« ZurückWeiter »
Again : the proceedings that belong to the great case of Ashby and White, are, I think, another subject which may deserve your observation. They are very well worth reading, particularly the debate in the commons: the case was very ably argued, and the speeches are well given. All the proceedings, and, above all, the final representation and address of the lords to the queen, should be perused.
The first question was, whether Ashby could bring an action in the courts of law, against the returning officer, for refusing his vote at an election. The House of Commons contended, that all such questions were only cognizable by themselves; and the second, whether the House of Commons could commit to prison, as they had done, those persons who violated, what they had themselves declared to be, the privileges of their house.
Some of the first lawyers and statesmen that our country has produced were actively engaged in these transactions. The questions were curious and important, and the discussions that took place, lead the thoughts of the reader through such a variety of particulars connected with the laws and constitution of our country, that I cannot but recommend them to your perusal.
The dispute between the two houses grew so violent and irremediable, that the queen, after intimating that she agreed (and very properly) with the lords, thought it best to prorogue, and soon after to dissolve the parliament.
Again: the proceedings on the bill for preventing occasional conformity should be noted : they are connected with the progress of our religious liberties, exemplifying completely the different language that will be held, the different reasonings that will be adopted, by those who are satisfied to leave mankind, as much as they possibly can, at liberty and at rest, upon points of religious difference, and those who are very improperly desirous to exalt such discussions into questions of paramount importance; refreshing and reviving them on all occasions, and keeping each of the contending sects apart from each other, known by their proper badges and colours, and prevented from that gradual conciliation and calmness on former subjects of religious animosity, which it is the natural and most salutary effect of time and of the business of human life amid the prosperity and improvement of society, insensibly to produce.
light on this subject, if any more were necessary. They consist of an immense assemblage of letters, which Sir J. Macpherson and others are, or have been, arranging. With respect to this lise and these letters, every praise is due to the present king for his activity in procuring, and his disposition to make them known to the public. They very amply show (particularly the letters as I understand) the dangers we escaped.
As such, these proceedings on both occasions, for the question was twice agitated, are very instructive. The lords and Bishop Burnet, i. e. the Whigs, take what I presume to call, the part of toleration and good sense; and the commons, and Sir J. Packington, i. e. the Tories, assert the cause, as they supposed, of all true religion and all sound policy.
In the next parliament, which was a Whig parliament, and met in October, 1705, we find, and cannot be surprised to find, a regular and solemn debate in the lords on the subject of the danger of the church. The debate and the proclamation that followed against the authors and spreaders of any such seditious and scandalous report as the danger of the church, is characteristic of the age, and in some respects, of human nature in every age. There is nothing so valuable, and therefore nothing about which men can be so easily alarmed, as religion, Fear, from its very nature, is deaf to every argument and blind to every fact. There is no situation, therefore, in which good men so readily deceive themselves, and designing men so easily deceive others, as in any case of possible alarm on the subject of religion and the safety of a religious establishment.
This imperfect description of the reign of Anne may serve, I hope, to give you some general notion of this period of our history, of the subjects of reflection you are to meet with, and the books you may consult.
The whole of the reign, I confess, appears to me interesting and important; interesting, because it is connected with our literature and our classical writers, Swift, Addison, and Bolingbroke; because many questions occurred intimately connected with our civil and religious liberties; because it is illustrated with the victories of Marlborough ; because it is animated by the contentions of two great parties, whose
principles and feelings can still be comprehended by ourselves and are, in many respects, not at all different from our own. It is important, because the prevalency of France in the politics of Europe was the question at issue abroad, and the success of the Revolution, the question in suspense at home; no greater could well occur. We see, unhappily, in our own times, what has been the result of the ascendancy of that military nation; and if the queen had found means to restore her family to the throne, and if the Revolution had failed, the world had been deprived of one salutary example, almost the only one, the example of a great national effort
- the Revolution of 1688, made, and successfully made, in resistance to arbitrary power, in defence of civil and religious liberty; and been deprived, too, of the no less salutary example of a nation, happy and prosperous for a whole century, to a degree beyond all precedent in the history of mankind; and this, not on account of any particular indul
; gence of nature to its soil or climate, but chiefly on account of the constitution of its government; chiefly, because while the executive power was sufficiently strong, the people were not without their due share in the legislature; and neither the monarch nor the aristocracy armed with any powers inconsistent with the honest industry and virtuous independence of the lower orders.
I must observe while I am concluding, that it will require more than ordinary attention to understand the interior politics of this reign.
The Whig and Tory parties, though at a great distance from each other at their extreme points, were almost connected with each other by intermediate trimmers and shufflers of every description. Men of very discordant principles were often mixed up in the same cabinet. The queen was a decided Tory, and was always anxious to collect, or retain, as many Tories around her as possible. Marlborough and Godolphin were originally Tories, but were obliged gradually to depend more and more on the Whigs, from the nature of the contest in which they were engaged. Harley and Bolingbroke were at first the friends of Marlborough, and employed by him. On one account or another, it is impossible for you to understand the reign, unless you, in the first place, note
down the different Tory and Whig parliaments, the different struggles between the queen and her ministers, and compare them with the measures of government at home, and the negotiations for peace and the military movements abroad. You will not do this so readily as you may suppose, and till it is done, a great air of confusion will hang over the whole scene.
Since I wrote this lecture, the Life of the Duke of Marlborough has been published by Mr. Coxe, and what I have just recommended as a necessary labour of some toil and difficulty, is become comparatively easy and agreeable. The movements of the Whig leaders are not yet, as I conceive, properly explained; they will probably be made more intelligible by the expected history of Sir James Macintosh, but in the mean time, and indeed at all times, it will be impossible to appreciate the politics of the reign of Anne, without the study of this very welcome, entertaining, and valuable work of Mr. Coxe.
Duke of Marlborough. I cannot avoid remarking that this illustrious man never had the advantage of a liberal education ; his son, indeed, the hope of his house, was admitted at this university; was cut off in early life, and is buried in King's Chapel ; but he was himself removed at the age of twelve from the care of a clergyman, introduced to the patronage of the Duke of York, and from the first initiated in all the pleasures and political intrigues of what was then a very unsettled and licentious court; and though this education might certainly furnish the fine understanding of Marlborough with that quick insight into human character, and that thorough knowledge of the world, as it is called, for which he was so distinguished, it may surely be affirmed that the school in which he was thus bred up, even from his boyish days, was not likely to elevate his mind to a comprehensive view of the real interests of mankind, or to exalt his feelings above that love of personal consequence which is so strong a principle of action in men of rank and fortune, and which it is only for letters and philosophy properly to soften and subdue.
It may be natural for those who, like ourselves, are participating in the advantages of a regular education, somewhat to overstate its influence in fitting men to be statesmen and the benefactors of their species. Such happy effects are not always visible in our young men of rank and consequence; but many seeds must be sown to raise one flower so precious, and it may at least be said that men who have not liberalized their sentiments, and enriched their minds at the proper season of advancing manhood by meditation and intellectual pursuits, and who, on the contrary, have put on early the harness of the world or of official situation; such men, it may surely be said, are found invariably to fail on all great occasions -on all occasions where objects of national policy are intermixed with the great interests of human nature; where wisdom is required, and not cunning; and where the most generous magnanimity is, as on such occasions it always is, the soundest prudence.
Commercial Treaty with France. Anotuer subject that excited a considerable ferment in the nation was the commercial treaty that had been attempted with France at the con