Page images

more permanent qualities of an evil kind, we fail to view in their true character-and to estimate according to their real impor


Still, making all these allowances in favour of the saying of the Wise King, it is unquestionable, that there may be times in social, as well as in private and individual life, when the state of society, upon the whole, is vastly preferable to the condition in which, at other, and it may be, later times, it is found to exist—and that, as there are periods in our individual lives to which we look back as the sunniest spots of our existence-although there were, doubtless, many distressing incidents in them, which we do not now sufficiently remember or estimate-so there may be in political and public life, conditions of happiness-prosperity-and glory-which history, or the remembrances of individuals, are accustomed to celebrate as the best that have been submitted to their consideration or experience though they may have had disadvantages which, amidst the prevailing prosperity and happiness, we now feel no desire to retrace or to record.

And the effect of such times, to those who love to dwell on the recollection or history of them, will be much augmented, if they have been in sudden contrast to periods of a very opposite kind— and have occurred, it may be, within the scope of a single life.

And, what a contrast between the early years of those who are now in the midst of their days-and the times of agitation—of innovation—and of anxiety, by which their opening years have been followed. During the long years of the former of these periods -the prosperity—the glory—the happiness of the country were at their highest pitch;—bright prospects opened upon those who were then entering upon the career of life-for there were abundant opportunities of employment for all who sought for distinction in the path of industry-and parents were happy in the rearing of an offspring, to whose success they looked forward with confidence-and children, in the expectation of the time when they should find no difficulty in taking their place among those who were running the race of life with honour. also a period when unanimity of feeling pervaded all ranks and classes of the community-and when that feeling was one which had nothing in it that could be considered equivocal, or that did not denote sound-heartedness and health.

It was

Those who were young during the brightest years of that time, now look with delight to the pure pleasure which they felt in all the days of festivity which they then kept-and which were devoted to purposes so sanctioned by all their holiest and most reverential feelings-and those who can now look back to the ardent pursuits of youth spent during that time, have few recollections more exhilarating than those of the days when a feeling of military glory was in some measure diffused throughout all classes-and when every heart beat either with triumph in the advancing glory of the country-or with delight on the noble principles which she was exerting all her energies by sea and by land to maintain-or with detestation of the ambitious designs of an enemy whom she alone, of all the nations of the world, was able to resist with suc


The heart of the country was then, indeed, 66 as the heart of one man❞—and that heart animated only by such feelings as were healthful and improving ;-and all who enjoyed these feelings can now testify that they look back to them with an assurance that their effect was of the most genial kind, and fitted to shed a healing influence on all that was otherwise faulty or defective in their nature.

It is a very different prospect that opens itself upon the prophetic view of those who are now entering on the troubled and changeful scenes which future days must, to a greater or less extent, present to all who are destined to see their results;-for their opening years must be spent amidst tumults—and changes -and all the discouragements of a condition, in which society' is overstocked in all its employments;—and when, from after days, they look back on the events of their youth, it will be only with feelings of aversion and disgust-and with a sad consciousness that there was nothing in the feelings which those days awakened but what was fitted to give additional virulence to whatever was otherwise bad or unsound in their hearts.

In such persons, the words of the poet, originally descriptive of a state of society in some measure resembling the present, will assuredly be verified,

"Youth that with joys had unacquainted been,

Envied grey hairs that such good days had seen."


THE most distinguished statesman of the present day, is stated to have made the following declaration to his constituents at a recent period,“ I have never been the decided supporter of any band of partizans, but have always thought it much better to look steadily at the peculiar aspect of the times-and, if necessities were so pressing as to demand it, I see no dishonour or discredit in relinquishing opinions or measures, and adopting others more suited to the altered state of the community. For this course of proceeding I have been censured by opposite parties— by those who, upon all occasions, think that no changes are required, as well as by those who, in my opinion, are the advocates of violent and sudden innovations. That middle course, however, I shall continue to pursue. I hold it to be impossible for any statesman to adopt one fixed line of policy under all circumstances and the only question with me, when I depart from that line, shall be, Am I actuated by any interested or sinister motive ? Do I consider the measures I contemplate to be called for by the circumstances and necessities of the country ?"

Such a declaration, it is obvious, when proceeding from a person of enlightened mind—and of candid intentions, implies no relinquishment of principles, which are things of a far deeper and more inalienable character, but simply of opinions as to the necessities and peculiar circumstances of the time—and of measures as demanding an alteration for the very purpose of carrying principles into effect with more certainty and success-and, in this view, the declaration involves great wisdom and justness of thought, and is worthy of being acted on, especially in times of great and sudden changes, by all who have any claims to enlightened policy, and to a just appreciation of the circumstances to which their measures are to be applied.

But the fact is, and it is chiefly with a view to this fact that the preceding quotation has been made that parties themselves are as much subject to the influence of change-and to as great extent as any thing else that exists around themand that it seldom happens that any parties retain for a lengthened course, precisely the same aspect which they were found to have assumed at their first formation.

Thus the two great parties that for so long a period have made this country the battle field of their opinions, were originally formed with the view of either supporting or contesting the doctrine of an absolute and indefeasible right of the existing line of sovereigns to the exclusive possession of the throne which they occupied-and this was the aspect which the different parties assumed during the whole of the latter years of the reigns of the Stuart dynasty.

When, however, the present race of monarchs had obtained possession of the throne, by the act which set aside the legitimate line, the contest soon began to assume another aspect, more suited to the circumstances in which the existing race were placed-the great families which had been chiefly instrumental in placing the reigning sovereigns on the throne, being disposed to claim an undue influence in the direction of the monarchs who thus owed to them their dignity and place--and it soon accordingly became necessary to support the monarch in the exercise of his prerogative, and to wrest from the hands of the party that had chiefly brought about the alteration, that illegal and exorbitant power, which, in consequence of the change, they were disposed to arrogate to themselves. This was the situation of affairs at the commencement of the reign of George the Third-and it was accordingly during his reign—and in consequence of the firmness with which he maintained the struggle, that the Tory party was established in all its power-and maintained the ascendancy which, till within a very recent period, it has preserved with almost uninterrupted success.

But the principles of revolutionary change speedily sprung up in different countries-and threatened to subvert even the fair and long-admired fabric of the British constitution.-America and France took the lead in this bold career-and it then became necessary that a firm stand should be made in defence of princi

ples which had gained the approbation of the soundest political thinkers in all preceding times-and in support of an establishment which had been justly considered as the most admirable and happily constructed of any that had previously existed among men ; —this, therefore, was the third aspect in which the two contendin parties presented themselves to the view of those who witnessed their strife-and as the battle fortunately was conducted with consummate ability on the part of those who stood up for the established order of things, and was cheered by the applause of the multitude whose hearts, after a temporary alienation, soon regained their right and healthful play-the victory did not long hang in suspense-and a spirit of decided attachment to the institutions of the country-of hatred to those who had sought to bring them into danger—and of aversion to every thing that bore the aspect of such innovation, became, and continued for a long period to be, the prevailing spirit by which the whole mass of the British people were animated.

It may be, however, that the influence of this spirit was in some cases carried to too great a length-and that in the triumph of the victories which had been gained over revolutionary principles and projects, men forgot that the condition of society is essentially changeful and progressive-and that it is assuredly the prerogative and the duty of those who have gained supreme dominion, to adopt such alterations, and to give effect to such maxims as may suit the advancing state of a period in which great lights had burst forth-and the human mind was disposed to release itself from all the shackles that had long kept it in a state of helplessness and of bondage. A spirit, accordingly, was quietly but powerfully at work, which sought to undermine the power that was thus exposing itself to an eventual attack-and, in the fulness of its maturity, that spirit once more made itself apparent -not as attempting to define the rights of Kings--or to induce the adoption of revolutionary measures-but under the aspect of a wise and liberal endeavour to rouse society from the state of apathy and repose into which it had so long fallen, and to urge it forward in a career more conformable with the progressive tendency which belongs essentially to the whole scheme of Divine Providence, as manifested by the arrangements of society and of life.

« PreviousContinue »