Page images

and bring them over to his side. I cannot, in this place, give the whole of the letter; but the curious reader may find it under number fifty-seven, in the twenty-eighth book of the London edition.

Erasmus drew from the life. Though a most profound scholar, yet he was not merely a scholar. He read the book of the world with as much accuracy as the volumes of his library. I have brought forward this letter, because I find it exemplified in the Precepts of Lord Chesterfield, and the Diary of Lord Melcombe. It appears, under the testimony of their own hands, that these men actually were the characters which Erasmus, in a vein of irony and sarcasm, advises his court-pupil to become. It appears from them, that many of the persons, with whom they acted, were similar. It follows that, if such men were great, wise, and good men, truth, honour, sincerity, friendship, and patriotism, are but empty names, devised by politicians to amuse and to delude a subject and an abject people.

But the people (I mean not a venal mob, employed by a minister or by a faction) are not so corrupted. They value truth, honour, sincerity, and patriotism; and in their conduct often display them in their utmost purity. Shall courtiers, then, be listened to, when they represent the people as a swinish multitude, or as venal wretches? Shall courtiers, such as Lord Melcombe, claim an exclusive right to direct human affairs, influencing senates to make and unmake laws at pleasure, and to cry havoc, when they please, and let slip the dogs of war on the poor, either at home or abroad 2 Shall a whole nation be proud to mimic a court, not only in dress, amusements, and all the vanity of fashion, but in sentiments, in morals, in politics, in religion, in no religion, in hypocrisy, in cruelty?

Lord Melcombe and Lord Chesterfield were leadling men, able men, eloquent men, considered in their day as ornaments of the court and of the nation. But if even they exhibit both precepts and examples of extreme selfishness, of deceit, and of a total disregard to human happiness, what may we think of their numerous dependents, under-agents, persons attached to them by places, pensions, ribands, titles, expecting favours for themselves, or their natural children, or their cousins 2 Can we suppose these men to retain any regard for the public? Would they make any sacrifice to the general happiness of human nature ? Would they assert liberty, or undergo trouble, loss, persecution, in defence of a constitution ? They themselves would laugh at you, if you should suppose it possible. They can be considered in no other light than as vermin, sucking the blood of the people whom they despise.

Yet these, and such as these, are the men who are indefatigable in declaiming against the people, talking of the mischiefs of popular government, and the danger of admitting the rights of man. These, and such as these, are the strenuous opposers of all reform in the representation. These, and such as these, call attempts at innovations, though evidently improvements, seditious. These are the alarmists, who cry out the church or the state is in danger, in order to persecute honest men, or to introduce the military. The military is their delight and their fortress; and to compass their own base ends, they will not hesitate to bathe their arms in human blood, even up to their very shoulders. Their whole object is to aggrandize a power, of which they pant to participate; and from which alone, destitute as they are of merit and goodness, they can hope for lucre and the distinctions of vanity.

[ocr errors]

“Where the ruling mischief,says the author of the Estimate,“ prevails among the great, then even the palliative remedies cannot easily be applied. The reason is manifest: a' coercive power is wanting. They who should cure the evil are the very delinquents; and moral, and political physic no distempered mind will ever administer to itself.

“ Necessity therefore, and necessity alone, must in such a case be the parent' of reformation. So long as degenerate and unprincipled manners can support themselves, they will be deaf to: reason, blind to consequences, and obstinate in the longestablished pursuit of gain and pleasure. : In such minds, the idea of a public has no place. Nor can such minds be ever awakened from their fatal dream, till either the voice of an abused people rouse them into fear, or the state itself totter, through the general incapacity, cowardice, and disunion of those who support it.

“Whenever this compelling power, necessity, shall appear, then, and not till then, may we hope that our deliverance is at hand. Effeminacy, rapacity, and faction will then be ready to resign the reins they would now usurp. One common danger would create one common interest. Virtue may rise on the ruins of corruption.

“ One kind of necessity, and which I calf an internal necessity, would arise, when the voice of an abused people should rouse the great into fear.

"I am not ignorant, that it hath been a point of debate, whether, in political matters, the general voice of a people ought to be held worth much regard? Right sorry I am to observe, that this doubt is the growth of later times; of times, too, which boast their love of freedom; but ought, surely, to blush, when they look back on the generous senti

ments of ancient days, which days we stigmatize with the name of slavish.

66. Thus runs the writ of summons to the parliament of the 23d of Edward the First :The King, to the venerable father in Christ R. Archbishop of Canterbury, greeting : As the most just law, established by the provident wisdom of princes, doth appoint, that what concerns all, should be approved by all ; so it evidently implies, that dangers common to all, should be obviated by remedies provided by all. Ut quod omnes tangit, ab omnibus approbetur ;-sic et innuit evidenter, ut communibus periculis per remedia provisa communiter obvietur. A noble acknowledgment from an English king, which ought never, sure, to be forgotten, or trodden under foot by English subjects.

“ There are two manifest reasons why, in a degenerated' state, and a declining period, the united voice of a people is, in general, the surest test of truth in all essential matters on which their own welfare depends, so far as the 'ends of political measures are concerned.

First, because in such a period, and such a state, the body of a people are naturally the least corrupt part of such a people : for all general corruptions, of whatever kind, begin among the leaders, and descend from these to the lower ranks. Take such a state, therefore, in what period of degeneracy you please, the higher ranks will, in the natural course of things, be farther gone in the ruling evils than the lower; and therefore the less to be relied on:

« Secondly, a still more cogent reason is, that the general body of the people have not such a bias hung upon their judgment by the prevalence of personal and particular interest, as the great, in all things which relate to state matters. It is of no

[blocks in formation]

particular and personal consequence to the general body of a people, what men are employed, provided the general welfare be accomplished; because nothing but the general welfare can be an object of desire to the general body. But it is of much particular and personal consequence to the great, what men are employed; because, through their connections and alliances, they must generally find either their friends or enemies in power. Their own private interests, therefore, naturally throw a bias on their judgments, and destroy that impartiality which the general body of an uncorrupt people doth naturally possess. “Hence, then, it appears, that the united voice of an uncorrupt people is, in general, the safest test of political good and evil.” Is it not then time to be alarmed for the public good, when great pains are taken to depreciate the people; when the names of jacobin, democrat, leveller, traitor, and mover of sedition, are artfully thrown, by courtiers and their adherents, on every man who has sense and virtue enough to maintain the cause of liberty; that cause, which established the revolution on the ruins of despotism, and placed the present family on the throne, as the guardians of a free constitution ? I cannot think such courtiers, however they may fawn, for their own interest, on the person of the monarch, friends, in their hearts, to a limited monarchy. If they could and dared, they would restore a Stuart. But as that is impracticable, they would transfuse the principles of the Stuarts into the bosom of a Brunswick. To expose their selfish meanness, and frustrate their base design, is equally the duty and interest of the king and the people.

« PreviousContinue »