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with regard to the affairs of France, will not admit of the experiment.
But, were it possible to regard the French otherwise than as political allies or as political rivals, to regard them simply as our fellow-men, differing from ourselves principally in consequence of the character of their laws, their religion, and their government, the present state of France would present one of the most instructive lessons, one of the most interesting subjects, on which we could fix our attention. To what cause but our superior moral advantages, can we ascribe that difference of national character, on which we pride ourselves? or in what other light can we regard the vitiated and debased population of France, but as the victims of evils, the effects of which it is not enough that we deprecate : they must be traced up to their principles, and combated in their remote causes, if we would secure ourselves against their invasion.
Whatever obscurity may involve the springs of action - the fundamental motives of conduct, and how difficult soever it may be to develop the process by which the individual has attained a certain moral bias and intellectual character, the habits and characteristic manners of a nation are the result of a much slower and more obvious process, and little uncertainty attaches to the means of their formation. The fate of dynasties has, indeed, often been decided by some obstruction caused by perhaps a mis nute and apparently insignificant part of the machinery of government. But the moral character of a nation is not subjected to those accidental changes which determine the fate of rulers, or to the political aspect of things. Happily, it is not in the power of one human will, to inflict any but physical suffering » upon a nation, except it be by the introduction of a system of evil, which implicates the nation that endures it, in the guilt of its own debasement.
We take it for granted, as a thing agreed upon by men of all parties, by the more intelligent of the French themselves, that the moral condition of France, at this moment, is, whatever be the cause, exceedingly deplorable. Mr. Scott's present work, although not containing much that is essentially new, will be received as further evidence on this point. The want of public principle has been undeniably conspicuous throughout the large class of public functionaries, few of whose names appear in the “ Dictionary of Weathercocks,” without three or -four marks, each indicating a change of political principle. A want of public confidence was the natural result of a series of such tragical revolutions, and private confidence also has been destroyed by the system of espionage in which Despotism finds its only security. If Paris may be considered as presenting
a specimen of the domestic morals of the nation, nothing can be more indicative of a state of utter deterioration. To com.plete the melancholy picture, all accounts agree in representing the religious state of France as still worse than its civil state. Among the Catholic clergy, a few whom a love of their country and a sense of duty impelled to return, during the reign of Bonaparte, to the administration of pastoral duties, may be found sustaining their office with disinterested fidelity. But the greater proportion, it is to be feared, have failed to embrace the more beneficial part of their professed religion, and if not infidels, are wholly secular in their views and motives. On such men, the intolerant dogmas of the Romish Church, and the irritation produced by their supposed grievances, must necessarily have a highly aggravating tendency. Even among those who bear the Protestant name, although for the most part possessing that superior liberality of sentiment, and that love of liberty, which are among the glorious effects of the Protestant religion when consistently embraced, and which must ever render them obnoxious to a despot; even among the Protestants of France, there is too much reason to fear, that there is a prevailing deficiency of that heartfelt and effective Christianity, which alone can act upon society with the force of a moral antidote. .
Now, we contend that this state of things in the opposite kingdom, is a subject which, apart from all considerations of peace and of war, of commercial or political intercourse, deserves the thoughtful attention of every individual, how inferior soever his station, in a free country, where the opinion of the meanest individual has a certain importance, as a unit of that currency which constitutes our moral wealth. Let it be known let it be made intelligible to all classes, why, as a nation, we are great, and what constitutes our greatness. Let it be distinctly shewn from the fate of France, that political liberty is chiefly valuable as being essential to moral and religious freedom, and that on the independence and separate strength of each class of society, and of each member of that class, rests the whole of our collective might and grandeur. Let it further be borne in mind, that whatever tends to amalgamate a people into a passive mass, to render their wills the mere tributaries of fear or of interest, to deprive them of individuality and of independence, whether it be by the absorption of the military system, or by the undue extension of government influence, whether it be by legalized or by despotic measures, whether it be by the gradual operation of circumstances, or by the more
daring application of the accursed principle of expediency, , the tendency, the certain result of such a system of things is, to undermine the prosperity and accelerate the downfal of the nation.
Without fearing to encounter the reproach of being Jacobins or alarmists, we would use all the energy we possess, in pressing upon our readers the consideration, how far causes of this nature have been and continue to be in operation on the English people. It is perhaps the worst effect of what are termed politics, to fix the attention wholly on the emergencies of the moment, and to lead to a disregard of all considerations which seem to rest on theory, as only incumbering the practical question. It is now our boast to have for our ministers practical men, and, in truth, nothing is so important in the exigencies of the moment as practical adroitness. . Existing circumstances' being once allowed to circumscribe the views of the politician, the precedents of history and the certainties of the future, form around the political horizon a twilight into which he is not tempted to penetrate. There is scarcely any infraction of principle, which a man, with motives far from dishonourable, without any wilfulness of crime, may not be induced to consider as expedient, and, if he have the power, to adopt as necessary; and, with only apparent possibilities opposed to the convenient measure, he will not fail to render plausible, the first slight deviation from the strictness of right,
Indeed, the supposed purity of intention, and, in comparison, the superior integrity of a set of statesmen, may afford them an unhappy facility in undermining the polítical principles of a nation, by the introduction of a system of expediency. When once a degree of obloquy can be cast on opposition to in a free government, sufficient to deter men of the more moderate cast, from venturing their character by asserting their rights, the first step is taken towards the creation of a despotism as real as the most arbitrary government. It becomes then a comparatively easy task to awe or to purchase into subjection or connivance, the turbulent and the profligate. Influence then takes the character of power, and power once surrendered by the many into the hands of the few, can never be recovered but at the expense of a conflict endangering the interests of both.
It was a very different spirit and policy, yet maintained in perfect and reverent subordination to the authority of law, that actuated the men who were the founders of our constitutional liberty, in their resistance of the impositions of the monarch, • A spirit of liberty,' says Hume, had now taken possession 6 of the House : the leading members, men of an independent "genius and of large views, began to regulate their opinions, ? more by the future consequences which they foresaw, than
by the former precedents which were set before them; and their remonstrances to the king were founded on the opinion, " that the reasons of the practice (there alluded to) might be ' extended much farther, even to the utter ruin of the ancient • liberty of the kingdom."* A species of reasoning, however cogent, that would be treated very lightly by the House of Commons in the present day, when opposed to practical expediency.
In proceeding to contrast with the causes of the moral elevation of this country, the train of circumstances in which the crimes and misfortunes of the French appear to have originated, what may be termed the economical difference of the two countries, will be found to have been not the least important. England, confessedly, owes all her present greatness to her commercial character. Her , maritime ascen. dency has arisen from this circumstance, in connexion with her insular situation ; but it is not to her naval glories, nor to her national wealth, that we allude, when we attribute the greatness of England to commerce. It was commerce, as the great source of individual wealth, that was the first or most powerful means of raising the commoner into consideration, and of completing, by this means, the destruction of the feudal system in this country. " While the barons • possessed their former immense property and extensive ju• risdictions, they were apt, at every disgust, to endanger & the monarch, and throw the whole government into con& fusion ; but this confusion often, in its turn, proved favour. * able to the monarch, and made the nation again submit to * him, in order to re-establish justice and tranquillity. After o the power of alienations, as well as the increase of com
merce, had thrown the balance of property into the hands s of the commons, the situation of affairs, and the disposi. tions of men, became susceptible of a more regular plan s of liberty: and the laws were not supported singly by the
authority of the sovereign.'t From this period, then, we may date the creation of that middle class, which forms one of the most peculiar features in our social economy; a class intervening between the arrogance of hereditary rank and the helplessness of poverty, yet, by its interests allied to both; a class in which industry and all the commercial virtues are perpetuated by their own reward, and in which the domestic affections find their most congenial soil. The accidental benefits arising from the tendency of Commerce to liberalize the mind, and to enlarge the sphere of speculation and interest, are not to be disregarded, in estimating its ef
* Hume, James I. c. xlvi. t Ibid.
fects on the national character ; but the point of view in which its importance appears the most conspicuous, is, its operation in promoting the circulation of wealth, by which means all the objects of honourable ambition have been rendered accessible to every class of the community, their interest in the general weal has been incalculably increased, while the influence attached to wealth, underived from power, and independent of state favour, thus vested in the great body of the people, has constituted a substantial barrier against the encroachments of the aristocracy, as well as the usurpations of the crown. In fact, commerce has introduced that counterpoise into the social system, on which depends the preservation of freedom. The depression of commerce, therefore, and its consequent effects on the middle classes, in eventually resolving them into the old feudal distinctions of rich and poor, may be contemplated as an unequivocal symptom of danger to the liberties of the country.
It is obvious to remark, that France has never been preeminently a commercial country. The proportion of brar capital employed in mercantile speculations, has always, we believe, been very inadequate, and the successive wars in which the ambition of her rulers has led them to engage for purposes of aggrandizement, or from enmity to this country, have entailed the most injurious effects upon the industry and wealth of the nation. Nor has the domestic policy of the government itself been at all favourable to the encouragement of trade. The existence of commerce is incompatible with despotism. It is well known how much this country is indebted for one branch of her manufactures, to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes; and imposts and monopolies have had their share in retarding the progress of commercial inprovement in France. Add to this, that the corruption and poverty of the old feudal nobility, by removing the strongest check upon the arbitrary power of the monarch, have indirectly concurred to oppose the independence of the people. We look in vain for any class in France, under the old régime, which can be considered as answering to the middle order in England.
The representative system of legislature in this country, and the share of actual judicature vested by the trial by jury iu the general body of the peoplé, are distinguishing features of our national policy, to which we may ascribe a great proportion of our prosperity. These are subjects at which we can only glance; but, not to speak of the security of the individual, which is effected by the latter, and the way in which the general interests of the nation are guarded by the former, there has been proved by experienee to result from these provisions of our constitution, an intelligent but implicit deference to the laws, absolutely independent of the sentiments with