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Heir to a great fortune, but sprung from a father of humble birth and connexions, Sir Robert (then Mr. Peel) early sought the means of covering the stain of his plebeian birth ; of acquiring a station and consideration among the aristocracy of the country, which mere wealth cannot obtain. Political importance in England treads down all distinctions. By this, therefore, did Mr. Peel endeavour to raise himself from the mortifying position of a rich tradesman's son. Like most men in his station, he assumed High-Tory politics. There is nothing so aristocratic as a plebeian running from his tribe. There are few such fierce Christians as a renegade Jew. The bright model chosen by the young aspirant, his “ tutor, guide, and friend”—was the then Lord Chancellor Eldon. He, before him, had played the same game, with a success unrivalled in the annals of political subserviency. The plebeian lawyer had become the oracle of the aristocracy: from their veriest slave, had become their leader. In the glory of his works, the lowness of his origin faded away, and was lost for ever. How had he done this ? Could not his successful example be followed, and the same results attained ? He had done this by a steady, unflinching, unblushing support of every aristocratic abuse, of every aristocratic prejudice; by becoming the crawling hind, the everready tool, the forward instrument, the reckless, cruel worker of their unhallowed will, to an overbearing, ruthless aristocracy ; by pursuing, unhesitatingly, the many dirty ways of his profession; by bending all forms, all laws, to their purposes ; by blotting out from his nature the warm charities of life ; by covering his countenance with hypocrisy ; by tuning his voice to cant; by having tears at command, and solemn and pious declarations ever ready: in short, by being a servile, callous, unprincipled, useful hireling. Such were the means by which this, his worthy model, stole into the ranks of nobility. So, in youth, Sir Robert Peel prepared to run the same race, and girded up his loins to the task. He set out with good speed, and soon gave evidence of good-will. He was not shocked at what he saw, nor flinched from what he was called on to perform. Lord Castlereagh found him not a backward instrument. The concocter of the Six Acts, and the author and defender of the Man. chester massacre, complained of no hesitation in the obsequious underling. The canting Eldon took him to his bosom, and chilled him into a semblance of himself. In those days of mourning, at that dark moment of our history, there was no feeling exhibited by him but one of bitter hostility to the popular cause ; no prejudice was too strong, too miserable, too drivelling, to obtain his support. The Constitution, in allit s deformity, was the constant theme of his praise. The constitution meant exclusion from participation in the business of government, of all but a few of the privileged class—exclusion of all dissent. The Test and Corporation Acts were, in his supposed belief, absolutely necessary to the conservation of the state ; the degradation of the Roman Catholics, the vivifying spirit which kept us in health and being. Free trade would have then been, in his statements, a portentous innovation_every monopoly a perennial source of profit to the nation. Such, at the outset of his career, was Sir Robert Peel.
When Lord Castlereagh executed the judgment that had long been passed on him by the suffering millions of the universe, and cut himself off from the living world, a change began to be discernible in the councils of our rulers. This change was partly owing to the indolence of George IV., and partly to the growing determination of the people to resist oppression. It was plain to the indolent and voluptuous monarch, that the arbitrary conduct of Castlereagh would, if continued, involve him in trouble, perhaps in civil war, His growing infirmities, though they had not lessened the despotism of his nature, had considerably increased his dislike of labour. Ease was what he desired; and he felt that ease could not be preserved if the people were insulted and oppressed as they had hitherto been. From that moment the advance of aristocratic despotism was arrested. Castlereagh had carried their domination to its highest point, and each succeeding year after his death brought a diminution of their power. Their onward march first was checked: retreat quickly followed; and on the heels of retreat came defeat and ruin. In the whole of these proceedings, what was the conduct of Sir Robert Peel? So long as success attended despotism, he was of the number of its retainers : he cheered on the minister in his work of cruelty and insult; he aided and abetted his nefarious designs. When downright open violence and opposition were no longer possible, he employed the insidious arts of his tribe to check the popular advance, to increase and retain the ill-gotten and worse-used power of the aristocracy. The ministry of that day pretended to a liberal section : was Mr. Peel of that somewhat liberal party? No. He began to be the avowed head of the bigots and oligarchs of the band. With Lord Eldon for his friend and adviser, he ranged himself in opposition to every liberal idea; and for the purpose of currying favour with the Church, he waged fierce war against all toleration. But in his bosom there was another passion raging, and that was jealousy. Canning's brilliancy and wit cast into shade the merits of his wealthy compeer. While Canning lived, Mr. Peel was compelled to occupy a subordinate station. Rage, ill suppressed, drove the less gifted aspirant to political power, to adopt other support than what he might derive from his talent. He propped himself up by the Church on one side, and the aristocracy on the other. Canning supported Catholic Emancipation ; Peel, therefore, was fiercely opposed to it. The list of Canning's liberal ideas was short ; but, nevertheless, few as they were, they had an ever-steady opponent in his right honour. able compeer. Bearing in mind that one of the guiding influences under which he acted was jealousy of Mr. Canning, let us consider the conduct of Sir Robert Peel respecting the memorable question of Catholic Emancipation. From the time lie came into office, till the death of Lord Liverpool, he was ranked among its chief opponents. This period was not one of mere tutelage. He had arrived at a time of life, when, if ever, he was fully capable of forming his opinions. On deliberate consideration, we may suppose (seeing that his opposition had been continued some twelve or fourteen years) he had come to the conclusion, that Catholic Emancipation would be the ruin of the state-of that blessed thing called the Constitution. Acting on this conclusion, he resisted every attempt to grant it, and derived great fame and power from his pious consideration of our glorious institutions. Taking the Right Honourable gentleman at his word, we are to believe this opposition the result of a conviction of its necessity. Of that necessity he had now been judging fourteen years, in the prime of his life, during the time best fitted for consideration. His constant asseveration was, that ruin,—" hideous ruin and combustion,"—would be the immediate consequence of any concession to the demands of the Catholics. Lord Liverpool died, and then came the interesting question, who was to be Premier ! Unfortunately for Mr. Peel's ambition, Mr. Canning was living, and his competitor. Mr. Canning obtained the desired post, and Mr. Peel would not serve in a subordinate situation in his ministry ; but to say this at once and openly, would have been too honest for men in office. A pretence was to be framed-a pretence by which favour might be obtained. To what party did Mr. Peel turn for favour? As usual, to the party of bigots. He could not agree with Mr. Canning on the Catholic question ; and so important did he deem that question, that he could not consent to form part of any ministry pledged to carry emancipation. Under the cover of this saintly pretence, he retired. Lord Eldon sighed and cried, called God to witness, canted, and, oh, lucky Providence ! retired also. At this time Ireland was in a state of revolt-civil war was imminent. Mr. O'Connell was active in his agitation ; and nothing to every reasonable person appeared capable of allaying the terrible ferment in that country but instant emancipation. Still to Mr. Peel's dull vision nothing of the sort could be descried. He would not, could not, dared not, consent to desecrate our holy constitution ; to displace her very foundation stones, and overturn all that was valuable in the country. Such was the jargon employed, such the stuff lauded as the height of wisdom, by an interested priesthood. The exclusion of the Dissenters, the maintenance of the Test and Corporation Acts, was in the same way deemed and described as of the same vital importance. The proposed repeal of them was a proceeding to which precisely the same set of words was usually applied. The same rant, the same cant, the same hypocrisy, the same shallow sophistry, were employed in both cases; and with the same purpose and effect. The purpose was a pretence; the effect, currying favour with the clergy Mr. Canning died before he could carry his intentions into effect. Again came the question, who was to be Premier? With all Mr. Peel's truckling, he had not yet conquered the prejudice against his birth. The old King thought, and called him a vulgar fellow, and resolved not to have for his minister a man to whom fashionable manners had not been fami. liar from his childhood. Again was Mr. Peel passed over, and the Duke of Wellington marched into office. Mr. Peel was now placed in a difficult position. There appeared no probability of ousting the military Premier. Office seemed impossible, except under him; while under him Catholic Emancipation was also to be granted. The pride of the Right Honourable Gentleman condescended to bow to the Duke of Wellingion. He was a noble ; to obey him was not so galling as to play second to the plebeian Canning, whose only superiority lay in his talent. Hav. ing consented to put his pride into his pocket, the next difficulty was to take care of his character; to preserve what is called consistency. A light was supposed to break upon the Secretary. He now saw the danger of withholding Emancipation. It is true, the circumstances of the case were not changed, but the Secretary now viewed them from a different position ; he saw them under another aspect. The healing mea. sure was necessary to the preservation of peace, and the maintenance of himself in office.' The Duke had an awkward, peremptory way of requiring strict obedience. He dragooned his officers; would not permit them to have a will of their own; nor suffer the least attempt at making a bargain with him for half service. His declaration was, you must do all I desire, or nothing. So rather than do nothing, Mr. Peel consented to do all. To the pious Eldon this was a woful backsliding. The church, always thereby meaning the priests, actually “madden'd round the land." With these holy men Mr. Peel lost all his power ; in the eyes of his for. mer aristocratic associates, he all at once became the son of a cotton spin
He tasted the bitter fruits of the tree he had been so sedulously cherishing, and received the just reward of his labours. Despised by all good men as a time-serving tool; hated by those he so long had served, and now deserted, he vainly looked round for support. The world accepted his services with coldness and contempt. He consented to do what he could no longer withstand ; now, at the twelfth hour, putting into execution plans which, in spite of his own constant opposition, had been matured and thrust upon him,-plans which he, for years, had been describing as leading to the ruin of every thing valuable in the country, which he had opposed so long as his interest dictated, and which, when that changed, but not before, he not only could view with complacenes, but could actually carry into effect. We are desirous of dwelling, for a moment, on the consideration of this change. The change itself we believe to have produced much benefit; the people, no doubt, derived good from it. But this is not the light in which we wish now to view it. What we are specially desirous of doing is, to look at it as connected with the character of the person thus suddenly enlightened. In spite of the good it produced, it may be damning evidence against the politi. cal morality of the Right Honourable Gentleman himself; and however necessary might have been the support given to him, while carrying the Relief Bill through the House, we now, in the character of historians, and performing the most important of an historian's duties, viz. estimating the worth of those who have influenced the destinies of mankind, cannot but declare our utter scorn and loathing of the easy virtue, the sad lack of all that was honourable, too plainly manifested by that hasty interested change. We have had too much of this sudden enlightenment, and are likely to have much more. The conversions on the subject of reform are something approaching to miraculous ; an antireformer, indeed, is not now to be found. Let no one, however, believe, that the men are changed with their changed declarations. In the case of Sir Robert Peel, at the one time as at the other, before and after the alteration of his declarations respecting Catholic Emancipation, he was thoroughly careless about the matter. He did not believe the assertions in which he so profusely dealt ; he did not believe that evil would fol. low on concession. He employed these declarations to suit his own purposes; using them, in fact, as part of those plausible pretences, which we described above as among the chief instruments of English statesmen. During the ministry of Lord Liverpool, and previous to the death of Mr. Canning, it suited his interests to rave against the Catholic claims,--so he raved against them ; to make plausible pretences to great care for our church establishment,—to great dread of any innovation upon its privileges ; so he made these pretences. When Mr. Canning died, it was for his interest to unsay what he had so often said, so he unsaid it. It was for his interest to adopt another set of entirely pretences, so he adopted them; and thus will he go on till the end of the chapter.
The world talks much of consistency, without appearing to care about it, or to understand what sort of consistency is really desirable. That a man should always retain the same opinion, that he should shut his eyes and his ears, learn nothing, and obstinately adhere to his first conceptions, no one who loves, and properly appreciates the value of truth and knowledge could possibly desire. One of the most powerful obstructions to the advancement of knowledge, is the too great readiness with which mankind make up their minds, shut up the book of expe
rie-nce, and rest contented with what they have seen. They who seek tri ith with fervour are ever open to new evidence; ever ready to reconsicher, reinvestigate the opinions they hold. They deem none irrevoca Bly fixed. They are tolerant of new views, and explore with candour the grounds on which they are supported. Consistency then, that is as we now employ the term, undeviating adherence to an opinion once held or expressed, is not a quality which they pretend to or admire. But be it remembered, that these truth-loving, truth-seeking, Catholic spirits, change only in consequence of evidence ; evidence of the correctness or incorrectness of the opinions they hold, opinions, too, in ac. cordance with their professions. Moreover, they who love truth, and are permitted to be inconsistent, are careful to make no declarations as to opinions without appropriate investigation. They are not firm advo-åtes of crude conceptions on half-explored subjects.
Men thus care. Eul, thus honest, the world may safely allow to depart from consistency. But such permission must not be granted to those who assume opinions Carelessly, or in consequence of their interest. If the opinion has been assumed carelessly, that carelessness ought to be punished : so ought the knavery. The great evil of laxity is the ease with which a knave may suit his professions to his interests. While doubtful of what course events may take, he deals in vague assertions, and often pretends to no opinions at all ; when the event is certain, his declarations become definite ; when circumstances change, his declarations change with them. To guard against this evil, the world should in most cases, therefore, require adherence to professions, unless an honest reason can be exhibited for change. When the change is coincident with an alteration in interest, we should scrutinize, with unsparing severity, the motives which are stated as those which led to it. Besides this precaution there is another. When professions are made, whether of uncertainty or of a definite description, the reasons for both should be strictly required ; and if they be not forthcoming, we may safely conclude the party unfit for public life, and little worthy of our confidence. At the present moment, with those who follow the shuffling course pursued by Sir Robert Peel, the pretence is, on all questions on which they are opposed to the people, to state that they have not yet formed an opinion. In by far the greater number of cases, in which professions of such indecision are made, a downright falsehood is unblushingly hazarded. In those where there is no untruth, there is generally incapacity. These observations are drawn fro
us in consequence of the number of hoary senators, who come before the public with these evasive professions. We see several of the men* whom the people have been accustomed to look up to as leading reformers, while the Tories were in power, declaring, that they have not made up their minds on a question of such primary importance as the ballot. Can this be? Have not some of these men, during their whole lives, been occupied with the consideration of political questions; and are they, at their mature age, to learn the elements of legislation ? Have they discoursed so often, and so long, on matters of politics, in utter ignorance of the first principles by which such questions must be decided ? What a shallow pretender would he be deemed, who should talk upon the application of mathematics, while
It would be easy to add to the force of what is here said, by referring to special instances of the conduct we reprehend; but we forbear, for the present, in the hope that such jesuitical conduct will be specdily abandoned, and a better and wiser course pursued.
E. T. M.