Sidor som bilder

he could devise—that of subjecting the trade to the strictest possible regulations, and by legislative enactments ameliorating the condition of the slaves in, and to be brought into, the islands. On this project, much inquiry, consideration, and labour were expended; it is not a mere draught of a common act of Parliament, but an extensive system, coherent in its parts and bearings, and does honour to the benignant spirit of its author, ever active in the service of suffering humanity.

During this session of Parliament he exerted himself less than on most former occasions, being now, he said, a worn-out veteran in the service, desirous himself to retire, and only coming forward now and then as veterans are accustomed to do, when the garrison of the constitution is exposed to open attack. A measure which he considered of this nature was the notice of a motion by Mr. Grey (30th April, 1792), for Parliamentary Reform, brought forward at the instigation of persons who had taken that measure under their special protection and assuming the title of “ Friends of the People.” This association, counting among its members many persons of consequence in and out of parliament, and daily increased by the junction of merchants and professional and literary men throughout thecountry, hestigmatised as of a dangerous tendency. • The object at which they aimed,' he said, 'was little better ; the motives of many concerned in it were doubtless innocent, but the way they went to work was as decidedly wrong; the sense of the people had not been in the least declared on the measure; no specific grievance had been pointed out, no specific remedy assigned, and without these were explicitly set forth, there might be innovation attempted, but it would not be reformation. Suppose a design of this nature to be partially begun, did any member of the society who gave himself the trouble to think at all, imagine it would stop there, or that it would be possible to controul its progress? Our House of Commons, as a body, might not be pure, no more than any individual member of it was wholly pure from sin, frailty, vice or folly of some description or another; yet it was constituted perhaps as well as it could be, as well, in the main, as human nature would permit it to be. At any rate, while he could raise a voice or an arm to prevent it, it should never assimilate to the National Assembly. In that body there were 700 members, 400 of whom were lawyers, 300 of no description that he could name, and out of the whole, he believed there were not a dozen who possessed in any one way a hundred pounds per annum. Such might be the perfection of representation in the eyes of some, nay, he understood it to be the opinion of many of the new sect in politics, but he trusted to the good sense of the people of England never to permit such a mob, nor any thing resembling it, to usurp the sacred office of their legislature.'

The next important question in which he took part was on the motion of Mr. Fox, May 11th, to repeal certain statutes, bearing upon the Unitarian body, from whom that gentleman had presented a petition to that effect three days before. An outline of this clever speech seemingly drawn up after its delivery, as it alludes to some points advanced in

[merged small][ocr errors]

the debate, appears in his works.* He opposed their claims on the ground of their being the avowed enemies of the church. They had lately accused themselves of a disgraceful timidity with respect to the concealment of their sentiments, and now they were to atone for that timidity by an extraordinary boldness. They had openly declared their hostility to the establishment. They had confessed their determination to propagate their doctrines. They were avowedly a society for the propagation of opinions immediately hostile to our church—they had incorporated for that purpose-they had published pamphlets with that view—they had raised a large fund to be employed in that service--they had entered into a solemn compact to obtain that endand it was well known that Dr. Priestley was their patriarch. He went on to urge that from their new lights in theology, and their new lights in politics, which latter had been, if possible, more ostentatiously and offensively proclaimed than the former, they did not present any sufficient claim to the favourable consideration of the House. The motion was lost by 142 to 63.

The proclamation issued some time afterwards against seditious writings and doctrines elicited strong symptoms of that difference of opinion among the great body of the Opposition, which it was evident must soon lead to a disjunction of interests ; the old Whigs, or the Duke of Portland's friends, wholly disagreeing on most topics of the day with the new, or the followers of Mr. Fox. A nominal

Burke's Works, vol. x.

union indeed still existed between them in the House. But the dangers of the country becoming daily more apparent, and the predictions of their more ancient ally and leader, Mr. Burke, being day after day verified, impressed a gradual and general belief in that connexion, of the greater prudence and patriotism of following his opinions.

In the mean time, some whim or ill humour of the Chancellor, Lord Thurlow, inducing him to oppose

in the House of Lords certain measures of Mr. Pitt, the latter found it necessary to procure his dismissal from office, intimating, soon afterwards, a desire for a function with the Portland party; and as, in such a season of apprehension, it was desirable to bring all the talents of the country into its service, he did not object to include Mr. Fox among the number. The latter arrangement was particularly pressed upon the Minister by Mr. Burke, who also pressed the policy of acceding to it upon Mr. Fox through indirect channels; and the fact is honourable to his candour, his patriotism, and even his friendship ; yet as another specimen of the spirit of party malevolence, he was frequently accused at the moment while thus employed of being that gentleman's personal enemy. Mr. Fox, however, refused to accede to the proposition unless Mr. Pitt resigned the head of the Treasury, when they might better treat upon terms of perfect equality and enter the Cabinet as new men-a piece of humility not justly to be expected from the Minister, or perhaps from any other man holding the same situation. The negociation consequently, for the present proved fruitless; but the Prince of Wales seeing the necessity for a decided avowal of his 'opinions in a season of such peril, came forward with a manly declaration in favour of the conduct of Ministers; and his intercourse with Mr. Fox ceased for several years.

All the threatening symptoms of the spring increased during the summer of 1792, by the unprecedented circulation of incendiary pamphlets ; by the communication of the clubs of London with those of Paris, though this happily had the effect of inducing several Members of Opposition to secede from such questionable meetings; and by the formation of affiliated societies through many of the country towns and even villages, openly advocating Republicanism. In Paris, anarchy proceeding in its usual course, became at length open massacre, followed by the dethronement of the King, the institution of a republic, and, encouraged by the repulse of the Duke of Brunswick from the frontier, adding a paternal invitation to all other countries to pursue the example.

In November, Mr. Burke while at Bath drew up another important State Paper, Heads for Consideration on the Present State of Affairs,” distinguished by the same profound sagacity as the others, and sent copies of it to the King, to the Ministers, and to the chief members of the Portland party, as he had done with the “ Thoughts” of the preceding year. Its aim is to point out that war, however it may be pushed off for the moment, is inevitable; that nothing can be done conjointly or singly by Austria and Prussia, or any other continental power, with effect against France, excepting they have other aid; “ that there never was, nor is, nor ever will be,

« FöregåendeFortsätt »