« FöregåendeFortsätt »
to causes than explored in their consequences. The material, animal, and intellectual worlds, as wholes, and as parts, are necessarily and individually subject to certain laws; the laws of their nature. They cannot escape their influence; they cannot exceed their limits : matter in all its forms is obedient to those laws; and with respect to their operation, physical and moral man is the same, a creature of circumstances, though in different relations. Ilis actions may be modified by art, by laws, by his place in civil society: but his organization is the work of nature, and in its minutest as well as its grandest movements, in its most energetic as well as its most ordinary affections, invariably subject to those laws. When philosophers assure us we cannot understand causes,
that we perceive only effects, philosophically speaking, they say the truth: but all our actions,--this is no less true,--are wheels with. in wheels, a train of causes and effects. Though of primary causes we know nothing, yet what are but effects with respect to what preceded, become causes with respect to what follows. And what is our guide in all the regular, useful pursuits of human life, but correct observations of those causes, and a right application of our knowledge for purposes of just reasoning and daily experience?
Thus when the body is diseased, we refer, as to the cause, to the taking of too much or too little food, of too much or too little exercise, to inordinate passions, or other casualties and influences incident to our nature: on beholding a building in ruins, we consider the materials of which it was composed, and the purposes for which it was raised, more than the time it has lasted, or the power by which it was destroyed. So with respect to those tumults and wars and violent deaths in civil communities, it is not so much a question of what now is, as of what has been? Whence come wars and rumours of wars?
The opinions, professions, and conduct of men, are as neces. sarily influenced by causes, as the events which take place in civil society, and we must estimate the writings of men in the same
Thus in the writings of Bacon and Hobbes, judging from the principles laid down, or the occasional concessions introduced in the writings of those philosophers, I infer, that some of their opinions took an impulse from their relative situations, from the circumstances of the times, more than from the genuine im. pulse of their own great minds, or from following the order of their own systems.
And this is the most candid account that can be given of the matter, in cases where the principles of civil liberty and of arbitrary power are intermingled, like contradictory masses amalgamated in one body, in the same system.
Burke was a striking example of this vacillating state of mind, Whether, as another person spoke of himself, he could not afford
TOL, IIYO, IV.
to keep a conscience, I do not inquire : but he was certainly a political engineer, full of maneuvering powers; taking his stand often in opposite points, moving in opposite directions, and put.. suing his operations by such contradictory designs, that he hardly seemed the same man; at one time laying down natural laws and fundamental principles, pleading for liberty against power; and the usurpations of political establishments, for reforms against public abuses and unconstitutional influence. Then again he rallies :behold him pleading for power against liberty, for the usurpations of establishments against the laws of nature, for the continuance of corruptions in defiance of his own high demands for the independence of parliaments, and for the support of an influence, which he had before, denounced as having increased beyond all due bounds, and as being unconstitutional! Such was the political progress of Mr. Burke's mind from the American War, to that epoch in the French Revolution, which he lived to witness.
Highly probable, too, it is, that the recent commotions and changes which have taken place on the continent,-changes which were preceded by violent flashes of light, and often followed by sensible darkness, have occasioned, I will not say tergiversation, but rather confusion, perplexity, contradiction, unmanageable points in the opinions of many in England at this time: that some from unexpected events have receded from opinions which were deemed violent, because they were carnest, and from demands which were deemed clamorous, because they were popular. But examples occur, where men are rather confounded than converted; where they may be said rather to yield to circumstances, than to abandon their principles : and they become like musical instru. ments, which, though not shattered and broken, are miserably out of tune, or played on by unskilful hands. Because they do not understand the world, they think they do not understand them. selves: and, perhaps, in both cases they think truly. For if man has been justly called a microcosm, or little world, for the variety of his nature; society, from its combination of different inclina. tions, pursuits, interests, powers, passions, and conditions, may
be called the megacosm, or great world; a machine of vast compass, intricate contrivances, inexplicable movements, and deep recesses : and in contemplating it very honest men may be mistaken, when they think themselves right; and they may have been right where they think themselves to have been mistaken. And should any
of us have trembled, as it were, for a while on that narrow neck of land, FEAR, which Hobbes makes the origin of society, I hope we shall never plunge into that ocean of arbitrary power, which for all the valuable purposes of life, would be its destruction.
Nor is it improbable, that some have gone, from the same cause, the contrary way; that as some bare been moved backward, to
Fear, Fear, others may have been led forward, to Hope: that thinking circumstances of public calamity and alarm should lead nations, no less than individuals, to serious thinking and permanent re. formations, they have eyed more narrowly public abuses, and perceived their consequences; that thinking corruption tends to division, dissolution, and death; and that mutual sympathies, mutual confidence, and mutual protection, the great ends of civil society, by bringing the dispersed interests of individuals to a resting place, and by exciting the most pleasing, the most salutary feeling of co-operation, can unite and consolidate them for pur. poses of public utility, they have renounced claims which they once advocated, and advocate claims which they once opposed ; and that after vacillating backwards and forwards like a pendulum, for a long time, they may at length, perhaps, imagine they are now come to their proper point of rest; thinking there is much truth in the declaration, that when the divine judgments are abroad in the earth, the nations should learn righteousness.”
This essay then does not profess to meddle with the difficult question of Reform, except, as it may happen, by cursory allusions ; but to yield somewhat to the doubts of some thinking men; and to concede a little to a certain sceptical state of political opinion : and this in order more effectually to consider some advantages which all possess in common, and to awaken those sympathies which all members of a civil community should feel with the public interest.
With this view were stated in former essays definitions and opinions of different writers, churchmen, dissenters, lawyers, and political writers, on the British Constitution, with such reserve for private sentiment which occurred at the time, with due approbation of what seemed good in the English constitution, but with some discriminations between what was fundamental and accidental principles; between what was, and, what is, and from considering the changeableness of all human institutions, what may be; recollecting what has been so well illustrated and enforced by Algernon Sidney, “ that good governments admit of changes in the superstructure, whilst the foundations remain unchangeable.*"
Blackstone expresses somewhere the changeableness of our constitution in this lax loose way:
66 What our Constitution now is.” Lax it is and loose, yet truly expressed. What our constitution is, we may know; it is before our eyes : what it may become, is unknown: it depends, like our lives, on contingencies; it is buried, like our hopes and our fears, in the dark womb of futurity. Philosophers and politicians have speculated on the pleasing awful subject, some concluding, that the democratical part of our constitution will bring on a republic; others that the monarchical
* Discourses concerning Government, Chap. II. Sect. xvii.
will bring on despotism. So thought Hume. Montesquieu, who seems to have been of the some opinion, says, “it will perish when the legislative shall be more corrupt than the executive.”
But be the issue what it may, our present duty is clear. It is our duty as men, as citizens, and Britons, to assert and propagate our natural rights and civil privileges, as being happily for us at present the basis of British liberty: and whatever changes our constitution may undergo in its future course, may it still be cemented by such principles, like those English vessels, which, though composed of different timbers, derive their principal strength from the British Oak!
We proceed then to consider the best means of promoting the great fundamental principles of our constitution : and in doing this there is no necessity for repeating those principles; but just to hint that as they relate to every individual in the state, every individual in the state should feel an interest in them; and that though no distinctions, merely nominal or accidental, will fall under our present view, yet that every individual under those nominal, accidental distinctions, are bound to give those fundamental principles their support.
And first; as the Church has been shewn to be a part of our constitution, it follows, that the clergy or ministers of that church are obligated to support and promote what is so essential to the constitution, both from interest and gratitude: from interest, because to the State (which word I use here in the sense of Con. stitution) they must look for the support of the church's revenues ; when that support fails, their temporalities are no more,*_and from gratitude, because they are in the relation of receiver to giver: for according to the present state of things their revenues are not the private property of the church, but a donation from the state, or what is the same in this case, from the crown; and of course from civil obligations they are bound to civil duties: and how can they discharge their duties to a constitution better, than by promoting that part which is essential and fundamental?
This obligation appeared so reasonable, so indispensable, to our ancestors, that it was not deemed sufficient for the prelates and clergy originally to confirm Magna Charta, (while holding lighted torches in their hands they recited a most terrible curse against the violators of it), but the clergy were even obliged to bring forward
* That what Mr. Burke says on the church's private property, (Reflexions on the French Revolution, p. 150 : Ist Edit.) and that what Bishop War. burton says on the independence of the clergy, prior to his notion of the Alo liance, is incorrect,--See p, 242, 243, of the Inquiry into the Nature of Subscription, referred to, p. 197 of the second nuinber of the Reflector..., I say this with a full recollection of what is said Chron, Sar. 41-49; and
na (no) man let them (the Clergy) set (lease) their landes and teindes (tithes), and wrangeously annalie (wrongfully aliene) their Inodes. The Lawes and Actes maid be King James I. &c. of Scotlande
Magna Charta to the remembrance of the people, by reciting that golden clause, as it has been called, in the church, that " be TAKEN but by legem terræ,”-by common law, &c.-with anathemas against the impugners of it: the whole proceedings in which case are preserved in ancient records.
Our ancestors were not afraid of mingling wholesome constitutional politics with their theology; and accordingly, in our oldest laws, the leading moral rules of the Scripture are intermingled with the most prominent parts of the Common Law; and Andrew Horne, preparatory to his chapters “ of Offences against the Holy Peace,” and “ the birth of Holy Law,” and “ the first Con. stitutions ordained by our ancient Kings,” prefixes the books according to the canon of the Old and New Testament, as was observed before. Our ancestors seemed to have considered our fundamental principles as a rich fragrance, or sacred emblem, like the holy oil on Aaron's garments.
Under what authority the clergy have ceased to read these sacred mementos to their congregations, and to give the salutary stimuli of clerical admonition, I shall not inquire; but I cannot help remarking, that as that ancient provision illustrates the propriety of the practice, so the learning, the dignity, what some would call the sacredness, attached to the office, and the familiar intercourse which should subsist between the clergy and the peo-' ple, ought to render the clergy peculiarly fitted for the office of transfusing the first principles of our Constitution.
It cannot be denied that the clergy have been, too often, the advocates for arbitrary power; and that their sermons have frequently breathed a spirit very different from that of English liberty. This is too true; and as the station of the clergy gives them great influence in the community, cannot be too much lamented. But let us still do justice : since the Revolution the writings of the clergy have, many of them, caught a tone from Locke. And what friend to constitutional liberty, who has perused the works of Burnet, Hoadley, Sykes, and Blackburne, has not derived pleasure and instruction from them ? Bishop Ilurd's Dialogues on the very subject of these essays—the English Constitution, we have had occasion to refer to before, and it is an excellent work, founded on tņue constitutional principles ; and many others, as excellent, might be pointed out.
The same influence which the established clergy have over their flock, dissenting ministers have over theirs; and they are not merely to be justified in using it to promote the fundamental principles of English liberty—they seem, by the most weighty considerations, bound to do so To these fundamental maxims they owe mueh, and to them they should look for more. In the exact proportion as their complaints against Test Laws, and exciusive privileges, are just, should be their zeal in promoting