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Constitution, it was hoped, would be transplanted; the fundamental principles of the English revolution, it was at any rate hoped, would be imitated. The essay of Burke by its arguments, the progress of events by an evident experience, proved that such would not be the history. What was to come was uncertain ; there was no precedent on the English file: the English people did not know what they ought to think; they were ready to submit to any one who would think for them. The only point upon which their opinion was decided was, that the French revolution was very dangerous; that it had produced awful results in France; that it was no model for imitation for sober men in a sober country. They were ready to concede anything to a statesman who allowed this, who acted on this, who embodied this in appropriate action.
Mr. Pitt saw little further than the rest of the nation : what the French revolution was he did not understand; what forces it would develop he did not foresee; what sort of opposition it would require he did not apprehend. He was indeed on one point much in advance of his contemporaries. The instinct of uncultivated persons is always towards an intemperate interference with anything of which they do not approve. A most worthy police magistrate in our own time said that he intended to "put down suicide": the English people, in the very same spirit of uncultured benevolence, wished to “put down the French revolution,” — they were irritated at its excesses, they were alarmed at its example, they conceived that such impiety should be punished for the past and prohibited for the future. Mr. Pitt's natural instinct, however, was certainly in an entirely opposite direction. He was by inclination and by temperament opposed to all war: he was very humane, and all war is inhuman; he was a great financier, and all war is opposed to well-regulated finance. He postponed a French war as long as he could; he consented to it with reluctance, and continued it from necessity.
Of the great powers which the sudden excitement of democratic revolution would stimulate in a nation seemingly exhausted, Mr. Pitt knew no more than those who were around him. Burke said that as a military power, France was “blotted from the map of Europe”: * and though Pitt, with characteristic discretion, did not advance any sentiment which would be so extreme, or any phrase which would adhere so fixedly to every one's memory, it is undeniable that he did not anticipate the martial power which the new France, as by magic, displayed ; that he fancied she would be an effete country; that he fancied he was making war with certain scanty vestiges of the ancien régime, instead of contending against the renewed, excited, and intensified energies of a united people. He did not know that for temporary purposes a revolutionary government is the most powerful of all governments; for it does not care for the future, and has the entire legacy of the past. He forgot that it was possible that from a brief period of tumultuous disorder there might issue a military despotism more compact, more disciplined, and more overpowering than any which had preceded it or any which has followed it.
But as we have said, the conclusion of a prolonged article is no place for discussing the precise nature of Mr. Pitt's anti-revolutionary policy. Undoubtedly, he did not comprehend the revolution in France ; as Lord Macaulay has explained with his habitual power, he overrated the danger of a revolution in this country: he entirely overestimated the power of the democratic assailants, and he entirely underestimated the force of the conservative, maintaining, restraining, and if need were reactionary, influence. He saw his enemy; he did not see his allies. But it is not given to many men to conquer such difficulties; it is not given to the greatest of administrators to apprehend
* These words do not appear in Burke's writings; the substance is in the “Remarks on the Policy of the Allies " (Vol. iii., page 449, Bohn).- ED.
entirely new phenomena. A highly imaginative statesman, a man of great moments and great visions, a greater Lord Chatham, might have done so; but the educated sense and equable dexterity of Mr. Pitt failed. All that he could do, he did,- he burnt the memory of his own name into the Continental mind: after sixty years, the French people still half believe that it was the gold of Pitt which caused many of their misfortunes; after half a century, it is still certain that it was Pitt's indomitable spirit and Pitt's hopeful temper which was the soul of every Continental coalition and the animating life of every antirevolutionary movement. He showed most distinctly how potent is the influence of a commanding character just when he most exhibited the characteristic limitation of even the best administrative intellect.
BOLINGBROKE AS A STATESMAN.*
“Who now reads Bolingbroke?” was asked sixty years ago. Who knows anything about him ? we may ask now. Professed students of our history or of our literature may have special knowledge; but out of the general mass of educated men, how many could give an intelligible account of his career? how many could describe even vaguely his character as a statesman ? Our grandfathers and their fathers quarreled for two generations as to the peace of Utrecht; but only an odd person here and there could now give an account of its provisions. The most cultivated lady would not mind asking, “The peace of Utrecht! yes — what was that?” Whether Mr. St. John was right to make that peace, whether Queen Anne was right to create him a peer for making it, whether the Whigs were right in impeaching him for making it, the mass of men have forgotten; so is history unmade. Even now, the dust of forgetfulness is falling over the Congress of Vienna and the peace of Paris; we are forgetting the last great pacification as we have wholly forgotten the pacification before that: in another fifty years “Vienna ” will be as “Utrecht,” and Wellington be no more than Marlborough.
In the mean time, however, Mr. Macknight has done well to collect, for those who wish to know them, the principal events of Bolingbroke's career. There was no tolerable outline of them before, and in some respects this is a good one. Mr. Macknight's style is clear, though often ponderous; his remarks are sensible, and he has the great merit of not being imposed on by great names and traditional reputations. The defect of the book is, that he takes too literary a view of politics and politicians; that he has not looked closely and for himself at real political life; that he therefore misses the guiding traits which show what in Queen Anne's time was so like our present politics, and what so wholly unlike. We shall venture in the course of this article to supply some general outline of the controversies that were to be then decided, and of the political forces which decided them; for unless these are distinctly imagined, a reader of the present day cannot comprehend why such a man as Bolingbroke was at one moment the most conspicuous and influential of English statesmen, and then for years an exile and a wanderer.
* The Life of Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, Secretary of State in the reign of Queen Anne. By Thomas Macknight, author of the “History of the Life and Times of Edmund Burke."
We must own, however, that it is not the intrinsic interest even of events once so very important as the war of the Grand Alliance and the peace of Utrecht which tempts us to write this article: it is the interest of Bolingbroke's own character. He tried a great experiment. There lurks about the fancies of many men and women an imaginary conception of an ideal statesman, resembling the character of which Alcibiades has been the recognized type for centuries. There is a sort of intellectual luxury in the idea which fascinates the human mind: we like to fancy a young man, in the first vigor of body and in the first vigor of mind, who is full of bounding enjoyment, who is fond of irregular luxury, who is the favorite of society, who excels all rivals at masculine feats, who gains the love of women by a magic attraction; but who is also a powerful statesman, who regulates great events, who settles great measures, who guides a great nation. We seem to outstep the monia mundi,* the recognized limits of human nature,
*** Walls of the world.” – Lucretius, in several places.