Abbildungen der Seite

England: but he docs not allow, with modern reformers, 'thatevery one lhould have a right to kill game wherever he can find it'

After all, Mr. M. recommends a material alteration in the whole system of game laws, and thinks it would he better fur the public that game lhould be made private property.

From game the author proceeds to the consideration of the tithe laws. He pronounces the opinion to be ill-founded, which states tithes to be a heavy burthen on the farmer; whose iituation would, according to him, be precisely the fame, whether a tenth, a fifth, or a twentieth of the produce of the land were levied for the support of the clergy. He contend-that this tax falls solely on the landlord who is obliged to let his land proportionably lower on account of the tithes.—He how. ever, admits the tax to be impolitic, for this plain reason, that it is x continually varying one, on the produce of skill and labour, and on the uncertain bounty of nature; and consequently that it is always galling and vexatious.

Chapter I. of Book II. opens with the important questions, whether there ought to be allowed, in a state, a distinction of orders among its citizens; and which form of government is preferable, a monarchical or a republican. For his arguments on these topics we must refer to the chapter itself, which contains much found fense and able reasoning. We shall content ourselves with staling that he is decidedly for the existence of a body of nobility; without which, he maintains, there would be an

infinitely greater distance than with it, between the rich and the poor,• he insists that popnlatiou isincreased by an institution which contributes to render marriages more frequent in the higher classes of society, because, wherever birth, without any other recommendation, is a passport into society, celibacy will be less frequent; that it checks the rage of appearance, the vanity of thew, and removes one great temptation to expence, the chief cause of venality; that it brings forwards to public life that description of men by whom the nation has the best chance of being served; that it renders manners more amiable and sociable; and finally, that almost all the objections, which are urged against the institution of nobility, may be equally if not more justly urged against wealth; the abolition of which would convulse and destroy society.

The discussion of this subject, together with that of the form of government, is carried on through the first five chapters of the second book, and branches out into a very song, interesting, and ingenious dissertation respecting a standing army; for which Mr. M. is a strenuous advocate. He does not argue for a standing army as a mere machine of government, calculated to enable the crown to enforce measures dangerous to or incompatible with a free constitution,— but, for a standing army modelled on principles that would make it * guardian and firm support of the constitutional liberty os the subject? a body so organized and officered as that, though the crown might at all times look for its co-operation in all constitutional pursuits.

}t would be the last part of the community from which the go-: vernment would dare to nik for or expect assistance, when the service in which it was to be employed would be attended with injury or even danger to the liberty of the country.

Mr. Michell suggests several improvements respecting the.age at which gentlemen mould be allowed to fit in parliament. At 21 he thinks a man cannot be properly qualified for the important duties of a legislator; and therefore he is of opinion that he ought not to be eligible by law for a scat in the legislature, before he has attained the age of 30 years.

In chapter VI. Mr. M. speaks of the qualification of electors; and, instead of extending the right ot suffrage to every mule of the age "of 21, he contends most strenuously for withholding it from all those who possess not fixed property, but who are altogether dependent for their subsistence on the wages of thtir daily labour; and he maintains that, without this restriction, it is impossible that the constitution should be secure.

Mr. M. would disfranchise only the populace, and would communicate the right of voting to all above that class, with the double view of preventing art aristrocratic tyranny, and spreading as widely as possible an interest in the public ■welfare. 'To mark the line of discrimination is the business, (fays he,) of a legislator occupied in framing a particular constitution, and must be adapted to the manners ofeachparticularpeople. It belongs to him also to ascertain what are the offices which may be rendered

elective, and to what in a monarchy the prince, in a republic the senate, mould nominate.'

The question of suffrage naturally leads to that of representation. The author gives an historical account of the manner in which it was introduced into our constitution, and then observes that the idea of it became at last so cherished by the people, that representation was with them a synonimous term for liberty; so that thole who were not represented were considered as not free. Mr. M. insists that this opinion is founded in error; or that it must be admitted that women, minors, and foreigners, residing among us are slaves; for they are not represented by any one deputed by them to appear and act for them.

He concludes the chapter with some very handsome compliments to the Britisli House of Commons; from which, he fays, constituted as it always has been, the nation has derived great happiness, wealth and glory.

The Vllth chapter treats of a monarchical and a republican form of government, and gives to the former a decided preference.

In chapter VIII. he treats of the nature and extent of power that ought to be trusted to the king. He rerrmrks that, if a sovereign, does not possess sufficient legal power to enforce a vigorous and effective government, he must obtain it through influence, or anarchy will ensue.

In chapter IX. he investigate* the origin, progress, aud decay of absolute power in France; and this discussion leads him to search for the foundation of Britisli freedom, dom, and the causes of the real danger that threatens our constitution.

In the beginning of the Xth and last chapter our author is impartial enough to acknowledge that, though the British constitution be in its nature Calculated to preserve the fabric of liberty in this country, it does not follow that any other state would to a certainty act wisely in adopting it. 'The Messing of freedom, (he says,) depends chiefly on the manners of a rteoplej its existence therefore is compatible with almost every form of government; and perhaps it will be found that every community, far advanced in civilization, or" long established, contains within itself such remnants of past, r>r such seeds of future freedom, in customs and prejudices, which have crept in by degrees, that an enlightened patriotic legislator will alwayi adopt the maxim of Tacitus—lie jecrcl os fitting us a new fiate rcnfifti in retaining lit- image of Ike old. Observing, next, that the Britisti parliament is the only senate that ever was able to restrain the power of kings,'without annihilating monarchy, and to effect this restraint without tumult or violence, he fays, * it is ■worth while to discover, if possible, What in realty are those peculiarities in its construction, to which we ought to ascribe its peculiar excellencies.' This investigation forms the principal subject of the Xth chapter, which touches on too great a variety of objects to be particularized by us. Some remarks, however, made by Mr. M. we cannot refrain from inserting here, as containing new ideas on subjects already so trite, that it

might have been thought that nothing new could be said on them.

It has been a favourite measure with reformers to counteract the venality of rotten boroughs, either by admitting the inhabitants of the neighbouring hundreds to a right of yoting equally with the* burgesses, or persons holding by burgage tenure, or by entirely disfranchising those boroughs, and granting to populous towns the right not how enjoyed by them, offending bnernbers to parliament. Neither of th'tse remedies would, in his opinion, remove the evil; for the venality, taking its rife from the corrupt: manners of the people, cannot be remedied by a transfer of the franchise from one set of electors to another, * as both would most certainly act in the fame manner." The expences at^ tending elections he fays, are such, that gentlemen of moderate . landed property are almost excludf ed from the House of Commons; and such land-owners as do take feats in it are possessed of estates so very large, as to be candidates for a peerage, and therefore are more open to corruption than men of moderate incomes. The number of merchants admitted into the House of Commons he also considers as highly' dangerous to tho constitution {"assuming it as a maxim that they attend more to their private interest to the public weal. He also objects, in the following terms, to the admission of a great number of lawyers into the house.

'Lawyers must be bad legislators, unless to professional skill they join a mass of general knowledge. This cannot be expected in men whose time, from {heir youth upwards, wards, has been totally absorbed in the studies and practice of their •profession, and this must be the cafe with all eminent lawyers, who nlone can afford a feat in parliament. But if we also consider, that of late years the highest honours, and the most lucrative offices of (late, are prizes which every lawyer, W1m> can join parliamentary consequence to professional eminence, is sure to obtain; we cannot be surprized if lawyers have, in general, proved themselves the most zealous partisans of faction, the most subservient tools of government.'

The constitution is also in danger, he fays, from the admission of too many military men; since such members, in his opinion, for the most part consider their feat in parliament as a step subservient to, perhaps necessary for, their professional advancement, and therefore betray their duties as senators. He then adds the following observation;

'If, in addition to this change in the character of the members, we also take into consideration the great increase of power that the senate has necessarily arrogated to itself, since the crown was rendered entirely dependent on its good will j when we recollect that excessive«power corrupts the best dispositions; that the actual exercise of what the house of commons possess, is incompatible with a mo-

narchical government; and that this defect in the constitution can be palliated only by the geneial venality of individuals; we need not be at a loss to account for the degeneracy of parliament*.'

Hence it is evident that our author is an advocate for reform but on principles very different from those on which reform has hitherto been defended: he would first reform, the manners of the electors, as the best means of securing political integrity in the elected : he would then introduce a greater portion of the landed interest into parliament, and considerably lessen the number of professional men and merchant.'. who ssiould be admitted to sit in it; and he would extend the power of the crown, at the same time that he would diminith that of the house of commons, by making the prince less dependent on it:—but it is not tbe lower house alone, ao cording to Mr. M. that calls for ra•formj the house of lords, in his opinion, stands in as much need ot it.

'A moment's reflection (lays he-) will serve to convince us, that the political power vested in the lords, enables them to perform but a small part of what is required of them; and unless this power, their titles of honor, and their insignia of rank, are united to great personal authority, derived from ample hereditary possessions, and to the respect which Is always paid ro honourable birth, their power would be nugatory, their infanta ridiculous. Luxury, that bane to national prosperity, by causing the extinction of old families, incurably vitiates, to a certain degree, the constitution of the house of lords. A new-created peer will never be respected as much as one who derives his honours from a long line of ancestors. This evil would not, however, be very considerable, if the vacancies were supplied as they ought lobe; but of late years, instead of selecting those commoners who are most distinguished by their family and fortune, peerages have been lavished on professional men, often of the moll obscure birth, and who sometimes have not even attained an independence, but are compelled still to follow their professions, or trust to places and peniions for a maintenance. This practice partly arises from the indolence and effeminate frivolity of those who are born to opuleDce, and who desert the service of the public, or at least consider it as subordinate to their pleasures and amusements; they therefore not only have n:> claims to any recompence .from government, but, from the degradation of their personal character, are of little importance in the eye of the minister. It proceeds, however, still more from the necessity the minister lies under, of attaching to himself as many men of professional eminence as possible, who, knowing their own importance, make their own terms; and also of securing a devoted majority in the upper as well as in the lower house. 'It behoves all parties at present to recollect themselves. Power, such as is veiled iu an English

*• Those who art advocates tor the present system of government, yet allow that it is supported by influence, seem not aware that their arguments lead to an absurdity. The power os influencing a preponderating part ot the people vested in the crown, is nugatory, unless there is also a disposition in the people to be inflii. enced. Such a disposition implies a proportional annihilation ot political intci jTity. But where political integrity is in general extinct, the nation must dei «iin«.'


peer, can safely be entrnsted only to one who is altogether independent of the smiles of the prince, or the minister, as to his fortune; and if the house of lords is, as it always has been esteemed, the firmest support to royalty, and a necessary refuge to the constitution against the fickleness and violence or the people, it is the interest both of the people and of the crown to unite, as formerly, political power and honorary splendour to hereditary opulence and personal authority. Whatever may be his abilities and merits, however splendid his services, a new man, (io-vuj bams,) particularly if he has his fortune t« make, is not corrpetent to fulfil all that is required of a peer."

Then, criticising the famous passage in Goldsmith,

"Princes and peers may flourish or may fade,

A breath can make them, as a breath has made;

But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,

When once destroy'd, can never be supplied:"

he says—The sentiment is false, for it would be still more difficult to re-establish a peerage than a peasantry; and he is certainly right, if it be true that hereditary nobles are useful inasmuch as they are venerated by the public, and that antiquity of descent is one of the causes, if not the principal one,of the veneration in which they are held by the people. He then proceeds to shew that, notwithstanding the many additions made to the list of peers, the power of the aristocracy is rather on the wane, and


« ZurückWeiter »