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MR. MAYOR, AND GENTLEMEN,
AM extremely pleased at the appearance of this large and respectable meeting. The steps I may be obliged to take will want the sanction of a considerable authority; and in explaining any thing which may appear doubtful in my publick conduct, I must naturally desire a very full audience.
I have been backward to begin my canvass. The dissolution of the parliament was uncertain ; and it did not become me, by an unseasonable importunity, to appear diffident of the fact of my six years endeavours to please you. I had served the city of Bristol honourably; and the city of Bristol had no reason to think, that the means of honourable service to the publick, were become indifferent to me.
I found on my arrival here, that three gentlemen had been long in eager pursuit of an object which but two of us can obtain. I found, that they had all met with encouragement. A contested election in such a city as this, is no light thing. I paused on the brink of the precipice. These three gentlemen, by various merits, and on various titles, I made no doubt were worthy of your favour. I shall never attempt to raise myself by depreciating the merits of my competitors. In the complexity and confusion of these cross pursuits, I wished to take the authentick publick sense of my friends upon a business of so much delicacy. I wished to take your opinion along with me ; that if I should give up the contest at the very beginning, my surrender of
my post may not seem the effect of inconstancy, or timidity, or anger, or disgust, or indolence, or any other temper unbecoming a man who has engaged in the publick service. If,
on the contrary, I should undertake the election, and fail of success,
I was full as anxious, that it should be manifest to the whole world, that the peace of the city had not been broken by my rashness, presumption, or fond conceit of my own merit.
I am not come, by a false and counterfeit shew of deference to your judgment, to seduce it in my favour. I ask it seriously and unaffectedly. If you wish that I should retire, I shall not consider that advice as a censure upon my conduct, or an alteration in your sentiments ; but as a rational submission to the circumstances of affairs. If, on the contrary, you should think it proper for me to proceed on my canvass, if you will risk the trouble on your part, I will risk it on mine. My pretensions are such as you cannot be ashamed of, whether they succeed or fail.
If you call upon me, I shall solicit the favour of the city upon manly ground. I come before you with the plain confidence of an honest servant in the equity of a candid and discerning master. I come to claim your approbation, not to amuse you with vain apologies, or with professions still more vain and senseless. I have lived too long to be served by apologies, or to stand in need of them. The part I have acted has been in open day; and to hold out to a conduct, which stands in that clear and steady light for all its good and all its evil, to hold out to that conduct the paltry winking tapers of excuses and promises-I never will do it.— They may obscure it with their smoke ; but they never can illumine sunshine by such a flame as theirs.
I am sensible that no endeavours have been left untried to injure me in your opinion. But the use of character is to be a shield against calumny. I could wish, undoubtedly (if idle wishes were not the most idle of all things) to make every part of my conduct agreeable to every one of my constituents. But in so great a city, and so greatly divided as this, it is weak to expect it.
In such a discordancy of sentiments, it is better to look to the nature of things than to the humours of men. The very attempt towards pleasing every body, discovers a temper always flashy, and often false and insincere. Therefore, as I have proceeded strait onward in my conduct, so I will
proceed in my account of those parts of it which have been most excepted to. But I must first beg leave just to hint to you, that we may suffer very great detriment by being open to every talker. It is not to be imagined, how much of service is lost from spirits full of activity, and full of energy, who are pressing, who are rushing forward, to great and capital objects, when you oblige them to be continually looking back. Whilst they are defending one service, they defraud yoa of an hundred. Applaud us when we run ; console us when we fall; cheer us when we recover ; but let us pass on—for God's sake, let us pass on.
Do you think, gentlemen, that every publick act in the six years since I stood in this place before you that all the arduous things which have been done in this eventful period, which has crowded into a few years space the revolutions of an age, can be opened to you on their fair grounds in half an hour's conversation ?
But it is no reason, because there is a bad mode of inquiry, that there should be no examination at all. Most certainly it is our duty to examine; it is our interest too. But it must be with discretion ; with an attention to all the circumstances, and to all the motives; like sound judges, and not like cavilling pettyfoggers and quibbling pleaders, prying into flaws and hunting for exceptions.--Look, gentlemen, to the whole tenour of your member's conduct. Try whether his ambition or his avarice have justled him out of the strait line of duty; or whether that grand foe of the offices of active life, that master-vice in men of business, a degenerate and inglorious sloth, has made him flag and languish in his course? This is the object of our inquiry. If our member's conduct can bear this touch, mark it for sterling. He may have fallen into errours; he must have faults; but our errour is greater, and our fault is radically ruinous to ourselves, if we do not bear, if we do not even applaud, the whole compound and mixed mass of such a character. Not to act thus is folly; I had almost said it is impiety. He censures God, who quarrels with the imperfections of man.
Gentlemen, we must not be peevish with those who serve the people. For none will serve us whilst there is a court to serve, but those who are of a nice and jealous honour. They who
think every thing, in comparison of that honour, to be dust and ashes, will not bear to have it soiled and impaired by those, for whose sake they make a thousand sacrifices to preserve it immaculate and whole. We shall either drive such men from the publick stage, or we shall send them to the court for protection : where, if they must sacrifice their reputation, they will at least secure their interest. Depend up on it, that the lovers of freedom will be free. None will violate their conscience to please us, in order afterwards to discharge that conscience, which they have violated, by doing us faithful and affectionate service. If we degrade and deprave their minds by servility, it will be absurd to expect, that they who are creeping and abject towards us, will ever be bold and incorruptible assertors of our freedom, against the most seducing and the most formidable of all powers. No! human nature is not so formed; nor shall we improve the faculties or better the morals of publick men, by our possession of the most infallible receipt in the world for making cheats and hypocrites.
Let' me say with plainness, I who am no longer in a publick character, that if by a fair, by an indulgent, by a gentlemanly behaviour to our representatives, we do not give confidence to their minds, and a liberal scope to their understandings ; if we do not permit our members to act upon a very enlarged view of things; we shall at length infallibly degrade our national representation into a confused and scuffling bustle of local agency. When the popular member is narrowed in his ideas, and rendered timid in his proceedings, the service of the crown will be the sole nursery of statesmen. Among the frolicks of the court, it may at length take that of attending to its business. Then the monopoly of mental power will be added to the power of all other kinds it pos
On the side of the people there will be nothing but impotence : for ignorance is impotence; narrowness of mind is impotence; timidity is itself impotence, and makes all other qualities that go along with it, impotent and useless.
At present it is the plan of the court to make its servants insignificant. If the people should fall into the same humour, and should choose their servants on the same principles of mere obsequiousness, and flexibility, and total vacancy or in
difference of opinion in all publick matters, then no part of the state will be sound ; and it will be in vain to think of saving it.
I thought it very expedient at this time to give you this candid counsel; and with this counsel I would willingly close, if the matters which at various times have been objected to me in this city concerned only myself, and my own election. These charges, I think, are four in number ;-my neglect of a due attention to my constituents, the not paying more frequent visits here ;-my conduct on the affairs of the first Irish trade acts ;-my opinion and mode of proceeding on lord Beauchamp's debtors bills ;-and my votes on the late affairs of the Roman Catholicks. All of these (except perhaps the first) relate to matters of very considerable publick concern ; and it is not lest you should censure me improperly, but lest you should forin improper opinions on matters of some moment to you, that I trouble you at all upon the subject. My conduct is of small importance.
With regard to the first charge, my friends have spoken to me of it in the style of amicable expostulation; not so much blaming the thing, as lamenting the effects.--Others, less partial to me, were less kind in assigning the motives. I admit, there is a decorum and propriety in a member of parliament's paying a respectful court to his constituents. If I were conscious to myself that pleasure or dissipation, or low unworthy occupations, had detained me from personal attendance on you, I would readily admit my fault, and quietly submit to the penalty. But, gentlemen, I live at an hundred miles distance from Bristol ; and at the end of a session I come to my own house, fatigued in body and in mind, to a little repose, and to a very little attention to my family and my private concerns. A visit to Bristol is always a sort of canvass ; else it will do more harm than good. To pass from the toils of a session to the toils of a canvass, is the furthest thing in the world from repose. . I could hardly serve you as I have done, and court you too. Most of you have heard, that I do not very remarkably spare myself in publick business ; and in the private business of my constituents I have done very near as much as those who have nothing else to do. My canvass of you was not on the change, nor in the county meetings, nor in the clubs of this