual administration become every year more difficult and laborious as our wealth and numbers multiply, as our vision of what is needed becomes keener, and as our standard of requirement becomes higher. Now, for all these calls, but most especially for the last, we need statesmen not only of a high but of a peculiar order of talent; and as these calls increase and enlarge we require both more numerous and more able statesmen. Already it is felt that the work in every public department is augmenting and its difficulties thickening in a most perplexing degree. We are opening our eyes to the extent to which we have been misgoverned, and we are rapidly raising our conception of what Government might or ought to be; day by day defects are being discovered and abuses are being ferretted out and exposed in every ministerial office; and the voice of the country demands that they shall be remedied at once and shall be precluded for the future. We need more and exact more from our public men than at any former

« 上一頁繼續 »