« PreviousContinue »
ought to flow, in another direction? Is it thus that the laws and the people are to dwell together in unity? Among the new lights which are to make our age memorable, is this one of themthat the richest boon which may be conferred on a people would be to deliver to them a law which they will be sure not to obey on account of its supposed wisdom, but which they will be sure to disregard because of its known folly? The letter of the law is to place all men on the same level in the matter of suffrage, but society is to take care that this weakness and viciousness on the part of the law is everywhere neutralized by its own better influence. Would not this be to mock the multitude rather than to benefit them,-to grant them the show of franchise in the statute-book, only to deny them the reality at the hustings? Influence, bribery, coercion, as put forth upon them, in that case, from the classes above them, would no longer expose men to any reproach, but must all become so many forms of high social virtue, inasmuch as they would then constitute the only means of self. preservation left by the law to those classes, and, indeed, the only means by which the nation itself could be prevented from falling into anarchy through the folly of its own legislation. The moral mischiefs of such a state of things must be boundless. Society, with such disparities of wealth and
station as exist among us, must be at once divided into two great classesthe corruptors and the corrupt; and this unscreened immorality, practised on a scale of which at present we have no example, is to be accounted as nothing, so that a clause may be thrust upon our statute-book, declaring the same franchise to be common to the lowest and the highest.
If the condition of obtaining favour from the hands of the English nonconformists be the adoption of opinions of this crude and mischievous description, and the approval of such a course as that which it has appeared good to them in other respects to pursue, then I must confess there is little prospect of my ever becoming a favourite in that quarter. In place of its
. having been the duty of the late whig government to attempt more, it fell in consequence of attempting too much. It may have been less disposed to innovation than a portion of the British people, but it was in advance of a much greater portion, and it ceased to exist, as being left in a minority.
Our readers must not hold either ourselves or his lordship as responsible for everything contained in this Imaginary' oration. It sets forth much truth, which it will be well not to dismiss lightly. But on no point does it present the whole truth.
It is true that in the years immediately subsequent to the
passing of the Reform Bill, petitions were addressed to parliament by dissenters, praying that the union between church and state might be dissolved. But it is no less true that, of the petitions proceeding at that time from those parties, it was not one in a score—we think we may say not one in fifty-that contained any prayer of that nature. The great majority were either wholly silent on that topic, being confined to what were called grievances, or, if any further allusion was made, it was simply in the way of stating that the principles of the petitioners were opposed to all such admixtures of religion with affairs of state. Even this may not have been prudent. But it was deemed honest. Had they not so spoken, their enemies would have charged them with concealment. In their simplicity, they thought that in stating those principles, and in imposing, at the same time, such limits on the prayer of their petitions, they were giving some proof that they knew how to distinguish between the abstract and the practical.
But those times were not times of sobriety with any party. We all remember that, during the Reform Bill agitation, the defenders of Gatton and Old Sarum were on the borders of delirium. The clergy, and the more zealous adherents of the established church, were alarmed and excited in the highest degree. The radical section of politicians, whether giving their oath of fealty to William Cobbett or to Jeremy Bentham, were all filled with high expectation as to the many changes which were to follow in the wake of that one great change. Whig members, breaking through the grave restraints naturally imposed by the possession of office, delivered speeches from the Treasury Bench, fraught with the most popular opinions and feelings. Even from the throne itself expressions of that nature proceeded. What wonder, then, if the passions of society were moved as from their very depths ? On the one side were all the signs of fear, on the other were all the signs of hope. Can it, then, be wise or charitable to expect that nonconformists should have been everywhere cool and self-possessed, while all about them was thus heated and disordered ? Is it reasonable to exact that they should have been expectant of nothing, while all other men were expectant of so much? If these considerations are not enough to excuse the utterance of some extravagant speeches, and the doing of some extravagant things, is there nothing in them that should be allowed to extenuate such indiscretions—at least, in the view of a statesman, who has it as a vocation to be studious of the ebbs and flows of popular feeling, and whose wisdom it must always be to judge such changes with the greatest forbearance? Where there has been the alleged extravagance, there let the fault of it rest; but let it not be over-stated, and let it not be judged apart from its circumstances.
Lord John Russell has sometimes complained of the agitations on ecclesiastical questions which have been originated by nonconformists of late years, and which have been sustained in a great degree by nonconformist ministers. His conclusion seems to have been, that the religious character of these parties has been in some degree compromised by such indications of feeling in regard to questions adjudged as political. Concerning the extent in which ministers of religion, as such, may be consistently thus employed, there is room for difference of opinion. We should be disposed ourselves to draw the line within somewhat narrower limits than many of our more zealous brethren. But the views of Lord John Russell on this point, as on those before mentioned, are not, as we humbly think, either so accurate or so expanded as they might have been.
Let ministers of state restrict themselves, as such, to questions of state, and they may then complain, with some grace, of ministers of religion, if these shall fail to restrict themselves, as such, to questions of religion. But if the statesman must often turn priest, he has no right to complain if the priest should sometimes turn statesman. If governments will meddle with religion, they must not be surprised if religious men sometimes meddle with governments. In this case it is intrusion which generates intrusion. So long as the secular power shall invade the province of the religious, according to our present usage, so long there will be occasions on which the religious power will invade the province of the secular. The strength of the aggression, too, on the one side, will determine the strength of the reaction on the other. That both powers should be at peace, it is necessary that one should be the willing slave of the other, or that each should be confined to its own sphere. If any lesson may be gathered with certainty from ecclesiastical history, it is this lesson. In our own country, collision of this nature is unavoidable, not only from the relation of the government to the established religion, but from its frequent contact, as the consequence of that particular relation, with a large portion of religion which is non-established. So long as this state of things shall continue, those junctures will often come round in which the course of proceeding so little acceptable to Lord John Russell will be sure to recur. The fault, however, in this affair, is not so much with the men whom his lordship has censured, as with the nature of his own policy. The evil deprecated must be unavoidable, so long as those Erastian principles, to which our statesmen are so much attached, shall maintain their ascendancy in the constitution of this country.
But it does not follow, because a statesman is not powerful enough to carry great measures, that he should seem to have become indifferent to great principles. We think, rather, that the strength of impediment in the way of any practical good, should be felt as so much motive to the more frequent and earnest enunciation of the grounds on which that good is demanded. We judge that, in most cases, men should be only the more determined to be heard on the side of truth, in proportion as they feel that to speak in its behalf is all that, for the present, is permitted to them. Lord John Russell may not deem himself in fault in this respect, but there are men holding him in high esteem who are of another judgment. That pleading in behalf of truth, which seems only to grow stronger as the tide of opinion is setting in against it, may result in some men from mere obstinacy, or resentment, or from an indiscreet zeal ; but that is the course, nevertheless, which will mark a real magnanimity.
The impression is very general among observing men, that the
temper and manners of conservative statesmen are less open to complaint, as regards attention to personal or general feeling, than those of liberal politicians. The former seem to be aware that there is a want of the popular in their principles, and that this deficiency must be supplied by a more careful attention to what is personal, and to the claims of popular feeling in other forms. But our whig leaders seem too often to lean on their principles with so much confidence, as to be comparatively negligent of the subordinate means of influence. It is true of statesmen, however, as of other men, that nothing is lost in social life by a little considerateness, courtesy, and good temper,—especially in relation to large bodies of men, which are generally under the influence of a few minds, and take their tone from those minds. In such relations, very little forethought and effort, with a view to conciliate or to preserve amity, might often suffice to prevent great mischiefs. The love of freedom is inseparable from a large measure of self-esteem; and we need neither ghost nor poet to assure us, that
• The proud are ever most provoked by pride, or by the conduct which they interpret as proceeding from that cause. What meaneth this language? Truly it hath a meaning -and a history, toowhich some men will readily understand.
The great Lord William Russell was a decided churchman and a zealous whig. But when his lordship lay under sentence
none of his clerical visitors could forbear to urge upon him a grave consideration of that sin of resistance which had
brought him to his present circumstances. His lordship had no misgiving, either of understanding or heart, in regard to the justice of the course which he had pursued, and avoided entering into the casuistry of that question. But the fact is remarkable, that his creed as a politician should have been thus utterly disowned on the part of the establishment which he supported with so much zeal as a Christian; that in those solemn hours this antagonism between the faith of a good churchman-as expounded even by such men as Tillotson and Burnet—and his own faith as a statesman, should have been so forcibly presented to him. His lordship, we must suppose, saw no great inconsistency in professing himself a true member of the church of England, notwithstanding this discrepancy of doctrine between himself and his spiritual advisers. He, no doubt, regretted this discrepancy, and in other circumstances might have been disposed to inquire how it came to pass that an institution, which, in his view, was so adapted in all other respects to its office, should be found an inculcator of lessons on one of the greatest questions of human duty so little in accordance with his own judgment. But his lordship's perplexity on this subject, if perplexity he felt, was reserved to his own bosom.
This discordancy, however, between the professions of the churchman and the patriot, in the case of Lord William Russell while in prison, is a form of inconsistency observable in Lord John Russell through his whole career. In the church, which his lordship so much delighteth to honour, he has found his great antagonist. Whatever he most values as a statesman has been opposed, in the greatest degree, by the ministers of the church which he upholds in that capacity. In his lordship’s view, no tree of its kind is so good as that tree. Did it never occur to him to inquire how it has come to pass that a tree so good has borne fruit, to the experience of his lordship, so much the reverse of good? Whoever else may have failed to cross his path, the clergy of the established church have not so failed; and the measures which his lordship has prosecuted with the greatest solicitude, are those which have been always resisted with the greatest determination from that quarter. Unless our reasoning on this subject has led us greatly astray, it would seem that the measure of the good which his lordship would do as a politician, must be the measure of the evil which he perpetuates in regard to everything political as a churchman. Nothing can be more plain, than that the religious system and the political system, in this case, are opposites, and cannot be made to amalgamate. This opposition must be that of the true and the not true; and which must we account as the not true ? In the