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A History of the early Part of the Reign of James the Second ; with an
Introductory Chapter. By the Right Hon. CHARLES JAMES Fox. To which is added An Appendix. 4to.
Many of our celebrated countrymen will always be recollected with regret, by persons who take the most serious view of human characters and affairs; but there is no name in the English records of the past century, that excites in us so much of this feeling as that of the author of this work. The regret arises from the consideration of what such a man might have been, and might have done. As to talents, perhaps no eminent man was ever the subject of so little controversy, or ever more completely deterred even the most perverse spirit of singularity from hazarding a hint of doubt or dissent, by the certainty of becoming utterly ridiculous. To pretend to talk of any superior man was the same thing, except among a few of the tools or dupes of party, as to name generals to whom Hannibal, or Scipio, or Julius Cæsar ought to have been but second in command; or poets from whose works the mind must descend to those of Shakspere and Milton. If all political partialities could be suspended in forming the judgment, we suppose the great majority of intelligent men would pronounce Fox the greatest orator of modern times ! and they would be careful to fix the value of this verdict by observing, that they used the term orator in the most dignified sense in which it can be understood. Other speakers have had more of what is commonly and perhaps not improperly called brilliance, more novelty and luxuriance of imagery, more sudden flashes, points, and surprises, and vastly more magnificence of language. Burke especially was such a speaker ; and during his oration, the man of intelligence and taste was delighted to enthusiasm, in feeling that something so new as to defy all conjectural anticipation was sure to burst on him at every fourth or fifth sentence, and in beholding a thousand forms and phantoms of thought, as if suddenly brought from all parts of the creation, most luckily and elegantly associated with a subject to which no mortal had ever imagined that any one of them could have been related before. Yet this very auditor, if he had wished to have a perplexing subject luminously simplified, or a vast one contracted, according to a just scale, to his understanding; if he had wished to put himself in distinct possession of the strongest arguments for maintaining the same cause in another place; if he had been anxious to qualify himself for immediate action in an affair in which he had not yet been able to satisfy himself in deliberation; or if he had been desirous for his coadjutors in any important concern to have a more perfect comprehension of its nature, and a more absolute conviction as to the right principles and measures to be adopted respecting it, than all his efforts could give them, he would have wished, beyond all others, to draw Fox's mind to bear on the subject. For ourselves, we think we never heard any man who dismissed us from the argument on a debated topic with such a feeling of satisfied and final conviction, or such a competence to tell why we were convinced. There was, in the view in which subjects were placed by him, something like the day-light, that simple clearness which makes things conspicuous and does not make them glare, which adds no colour or form, but purely makes visible in perfection the real colour and form of all things round; a kind of light less amusing than that of magnificent lustres or a thousand coloured lamps, and less fascinating and romantic than that of the moon, but which is immeasurably preferred when we are bent on sober business, and not at leisure, or not in the disposition, to wander delighted among beautiful shadows and delusions. It is needless to say that Fox possessed, in a high degree, wit and fancy; but superlative intellect was the grand distinction of his eloquence; the pure force of sense, of plain downright sense, was so great that it would have given a character of sublimity to his eloquence, even if it had never once been aided by a happy image or a brilliant explosion. The grandeur of plain sense, would not have been deemed an absurd phrase, by any man who had heard one of Fox's best speeches.
And as to the moral features of the character, all who knew him concur in ascribing to him a candour, a goodnature, simplicity of manners, and an energy of feeling, which made him no less interesting as a friend, and might have made him no less noble as a philanthropist, than he was admirable as a senator.
We have very often surrendered our imagination to the interesting, but useless and painful employment, of tracing out the career which might have been run by a man thus pre-eminently endowed. We have imagined him first rising up, through a youth of unrivalled promise, to the period of maturity, unstained by libertinism, scorning to think for one moment of a competition with the heroes of Bond-street, or any other class of the minions of fashion, and maintaining the highest moral principles in contempt of the profligacy which pressed close around him. It is an unfortunate state of mind in
any reader of these pages, whose risibility is excited when we add to the sketch that solemn reverence for the Deity, and expectation of a future judgment, without which it is a pure matter of fact that there is no such thing on earth as an invincible and universal virtue. Instead of unbounded licentiousness, our imaginary young statesman has shown his contempt of parsimony, by the most generous modes of expense which humanity could suggest, and his regard for the softer sex, by appropriating one of the best and most interesting of them in the fidelity of the tenderest relation. We have imagined him employing the time which other young men of rank and spirit gave to dissipation, in a strenuous prosecution of moral and political studies ; and yet mingling so far with men of various classes, as to know intimately of what materials society and governments are composed.
We have imagined him as presenting himself at length on the public scene, with an air and a step analogous and rival to the aspect and sinew of the most powerful combatant that ever entered the field of Olympia.
At this entrance on public action, we have viewed him solemnly determining to make absolute principle the sole rule of his conduct in every instance, to the last sentence he should speak or write on public affairs ; to give no pledges, and make no concessions, to any party whatever; to expose and prosecute, with the same unrelenting justice, the generally equal corruption of ministries and oppositions ; to co-operate with any party in the particular case in which he should judge it in the right, and in all other cases to protest impartially against them all; and to say the whole truth, when other pretended friends of public virtue and the people durst only to say the half, for fear of provoking an examination of their own conduct, or for fear of absolutely shutting the door against all chance of future advancement. We view him holding up to contempt the artifices and intrigues of statesmen, and hated abundantly for his pains, no doubt, but never in danger of a retaliation of exposure. He would not have submitted to be found in the society of even the very highest persons in the state, on any other terms of intercourse than those of virtue and wisdom; he would have felt it a duty peculiarly sacred and cogent to make his most animated efforts to counteract any corruption which he might perceive finding its way into such society, and if those efforts failed, to withdraw himself so entirely as to be clear of all shadow of responsibility. Virtue of this quality would be in little hazard of afflicting any government with a violent impatience to have the man for a coadjutor, and therefore our imagination never placed him oftener or longer in any of the high offices of state, than about such a space as Fox was actually so privileged ; indeed a considerably shorter time, for even had it been possible that any set of men would have acceded at first to such conditions of coalition as he would have insisted on, there could hardly have failed to arise, in the
course of a month or two, some question on which this high and inflexible virtue must have dissented so totally, and opposed so strenuously, as to have necessitated, on the one part or the other, a relinquishment of office ; and it could not be doubtful one instant on which part this surrender must take place, when the alternative lay between a man of pure virtue and the ordinary tribe of statesmen. But office would not have been requisite to the influence of such an heroic and eloquent patriot. Our imagination has represented him as not only maintaining, in the public council of the nation, the cause of justice in all its parts, sometimes with the support of other men of talents, and sometimes without it, but also as feeling that his public duty extended much beyond all the efforts he could make in that place. As it is absurd to expect integrity in a government, while the people are too ignorant or too inattentive to form any right judgment of its proceedings, and as no person in the whole country would have been so qualified to present before it simple and comprehensive illustrations of its situation and interests, or would indeed have been a tenth part so much attended to, we have imagined him publishing from time to time instructions to the people, in the form of large tracts, stating, with all his unequalled clearness and comprehension, the duties of the people with respect to the conduct of government, and the nature and tendency of the important questions and measures of the times, with an anxious and reiterated effort to impart just views on the general topics of political science, such as the rights of the people, the foundation of the authority of governments, the principles of taxation, and peace and war. If these great duties allowed any time for the more formal schemes of literary performance, he might have taken up some period of the English or any other history, which afforded the best occasions for illustrating the most interesting points of political truth, and forming a set of permanent national lessons. But we could almost have regretted to see him so engaged, since very often the ascertaining of some very inconsiderable fact, or the