Page images

90. AGAINST RELIGIOUS DISTINCTIONS, 1796. — Curram. GENTLEMEN say the Catholics have got everything but seats in Parliament. Are we really afraid of giving them that privilege? Are we seriously afraid that Catholic venality might pollute the immaculate integrity of the House of Commons ? — that a Catholic member would be more accessible to a promise, or a pension, or a bribe, than a Protestant ? Lay your hands upon your hearts, look in one another's faces, and say Yes, and I will vote against this amendment ! But is it the fact that they have everything? Is it the fact that they have the common benefit of the Constitution, or the common protection of the law ?

Another gentleman has said, the Catholics have got much, and ought to be content. Why have they got that much? Is it from the minister ? Is it from the Parliament, which threw their petition over its bar ? No, – they got it by the great revolution of human affairs; by the astonishing march of the human mind; a march that has collected too much momentum, in its advance, to be now stopped in its progress. The bark is still afloat ; it is freighted with the hopes and liberties of millions of men ; she is already under way;

the rower may faint, or the wind may sleep, but, rely upon it, she has already acquired an energy of advancement that will support her course, and bring her to her destination ; rely upon it, whether much or little remains, it is now vain to withhold it; rely upon it, you may as well stamp your foot upon the earth, in order to prevent its revolution. You cannot stop it! You will only remain a silly gnomon upon its surface, to measure the rapidity of rotation, until you are forced round and buried in the shade of that body whose irresistible course you would endeavor to oppose !

91. FRUITS OF THE WAR WITH FRANCE. - George Canning. George Canning was born in London, on the 11th of April, 1770. He entered into pablic life the avowed pupil of Mr. Pitt, and made his maiden speech in Parliament, from which the folJowing is an extract, in 1794. He was repeatedly a member of the Ministry, and became Premier shortly before his death, which occurred in 1827. Mr. Canning meditated his speeches carefully, and they are models of Parliamentary style. “No English speaker," says Sir James Mackintosh, "used the keen and brilliant weapon of wit so long, so often, or so effectively, as Mr. Canning."

We have been told that this is a war into which we have been hurried by clamor and prejudice; in short, that it is a war of passion. An appeal is made to our prudence ; and we are asked, with an air of triumph, what are we to get by this war ? Sir, that we have still a Government; that the functions of this House have not been usurped by a corresponding society, or a Scotch Convention ; that, instead of sitting in debate here, whether or not we shall subsidize the King of Sardinia, we are not rather employed in devising how to raise a forced loan for some proconsular deputy, whom the banditti of Paris might have sent to receive our contributions; - Sir, that we sit here at all, these are the fruits of the war !

But, when neither our reason nor our prudence can be set against the war, an attempt is made to alarm our apprehensions. The French are stated to be an invincible People ; inflamed to a degree of madness with the holy enthusiasm of freedom, there is nothing that they cannot accomplish. I am as ready as any man to allow that the French are enthusiastically animated, be it how it may, to a state of absolute insanity. I desire no better proof of their being mad, than to see them hugging themselves in a system of slavery so gross and grinding as their present, and calling, at the same time, aloud upon all Europe, to admire and envy their freedom. But, before their plea of madness can be admitted as conclusive against our right to be at war with them, Gentlemen would do well to recollect that of madness there are several kinds. If theirs had been a harmless idiot lunacy, which had contented itself with playing its tricks and practising its fooleries at home, - with dressing up shameless women in oak-leaves, and inventing nick-names for the calendar, - I should have been far from desiring to interrupt their innocent amusements; we might have looked on with hearty contempt, indeed, but with a contempt not wholly unmixed with commiseration. But, if theirs be a madness of a different kind, - a moody, mischievous insanity, — if, not contented with tearing and wounding themselves, they proceed to exert their unnatural strength for the annoyance of their neighbors, — if, not satisfied with weaving straws and wearing fetters at home, they attempt to carry their systems and their slavery abroad, and to impose them on the Nations of Europe, it becomes necessary, then, that those Nations should be roused to resistance. Such a disposition must, for the safety and peace of the world, be repelled ; and, if possible, be eradicated.

92. BANK-NOTES AND COIN, 1811. - George Canning. ARE bank-notes equivalent to the legal standard coin of the realm ? This is the question which divides and agitates the public opinion. Says the right honorable gentleman, “I will devise a mode of settling this question to the satisfaction of the public.” By advising a proclamation ? No. By bringing a bill into Parliament ? No. By proposing to declare the joint opinion of both Houses, or the separate opinion of one ? No. By what process, then ? Why, simply by telling the disputants that they are, and have been all along, however unconsciously, agreed upon the subject of their variance; and gravely resolving for them, respectively, an unanimous opinion! This is the very judgment, I should imagine, which Milton ascribes to the venerable Anarch, whom he represents as adjusting the disputes of the conflicting element :

“Chaos umpire sits,

And by decision more embroils the fray.” "In public estimation,” says the right honorable gentleman's Resolution," bank-notes and coin are equivaleut.” Indeed! What, then, is become of all those persons who, for the last six months, have been, by every outward and visible indication, evincing, maintaining, and inculcating an opinion diametrically opposite? Who wrote that multitude of pamphlets, with the recollection of which one's head is still dizzy? Does the honorable gentleman apprehend that his arguments must have wrought their conversion ?

When Bonaparte, not long ago, was desirous of reconciling the Nations under his dominion to the privations resulting from the exclusion of all colonial produce, he published an edict, which commenced in something like the following manner, “Whereas, sugar made from beet-root, or the maple-tree, is infinitely preferable to that of the sugar-cane," and he then proceeded to denounce penalties against those who should persist in the use of the inferior commodity. The denunciation might be more effectual than the right honorable gentleman's Resolution; but the preamble did not go near so far;

for, though it asserted the superiority of the maple and beet-root sugar, it rested that assertion merely on the authority of the State, and did not pretend to sanction it by “public estimation.”

When Galileo first promulgated the doctrine that the earth turned round the sun, and that the sun remained stationary in the centre of the universe, the holy fathers of the Inquisition took alarm at so daring an innovation, and forthwith declared the first of these propositions to be false and heretical, and the other to be erroneous in point of faith. The Holy Office“ pledged itself to believe” that the earth was stationary, and the sun movable. This pledge had little effect in charg. ing the natural course of things; the sun and the earth continued, in spite of it, to preserve their accustomed relations to each other, just as the coin and the bank-note will, in spite of the right honorable gentleman's Resolution.

Let us leave the evil, if it must be so, to the chance of a gradual and noiseless correction. But let us not resolve, as law, what is an incorrect and imperfect exposition of the law. Let us not resolve, as fact, what is contradictory to universal experience. Let us not expose ourselves to ridicule by resolving, as the opinions of the People, opinions which the People do not, and which it is impossible they should, entertain.

93. AGAINST LORD JOHN RUSSELL'S MOTION, APRIL 25, 1822. — Id. THERE are wild theories abroad. I am not disposed to impute an ill motive to any man who entertains them. I will believe such a man to be as sincere in his conviction of the possibility of realizing his notions of change, without risking the tranquillity of the country, as I am sincere in my belief of their impracticability, and of the tremendous danger of attempting to carry them into effect; but, for the sake of the world, as well as for our own safety, let us be cautious and firm. Other Nations, excited by the example of the liberty which this country has long possessed, have attempted to copy our Constitution; and some of them have shot beyond it in the fierceness of their pursuit. I grudge not to other Nations that share of liberty which they may acquire; in the name of Heaven, let them enjoy it! But let us warn them, that they lose not the object of their desire by the very eagerness with which they attempt to grasp it. Inheritors and conservators of rational freedom, let us, while others are seeking it in restlessness and trouble, be a steady and shining light to guide their course, not a wandering meteor to bewilder and mislead them.

A search after abstract perfection in government may produce, in generous minds, an enterprise and enthusiasm to be recorded by the historian, and to be celebrated by the poet; but such perfection is not an object of reasonable pursuit, because it is not one of possible attainment; and never yet did a passionate struggle after an absolutely unattainable object fail to be productive of misery to an individual, of madness and confusion to a People. As the inhabitants of those burning climates which lie beneath the tropical sun sigh for the coolness of the mountain and the grove, so (all history instructs us) do Nations which have basked for a time in the torrent blaze of an unmitigated liberty too often call upon the shades of despotism, even of military despotism, to cover them :

“O quis me gelidis in vallibus Hæmi

Sistat, et ingenti ramūrum protégat umbra !” A protection which blights while it shelters; which dwarfs the intellect and stunts the energies of man, but to which a wearied Nation willingly resorts from intolerable heats, and from perpetual danger of convulsion.

Our lot is happily cast in the temperate zone of freedom, the clime best suited to the development of the moral qualities of the human race, to the cultivation of their faculties, and to the security as well as the improvement of their virtues ; - a clime not exempt, indeed, from variations of the elements, but variations which purify while they agitate the atmosphere that we breathe. Let us be sensible of the advantages which it is our happiness to enjoy. Let us guard, with pious gratitude, the flame of genuine liberty, that fire from Heaven, of which our Constitution is the holy depository; and let us not, for the chance of rendering it more intense and more radiant, impair its purity, or hazard its extinction !

94. ON MR. TIERNEY'S MOTION, DECEMBER 11, 1798. - George Canning. The friendship of Holland! The independence of Spain! Is there a man so besotted as to suppose that there is one hour of peace with France preserved by either of these unhappy countries, that there is one syllable of friendship uttered by them towards France, but what is extorted by the immediate pressure, or by the dread and terror, of French arms ?

- Mouth-honor, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain refuse, but dare not!"

[ocr errors]


Have the regenerated Republic of Holland, the degraded Monarchy of Spain, such reason to rejoice in the protection of the French Republic, that they would voluntarily throw themselves between her and any blow which might menace her existence ?

But does the honorable Gentleman intend his motion as motion for peace? If he really thinks this a moment for opening a negotiation, why has he not the candor and manliness to say so? Mark, I entreat you, how delicately he manages it! He will not speak to France, but he would speak at her. He will not propose — not he

that we should say to the Directory, “Will you make peace ?" No, Sir; we are merely to say to ourselves, loud enough for the Directory to overhear us, “I wish these French Gentlemen would make an overture to us.” Now, Sir, does this save the dignity of the country? or is it only a sneaking, shabby way of doing what, if fit to be done at all, must, to have any serious effect, be done openly, unequivocally, and directly? But I beg the honorable Gentleman's pardon; - I misrepresent him; I certainly do. His motion does not amount even to so much as I have stated. He begins further off. The soliloquy which he prompts us, by his motion, is no more than this — “We must continue to make war against France, to be sure;and we are sorry for it; but we will not do it as if we bore malice. We will not make an ill-natured, hostile kind of war any longer,— that we won't. And who knows but, if they should happen to overhear this resolution, as the Directory are good-natured at bottom, their hearts may soften and grow kind towards us - and then they will offer to make a peace!” And thus, Sir, and thus only, is the motion a motion for peace.

Since, then, Sir, this motion appears to me to be founded on no principle of policy or necessity; since, if it be intended for a censure on ministers, it is unjust, — if for a control, it is nugatory; as its tendency is to impair the power of prosecuting war with vigor, and to diminish the chance of negotiating peace with dignity, or concluding it with safety; as it contradicts, without reason, and without advantage, the established policy of our ancestors; as it must degrade in the eyes of the world the character of this country; as it must carry dismay and terror throughout Europe ; and, above all, as it must administer consolation, and hope, and power, and confidence, to France, — I shall give it my most hearty and decided negative.

95. VINDICATION OF MR. PITT. - George Canning. IT

appears to be a ineasure of party to run down the fame of Mr. Pitt. I could not answer it to my conscience or to my feelings, if I had suffered repeated provocations to pass without notice. Mr. Pitt, it seems, was not a great man. Is it, then, that we live in such heroic times, that the present is a race of such gigantic talents and qualities, as to render those of Mr. Pitt, in the comparison, ordinary and contempt.

« PreviousContinue »