صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

merits of the individuals by whom they have been proposed. And here it may be proper to remark, that it is no test of consistency at all, for a writer to be able to say, I have always been an enemy to peculation; or, I have uniformly been a friend to the constitution. No man in this country ever pretended to defend peculation, or to impugn the constitution in direct terms; nor have any parties ever been arrayed against each other, who were not perfectly agreed as to these and other general propositions. It is not then in his uniformn professions of attachment to the constitution, or of hostility to those who endanger it, that we are to look for the evidence of Mr Cobbett's political consistency. It is in the specific measures which he has succesively held out as necessary for its defence, and the views and arguments by which he has at different times affected to support it.

After having been himself, for ten years, by far the loudest and most violent of those who endeavoured to terrify us with the dangers of Jacobinism, and the example of the French revolution, Mr Cobbett could sit down coolly, on the 11th of July 1807, and write these words. “For the last fourteen years, Salarms referring to the French revolution, have from time to time • been played off upon this nation, and that too with woeful and disgraceful success. To these alarms, artfully excited and kept ' up, the country owes almost the whole of her present difficulties ; for, had it not been for the fear men entertained of the overthrow of all order, law, and religion, Pitt never could have held so long that power, by the exercise of which he entailed such Sa train of curses upon us. Let the people look to this. Let them

take care not to be alarmed again into an approbation of seven 6 years suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. Let them take spea

cial care not to be persuaded, that the only way to have their « liberties secured, is to have them taken away from them.' (vol. xii. p. 36.) This is pretty well for a general specimen of cona sistency; but it is better to be somewhat more particular. · The points upon which Mr Cobbett has descanted with the greatest zeal and animation for the last four months, are, Ist, The necessity of a reform in the representation ; 2d, The berefit of frequent elections; and, 3d, The necessity of removing all placemen as well as pensioners from the houses of Parliament. Now, upon each of these subjects, we have had the benefit of perusing his opinions some years ago ; and the comparison of those opinions with the doctrines which he now maintains with so much zeal and confidence, furnishes a contrast, we are happy to say, not less instructive and amusing than that which has been already presented in his judgments of individuals.

Upon the subject of parliamentary reform, we have a pretty VOL. X. NO. 20.

decisive

decisive diatribe in an angry, letter to Mr Wilberforce in January 1803. The leading accusation against that gentleman is, that he had once patronized that detestable cause. Of the clamours for parliamentary reform,' says he, ' first begun by you and your associates, how numerous and how great have been the evils ! «No small portion of the discontents and dangers which have exo, sisted in England and Ireland, arose from the doctrines promul• gated by the parliamentary reformers; whose wild notions, inco

herent plans, and nonsensical phrases, were adopted by all those seditious and treasonable combinations which,' &c. He then falls foul, in still stronger terms, of the reform societies of 178% and 1785; and after stating, in italics, that · Horne Tooke, who

was prosecuted for high treason, pleaded, in defence, that his • society had in view no other object than that which had been

pursued by you and your coadjutors,' he goes on to conclude, that the principles broached and promulgated by you and your 6 associates, were such as led to the commission of high treason,

the most heinous of all earthly offences--the compassing and • imagining the death of the King.' vol. III. p.35. There are many other passages in which the same principles are delivered ; and not only the rebellions in Ireland, but the revolution in France, referred to the pernicious example of those among us who first set on foot " those wild and presumptuous projects' for: parliamentary reform.

After this, it is really edifying to hear Mr Cobbett exclaiming, in the bitterness of his heart, the people know very well how the House of Commons is chosen ;' and actually quote ing the words and resolutions of the very reformers of 1782, in order to ask Mr Perceval, whether, in such a state of the representation, it be not a mockery to call an election an appeal to the sense of the people, or whether men ought to be Greviled, and punished as traitors and seditious libellers, because

they are discontented with such a state of things, because they wish for, and seek, an improvement in the representation. And I put it to your reason," he adds, whether the upholding such a state of things, and such revilings and punishings, be the likely means of calling forth the zeal of the people in defence of the government.' 'vol. XI. p. 863. Throughout all the later numbers, indeed, his main ground of accusation against the Whigs, as well as the followers of Mr Pitt, is, that none of them took any measures, while in power, for carrying into effect those great plans of parliamentary reform, for which they had affected so much zeal while in opposition.

Upon the same important subject, combined with the consideration of the effects of frequent election, we have a still fuller and more elaborate picture of Mr Cobbett's original sentiments,

m

in his summary of politics for June 1802. He there observes, on occasion of a recent dissolution of Parliament, that the peo• ple had been told, in two factious addresses, that they are not re

presented in the House of Commons; that that assembly is no longer what it used to be.; and that, until it be reformed, it is

in vain for them to hope for any good from that quarter.' How exactly those factious addresses coincide with Mr Cobbett's own sentiments in his late letters to the Electors of Westminster, none of his readers can fail to perceive. In 1802, however, he not only calls them factious, but goes, on to state, that the « words representation and elective franchise, have done much towards confusing the brains, and corrupting the hearts of his Mas jesty's subjects; and though he has not the power of dissipating the fatal delusion, it is yet his duty to contribute his mite to the attempt.' In the prosecution of this laudable endeavour, he presents his readers with a picture of the miserable state of the repres sentation in one of the states of America, " where the elective franchise was as universal as even Sir Francis Burdett could have wished it ;' and assures them that the choice frequently fell upon bankrupts, swindlers, quacks, atheists, &c. . The rationale of all which he gives very much at his ease as follows. "The é cause of their preposterous choice is this. The mass of the peo- ..

ple of all nations are so fond of nothing as of power. Men of

sense know that the people can in reality exercise no power, which will ' not tend to their own injury. Hence it is, that in states where the

popular voice is unchecked by a royal, or some other hereditary influence, that voice is, nine times out of ten, given in favour of those fawning parasites, who, in order to gratify their own intera est and ambition, profess to acknowledge no sovereignty but that of the people, and who, when they once get into power, rule the poor sovereign with a rod of scorpions, ' &c. He then quotes an American pamphleteer in proof of the shocking state of the legislatures in that republic; and concludes Such, Eng• lishmen, is the description of a legislative assembly, where we

qual representation” prevails; where almost every man has a (vote at elections ; and where these elections do annually occur. « The ambitious knaves, who flatter you with high notions of your "rights and privileges, who are everlastingly driving in your ears

the blessings of what they call the elective franchise, wish to add (to the number of electors, because they well know that they would thereby gain an accession of strength,' &c. vol. I. p.795.

Compare, with these passages, the whole tenor of the author's late addresses to the electors of Westminster, and, in particular, his late anticipation of another Westminster election, which, he says, “ will be a great good, -an unmixed good;--a good indis. Cc2

putable,

power," that

[ocr errors]

putable,-a good which will make up for many and many an evil ;' and the passages where he says, 'So unequivocal are the advan• tages of an election, to the people at least, that I should suppose " there are very few persons unconnected with the late ministry who must not rejoice at the prospect. To chuse our representa

tives, is among the most precious of our rights. It is our just • franchise ; and can there be a voter in the whole kingdom who

objects to have an occasion to exercise it ? Can the exercise of it come too often ?' &c. &c. In the same tone he quotes, with warm approbation, the excellent speech of Mr Frend (vol. XII. p. 10.) in which it is stated, • The public demands that the mem

bers of the House of Commons be the representatives of the i public, not the choice of a few private individuals; that Parlia• ments be frequent, so that the members may not lose sight of their duty to their constituents,' &c.

Mr Cobbett's great modern theme, however, is his detestation of placemen and pensioners; and the leading argument- if we must call it argument of his late Numbers, is directed to show, that there can be no salvation for England till every individual of this hateful description be excluded from the Houses of Parliament. This, so far as we can gather, is the sum and substance, the beginning and end of the reform by which alone we can be saved from destruction. We are wearied now of turning over the close printed pages of his former Numbers for doctrines exactly opposed to this. We are very much mistaken, however, if they are not to be found there, and are perfectly positive that no hints of this new creed are to be met with in any writing of his published so long as two years ago. This, of itself, is quite decisive as to the state of his former opinions. Placemen and pensioners have sat in Parliament for upwards of a hundred years; and yet Mr Cobbett had been ten years a patriotic journalist in this country, before he found it necessary to say one word against this dreadful abuse. He will scarcely pretend that there are more placemen now in Parliament than there were three years ago ; and if their existence there be now so mortal to the constitution that nothing short of their total expulsion can give us a chance for its preservation, it surely must have been his duty to have proposed such a measure before Sir Francis Burdett put it into his famous address to the Electors of Middlesex. The merits of the doctrine itself we shall consider immediately. We are now speaking only of Mr Cobbett's consistency in insisting on it as obviously indispensable to our salvation. We have just fallen by accident upon the following passage, in an abusive letter to Mr Wilberforce in December 1802, in which the propriety and legality of placemen sitting in Parliament seems to be pretty clearly taken

for

[ocr errors]

for granted. Discoursing of Parliamentary disinterestedness, he says-r Though present experience teaches us that some men o certainly wish for office, to gratify their own covetousness and vanity; there are others, and, I trust, a far greater number, who,

in their pursuit of power, are actuated by the noble motive of “advancing the power and happiness of their Sovereign and their country. That considerations of a private nature, the desire of

posthumous, and even of present fame, may mix themselves a• long with this great leading public motive, I allow :-But, Sir, I • defy you to show me, in the conduct of a placeman of this de

scription, any presumption that he has made the choice of his Selectors subservient to his own interest or aggrandisement, which

will not apply with equal, or with greater, force to yourself,? &c.

There is only one other subject, we think, upon which Mr Cobbett used formerly to enlarge with such frequency and zeal as to make it one of the fair characteristics of his peculiar opinions; we mean his ardent love and veneration for the person and family of the Sovereign, and for royalty indeed in general, In his earlier volumes, there is much fulsome cant and disgusting raving of this sort; but since he has embraced the creed of Sir Francis Burdett, this fine spirit of devoted loyalty seems to be pretty well evaporated. In his number for 24th March 1807, he defends the toast of our Sovereign the People,' given at one of the worthy Baronet's dinners, and says, he has no other objection to it than that it is not of plain unequivocal meaning.' He treats with considerable derision a loyal correspondent, who had said, he trusted every true Englishmen would shed the last drop of his blood in support of his King ;-tells him the King has about 200,000 gentlemen in red and blue jackets whose business it is to support him, and that he is able to take care of him, self; and that such views of devotion may be reasonable and manly when we see the King giving up any point whatever, however loudly called for, or from whatever quarter. After this he proceeds to justify the party at the said dinner for omitting to drink the King's health ;-contends that this is merely a voluntary expression of admiration of his conduct, and that, for his own párt, since the introduction of so many Hanoverian soldiers, the exemption of the King's property from the income.tax, and one or two other suspicious things of the same description, he has not felt quite so much of that admiration, and does not choose voluntarily to come forward with expressions of that sentiment, &c. (vol. XI. p. 436.) Is it too much to say, that the zealous advocate of the Bourbons, and of all their connexions, might have been expected to speak of the sons of his own Sovereign in terms of less contempt and acrimony? His

C¢ 3

observations

« السابقةمتابعة »