« ZurückWeiter »
pable of being elected, it could produce no great change in the parliament, nor much contract the power of election; that what has been done is probably right; and that if it be wrong it is of little consequence, since a like case cannot easily occur; that expulsions are very rare, and if they should, by unbounded insolence of faction, become more frequent, the electors may easily provide a second choice.
All this he may say, but not half of this will be heard; his opponents will stun him and themselves with a confused sound of pensions and places, venality and corruption, oppression and invasion, slavery and ruin.
Outcries like these, uttered by malignity, and echoed by folly; general accusations of indeterminatę wickedness; and obscure hints of impossible designs, dispersed among those that do not know their meaning, by those that know them to be false, have disposed part of the nation, though but a small part, to pester the court with ridicu. lous petitions.
The progress of a petition is well known. An ejected placeman goes down to his county or his borough, tells his friends of his inability to serve them, and his constituents of the corruption of the government. His friends readily understand that he who can get nothing, will have nothing to give. They agree to proclaim a meeting; meat and drink are plentifully provided; a crowd is easily brought together, and those who think that they know the reason of their meeting, undertake to tell those who know it not. Ale and clamour unite their powers; Vol. X.
the crowd, condensed and heated, begins to ferment with the leven of sedition. All see a thou. sand evils, though they cannot show them, and grow impatient for a remedy, though they know not what.
A speech is then made by the Cicero of the day; he says much, and suppresses more, and credit is equally given to what he tells, and what he con. ceals. The petition is read and universally approved. Those who are sober enough to write, add their names, and the rest would sign it if they could.
Every man goes home and tells his neighbour of the glories of the day; how he was consulted and what he advised; how he was invited into the great room, where his lordship called him by his name; how he was caressed by Sir Francis, Sir Joseph, or Sir George; how he ate turtle and venison, and drank unanimity to the three brothers.
The poor loiterer, whose shop had confined him, or whose wife had locked him up, hears the tale of luxury with envy, and at last inquires what was their petition. Of the petition nothing is remembered by the narrator, but that it spoke much of fears and apprehensions, and something very alarming, and that he is sure it is against the government; the other is convinced that it must be right, and wishes he had been there, for he loves wine and venison, and is resolved as long as he lives to be against the government.
The petition is then handed from town to to :in, and from house to house, and wherever it comes the inhabitants flock together, that they may see that which must be sent to the king. Names are easily collected. One man signs because he hates the papist; another because he has vowed destruction to the turnpikes; one because it will vex the parson; another because he owes his lanlord nothing; one because he is rich ; another because he is
poor; one to shew that he is not afraid, and another to shew that he can write.
The passage, however, is not always smooth. Those who collect contributions to sedition, sometimes apply to a man of higher rank and more enlightened mind, who, instead of lending them his name, calmly reproves them for being seducers of the people.
You who are here, says he, complaining of vena, lity, are yourselves the agents of those who, having estimated themselves at too high a price, are only angry that they are not bought. You are appealing from the parliament to the rabble, and inviting those who scarcely, in the most common affairs, distinguish right from wrong, to judge of a question complicated with law written and unwritten, with the general principles of government, and the particular customs of the House of Commons; you are shewing them a grievance, so distant that they cannot see it, and so light that they cannot feel it; for how, but by unnecessary intelligence and artificial provocation, should the farmers and shopkeepers of Yorkshire and Cumberland know or care how Middlesex is
represented? Instead of wandering thus round the county to exasperate the rage of party, and darken the suspicions of ignorance, it is the duty of men like you, who have leisure for inquiry, to lead back the people to their honest labour; to tell them, that submission is the duty of the ignorant, and content the virtue of the poor; that they have no skill in the art of government, nor any interest in the dissentions of the great ; and when you meet with any, as some there are, whose understandings are capable of conviction, it will become you to allay this foaming ebullition, hy shewing them that they have as much happiness as the condition of life will easily receive, and that a government, of which an erroneous or unjust representation of Middlesex is the greatest crime that interest can discover, or malice can upbraid, is government approaching nearer to perfection, than any that experience has known, or history related.
The drudges of sedition wish to change their ground, they hear him with sullen silence, feel conviction without repentance, and are confounded, but not abashed; they go forward to another door, and find a kinder reception from a man enraged against the government, because he has just been paying the tax upon his windows.
That a petition for a dissolution of the parliament will at all times have its favourers, may be easily imagined. The people indeed do not expect that one House of Commons will be much honester or much wiser than another; they do not suppose that the taxes will be lightened ; or, though they have been so often taught to hope it, that soap and candles will be cheaper ; they expect no redress of grievances, for of no grievances but taxes do they complain ; they wish not the extension of liberty, for they do not feel any restraint ; about the security of privilege or property they are totally careless, for they see no property invaded, nor know, till they are told, that any privilege has suffered violation.
Least of all do they expect, that any future parliament will lessen its own powers, or communicate to the people that authority which it has once obtained.
Yet a new parliament is sufficiently desirable. The
year of election is a year of jollity; and, what is still more delightful, a year of equality. The glutton now eats the delicacies for which he longed when he could not purchase them, and the drunkard has the pleasure of wine without the cost. The drone lives a while without work, and the shopkeeper, in the flow of money, raises his price. The mechanick that trembled at the
presence of Sir Joseph, now bids him come again for an answer; and the poacher whose gun has been seized, now finds an opportunity to reclaim it. Even the honest man is not displeased to see himself important, and willingly resumes in two years that power which he had resigned for seven. Few love their friends so well as not to desire superiority by unexpensive benefaction.
Yet, notwithstanding all these motives to compliance, the promoters of petitions have not been successful. Few could be persuaded to lament evils which they did not suffer, or to solicit for redress which they do not want. The petition has been, in some places, rejected ; and perhaps in all but one, signed only by the meanest and grossest of the people.
Since this expedient now invented or revived to distress the government, and equally practicable at all times by all who shall be excluded from power