ePub 版

crowded and eager hearers, are scarcely ever the best that can be written for solitary and indifferent readers. But we cannot but think that all these causes must have cooperated with more than usual intensity, if a speech composed in any thing ap proaching to the tone of these passages did not appear eminently deficient in force, nature, or dignity. Mr Moore's reflections on the result of all these mighty denunciations are well worth extracting. But we cannot now make room for them and indeed can only mention that, after stating, with great candour, the apologies which may be made for Mr Hastings, from the circumstances in which he was placed, he thinks himself entitled to conclude, that the revulsion of sentiment we have lately witnessed, is far less to be justified than the general reprobation to which it succeeded.

Next comes the malady of the King, and the memorable debates on the Regency. There are some curious letters, printed for the first time in this work, both as to the true state of the Royal Patient, and the negociations with Lord Thurlow-who appears to have been very willing to have joined the Prince's party, up to a very few hours before the delivering of his famous speech on the opposite side of the question. We have no thoughts of reviving at present the question as to the right of the Heir-Apparent, on which we have elsewhere (Vol. XVIII. p. 57, &c.) delivered our opinion at full length; but we cannot withhold from our readers the concluding part of Mr Moore's judgment on the more practical and important question of the restrictions on the powers of the Regent, which appears to us to contain the most masterly, judicious, and important view of the subject which has yet been offered to the public.

'On the one side,' says he, to sanction from authority the notion, that there are some powers of the Crown which may be safely dispensed with, to accustom the people to an abridged exercise of the Prerogative, with the risk of suggesting to their minds that its full efficacy needs not be resumed,-to set an example, in short, of reducing the Kingly Power, which, by its success, may invite and authorize still further encroachments,-all these are dangers to which the alleged doctrine of Toryism, whenever brought into practice, exposes its idol; and more particularly in enlightened and speculative times, when the minds of men are in quest of the right and the useful, and when a superfluity of power is one of those abuses, which they are least likely to overlook or tolerate. In such seasons, the experiment of the Tory might lead to all that he most deprecates; and the branches of the Prerogative, once cut away, might, like the lopped boughs of the fir-tree, never grow again.

On the other hand, the Whig, who asserts that the Royal Prerogative ought to be reduced to such powers as are beneficial to the people, and yet stipulates, as an invariable principle, for the transfer of that Pre

rogative full and unimpaired, whenever it passes into other hands, appears, even more perhaps than the Tory, to throw an obstacle in the way of his own object. Circumstances, it is not denied, may arise, when the increase of the powers of the Crown, in other ways, may ren der it advisable to controul some of its established prerogatives. But, where are we to find a fit moment for such a reform,--or what opening will be left for it by this fastidious Whig principle, which, in 1680, could see no middle step between a change of the Succession and an undiminished maintenance of the Prerogative, and which, in 1789, almost upon the heels of a Declaration that " the power of the Crown had increased and ought to be diminished," protested against even an experimental

reduction of it!

Upon the whole, however high the authorities, by which this Whig doctrine was enforced in 1789, its manifest tendency, in most cases, to secure a perpetuity of superfluous powers to the Crown, appears to render it unfit, at least as an invariable principle, for any party professing to have the liberty of the people for their object. The Prince, in his admirable Letter upon the subject of the Regency to Mr Pitt, was made to express the unwillingness which he felt "that in his person an experiment should be made to ascertain with how small a portion of Kingly power the executive government of the country might be carried on;"but imagination has not far to go in supposing a case, where the enormous patronage vested in the Crown, and the consequent increase of a Royal bias through the community, might give such an undue and unsafe preponderance to that branch of the Legislature, as would render any safe opportunity, however acquired, of ascertaining with how much less power the executive government could be carried on, most acceptable, in spite of any dogmas to the contrary, to all true lovers as well of the monarchy as of the people.

Had the situations of the two leaders been reversed, it is more than probable that their modes of thinking and acting would have been so likewise. Mr Pitt, with the prospect of power before his eyes, would have been still more strenuous, perhaps, for the unbroken transmission of the Prerogative-his natural leaning on the side of power being increased by his own approaching share in it. Mr Fox too, if stopped, like his rival, in a career of successful administration, and obliged to surrender up the reins of the state to Tory guidance, might have found in his popular principles a still more plausible pretext for the abridgment of power in such unconstitutional hands. He might even too, perhaps, (as his India Bill warrants us in supposing), have been tempted into the same sort of alienation of the Royal patronage, as that which Mr Pitt now practised in the establishment of the Queen, and have taken care to leave behind him a strong hold of Whiggism, to facilitate the resumption of his position, whenever an opportunity might present itself. Such is human nature, even in its noblest specimens, and so are the strongest spirits shaped by the mould in which chance and circumstances have placed them!'

The celebrated letter of the Prince to Mr Pitt, the composition of which had been ascribed to so many distinguished persons, Mr Moore had almost satisfied himself proceeded

from Sheridan alone; when by an inquiry, to which he was directed by his friend Sir James Mackintosh, he at last ascertained that it was entirely the work of Burke, with a very few slight alterations by Sheridan.

It is at this period of his life that Mr Moore conceives his hero to have attained his highest point of elevation,—not merely in glory, but in personal satisfaction. The following short passage seems to us as full of fine observation, as of good sense and eloquence.

He was just now, too, in the first enjoyment of a feeling, of which habit must have afterwards dulled the zest, namely, the proud consciousness of having surmounted the disadvantages of birth and station, and placed himself on a level with the highest and noblest of the land. This footing in the society of the great he could only have attained by Parliamentary eminence;-as a mere writer, with all his genius, he never would have been thus admitted ad eundem among them. Talents, in literature or science, unassisted by the advantages of birth, may lead to association with the great, but rarely to equality;-it is a passport through the well-guarded frontier, but no title to naturalisation within. By him, who has not been born among them, this can only be achieved by Politics. In that arena, which they look upon as their own, the Legislature of the land, let a man of genius, like Sheridan, but assert his supremacy, at once all these barriers of reserve and pride give way, and he takes, by storm, a station at their side, which a Shakespeare or a Newton would but have enjoyed by courtesy.

In fixing upon this period of Sheridan's life, as the most shining æra of his talents as well as his fame, it is not meant to be denied that, in his subsequent warfare with the Minister, during the stormy time of the French Revolution, he exhibited a prowess of oratory no less suited to that actual service, than his eloquence on the trial of Hastings had been to such lighter tilts and tournaments of peace. But the effect of his talents was far less striking ;-the current of feeling through England was against him ;—and, however greatly this added to the merit of his efforts, it deprived him of that echo from the public heart, by which the voice of the orator is endued with a sort of multiplied life, and, as it were, survives itself. In the panic, too, that followed the French Revolution, all eloquence, but that from the lips of Power, was disregarded, and the voice of him at the helm was the only one listened to in the storm.'

To that stormy and agitating period Mr Moore now conducts us; and nothing, in our judgment, can be more truly impartial and comprehensive than the view he has taken of that great cause of disturbance and excess in all political opinions.

The powerful and the rich,' he observes, both of State and Church, must naturally have regarded with dismay the advance of a political heresy, whose path they saw strewed over with the broken talismans of rank and authority. Many, too, with a disinterested reverence for ancient institutions, trembled to see them thus approached by rash hands, whose talents for ruin were sufficiently certain, but whose powers of reconstruc

tion were yet to be tried. On the other hand, the easy triumph of a people over their oppressors was an example which could not fail to excite the hopes of the many as actively as the fears of the few. The great problem of the natural rights of mankind seemed about to be solved in a manner most flattering to the majority;-the zeal of the lover of liberty was kindled into enthusiasm, by a conquest achieved for his cause upon an arena so vast; and many, who before would have smiled at the doctrine of human perfectibility, now imagined they saw, in what the Revolution performed and promised, almost enough to sanction the indulgence of that splendid dream. It was natural, too, that the greater portion of that unemployed, and, as it were, homeless talent, which, in all great communities, is ever abroad on the wing, uncertain where to settle, should now swarm round the light of the new principles,-while all those obscure but ambitious spirits, who felt their aspirings clogged by the medium in which they were sunk, would as naturally welcome such a state of political effervescence, as might enable them, like enfranchised air, to mount at once to the surface.

Amidst all these various interests, imaginations, and fears, which were brought to life by the dawn of the French Revolution, it is not surprising that errors and excesses, both of conduct and opinion, should be among the first products of so new and sudden a movement of the whole civilized world; that the friends of popular rights, presuming upon the triumph that had been gained, should, in the ardour of pursuit, push on the vanguard of their principles, somewhat farther than was consistent with prudence and safety; or that, on the other side, Authority and its supporters, alarmed by the inroads of the revolutionary spirit, should but the more stubbornly intrench themselves in established abuses, and make the dangers they apprehended from liberty a pretext for assailing its very existence.'

This leads naturally to an account of the secession of Burke from the party to which he had hitherto been attached, and an examination of the causes which prompted him to that memorable change. Mr Moore, we have already seen, is jealous of all political recantations; but in the following splendid passage, it cannot be denied that the severity of his moral judgment is duly tempered with respect for the many eminent qualities of the individual on whom it is pronounced.

It was rather from circumstances than from choice, or any natural affinity, that Mr Burke had ever attached himself to the popular party in politics. There was, in truth, nothing democratic about him but his origin;—his tastes were all on the side of the splendid and the arbitrary. The chief recommendation of the cause of India to his fancy and his feelings was, that it involved the fate of ancient dynasties, and invoked retribution for the downfall of thrones and princedoms, to which his imagination, always most affected by objects at a distance, lent a state and splendour that did not in reality belong to them. Though doomed to make Whiggism his habitual haunt, he took his perch at all times on its loftiest branches, as far as possible away from popular contact ; and, upon most occasions, adopted a sort of Baronial view of liberty, as

rather a question lying between the Throne and the Aristocracy, than one in which the people had a right to any efficient voice or agency. Accordingly, the question of Parliamentary Reform, from the first moment of its agitation, found in him a most decided opponent.

This inherent repugnance to popular principles became naturally heightened into impatience and disgust, by the long and fruitless warfare which he had waged under their banner, and the uniform ill success with which they had blasted all his struggles for wealth and power. Nor was he in any better temper with his associates in the cause,—having found that the ascendency, which he had formerly exercised over them, and which, in some degree, consoled him for the want of official dominion, was of late considerably diminished, if not wholly transferred to others. -He saw the party, too, who, from the moment they had ceased to be ruled by him, were associated only in his mind with recollections of unpopularity and defeat, about to adopt a line of politics which his long knowledge of the people of England, and his sagacious foresight of the consequences of the French Revolution, fully convinced him would lead to the same barren and mortifying results. On the contrary, the cause to which he proffered his alliance, would, he was equally sure, by arraying on its side all the rank, riches, and religion of Europe, enable him at length to feel that sense of power and triumph, for which his domineering spirit had so long panted in vain. In this latter hope, indeed, of a speedy triumph over Jacobinism, his temperament, as was often the case, outran his sagacity; for, while he foresaw clearly that the dissolution of social order in France would at last harden into a military tyranny, he appeared not to be aware that the violent measures which he recommended against her would not only hasten this formidable result, but bind the whole mass of the people into union and resistance during the process.

Lastly—to these attractions, of various kinds, with which the cause of Thrones was now encircled in the eyes of Burke, must be added one, which, however it may still further disenchant our views of his conver sion, cannot wholly be omitted among the inducements to his change,— and this was the strong claim upon the gratitude of government, which his seasonable and powerful advocacy in a crisis so difficult established for him, and which the narrow and embarrassed state of his circumstances rendered an object by no means of secondary importance in his views, Unfortunately, from a delicate wish, perhaps, that the reward should not appear to come in too close coincidence with the service,―the pension bestowed upon him arrived too late to admit of his deriving much more from it than the obloquy by which it was accompanied.

The consequence, as is well known, of the new course taken by Burke was, that the speeches and writings which he henceforward produced, and in which, as usual, his judgment was run away with by his temper, form a complete contrast, in spirit and tendency, to all that he had put on record in the former part of his life. He has, indeed, left behind him two separate and distinct armouries of opinion, from which both Whig and Tory may furnish themselves with weapons, the most splendid, if not the most highly tempered, that ever Genius and Eloquence have condescended to bequeath to Party. He has thus too, by

« 上一頁繼續 »