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WHEN first I went into the Church, I had a curacy in the middle of Salisbury Plain. The Squire of the parish took a fancy to me, and requested me to go with his son to reside at the University of Weimar; before we could get there, Germany became the seat of war, and in stress of politics we put into Edinburgh, where I remained five years. The principles of the French Revolution were then fully afloat, and it is impossible to conceive a more violent and agitated state of society. Among the first persons with whom I became acquainted were, Lord Jeffrey, Lord Murray (late Lord Advocate for Scotland), and Lord Brougham; all of them maintaining opinions upon political subjects a little too liberal for the dynasty of Dundas, then exercising supreme power, over the northern division of the island.
One day we happened to meet in the eighth or ninth story or flat in Buccleugh-place, the elevated residence of the then Mr. Jeffrey. I proposed that we should set up a Review; this was acceded to with acclamation. I was appointed Editor, and remained long enough in Edinburgh to edit the first number of the Edinburgh Review. The motto I proposed for the Review was,
“Tenui musam meditamur avena.”
But this was too near the truth to be admitted, and so we took our present
Guns were set all over the country—Prisoners tried for their Lives could have no Counsel—Lord Eldon and the Court of Chancery pressed heavily upon mankind—Libel was punished by the most cruel and vindictive imprisonments—the principles of Political Economy were little understood— the Law of Debt and of Conspiracy were upon the worst possible footing— the enormous wickedness of the Slave Trade was tolerated—a thousand evils were in existence, which the talents of good and able men have since lessened or removed; and these effects have been not a little assisted by the honest boldness of the Edinburgh Review. I see very little in my Reviews to alter or repent of: I always endeavoured to fight against evil; and what I thought evil then, I think evil now. I am heartily glad that all our disqualifying laws for religious opinions are abolished, and I see nothing in such measures but unmixed good and real increase of strength to our Establishment. The idea of danger from the extension of the Catholic religion in England I utterly deride. The Catholic faith is a misfortune to the world, but those whose faith it conscientiously is, are quite right in professing it boldly, and in promoting it by all means which the law allows. A physician does not say “You will be well as soon as the bile is got rid of;” but he says, “You will not be well until after the bile is got rid of.” He knows after the cause of the malady is removed, that morbid habits are to be changed, weakness to be supported, organs to be called back to their proper exercise, subordinate maladies to be watched, secondary and vicarious symptoms to be studied. The physician is a wise man—but the anserous politician insists, after 200 years of persecution, and ten of emancipation, that Catholic Ireland should be as quiet as Edmonton, or Tooting. Not only are just laws wanted for Catholic Ireland, but the just administration of just laws; such as they have in general experienced under the Whig government; and this system steadily preserved in will, after a lapse of time and O’Connell, quiet, conciliate, and civilize that long injured and irritable people. I have printed in this Collection the Letters of Peter Plymley. The Government of that day took great pains to find out the author; all that they could find was, that they were brought to Mr. Budd, the publisher, by the Earl of Lauderdale. Somehow or another, it came to be conjectured that I was that author: I have always denied it; but finding that I deny it in vain, I have thought it might be as well to include the Letters in this Collection; they had an immense circulation at the time, and I think above 20,000 copies were sold. From the beginning of the century (about which time the Review began)