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I Should it be summoned to the tribunal of those learned critics, by whose dictum the reputation of an author must of course stand or fall, he is apprehensive that its faults will render it impose sible for them to perceive its excellences, and that a few sentences will be deemed sufficient to seal its doom. He would not however implore their compassion, but simply wish them to act upon that common principle of social justice which he has endeavoured to incul. cate, and be careful to exhibit a true portrait of the book, and not a caricature. But though he has not the vanity to imagine that it will afford either information or pleasure to those profound scholars, to whose omniscient eye there can of course be nothing new; yet, be presumes to hope that a candid and enlightened, though less experienced and accomplished public, for whom the following essays are intended, will derive from their perusal a sufficient recompence, and not allow them to be classed with the useless and unnecessary productions of a free press.'
Excellence is a strong term for a person to use when speaking of his own performance ; and it is not happily placed in a sentence in which no ordinary degree of modesty is affected. If, however, we quarrel with the term as coming from the author on such an occasion, we by no means assert that it is inapplicable. We know not whether he ranks us among the profound scholars who are blessed with an omniscient eye, but, with such an eye as we possess, the faults of the work do not render it impossible for us to perceive its excellences. Faults we admit that it has, but in our apprehension it affords numerous and prominent instances of merit. As to passing sentence on the literary character of the work, we must observe that due pains for attaining eminence in this respect so much assist the object which an author has in view, and confer on him such distinction, that excuses on this score should rarely be allowed. At the same time, we do not mean to deny that in some cases the importance of the design and of the matter may be such as to allow of an availing plea in favour of imperfections of manner; and, as far as value of matter is concerned, strong ground is laid to intitle this author to the indulgence which is here sollicited : but this, of itself, we can by no means receive as a sufficient plea, and something farther must be shewn before a claim can be made good to such an exemption. We should, however, feel very much inclined to comply with this request of the author, had he not himself interposed two serious obstacles in our way; which are the oștentatious title given to his work, and the luxuriance of its style. He who professes to treat on Political Philosopis should have nothing to dread from the omniscient eye of the profound scholar, but be in a situation to set the learned critic at defiance; and an author, who professes to feel so much diffidence with respect to his performance, should have chosen a style less studied and flowery than that which Mr. Finch has adopted. Thus much of criticism is, we conceive, rendered indispensible on our part. We are besides of opinion that the two circumstances to which we now advert will prove seriously injurious to the success of the work. With a more modest and intelligible designation, and a more simple diction, we should have thought that it would have had a fair chance for some share of popularity; and we shall be glad if the causes, which we have mentioned, do not prevent this from being the case.
The author desires that we should be careful to exhibit a true portrait of the book, and not a caricature. We should make a very ill use of our profundity and omniscience, if we were capable of acting so unfair and dishonourable a part as he deprecates; which, however, we can assure him we should not have done, had no hint to that effect been given us. In order the more surely to comply with this request, we shall let the author speak frequently for himself; so that, whatever impression the public receives, he can lay no blame at our door. We also wish here to observe that the objects proposed in this.volume, and the views disclosed in it, (with a few exceptions,) fall in so much with our own' notions, that we aré very far from feeling an inclination to withhold from it any praise which is justly its due: on the contrary, we should think that we rendered a service to our country, if we could assist in diffusing the principles which it asserts and recommends.
According to Mr. Finch, two distinct principles are universally inherent in the nature of man, having different tendencies; the one he calls the spirit of independence, and the other, the social principle. The first of these, if not restrained, would render man wholly incapable of subordination, and lead him to seek boundless domination over others; while the second, if not properly checked and regulated, would accommodate itself to the most abject slavery. He states that these vigorous qualities indeed, being opposed in their native tendency, powerfully counteract each other's influence, and operate like the centrifugal and gravitating laws of nature which give to the planetary orbits their prescribed circumference. He then asks, 'What but equity can preserve an even balance in the moral system, and render the movements of society harmonious and regular?' .
In our turn we beg leave to ask, 'what is this equity to which so very important a function is assigned ? Among us, equity bears one of two senses; the one general, and the other restricted. In its general sense, it means ncarly the same thing with justice ; in its restricted sense, it expresses those heads of justice, of which certain of our municipal courts Rey. Aug. 1814. Ee
He would accomme second, if
qualities indeed het slavery.
take cognizance, and those rules which they observe in its disa tribution. Mr. Finch seems to be partial to the term, and makes frequent use of it in the early part of the work : but he never defines it, and consequently his subject remains involved in a considerable degree of obscurity.
Each of these principles, Mr. F. contends, is to be fostered and cherished within certain bounds : but care is to be taken that the former does not entrench on the rights of others, and that the latter is limited by a due regard to the public good and the just claims of our brethren. Without an exact balance being preserved between these principles, our nature can never arrive at excellence. The author then shews that this balance can only be maintained under a free government; and hence he infers that such a form of government is alone suited to our nature:
• Slavery and unlimited independence, therefore, are neither of them conducive to the welfare of man. Both extremes are inimical to his present happiness, and subversive of those designs which involve the glory of terrestrial destination. He can neither improve his moral faculties, accomplish the purposes of his intellectual being, nor realize that felicity which the Creator of all things designed him to enjoy, in the confines of abject servitude, or in the boundless freedom of soli. tary life. The tendencies of conditions so opposite may seem diversified in their immediate consequences, but their ultimate impressions on the character will be obviously recognized by a simi. larity of debasing qualities.
What then is the province of a wise system of regulations instituted by a society of human beings, but to reconcile these contending principles, and confirm between them an alliance of reciprocal equality? Such a system repels the lawless claims of despotic independence, and regulates their enjoyments by the rules of general usefulness. It enables mankind to combine their native rights with social privileges, and move in those orbits which exalt the mind, and refine the human character. Under its government we can remain free without being ferocious, and enjoy society without becoming servile and base. We have independence sufficient to secure us from the violence of oppression, and are no further subject to authority than subjection itself is recopcilable with social dignity, and subservient to the greatest good. Equity indeed is the law that governs, and under its government wisdom flourishes, and mankind are happy beneath its shade.'
The author illustrates his theory by a reference to the rise, changes, and revolutions of governments which occurred in the more early ages of the world, and which he recapitulates in a concise and perspicuous manner. — The reader will perceive from the subsequent passage to what class of politicians Mr. Finch belongs:
In confirmation of these sentiments, we might deduce sufficient evidence by appealing to the recent vicissitudes of revolutionary France. - A few illustrious men, animated by that sacred love of liberty which had been fanned into a flame by the independence of the western world, resolved on one of the noblest and most philanthropic projects that was ever attempted among the human race, the peaceful restoration of a great people to the full enjoyment of their long lost rights! But the nation itself, trained up beneath the iron hand of despotism, though ready for revolt, were strangers to the spirit of true freedom. Its voice indeed engaged attention, and the hope of its enjoyment filled them with transport. But the transition was too abrupt; it intoxicated them with a momentary joy, and that joy led to phrensy. They knew not that liberty consists in justice, and is hostile to the convulsions of licentiousness and caprice, - that it loves peace instead of contention, and has no delight to familiarize itself with bloody scenes. Their minds, thus lamentably ill-adapted to the freedom which others had prepared for them, easily became the prey of ferocious demagogues, and the deluded votaries of contending chiefs. Hence, furious democrats who assumed the mask of liberty on purpose to satiate their vile ambition, successively obtained amongst them the most despotic sway, till an enterprising and victorious hero at length completely overturned their republican independence with all its associate train, and by a succession of the most amazing triumphs vanquished every opposing despot, and raised himself to the summit of imperial power. Had the love of liberty taken up its permanent abode among them, scenes so opposite could never have been witnessed with such enthusiastic joy, nor could these scourges of the human species so easily have accomplished their ruthless projects. But the love of splendour and change vanquished their desire of independence, and caused them to hail those triumphs which entombed their liberties. Surrounding nations indeed, instead of facilitating the progress of freedom, basely conspired against its reviving cause, and accelerated those conquests by which Europe lies prostrate at the feet of an ambitious man. To these combined causes, therefore, may be traced those astonishing vicissitudes which the political state of our hemisphere has recently undergone.'
It hence pretty clearly appears that Mr. F. has not taken up his pen to apologize for abuses, to 'screen corruption, or to vindicate or palliate dubious measures ; indeed, he cannot be suspected of so doing, who inscribes his work in a very laudatory dedication to Mr. Whitbread. We were truly glad to find that a writer, whose love of liberty and zeal in its cause are testified in every page of his work, sees something in our constitution besides matter for censure and ridicule, something deserving of admiration and gratitude. He thus expresses himself respecting it:
• Britain enjoys a constitution which the wisest and best of men have delineated in terms of rapture, — as a constitution that secures public liberty from the grasp of ambitious men, and facilitates the Ee 2
perpetual perpetual administration of impartial equity. It is a constitution, indeed, pre-eminently adapted to the nation that acknowledges its authority; and it has therefore remained indissoluble through an ex. tended period. Our boast of its fundamental principles is rational and just. It is in vain that we look through the ages of antiquity or investigate the history of modern kingdoms, to find a constitution whose permanent advantages can be parallelled with our own. But even the far-famed republics of Greece and Rome, ineffectually attempted to secure the peaceful and continued enjoyment of those essential rights and civil liberties, which are recognized and established by the laws of Britain.
• The constitution of England, it is true, did not result from the spontaneous agreement of human tribes, when first associated in a civilized state. It was not the voluntary appointment of a legisla. tive assembly chosen by the general voice to institute a government under which they could enjoy repose. It did not at once assume its - present form, nor was it established at a given period, as a constitu
tion perfectly adapted to promote the political prosperity of a free people. But it was torn by degrees from the devouring grasp of tyranny, and is in fact the workmanship of succeeding ages. Our forefathers, though subject to the rule of despotic princes, breathed a noble and independent spirit. They knew not indeed by what process tyrany could be at once annihilated; but by incessant vigil. ance and a steady perseverance in defending their native rights, they curtailed the power of kings, extended the laws of equity, - abo. lished the feudal system, - set bounds to the prerogatives of the great,-secured to us the right of framing our own laws,--and established the foundation of our national prosperity. Their memory therefore should be dear in our recollection, and the fruits of their wisdom, fidelity, and patriotic zeal, should be shielded from corruption, and preserved to posterity with the tenderest care.'
We shall, however, do this author great injustice if, because he admires the fundamental principles of our constitution, we conclude that he is blind to its defects; or that he is not fully apprized of those injuries which it has received from time, and the course of events. It will, on the contrary, be found that his present labours are principally directed to lay open these defects and injuries, and to shew the necessity of speedily removing them. Though an ardent lover of liberty, though he sets the highest value upon it, and deems it essential to the perfection of our nature, he seems for the most part to be satisfied with such a portion of it as may be enjoyed under the British constitution. In the following extract, we have his sentiments on the subject of monarchy:
* At first view of the subject, indeed, it seems grossly absurd that the kingly power should be deemed hereditary, or that one man should have a birth-right claim to rule over others. It seems ridiculous to provide future generations with a race of kings, or to establish a covenant with the rulers of posterity. Reason would rather