« PreviousContinue »
“had not the slightest expectation of living to see.” Are you, I wonder,” he writes (before hearing the issue of the
Ι debate previous to the first reading), * as some of us are here, in fear of the result ? Still I hope that there has been success thus far-by this time the great preliminary question has been decided; we shall wait (you are not waiting) with extreme anxiety to hear how. But even if it has been decided right, there is still a fearful trial further on, where one sees in firm array, and with desperately resolute aspect, the whole mass and strength of inveterate corruption, and aristocratic power. With that huge combination of corruption, it is now or never;' and I shall be delightfully disappointed if its resistance do not prove substantially, though not wholly, successful. My fear is, that the proud aristocracy are so besotted as not to understand the signs of the times; as not to see, that if they do not concede, they will put all to ultimate hazard, I mean, for their own interests. They have been so long accustomed, and with complete impunity, to despise the people, under the name and character of the 'lower orders,' the mob, and so forth, and to indulge and express their scorn of any thing that miserable “many-headed beast' can do against them, that it is vastly difficult for them to admit any conviction or fear about the matter.
“ It is not for this country only, but for other nations, for Europe, that one fearfully contemplates this juncture of our affairs. Should the present ministry and projected reform fail, who shall insure us against becoming again involved in a general war for despotism against liberty,— ruining ourselves to ruin the cause of justice and the people all over the continent ? The scene and prospects are dark and portentous there. All unquiet in the gigantic republic (it is little else) of France; all perverse and ill-starred in
* To John Easthope, Esq., March 9, 1831,
Belgium ; the despots all in a fever of rage, and eagerness, if they dare, to be in action; and too probably Warsaw by this time in a state of blood, and sack, and desolation, to be followed up by all the rigours of revenge and aggravated tyranny over the whole people; while there is no power to interfere to turn that revenge, in fire and brimstone, on the barbarian oppressor.
“ The only consolation is, that there is a Sovereign Power reigning over all. That consolation, however, is mingled with the gloom of knowing that the supreme Governor has a controversy, a fearful account to settle, with all the nations for their impiety and wickedness. So that it is but too sadly probable there are 'vials of wrath' to be poured out on them all, before happier times shall come—that is to say, before they are worthy or fit for such times.'
The return of so vast a majority in favour of the bill at the general election in 1831, was hastily deemed by many, to be the death-blow of toryism, and even Foster indulged expectations of the triumphant progress of liberal principles, which a calm review of the state of the conflicting parties not long after convinced him were far too sanguine. It is interesting to contrast the bright vision of political optimism which his ardent imagination created at this crisis, with the sombre views he generally entertained. “It would be doing no good,” he says,* " if I could communicate any
share of the elated wild-fire spirits with which we have been half mad here, for you have quite enough of it, and more than enough already. ... The result of the dissolution must have surpassed, I should think, the most sanguine dream that flattered the imaginations of the Ministry themselves. Is it not possible, if the very truth could be known, that some of them may be a little frightened
* To John Easthope, Esq , M.P., May 21, 1831.
at their own success ? For it is little better, as the opposition prints and orators are truly saying, day after day, than a triumph of plain radicalism; and Lord Grey is notoriously a high-toned aristocrat, and probably some of his titled associates are much of the same temper. But aristocracy is now dashed from its proud position, never to regain it. . ... Doubtless, our nobility, and commoners of rank and wealth, will continue to have weight and influence in our national affairs,-great enough in all reason ; but it now appears to be quite secondary and subordinate, to the end of the chapter. This is what we wanted; but one should wonder if it can exactly please all those personages of high degree, who are concurring with apparent zeal, to accomplish this prodigious change. As to such a'my lord' as he that is denominated Brougham and Vaux, I can imagine that he may not care. he has something that mounts him proudly above title and all its stupid pomps; but as to many of those who are ostensibly to coincide with him in the present measures, will it not secretly aggrieve them to suffer a deduction of about fifty per cent. at a stroke from the practical value of their nobility ?
“We may now look for what shall approach rather nearly to a real representation of the people; and it is evident enough that such a House of Commons will assume a lofty ascendency over every other power in the State. It will say, in menacing tone, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many; we are in effect the people ; we express their will and bear their authority, to which every other authority shall yield.'
“ From this time forth, the ministry--any ministry that means to maintain place for three months, must act in conformity to the national mind. And to a ministry willing so to act a prodigious advantage is gained by this surprising change. They will no longer be harassed to dis
traction by endless compromises to be adjusted ; by the demands and menacing power of competitor factions; by the dictated conditions on which His Grace or Paul Benfield* will give the support of his half-dozen or half-score of rotten boroughs; by the anxiety to distribute the wages of corruption in such a manner as to keep the business going on, and the system from going to pieces. A ministry will now be able, in the name and strength of the people, to defy the contrivances of intriguers, the influences behind the throne;' and the personal caprices and perversities there may be on the throne itself. Is Master William fully aware what he is doing for the prerogative, as it is named, of his successors on that seat of power ? Perhaps he is, and is gratified to think that he has possessed and exerted a greater power than any of them will ever enjoy. It is not conceivable there can ever come a crisis in which a British monarch shall possess a power equal to the making such a prodigious dash as what he has now made.
* “ Paul Benfield is the grand parliamentary reformer, the reformer to whom the whole choir of reformers bow, and to whom even the right honourable gentleman himself must yield the palm ; for what region in the empire, what city, what borough, what county, what tribunal in this kingdom is not full of his labours ? ..: In order to station a steady phalanx for all future reforms, this public-spirited usurer, amidst his charitable toils for the relief of India, did not forget the poor rotten Constitution of his native country. For her, he did not disdain to stoop to the trade of a wholesale upholsterer for this house, to furnish it, not with the faded tapestry figures of antiquated merit, such as decorate and may reproach some other houses, but with real solid living patterns of true modern Virtue. Paul Benfield made (reckoning himself) no fewer than eight members in the last parliament. What copious streams of pure blood must he not have transfused into the veins of the present! But what is even more striking than the real services of this new-imported patriot, is his modesty. As soon as he had conferred the benefit on the Constitution, he withdrew himself from our applause. Mr. Benfield was therefore no sooner elected than he set off for Madras, and defrauded the longing eyes of parliament. We have never enjoyed in this house the luxury of beholding that minion of the human race, and contemplating that visage which has so long reflected the happiness of nations.” — BURKE's Speech on the Nabob of Arcot's Debts. Works, vol. iv. pp. 62, 63. (Lond. 1852.)
There can never again so much depend on the single will and determination of the crown. He might, for some time at least, have stood out against the national wishes and interest, abetting the aristocratic and boroughmonger party in a great degree, in defiance of the reforming spirit, retaining a Tory ministry supported by a corrupt parliament; but he has irrecoverably deprived the monarchy of all such power. . . . . It will be high amusement to see the Bill’ driving and forcing its way through the Lords, amidst the silent mortification of some, and ungovernable rage of others. That they absolutely must pass it, and dare not even presume to modify it, is now, I suppose, a matter beyond all question. But to think of the desperate fury of a large quantity of them!”
During the interval between the introduction and settlement of this great measure, the elation of his feelings had subsided, and he began to look with suspicion and anxiety on the efforts that would be made by the enemies of the popular cause, to nullify its efficiency. “You have it your own way at last,” he says, “the thing is done; and I congratulate you.
And now, what do you soberly and deliberately reckon on as the consequence, after the reform in your house shall have been carried into effect? The exultation and sanguine expectations of all around me, were putting me, last night, to look a little coolly at the prospect. And I confess the nearest and largest circumstance in it was not of the most pleasant aspect or colour, being no other than this—a protracted and deadly warfare between the two parties, probably resulting in still greater changes, and perhaps at length in some great catastrophe. It is unlikely that the aristocracy will have learnt any wisdom from their experience. Where, in all Europe, have their class learnt any thing from events which might have instructed all but stocks and stones ?