Page images
PDF
EPUB

baser matter." It may be doubted whether any work of lasting reputation and universal interest can spring up in this soil, or ever has done in that of any academy. The last question is a matter of fact and history, not of mere opinion or prejudice; and may be ascertained as such accordingly. The mighty names of former times rose before the existence of academies; and the three greatest painters, undoubtedly, that this country has produced, Reynolds, Wilson, and Hogarth, were not “ dandled and swaddled" into artists in any institution for the fine arts. I do not apprehend that the names of Chantry or Wilkie, (great as one, and considerable as the other of them is,) can be made use of in any way to impugn the jet of this argument. We may find a considerable improvement in some of our artists, when they get out of the vortex for a time. Sir Thomas Lawrence is all the better for having been abstracted for a year or two from Somerset-House; and Mr. Dawe, they say, has been doing wonders in the North. When will he return, and once more “ bid Britannia rival Greece ?"

Mr. Canning somewhere lays it down as a rule, that corporate bodies are necessarily correct and pure in their conduct, from the knowledge which the individuals composing them have of one another, and the jealous vigilance they exercise over each other's motives and characters; whereas, people collected into mobs are disorderly and unprincipled from being utterly unknown and unaccountable to each other. This is a curious pass of wit. I differ with him in both parts of the dilemma. To begin with the first, and to handle it somewhat cavalierly, according to the model before us: we know, for instance, there is said to be honour among thieves, but very little honesty towards others. Their honour consists in the division of the booty, not in the mode of acquiring it: they do not (often) betray one another, but they will waylay a stranger, or knock out a traveller's brains : they may be depended on in giving the alarm when any of their posts are in danger of being surprised; and they will stand together for their ill-gotten gains to the last drop of their blood. Yet they form a distinct society, and are strictly responsible for their behaviour to one another and to their leader. They are not a mob, but a gang, completely in one another's power and secrets. Their familiarity, however, with the proceedings of the corps, does not lead them to expect or to exact from it a very high standard of moral honesty; that is out of the question ; but they are sure to gain the good opinion of their fellows by committing all sorts of depredations, fraud, and violence against the community at large. So (not to speak it profanely) some of Mr. C—-'s friends

may

be very respectable people in their way—“ all honourable men”—but their respectability is confined within party-limits; every one does not sympathise in the integrity of their views; the understanding between them and the public is not well-defined or reciprocal. Or, suppose a gang of pick-pockets hustle a passenger in the street, and the mob set upon them, and proceed to execute summary justice upon such as they can lay hands on, am I to conclude that the rogues are in the right, because theirs is a system of well-organised knavery, which they settled in the morning, with their eyes one upon the other, and which they regularly review at night, with a due estimate of each other's motives, character, and conduct in the business; and that the honest men are in the

wrong, because they are a casual collection of unprejudiced, disinterested individuals, taken at a venture from the mass of the people, acting without concert or responsibility, on the spur of the occasion, and giving way to their instantaneous impulses and honest anger ? Mobs, in fact, then, are almost always right in their

[ocr errors]

feelings, and often in their judgments, on this very account-that being utterly unknown to and disconnected with each other, they have no point of union or principle of co-operation between them, but the natural sense of justice recognised by all persons in common. They appeal, at the first meeting, not to certain symbols and watch-words privately agreed upon, like Free-Masons, but to the maxims and instincts proper to all the world. They have no other clew to guide them to their object but either the dictates of the heart, or the universally understood sentiments of society, neither of which are likely to be in the wrong. The flame, which bursts out and blazes from popular sympathy, is made of honest, but homely materials. It is not kindled by sparks of wit or sophistry, nor damped by the cold calculations of self-interest. The multitude may be wantonly set on by others, as is too often the case, or be carried too far in the impulse of rage and disappointment; but their resentment, when they are left to themselves, is almost uniformly, in the first instance, excited by some evident abuse and wrong; and the excesses into which they run arise from that very want of foresight and regular system, which is a pledge of the uprightness and heartiness of their intentions.

In short, the only class of persons to whom the above courtly charge of sinister and corrupt motives is not applicable, is that body of individuals which usually goes by the name of the People!

« PreviousContinue »