ページの画像
PDF
ePub

an hour or two, wishing to change the theme, I
took occasion of a pause to observe that in this
great political agitation, poetry seemed to have
died out entirely. He said it had; but that was
not the only cause; for there had been, as he
thought, some years ago an over-production and
a surfeit. o
Mr. W- converses with great earnestness,
and has a habit, as he walks and talks, of stopping
every fourth or fifth step, and turning round to
you to enforce what he is saying. The subjects,
the first evening I passed with him, were, as I have
said, politics and poetry. He remarked afterward
that although he was known to the world only as
a poet, he had given twelve hours thought to the
condition and prospects of society, for one to poet-
ry. I replied that there appeared to me to be no
contradiction in this, since the spirit of poetry is
the spirit of humanity—since sympathy with hu-
manity, and with all its fortunes, is an essential
characteristic of poetry—and polities is one of the
grandest forms under which the welfare of the
human race presents itself.
In politics Mr. W-- professes to be a re-
former, but upon the most deliberate plan and grad-
ual scale; and he indulges in the most indignant
and yet argumentative diatribes against the pres:

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ENGLISH POLITICS, 91

ent course of things in England, and in the saddest 'forebodings of what is to come. The tide is beating now against aristocracy and an established religion, and if it prevails, anarchy and irreligion must follow. He will see no other result; he has no confidence in the people; they are not fit to govern themselves—not yet certainly ; public opinion, the foolish opinion of the depraved, ignorant, and conceited mass, ought not to be the law; it Ought not to be expressed in laws; it ought not to be represented in government; the true representative government should represent the mind of a country, and that is not found in the mass, nor is it to be expressed by universal suffrage. Mr. W– constantly protested against the example of America—as not being in point. He insisted that the state of society, the crowded population, the urgency of want, the tenures of property in England, made a totally different case from ours. He seemed evidently to admit, though he did not in terms, that hereditary rank and an established priesthood are indefensible in the broadest views of human rights and interests; but the argument for them is, that they cannot be removed without opening the door to greater evils—to the unrestrained license of the multitude—to incessant change, disorder, uncertainty, and finally to op

pression and tyranny. He says the world is run-
ning mad with the notion that all its evils are to be
relieved by political changes, political remedies,
political nostrums—whereas the great evils, sin,
bondage, misery, lie deep in the heart, and nothing
but virtue and religion can remove them; and upon
the value, and preciousness, and indispensableness
of religion, indeed, he talked very sagely, earnestly,
and devoutly.
The next evening I went to tea to Mr. W-'s,
on a hospitable invitation to come to breakfast,
dinner, or tea, as I liked. The conversation very
soon again ran upon politics. He thought there
could be no independence in legislators who were
dependant for their places upon the ever wavering
breath of popular opinion, and he wanted my opin-
ion about the fact in our country. I replied that
as a secluded man and accustomed to look at the
morale of these matters, I certainly had felt that
there was likely to be, and probably was a great
want of independence—that I had often expressed
the apprehension that our distinguished men Wel'6
almost necessarily acting under biasses that did not
permit them to sit down in their closets and exam.
ine great political questions and measures, in a fair
and philosophical spirit. Then, he said, how can
there be any safety 7 I answered as I had fre-

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

ENGLISH POLITICS. 93

quently said before, that our only safety lay in making the people wise: but I added that our practical politicians were accustomed to say, that there was a principle of safety in our conflicts, in the necessarily conflicting opinions of the mass— that they neutralized and balanced each other. I admitted, however, that there was danger; that all popular institutions involved danger; that freedom was a trust, and a perilous trust. Still I insisted that this was only an instance of a general principle; that all probation was perilous; that the greatest opportunity was always the greatest peril. I maintained, also, that think as we might of political liberty, there was no helping it; that in the civilized world, the course of opinion was irresistibly setting towards universal education and popular forms of government; and nothing was to be done but to direct, modify, and control the tendency. He fully admitted this; said that in other centuries some glorious results might be brought out, but that he saw nothing but darkness, disorder, and misery in the immediate prospect, and that all he could do was to cast himself on Providence. I ventured to suggest that it seemed to me that all good and wise men had a work to do. I said that I admitted, friend to popular institutions as I was, that the world was full of errors

about liberty; that there was a mistake and mad.
ness about popular freedom, as if it were the grand
panacea for all human ills, and that powerful pens
were needed to guide the public mind; and that
the pen of genius could scarcely be more nobly
employed. But he has no confidence in the body
of the people, in their willingness to read what is
wholesome, or to do what is right; and this, I
took the liberty to say, seemed to me the radical
point on which he and I differed. I told him that
there were large communities in America in whom
I did confide, and that I believed other communi-
ties might be raised up to the same condition; and
that it appeared to me that it should be the grand
effort of the world now, to raise up this mass to
knowledge, to comfort, and virtue—since the mass
was evidently ere long to rule for us.
After this conversation, Mr. W-proposed a
walk to Grassmere Lake, to see it after sunset;
and in that loveliest of all the scenes I ever wit.
nessed on earth, were lost all thoughts but of reli-
gion and poetry. I could not help saying, with
fervent sincerity, “I thank you, sir, for bringing
me here, at this hour;” for he had evidently taken
some pains, pushing aside some little interferences
with his purpose, to accomplish it. He said in
reply, that so impressive was the scene to him, that

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]
« 前へ次へ »