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sort of reason is that in which one set of men deliberate and another decide, and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps 300 miles distant from those who hear the arguments?' These views were generally adopted by the Whig party, and it appears to have been mainly due to the influence of Burke that the fashion of authoritative instructions, which after the Middlesex election threatened to become universal in popular constituencies, in a few years almost passed away.
But Burke went much further than this. He protested against any change in the essential constitution of Parliament, and he looked with a disgust and an indignation, which he was at no paiņs to conceal, upon the levelling doctrines and the sweeping changes that were advocated by the society of the supporters of the Bill of Rights. The bane of the Whigs,'he once wrote, “has been the admission among them of the corps of schemers who in reality and at bottom mean little more than to indulge themselves with speculations, but who do us infinite mischief by persuading many sober and well-meaning people that we have designs inconsistent with the Constitution left us by our forefathers. . . . Would to God it were in our power to keep things as they are in point of form, provided we were able to improve them in point of substance. The machine itself is well enough to answer any good purpose, provided the materials were sound.'' In accordance with these views he opposed all attempts to lower the suffrage, to abolish the rotten boroughs, to add to the county representation, or in any way
| Burke's Correspondence, ii. 383. but if thegeneral disposition beagainst So again he speaks of 'a rotten sub- a virtuous and manly line of public division of a faction amongst our- conduct, there is no form into which selves who have done us infinite mis- it can be thrown that will improve its chief by the violence, rashness, and nature oradd toits energy.' Ibid. ii.384. often wickedness of their measures. I Speaking of the assertion that we mean the Bill of Rights people ; ' and are not happy enough to enjoy a sufhe adds, ' If no remedy can be found ficient number of voters in England,' in the disposition of capital people, he says, “I believe that most sober in the temper, spirit (and docility too) thinkers on this subject are rather of of the lower, and in the thorough opinion that our fault is on the other union of both, nothing can be done by side, and that it would be more in the any alteration in forms.' Ibid. i. 229, spirit of our Constitution and more 231. In a later letter he says, “If the agreeable to the pattern of our best nation at large has disposition enough laws, by lessening the number to add to oppose all bad principles and to the weight and independency of our bad men, its form of government is voters. And truly, considering the in my opinion fully sufficient for it; immense and dangerous charge of
to modify the framework of Parliament. In the face of the glaring and monstrous abuses of the representative system he deprecated all change, and even all discussion of the Constitution. • However much,' he said, 'a change might improve the platform, it could add nothing to the authority of the Legislature.' Authority depending on opinion at least as much as on duty, an idea circulated among the people that our Constitution is not so perfect as it ought to be, before you are sure of mending it, is a certain method of lessening it in the public opinion.' "There is a difference between a moral and political exposure of a public evil relative to the administration of government, whether of men or systems, and a declaration of defects real or supposed in the fundamental constitution of your country. When the frame and constitution of the State is disgraced, patriotism is destroyed in its very source. . . . Our first, our dearest, most comprehensive relation, our country is gone.' He deplored as a great evil “the irreverent opinion of Parliament which had grown up.' He complained that we are grown out of humour with the English Constitution itself,' that it is never to have a quietus, but is continually vilified and attacked,' and he quoted with evident sympathy the opinion of those who believed that neither now nor at any time is it prudent or safe to be meddling with the fundamental principles and ancient tried usages of our Constitution, that our representation is as nearly perfect as the necessary imperfection of human affairs und of human creatures will suffer it to be, and that it is a subject of prudent and honest use and thankful enjoyment, and not of captious criticism or rash experiment.'
These views he held with consistent earnestness through every portion of his life. They appeared in the “Observations on the State of the Nation,' and in the Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents,' which were written amid the agitation that followed the Middlesex election. In 1780 he seriously thought of retiring from politics on account of the secession of a portion of his party to the Radical views. In 1782, when the younger Pitt introduced the question of parliamentary reform, Burke was his most vehement and most formidable opponent, and he never varied on the question till the sympathy of his party with the democratic aspects of the French Revolution finally severed him from the Whigs. His imagination, which seldom failed to intensify the conclusions of his reason, transfigured the British Constitution into a work of almost superhuman wisdom, and he made it the object of an almost adoring reverence. To unfold its matchless beauties, to trace its farreaching consequences, to describe the evils that would flow from any attempt to tamper with it, to guard it from captious and irreverent criticism, became a constant object of his life. He possessed to an extraordinary degree that 'retrospective imagination which Moore has, I think, truly described as a characteristic of his countrymen, and he clung with an instinctive affection to every institution which represented the labours and the experiences, which was interwoven with the habits, associations, and sympathies of many generations, and was supported not only by deliberate judgments but by prescription, custom, unconscious and unreasoning prejudice. It cost him much to eradicate anything that was deeply planted in the habits of a nation, to sap or relax any organism which derived its strength from the long traditions of the past. His writings after the outburst of the French Revolution contain the most powerful apology in all literature for these modes of thinking and feeling, but it is a complete misconception to suppose that his conduct after the Revolution was an apostasy, was anything but the natural and indeed inevitable development of his career. The evil of those levelling, speculative, and metaphysical theories of politics which triumphed at the Revolution was one of his earliest and deepest convictions. It may be traced in every important political work which proceeded from his pen, and it was clearly visible to his contemporaries. Mrs. Macaulay, who was the ablest writer of the New Radical School, at once recognised in Burke the most formidable antagonist of her ways of thinking, and she wrote a reply to his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present
elections, the prostitute and daring venality, the corruption of manners, the idleness and profligacy of the lower sort of voters, no prudent man would propose to increase such an
evil.'— Observations on the State of the Nation.
"See especially his speech on the Reform of Parliament. Burke's Works, x. 92-108.
Discontents,'in which she described that pamphlet as containing 'a poison sufficient to destroy all the little virtue and understanding of sound policy which is left in the nation, and as peculiarly fitted to divert the nation from organic and truly useful reforms,' to a revival of aristocratic faction.' Walpole in 1772 wrote, “Burke was certainly in his principles no moderate man, and when his party did not interfere generally leaned towards the arbitrary side, as appeared in the debates on the Church.” Bishop Watson declared that long before the French Revolution he had come to regard Burke as 'a High Churchman in religion,' and “a Tory, perhaps indeed an aristocratic Tory, in the State.'? During the Warren Hastings trial his colleagues noticed as a curious characteristic of his mind, the special vehemence with which he dilated on any outrage done to an ancient dynasty, to the worship and the sanctity even of a pagan creed.3
It will probably now appear to most persons that on the subject of Parliamentary Reform Chatham exhibited a far greater wisdom than Burke, and that the reverence with which Burke looked
the Constitution as it existed in his day was exaggerated even to extravagance. The corruption and indeed absurdity of the representative system could hardly be overstated; and experience, which is the one sure test in politics, has decisively shown that it was possible to reform the abuses of Parliament and to allay the deep discontent of the nation without impairing, for any good purpose, the efficiency of government. With Burke an extreme dread of organic change co-existed with a great disposition to administrative reform. The Tory party, which prevailed after the French Revolution, adopted one side of his teaching, but wholly discarded the other, and they made the indiscriminate defence of every abuse,and the repression or restriction of every kind of political liberty, the great end of government. At last in Canning and his followers a school of statesmen arose on whom Burke might have looked with favour, | Last Journals, i. 84.
Indian priesthood, he spoke of the 2 Watson's Anecdotes of his Onen piety of the Hindoos with admiration, Time, i. 132.
and of their holy religion and sacred 3 Lord Holland writes: Mr. Fox functions with an awe bordering on has more than once assured me that devotion.'-Lord Holland's Memoirs of in his (Burke's] invectives against the Whig Party, i, 5, 6. See too Moore's Mi. Hastings's indignities to the Life of Sheridan, ii. 94, 95.
who were bitterly opposed to any considerable change in the constitution of the House of Commons, but who were at the same time ardent advocates of religious and commercial freedom, of a liberal foreign policy, and of administrative reform. But the abuses of the representative system, which had long been increasing, soon became intolerable, and in 1832 an irresistible waved public opinion swept away the more corrupt portions of the borough system, and with it the deep English prejudice against parliamentary reform.
It is well worth trying, at a time when very different modes of political thought are prevailing, to realise the reason: which underlie the opinions of Burke. Even the errors of so great a thinker are often more instructive than the wisdom of lesser men, for they spring not from poverty of thought, or want of insight or sagacity, but merely from imperfections of mental balance. No politician ever saw more clearly than Burke the remote, subtle, and indirect, as well as the more immediate consequences of institutions and measures. It was in comparing the good and evil, the advantages and the dangers, that his judgment was often refracted by his passions or his imaginations.
It must be observed, in the first place, that he never adopted some of the favourite arguments of the opponents of reform. The opinion that nomination boroughs were a legitimate form of private property, which cannot be touched without confiscation, was expressed by no less a writer than Junius, and was countenanced by the younger Pitt; but no traces of it will, I believe, be found in the writings of Burke. Nor did he ever hold the favourite Tory doctrine that all right of representation rests ultimately in the owners of the soil. Divine right, whether of kings, or nobles, or freeholders, had no place in his political philosophy. On one occasion when a county member maintained this doctrine, Burke took great pains to refute it, showing by the antiquity of the boroughs, and by the early presence of lawyers in the House, that in the theory of the Constitution the commercial interest and the professions had as much right to representation as the landed interest. • The virtue, spirit, and essence,' he once said, 'of a House of
| Parl. Hist. xvi. 920, 921.