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The pride of our aristocracy (the proudest in the world), so desperately mortified, is not likely to subside into prudence and accommodation, but to work into rage, and a fierce systematic hostility against the ascendency of the popular interest. And their means for this warfare are multifarious and formidable :* their vast wealth, their consequent local influence, their widely pervading connexion with the church, the army, the law, the magistracy, and every shape of authority and institution in the whole country; their insertion into the edge (so to speak) of the highest part of what should be the democratic body, the great number of them, and those immediately next to them, that will come into the new House of Commons—the accomplished education and proficiency of their old leaders in every sort of statecraft, intrigue, and collusion—a court (king included probably) desperately and incorrigibly tenacious of the old system—the earnest favour of all the 'great powers,' as they are called, except France; and France perhaps going to terrify all the world again with the excesses of democracy,all this, I confess, forebodes to me any thing rather thau a quiet course of events and improvement in this country.
“And then the reforming ministry, with a reformed House of Commons,—they will soon lose the favour of the people, and so be left bare to the unrelenting siege of their mortal enemies, if they do not dare and accomplish some grand exploits of almost revolutionary change. Think of Ireland,—the state of the poor—the load of taxation-the navigation laws--the East India and West India affairsthe municipal police—the Church—the foreign relations (Portugal, &c.)—the whole hideous chaos of the law-not
“ The late extraordinary revolution has shown the encrmous strength of the aristocracy, and of the corrupt and low tory party, one sees clearly what hard blows they will not only stand but require, and that the fear of depressing them too much is chimerical.”—Dk. ARNOLD, Life and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 409.
to name the banking system and various other matters. These will require a series of the boldest measures that ever statesmen ventured. Will Lord Grey's ministry (or whoever else shall constitute the ministry) venture such daring and radical measures ? or be able to carry them through parliament, if they do venture, in the face of the combined, dogged opposition of an aristocracy co-operating with other interests also, besides the purely aristocratic, in employing every possible expedient of frustration ?
“But if the reformed legislature shall fail to accomplish some grand changes, and so disappoint the people, what then? .... How deadly bitter must be the mortification of the aristocracy at the present moment; to think that just twenty-four months since, one-fifth part voluntarily conceded of the reform now forced from them, would have made them grand favourites of the people, and established them in almost indisputed power for many years to come! Still, I have no faith that even this infliction on their infatuation will convert them to a different course of policy. Do tell me whether your anticipations correspond to those I have been expressing, or whether yours are bright and placid.”*
The preceding extracts show the deep interest Foster took in political subjects; but it would be very erroneous to infer from the vehemence of his expressions, that he was influenced by the spirit of party. To do him justice, it is necessary to take into account his exalted idea of human life. Habituated to view it in its highest relations, under its moral aspect and as connected with its future destiny, he contemplated the general tenor of men's pursuits with profound regret. For the mass of the people he was ready to make large allowances; the consumption of their time in unintermitting toil, in numberless cases their physical
* To John Easthope, Esq. M.P., June 12, 1832.
destitution, and still more their intellectual and moral depression, excited his deepest sympathy. But when he beheld the higher ranks bartering their prerogatives of birth, education, wealth, and power, for personal aggrandisement or selfish indulgences, in disregard or violation of the wellbeing of the multitudes below them, his feelings were often tinctured with an indignant acerbity. He considered that towards delinquents of this class leniency was not permitted; for weighing their misdeeds, the balances ought to be hung with the utmost nicety; they were to be tried in accordance with their rank. Statesmen and legislators could not complain, that by his adjudication they were placed “on the low level of the inglorious throng." Far from it; “to whom much is given of him shall be much required, and to whom men have committed much of him they will ask the more," was the rule which he applied with a stern severity.t How high he placed the standard of
* “ As I feel that of the two besetting sins of human nature, selfish neglect and selfish agitation, the former is the more common, and has in the long run done far more harm than the latter, although the outbreaks of the latter while they last are of a far more atrocious character, so I have in a manner vowed to myself and prayed that with God's blessing, no excesses of popular wickedness, though I should be myself, as I expect, the victim of them, no temporary evils produced by revolution, shall ever make me forget the wickedness of toryism, of that spirit which has throughout the long experience of all history continually thwarted the cause of God and goodness, and has gone on abusing its opportunities and heaping up wrath by a long series of selfish neglect against the day of wrath and judgment." -DR. ARNOLD, Life and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 352.
+ “It is vastly reasonable to be requiring lenient judgments on the conduct, and respectful sympathy for the feelings of public men, while we see with what a violent passion, power and station are sought, with what desperate grappling claws of iron they are retained, and with what grief and mortification they are lost. It might be quite time enough, we should think, to commence this strain of tenderness, when in order to fill the places of power and emolument it has become necessary to drag by force retiring virtue and modest talent from private life, and to retain them in those situations by the same compulsion, in spite of the most earnest wishes to retreat, excited by delicacy of conscience, and a disgust at the
So long as men are pressing as urgently into the avenues
pomp of state.
character for public men, and how little he allowed his admiration of transcendent abilities and coincidence on several great questions to warp his judgment and induce a
of place and power, as ever the genteel rabble of the metropolis have pushed and crowded into the play-house to see the new actor, and so long as a most violent conflict is maintained between those who are in power, and those who want to supplant them, we think statesmen form by eminence the class of persons to whose characters both the contemporary examiner and the historian are not only authorised, but in duty bound, to administer justice in its utmost rigour, without one particle of extenuation. While forcing their way toward office in the state, and while maintaining the possession once acquired, they are apprised, or might and should be apprised, of the nature of the responsibility, and it is certain they are extremely well apprised of the privileges. They know that the public welfare depends, in too great a degree, on their conduct, and that the people have a natural instinctive prejudice in favour of their leaders, and are disposed to confide to the utmost extent. They know that a measure of impunity, unfortunate for the public, is enjoyed by statesmen, their very station affording the means both of concealment and defence for their delinquencies. They know that in point of emolument they are more than paid from the labours of the people for any services they render; and that they are not bestowing any particular favour on the country by holding their offices, as there are plenty of men, almost as able and good as themselves, ready to take their places, if they would abdicate them. When to all this is added the acknowledged fact, that the majority of this class of men have trified with their high responsibility, and taken criminal advantage of their privileges, we can have no patience to hear of any claim for a special indulgence of charity, in reading and judging the actions of states
“On the ground of morality in the abstract, separately from any consideration of the effect of his representations, the biographer of statesmen is bound to a very strict application of the rules of justice, since these men correstitute, or at least belong to, the uppermost class of the inhabitants of the earth. They have stronger inducements arising from their situation, than other men, to be solicitous for the rectitude of their conduct, their station has the utmost advantage for coinmanding the assistance of whatever illumination a country contains; they see on the large scale, the effect of all the grand principles of action; they make laws for the rest of mankind, and they direct the execution of justice. If the eternal laws of morality are to be applied with a soft and lenient hand in the trial and judgment of such an order of men, it will not be worth while to apply them at all to the subordinate classes of mankind; as a morality that exacts but little where the means and the responsibility are the greatest, would betray itself to contempt by pretending to sit in solemn judgment on the humbler subjects of its authority. The laws of morality should operate, like those of nature, in the most palpable manner on the largest substances.”—Contributions, &c. to the Eclectic Review, Vol. I. pp. 225, 227. Review of Macdiarmid's Lives of British Statesmen. October and November, 1808,
more favourable verdict, is shown in his review of Fox's Historical Work.*
The views he adopted of the great social relations, were sustained by the natural strength of his character, and nourished by meditation in a life of comparative seclusion. Had he taken an active part (uncongenial as that would have been to some of his constitutional tendencies) in practical politics, instead of watching the strife of parties and the collision of interests, through “the loop-holes of retreat,” he might have seen reason for curbing his impatience at the slow progress of improvement, and have found some compensation for a less rapid advance than suited his ardent aspirations, in the greater security with which, amidst the intricacies of modern society, the requisite changes are effected.
CXLI. TO J. B. WILLIAMS, ESQ.7
April 20, 1827. DEAR SIR, -I am, or ought to be, ashamed to think how long it is since our friend Mr. H. offered me whatever should be the first opportunity in his communications with your part of the country, for the conveyance of a line to you, in acknowledgment of your highly acceptable and valuable present of a copy of your life of P. Henry-a book which, in addition to its intrinsic value, and to the kindness of the presenter, has the grace of so very elegant an exterior. I beg you to believe, that this ill-looking lateness of acknowledgment, from one who is procrastination all over, in all things and times, has in real truth nothing to do with the sincerity of the thanks which I request you to accept.
Your many curious and interesting additions to the work,
* See also his review of the Characters of Fox, ECLECTIO REVIEW, December, 1809.
+ Now Sir J. B. Williams, Knight, the Hall, Wem.