Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors]

healthful and purifying agitation. These fruitless years were the seed-time of a harvest to be reaped in better days; and all the reforms which from 1828 till now have blessed and are blessing England were never forgotten, but continually pressed upon the attention of Parliament and the country, by a resolute band of men illustrious for their talents and their services. In proof of this, a few rude landmarks, before entering upon a more minute survey of this period, may be worth the erecting.

The trials, at the Old Bailey, in 1794, of Tooke, Hardy, and their associates, prosecuted for high treason for their words and acts as members of a Society for Parliamentary Reform, were the first outbreak of the wide-spread alarm at the prevalence of the political opinions introduced into the kingdom by the French Revolution. The Government was foiled; the prisoners were acquitted; Erskine, their advocate, won unfading laurels ; and the doctrine of " constructive treason” was forever exploded in England.

The foreign policy of Pitt and his successors, which sent England on a twenty-five years' crusade to fight the battles of Absolutism on the continent, encountered the fiery logic of Fox, the dazzling declamation of Sheridan, the analytical reasoning of Tierney, the dignified rebukes of Grey, the sturdy sense of Whitbread, the scholastic arguments of Horner, and the bold assaults of Burdett. And at a later period, when Castlereagh humbled the power of England at the footstool of the Holy Alliance, Brougham made the land echo with appeals to the Anglo-Saxon love of liberty, till Canning, in 1823, protested against the acts of the Allied Sovereigns, and in the following year declared in the House of Commons, while the old chamber, rung with plaudits, that ministers had refused to become a party to a new Congress of the Allies.

In 1806–7, the slave trade fell under the united attacks of Wilberforce, Fox, and Pitt; Clarkson, Sharpe, and other worthies, supplying the ammunition for the assault. And the West India slave, long forgotten, was remembered when Can

ning, in 1823, introduced resolutions that immediate measures ought to be adopted by the planters to secure such a gradual improvement in the slave's condition as might render safe his ultimate admission to participation in the civil rights and privileges of other classes of His Majesty's subjects; and addressed a corresponding ministerial circular to the colonies.

In 1809, Romilly brought his eminent legal knowledge and graceful eloquence to bear against the sanguinary criminal code which a dark age had obtruded on the noonday of civilization. He subsequently exposed the abuses of the Court of Chancery, which, under the tardy administration of “that everlasting doubter," Lord Eldon, pressed heavily on the country. He laid bare the absurd technicalities and verbosities which blocked the avenues to the common law courts. Having removed some of this rubbish, and softened a few of the asperities of the criminal code, his benevolent heart sunk in the grave, when the philosophic and classical Mackintosh resumed the work, and carrying a radical motion for inquiry over the heads of ministers in 1819, pressed it nearer that tolerable consummation which Brougham, Williams, and Denman reached at a later day. The cause of law reform was powerfully aided by the closet labors of that singular person, Jeremy Bentham, whose world-wide researches and world-filling books, written in a style as consecutive and tedious as the story of The House that Jack Built, discussed everything pertaining to government, from the constitution of a kingdom to the construction of a work-house.

The condition of Ireland and the relief of the Catholics occupied much of the public attention during the period under review. The rebellion of 1798 turned all eyes towards that devoted island. The next year, Pitt proposed the Legislative Union. It encountered the fierce epigrams of Sheridan; and though it passed both Houses, it met with such vchement opposition from the Irish Parliament, that it was abandoned till the next year, when Pitt renewed the proposal. Grattan, the

very soul of Irish chivalry, rained down upon it a shower of invective from the West side of the channel, and was seconded by the glittering oratory of Sheridan and the calmer reasoning of Grey and Lord Holland on the East. But Britain extended to Ireland the right hand of a Judas fellowship, whilst with the left she bribed her to accept the proffered alliance. In 1807, Lord Grenville, who was ever a firm friend of religious liberty and of Ireland, and Grey, in behalf of the Cabinet, proposed an amelioration of the bigoted code which made the worship of God by the Catholic a crime. They failed, and ministers resigned. The question of Catholic relief was pressed to a division, in various forms, fourteen times, without success, from 1805 to 1819. In the latter year, Grattan moved that the House take into consideration the matter of Catholic Emancipation, and failed by only two majority. In 1821, Plunkett, distinguished for his attainments and virtues, and a model of eloquence, whether standing at the Irish bar or in the British Senate, carried the motion which Grattan lost, Peel strenuously resisting, by a majority of six. He followed up his victory by pushing the Consolidation Bill (a measure of amelioration only) through the Commons; but it was thrown out by the Lords. Sparing further details for the present, suffice it to say, that at intervals during this period, Sydney Smith, with his Peter Plymley Letters, laughed to scorn the fears of high churchmen; a host of pamphleteers of all sizes sifted the question to its very chaff, and O'Connell and his “ Associations” and “Unions,” in spite of the suspension of the habeas corpus and the enactment of coercion bills, agitated from the Giant's Causeway to Cape Clear, and ultimately wrung from the fears of the oppressor what his sense of justice would not give.

The Protestant dissenters, with a less rude hand, knocked at the doors of Parliament, demanding the purification of tho Established Church, and the opening of its gates to Toleration. The rich clergy were compelled by law to pay higher salaries to their poor curates-Hume's clumsy abuse fell on the heads of the lazy prelates who made godliness gain—and the “pickings and stealings,” which the Establishment tolerated in a long train of sanctimonious supernumeraries, were exposed to the gaze of the uninitiated when Brougham carried his bill against ministers, in 1819, for a board of commissioners to investigate the abuses of public charities. The Corporation and Test Acts, which enslaved the consciences of dissenters, were denounced by Fox and Burdett, preparatory to their ultimate repeal (of which more anon) by Lord John Russell's bill in 1828.

Nor was the importance of educating the masses forgotten. Not content with aiding Romilly, Smith, Horner, Mackintosh, and Jeffrey, in instructing the higher circles by frequent contributions to the Edinburgh Review on domestic and European politics, Brougham wrote rudimental tracts for the lower orders_lectured to Mechanics' Institutes-contributed to Penny Magazines—and in 1820, after a speech which exhibited perfect familiarity with the educational condition of the unlettered masses, launched in Parliament his comprehensive scheme for the instruction of the poor in England and Wales; thus proving that he was entitled to the eulogy he bestowed on another,

the patron of all the arts that humanize and elevate mankind."

Having seen this favorite scheme fairly afloat, this wonderful man turned to far different employments. The misguided but injured Queen Caroline landed in England in 1820, amidst the shoutings of the populace. Ministers immediately brought in their bill of pains and penalties ; 1. e., a bill to degrade and divorce the Queen, without giving her the benefit of those ordinary forms of law which protect even the confessed adulteress. She appointed Brougham her Attorney General. In the midst of such a popular ferment as England has rarely seen, he promptly seized the royal libertine in his harem, and while giving one hand to the regulation of his new educational ma


chine, with the other dragged him into the open field of shame, and concentrated upon him the scorn of Virtue and Humanity.

The corn laws were the subject of frequent debates and divisions. Waiving till another occasion their more particular consideration, it may here be stated, that the frequent recurrence of extreme agricultural and commercial distress always brought with it into Parliament the subject of the corn trade, provoking a discussion of the antagonistic theories of protection and free trade, and challenging to the arena the learning and experience of Burdett, Horner, Ricardo, Baring, Hume, Huskisson, and Brougham. It was on these occasions that the latter used to exhibit that close familiarity with the statistics of political economy and of domestic and foreign trade, and of the laws of demand and supply, which surprised even those acquainted with his exhaustless versatility. His only match in this department was Huskisson, to whose enlightened and steady advocacy of unrestricted commerce its friends are greatly indebted. As early as 1823, this generally conservative gentleman moved a set of resolutions providing for an annual and rapid reduction of the duties on foreign corn, till the point of free trade was attained.

Closely allied to this subject was that of budgets, sinking funds, loans, civil lists, and army and navy expenditures, all summed up in the word taxes. The means of paying the interest on the £600,000,000 debt Pitt had run up in reënthroning the pauper Bourbons (not to speak of the 240 000,000 pounds before existing) was to be provided for. The current expenses of the Government clamored for large sums. Under this annual load of taxation, a nation of Astors might have staggered. The liberal party plead for economy and retrenchment in the army and the navy, in the church and the state. Brougham, Ricardo, and other smaller cipherers, applied the pruning knife to the prolific tree of taxation and expenditure. But the chief annoyance of Ministers was Mr. Hume.

After he entered Parliament, all schemes for raising or appropriating

« ZurückWeiter »