Page images

church, the number of Protestants devoted to banishment, slavery, and the most barbarous deaths;-were distressing spectacles which deeply affected him.

On his journey from Poictou, Mr. Cotton was deeply impressed by the agitations of mind and the expressions of an old gentleman who came into an inn nearly at the the same instant with him, who stood leaning on his staff, and shaking his head, and weeping, cried out, " Unhappy France! If I and mine were "but now entering into some country of refuge and safety, where "we might have liberty to worship God according to our con"sciences, I should think myself the happiest man in the world, "though I had only this staff in my hand."'

The Fourth Chapter of the work, entitled New Charitable 'Institutions' will highly gratify the humane and benevolent reader. It is pleasing to reflect that in the troublous times to which this volume of the History relates, the energies of Christians were directed to the improvement of mankind, and the education of the poor appears conspicuous among their works of mercy. It is especially honourable to Dissenters that they took the lead in the formation of Charity Schools. The origin of these is described in the following passage.

In 1687, in the reign of King James II. Mr. Poulton, a jesuit, gave public notice that he would instruct the children of the poor gratis; and on this plan opened a school in Gravel-lane, Southwark, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city, where a great proportion of the inhabitants were watermen and fishermen of the lowest class. The proposal was deemed insidious, as it was also popular; and this person under the appearance of compassion and liberality to the poor was considered as artfully adopting a scheme to disseminate the principles of popery, and to make converts to it from the rising generation. Three respectable gentlemen, members of the congregation of the Protestant Dissenters, under the ministry of Mr. Nathaniel Vincent, Mr. Arthur Shallet, Mr. Samuel Warburton, and Mr. Ferdinando Holland, alarmed at the obvious design, and animated by zeal for protestantism, exerted themselves to counteract the operation of the jesuit's measure, by the foundation of a school for the instruction of the poor in reading, writing, arithmetic, and the principles of the Protestant religion, to be supported by voluntary subscriptions, donations, and legacies, and by two annual collections. This was the first school opened by Protestant Dissenters; and it reflects lasting honour on its founders, that it was set up on truly liberal principles; namely, "that objects should be received into it without distinction of parties, the general good being intended.", pp. 429, 430.

As the continuation and completion of the work are prevented by the decease of the Author, it is unnecessary for us in concluding our notice of it, to enlarge in our opinion of

its merits. The spirit which pervades it is liberal and good. The impartiality demanded by the nature of the work is well preserved, and it is written in a style grave, perspicuous, and chaste. If we were addressing ourselves to the Author, we should probably suggest that the space allowed to the account of the Baptists is in rather more than fair proportion to that which is occupied in the description of other denominations. The copy of verses inserted at p. 186, might with propriety have been omitted.

Art. III. Parliamentary Portraits : or Sketches of the Public Cha

racter of some of the most distinguished Speakers in the House of Commons. Originally printed in the Examiner. 8vo. pp. 236. Price 8s. Baldwin and Co. 1815. THE HE English House of Commons, we venture to assert, is

still incomparably the noblest political assembly in the world. Although our senators do not present the majestic spectacle of aged and reverend forms with snow-white beards, invested with the flowing toga, such as struck awe into the barbarian invaders of ancient Rome ;-although no scenic pomp, such as attends the conclaves of cardinals and the levees of princes, confers outward splendour on their proceedings ; although those proceedings are in fact vastly less dignified and less interesting, and characterized by a display of intellect, feeling, or energy, far less than one might be innocently led to anticipate ;-still, that such an assembly exists, an assembly of commoners and free men, constituting an essential part of the national government, and actually transacting in the face of society, the business of legislation, which elsewhere is for the most part carried on in mystery and darkness, in the chambers and cabinets of Power :- this is a circumstance in itself replete with grandeur. And who can tell what influenee the existence of one such assembly may have on the rulers of other countries, to deter them from enormities of aggression on the liberties of their subjects, or to induce them to concede a measure of freedom? The galling recollection, that in this one assembly the deeds of princes will be canvassed with unshackled freedom and with absolute impunity, and the wrongs of humanity obtain audience if not redress; the apprehension that from the heart of the British people a voice may go forth, to rouse and animate the enslaved and oppressed, may well be supposed to have had a decided influence in strengthening the restraints of fear or of policy. An institute like that in which our constitutional liberty is imbodied, constitutes a beacon which the people of other countries, who languish for liberty, must regard" with hope, and at which tyrants must sicken with dismay.

And with regard to this nation, we are not certain whether the very circumstances, which on a nearer view of the subject, are calculated to detract from the impressiveness of such an assembly, and to lessen the public confidence in its decisions, ought not to enhance in our estimation, the value of our constitutional privileges. As it is of infinitely greater moment that the British people should be taught to think well of their institutions, than that they should implicitly reverence the administrators of power, they should be taught to perceive how excellently secured are those liberties which Power dares not infringe, and Corruption cannot quite destroy; how valuable must be those constitutional forms which, when the spirit of the constitution slumbers, still determine a boundary that the minister of the Crown dares not pass ! How admirably framed must be that complicated machinery, which so inconsiderable a degree of collective intellectual energy, is competent to keep in motion, so as to effect the general purposes of government. Those who most sincerely urge the necessity of Parliamentary Reform, cannot be supposed blind to the inestimable advantages resulting from even that partial representation which the country enjoys. The national will is at least recognised as a party necessarily co-operating in the acts of government, and it is still to a certain degree exerted; controlling, if we may so express it, the physical elements of power, and modifying the authority of law." The House of Commons, in fact, constitutes a standing recognition of the nature of the compact on which legitimate authority is founded, while what it has actually achieved for Europe, forms a no less striking illustration of the true nature of national power.

When we allude to the moderate rate of ability which is exhibited by the members of the present House of Commons, it is obvious, that we do not presume to sit in judgement on the general qualifications of its leaders as statesmen; nor would we by any means disparage that diligent attention to the details of political business, which characterizes the present administration. It is in reference to the low degree of intellectual exertion in debate, the dearth of eloquence, and the substitution of a mechanical plan of oratorical warfare for an independent adherence to constitutional principles, that we allow of the justness of this moderated estimate.

Subjects of almost incalculable interest,' remarks our Portrait painter, are to be discussed : peace and war, laws, morals, manufactures, commerce, all that concerns the wealth, the happiness, the glory of nations. Can the imagination conceive a finer field for oratorical emulation ; more powerful incentives to awaken the mind to develope all its energies and all its graces through its noble organ, the tongue? What is the fact ? About half a dozen speakers, who

[ocr errors]

have acquired a certain fluent mediocrity, are allowed to settle the disputed proposition with little knowledge and less spirit, whilst the rest remain idle and almost unconcerned hearers, sometimes yawning, sometimes sleeping, and sometimes, to evince perhaps their claims to sit in a speaking assembly, shouting in a style to be envied only by a Stentor or a whipper-in. It is indeed matter of humiliating reflection that, in a country like England, whose philosophers, and poets, and artists, may go side by side with the proudest names of antiquity—whose wealth and power make Greece dwindle into insignifia cance, and might dispute the precedence even with the gigantic despotism of Imperial Rome; in a country too, blest with a popular congress, where the voices of the chiefs of the nation may be heard, that scarcely one man has arisen who deserves the title of orator; scarcely one, who like Cicero, by the mere power of words, has darted the public indignation against a state delinquent, or like Demosthenes has electrified a whole people with one universal impulse of patriotism.' pp. 3, 4.

Criticus, (as the Author styled himself in the EXAMINER,) proceeds to remark, that it would require a long dissertation to investigate the cause of this oratorical inferiority of our coun-. trymen. He will not allow that it is to be ascribed in any degree to the good sense of the nation; or that it can be made a question whether Pericles and Demosthenes, Cæsar and Cicero, had as much good sense as Lords Liverpool and Castlereagh. This is, however, rather flippantly said, since the comparison can not with fairness be drawn between individuals, and we suspect that at no period could Greece or Rome present an assembly of which Pericles or Cicero might be assumed to be an average specimen. Besides, our Author in the subsequent sentences would seem to admit, that under the present circumstances of the case, it might be an indication of good sense to abstain from a useless expenditure of eloquence. • A better reason,' he says,

may perhaps be found in the constitution of that Assembly, which only assumes the character of being popular ; and, while it pretends to regulate its decisions by deliberative wisdom, in fact listens only to the voice of power. In such a meeting, however grand the matter of debate, there is little stimulus for any but the most enterprising mind to waste its powers on a pre- , determined audience: for what could the voice of an angel do against a silent vote bought in silence! These purchased decisions, these previously bargained securities against the possible effects of elo. quence, are sufficient to extirpate all the motives for exertion in the common run of ambitious '

men. Even a man, whose love of fame is purified from mere selfishness, may be forgiven, if he hesitates a little before he will devote the whole faculties of his mind to astonish an audience, who are bound by honour or by covenant not to be convinced, though Demosthenes should rise from the dead; and to whom is left merely the half-animal capacity of receiving pleasure from the sound of well harmonized periods. It asks a mind of no common .

[ocr errors]

firmness, of no common benevolence, to persevere in haranguing an impenetrable assembly from the almost baseless hope that some better spirit may disenthrall itself from its ignoble bondage, and dare to act solely at the direction of virtue and intelligence. pp. 7, 8.

This does not quite account for the phenomenon. Eloquence would be a very dangerous faculty, if it were always available for carrying the disputed point, and its possessor would require a portion of infallibility, to deserve always to come off victor. A majority of votes is, as our Author admits, not the only criterion of the successful exertion of talent. A virtuous patriot would find his sufficient reward in those slow and regu

lated benefits' which would be sure to result from his perseverance in assailing a corrupt administration. He might control those whom he could not dispossess of power; he might deter from attempts which he could not frustrate. He is pleading at the tribunal of his country, in the audience of the civilized world, and surely, how unavailing soever may be his efforts to accomplish the exact amount of good he aims at, he has no feeble inducements to exert his utmost faculties on the side of truth and virtue. He may despise the plaudits of the mob; but as he will not regard the interest which the English people take in parliamentary discussions, in the light of a ridiculous or unimportant characteristic, so, he will estimate aright the immense value of the average opinions of the people. In fact, the ideal orator we are portraying, may more perfectly realize all that our Author ascribes with considerable justice to the exertions of Whitbread. If he cannot command a majority of votes, he may command a majority of opinions. He may com.mand and guide the sense of the nation ;'

• A force ten times more powerful than the House of Commons, because it always, directly or indirectly, influences the conduct of that assembly. To this the proudest minister is forced to bow; with reference to this he fabricates every measure: a piece of meditated tyranny is clipped away from this law; a patch of desirable fraud is torn from this arrangement ; and corruption itself is quietly purged of the most acrid particles of its poison. Such is the power of a great moral check when directed by an able and honest man.'

How is it then, that so wide a scope presenting itself for vir. tuous ambition, with all that is pressing in the occasion, and all that is interesting in the subject, for the display of the highest faculties of ratiocination and eloquence, that the House of Commons does not furnish a counterpart to this ideal portrait ? In the meaçre list of “ Contents” to the present volume, although they comprise every name of note in the House, we in vain look for a character of sufficient prominence and of sufficient con sistency, unless in the distinguished and lamented person above referred to, to justify our fixing upon him the noble designation

« PreviousContinue »