Sidor som bilder

ing the Opposition again rally in the strength of talent and principle, could not but distrust the patriotism and the integrity of the men in whose abilities they were driven to confide. It is in vain to attempt to detach public integrity from the private virtues. The common sense and common feeling of the nation reject the distinction. What an inconceivable advantage was placed in the hands of men, whose political opponents were many of them chargeable with an utter dereliction of social honesty and moral feeling! How were the noblest pleadings for freedom and the best rights of human nature weakened at every period, by the remembrance that all tliat eloquence came from the polluted lips of a libertine ! That the patriot was fresh from the gambling house, the tavern, or the brothel! How far circumstances like these might conspire to perpetuate a distinction between the King's friends, and the Prince's friends, and to strengthen distrust and antipathy in a certain quarter, against men of the latter party, must remain matter of conjecture; but with regard to the nation at large, it deserves to be borne in mind as a fact, wbich we do not regard as questionable, that the irreligion and profligacy which have marked the private characters of several prominent individuals, whose public principles were in alliance both with the constitution and the best interests of human kind, have been one great cause of that passive acquiescence in a contrary policy into which the nation has fallen, and of the opprobrinin which is now become attached, to the principles of Whiggisin.

We have no regrets to spare for the rise and fall of parties, considered merely in reference to the petty interests of the actors themselves in the political drama ; but unfortunately, with the larger portion of society, who have not formed the habit of thinking for themselves, it is too customary, instead of trying men by their avowed principles, to judge of the principles from the characters of the men. Instead of reasoning, they associate; and this sort of instinct, though often salutary, is sometimes deiusive. The unworthy character of an individual becomes through a premature generalization of the object of fear or obloquy, imputed to a class, and virtue and religion are held res. ponsible for the actions of all who assume their name. Hence, also, the talismanic properties which a word acquires in the mouths of a party, so as to act, without exciting any distinct ideas, directly upon the imagination; and the same word shall, at successive periods, be invested with the property of exciting associations of a directly opposite kind. Take for instance, the word Revolution, from which, at a no very remote era iu our history, the epithet Glorious, seemed in no danger of divorce. * The Revolution' called up to the mind of the Englishman, all

that was dear to him in bis social privileges, and distinguishing in the national character. Now, the worl speaks nothing but treason against legitimacy, contempt of Divine right, Jacobinism and impiety. The phrenzied explosion of evil passions in a half civilized populace,-the effect of breaking the fetters of a maniac, although the iron had contributed to bis madness,-the disastrous issue of the attempt to convert into freemen a nation of slaves wholly unprepared by any moral process for the change, —this catastrophe in a neighbouring natio:, has been sufficient to obliterate the remembrance of one of the brightest pages in our own history, and to render men ashamed of the phraseology of liberty and right, which was once the very idiom of a Briton's

feelings. But the French Revolution would never have had $tliis disastrous influence upon popular sentiment in our own

country, had there not been causes within ourselves predisposing the public to the change. The dereliction of principle on the part of the Whigs threw the nation into the arms of Toryism.

It must not be forgotten, that to the turbulent barons in the F time of King Joby, we are indebted for the foundation of our i popular liberties. Whatever were the public conduct and private

character of the Wbig Aristocracy, in the present and the pre

ceding reigns, they formed a constitutional check upon the ti necessary tendency of the Prerogative to become absolute, which

now exists but in hypothesis. The extinction of the party excites but little commiseration; it was the deserved consequence of their own want of union and patriotism ; but they have involved in their disgrace principles which they inherited from men better than theinselves, and which it behoved them to transmit unsullied to posterity. It will require many, many years, to discounect in men's minds the irreligion, and scepticism, and political inconsistency of some of these individuals, from the cause of civil and religious freedom.

The Dissenters who, in the question of Ainerican war, took part with the Opposition, have in some measure, there can be no doubt, participated in the loss of favour which has befallen the Whig principles. The Dissenters were well known to be, as a body, the staunch friends of the House of Brunswick, being firmly attached to the Constitution, and to the Protestant succession. The King, who has maintained throughout his reign an inflexible adherence to bis promise of preserving the 'Toleration irviolate, was disposed, it is believed, to look favourably upon this portion of his subjecis: the American war first occasioned an interruption of this gracious feeling, and gave an advantage to their enemies to cast suspicion on their loyalty; whereas that

was founded on the very principles which excited their indignant deprecation of that ill advised system of policy, and Would, apart from those principles, have been a servile, irrational feeling. The Whigs have always been the friends of the Dis.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

senters, that is to say, of the interests of religious liberty, and have on this account coinnanded their gratitude. The repeated atteinpts to obtain the repeal of the Test Act, which, whether we style them injudicious or unfortunate, only served to strengthen a party feeling against the persons intended to be relieved, have all proceeded froin this party, and these have served still further to identify the Dissenters with this defeated interest : for this they cannot be considered as obnoxious to blame, but the result has been so far unfortunate. Here, again, the known leaning of some of the leading members of the Wbig party to Arian and Socinian tenets, and the prominence which circumstances gave to some dis inguished ministers among the Dissenters, who were also known to be of these sentiments, added to the fact of the larger portion of the petitioning clergy in 1772 who were supposed to favour the application of the Dissenters, being of suspicious orthodoxy,-all contributed to fasten upon the general body tbe odium attaching to religious sentiments which have at no period extended beyond a very inconsiderable proportiou of their number; so nuch so, that Mr. Pitt is said to bave exclaimed on a particular occasion, probably at finding them connue to act together as a body, though coinposed of denomiD.cicns so differing on some points,— What, are they all So

cinians?' This might shew the Minister's ignorance, if the exclamation was un affected, but there is no doubt that the circumstances alluced to, bave operated very much to the prejudice of the cause of Dissent.

Bishop Watson furnishes us with the following anecdotes relative to the debates on the subject of the repeal of tbe Test Act.

« On the 10th of February, (1787) a meeting of the Bishops was convened at the, on a summons from the Archbishop of ('anterbury, and at the instance, as we were given to understand, of Mr. Pitt, who wanted to know the sentiments of thejBench relative to the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. The question proposed at the meeting was put thus :-“ Ought the Test and Corporation

Acts to be maintained ?" I was the Junior Bishop, and as such, was called upon to deliver my opinion first, which I did in the negative. The only bishop who voted with me was Bishop Shipley. The then Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Bishops of Worcester, Lincoln, Ely, Peterborough, Norwich, Exeter, Bangor, Bath and Wells, Rochester, and Lichfield, voted that the Acts ought to be maintined. When the question was thus decided, that my brethren night see I was not sorry to be known to bave voted as I had don', I moved, that not only the result of the meeting, but that the names 01 those who had voted for and against the maintenance of the Acts, slould be sent to Mr. Pitt, and the motion was passed unanimously.

• The question for the Repeal of the Acts was then lost in the Comnions, by a majority of 78-178: 100. It was again brought for


ward in 1789, and was again lost by a majority of 20—122: 102.
This small majority encouraged the Dissenters to bring it forward
again in 1790; but the cry of the Church's danger began to be raised,
and ineetings were held by some alarnied clergymen, principally in
the dioceses of York and Chester, and the question was lost by a
majority of 191-299.: 105. In a conversation I then had with Lord
Camden, President of the Council, I plainly asked him if he foresaw
any danger likely to result to the Church-establishment, from the
repeal of the Test Act: he answered at once, none whatever. On
my urging the policy of conciliating the Dissenters by granting their
petition, his answer made a great impression on my mind, as it showed
the principle on which great statesmen sometimes condcscend to act..
It was thus:Pitt was wrong in refusing the former application of the
Dissenters, but he must be now supported.'
:: In the beginning of 1792, the Bishop published a Charge which
he had delivered to his clergy in the June preceding, and re-
specting which, calumnious misrepresentations had been most
industrionsly circulated, copies of the misrepresentations having
been banded about at the tables of bishops and judges. In this
charge, the Bishop had ventured to touch upon very unpopular
subjects, the advantages which would probably result to

buman society from the French Revolution; which was not at
" that time dishonoured by the events which soon followed
i and the injustice and impolicy of uur Test and Corporativa


• I will just state to the reader,' remarks his Lordship, how I ar. gued myself into the adoption of the opinion advanced in this Charge relative to the Dissenters. Had I consulted my interest, I should cer. tainly have been silent on this point ; for who knows not how little a bishop's interest is connected with his opposition to the avowed sen. timents of a Minister ? and Mr. Pitt had repeatedly avowed his-that the Test Act ought not to be repealed. Whether this avowal was made by Mr. Pitt in conformity to his own opinion, or in subservience to the opinion of another, was then and has still been with me a matter of doubt.

• There appear to me but two reasons for excluding any honest men from eligibility to public office-want of capacity to serve the office, and want of attachment to the civil constitution of their country. That the Dissenters want capacity will not be asserted; that they want attachment to the civil constitution of the country, is asserted by many, but proved by none. On this point the whole question turns. If the Dissenters have secret views of undermining the civil constitution, of introducing a republican form of government in the place of that which, notwithstanding its defects, we at present so happily enjoy, the Test-Act ought not to be repealed ; and if they have no such views, its continuance is an oppression. Whether they have or have not such views cannot be known from the affirmation of their enemies on the one hand, or from the denial of their friends on the other: on both sides it niay be said, Quiescat lingua, interroga

[ocr errors]

vitam. Now the history of the conduct of the Dissenters since the Revolution, proves (to me at least it proves) that they have no such views.

• The Dissenters are neither Tories nor Republicans, but friends to the principles of the Revolution. Notwithstanding the virulence of Mr. Burke's invective against him, I give entire credit to what Dr. Price has said of himself and of the Dissenters.'

Here the Bishop inserts an extract from Dr. Price's serinon preached before the supporters of a new Academical Institution, in April 1787, which we need not transcribe.

But it may be said,' proceeds the Bishop, that I have not stated the whole question, inasmuch as the Dissenters are enemies to the Church-establishment, and that the state is so allied to the Church, that he who is unfriendly to the one must wish the subversion of both. I think this reasoning is vot just: a man may certainly wish for a change in an ecclesiastical establishnient, without wishing for a change in the civil constitution of a country. An Episcopaliar, for instance, may wish to see bishops established in all Scotland, without wishing Scotland to become a republic; and he may wish that episcopacy may be established in all the American States, without wishing that monarchy may be established in any of them. The protection of life, liberty, and property is not inseparably connected with a particular form of church-government. The blessings of civil society depend upon the proper execution of good laws, and upon the good morals of the people; but no one will attempt to prove, that the laws and morals of the people may not be as good in Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, under a Presbyterian, as in England or France under an Episcopal form of church-government.

• But it is thought that, were the Test and Corporation Acts repealer, the Dissenters would get a footing in some of the boroughs returning members to parliament. The Dissenters have, at present, a considerable influence in many boroughs; but there is little probability that, were all legal obstacles to their eligibility to public offices removed, they would ever be able to overcome the influence of Government, the intluence of the aristocracy, and the influence of the Church, in the majority of the boroughs in this kingdom. But, admitting so very improbable an occurrence to take place, what then? Why then a majority of boroughs would return Dissenters to sit in Parliament. Dissenters are allowed to sit in Parliament at present: the danger then, such as it is, arises not from Dissenters having seats in Parliament, but from the number of Dissenting members being increased. But that the number of Dissenting members should ever be so far increased as to constitute a majority in the House of Commons, is to me quite an improbable circumstance; I think it a far more likely event that, all restraint being removed, the Dissenters will insensibly become Churchimen. I suppose, however, even that improbable circunstance to take place, and that a majority of the House of Commons has ceased to be Churchmen- What then? Why then the House of Commons may present to the House of Lords u Bill for cluanging the constitution of the Church of England into that of

« FöregåendeFortsätt »