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- Sybil, or the Two Nations - 5/101 -

we have no record; there is reason to believe that his administrative ability was conspicuous: his speeches prove that, if not supreme, he was eminent, in the art of parliamentary disputation, while they show on all the questions discussed a richness and variety of information with which the speeches of no statesman of that age except Mr Burke can compare.

Such was the man selected by George the Third as his champion against the Venetian party after the termination of the American war. The prosecution of that war they had violently opposed, though it had originated in their own policy. First minister in the House of Lords, Shelburne entrusted the lead in the House of Commons to his Chancellor of the Exchequer, the youthful Pitt. The administration was brief, but it was not inglorious. It obtained peace, and for the first time since the Revolution introduced into modern debate the legitimate principles on which commerce should be conducted. It fell before the famous Coalition with which "the Great Revolution families" commenced their fiercest and their last contention for the patrician government of royal England.

In the heat of that great strife, the king in the second hazardous exercise of his prerogative entrusted the perilous command to Pitt. Why Lord Shelburne on that occasion was set aside, will perhaps always remain a mysterious passage of our political history, nor have we space on the present occasion to attempt to penetrate its motives. Perhaps the monarch, with a sense of the rising sympathies of his people, was prescient of the magic power of youth in touching the heart of a nation. Yet it would not be an unprofitable speculation if for a moment we paused to consider what might have been the consequences to our country if Mr Pitt had been content for a season again to lead the Commons under Lord Shelburne, and have secured for England the unrivalled knowledge and dexterity of that statesman in the conduct of our affairs during the confounding fortunes of the French revolution. Lord Shelburne was the only English minister competent to the task; he was the only public man who had the previous knowledge requisite to form accurate conclusions on such a conjuncture: his remaining speeches on the subject attest the amplitude of his knowledge and the accuracy of his views: and in the rout of Jena, or the agony of Austerlitz, one cannot refrain from picturing the shade of Shelburne haunting the cabinet of Pitt, as the ghost of Canning is said occasionally to linger about the speaker's chair, and smile sarcastically on the conscientious mediocrities who pilfered his hard-earned honours.

But during the happier years of Mr Pitt, the influence of the mind of Shelburne may be traced throughout his policy. It was Lansdowne House that made Pitt acquainted with Dr Price, a dissenting minister, whom Lord Shelburne when at the head of affairs courageously offered to make his private secretary, and who furnished Mr Pitt, among many other important suggestions, with his original plan of the sinking fund. The commercial treaties of '87 were struck in the same mint, and are notable as the first effort made by the English government to emancipate the country from the restrictive policy which had been introduced by the "glorious revolution;" memorable epoch, that presented England at the same time with a corn law and a public debt.. But on no subject was the magnetic influence of the descendant of Sir William Petty more decided, than in the resolution of his pupil to curb the power of the patrician party by an infusion from the middle classes into the government of the country. Hence the origin of Mr Pitt's famous and long-misconceived plans of parliamentary reform. Was he sincere, is often asked by those who neither seek to discover the causes nor are capable of calculating the effects of public transactions. Sincere! Why, he was struggling for his existence! And when baffled, first by the Venetian party, and afterwards by the panic of Jacobinism, he was forced to forego his direct purpose, he still endeavoured partially to effect it by a circuitous process. He created a plebeian aristocracy and blended it with the patrician oligarchy. He made peers of second-rate squires and fat graziers. He caught them in the alleys of Lombard Street, and clutched them from the counting-houses of Cornhill. When Mr Pitt in an age of bank restriction declared that every man with an estate of ten thousand a-year had a right to be a peer, he sounded the knell of "the cause for which Hampden had died on the field, and Sydney on the scaffold."

In ordinary times the pupil of Shelburne would have raised this country to a state of great material prosperity, and removed or avoided many of those anomalies which now perplex us; but he was not destined for ordinary times; and though his capacity was vast and his spirit lofty, he had not that passionate and creative genius required by an age of revolution. The French outbreak was his evil daemon: he had not the means of calculating its effects upon Europe. He had but a meagre knowledge himself of continental politics: he was assisted by a very inefficient diplomacy. His mind was lost in a convulsion of which he neither could comprehend the causes nor calculate the consequences; and forced to act, he acted not only violently, but in exact opposition to the very system he was called into political existence to combat; he appealed to the fears, the prejudices, and the passions of a privileged class, revived the old policy of the oligarchy he had extinguished, and plunged into all the ruinous excesses of French war and Dutch finance.

If it be a salutary principle in the investigation of historical transactions to be careful in discriminating the cause from the pretext, there is scarcely any instance in which the application of this principle is more fertile in results, than in that of the Dutch invasion of 1688. The real cause of this invasion was financial. The Prince of Orange had found that the resources of Holland, however considerable, were inadequate to sustain him in his internecine rivalry with the great sovereign of France. In an authentic conversation which has descended to us, held by William at the Hague with one of the prime abettors of the invasion, the prince did not disguise his motives; he said, "nothing but such a constitution as you have in England can have the credit that is necessary to raise such sums as a great war requires." The prince came, and used our constitution for his purpose: he introduced into England the system of Dutch finance. The principle of that system was to mortgage industry in order to protect property: abstractedly, nothing can be conceived more unjust; its practice in England has been equally injurious. In Holland, with a small population engaged in the same pursuits, in fact a nation of bankers, the system was adapted to the circumstances which had created it. All shared in the present spoil, and therefore could endure the future burthen. And so to this day Holland is sustained, almost solely sustained, by the vast capital thus created which still lingers amongst its dykes. But applied to a country in which the circumstances were entirely different; to a considerable and rapidly-increasing population; where there was a numerous peasantry, a trading middle class struggling into existence; the system of Dutch finance, pursued more or less for nearly a century and a half, has ended in the degradation of a fettered and burthened multitude. Nor have the demoralizing consequences of the funding system on the more favoured classes been less decided. It has made debt a national habit; it has made credit the ruling power, not the exceptional auxiliary, of all transactions; it has introduced a loose, inexact, haphazard, and dishonest spirit in the conduct of both public and private life; a spirit dazzling and yet dastardly: reckless of consequences and yet shrinking from responsibility. And in the end, it has so overstimulated the energies of the population to maintain the material engagements of the state, and of society at large, that the moral condition of the people has been entirely lost sight of.

A mortgaged aristocracy, a gambling foreign commerce, a home trade founded on a morbid competition, and a degraded people; these are great evils, but ought perhaps cheerfully to he encountered for the greater blessings of civil and religious liberty. Yet the first would seem in some degree to depend upon our Saxon mode of trial by our peers, upon the stipulations of the great Norman charters, upon the practice and the statute of Habeas Corpus,--a principle native to our common law, but established by the Stuarts; nor in a careful perusal of the Bill of Rights, or in an impartial scrutiny of the subsequent legislation of those times, though some diminution of our political franchises must be confessed, is it easy to discover any increase of our civil privileges. To those indeed who believe that the English nation,--at all times a religious and Catholic people, but who even in the days of the Plantagenets were anti-papal,--were in any danger of again falling under the yoke of the Pope of Rome in the reign of James the Second, religious liberty was perhaps acceptable, though it took the shape of a discipline which at once anathematized a great portion of the nation, and virtually establishing Puritanism in Ireland, laid the foundation of those mischiefs which are now endangering the empire.

That the last of the Stuarts had any other object in his impolitic manoeuvres, than an impracticable scheme to blend the two churches, there is now authority to disbelieve. He certainly was guilty of the offence of sending an envoy openly to Rome, who, by the bye, was received by the Pope with great discourtesy; and her Majesty Queen Victoria, whose Protestantism cannot be doubted, for it is one of her chief titles to our homage, has at this time a secret envoy at the same court: and that is the difference between them: both ministers doubtless working however fruitlessly for the same object: the termination of those terrible misconceptions, political and religious, that have occasioned so many martyrdoms, and so many crimes alike to sovereigns and to subjects.

If James the Second had really attempted to re-establish Popery in this country, the English people, who had no hand in his overthrow, would doubtless soon have stirred and secured their "Catholic and Apostolic church," independent of any foreign dictation; the church to which they still regularly profess their adherence; and being a practical people, it is possible that they might have achieved their object and yet retained their native princes; under which circumstances we might have been saved from the triple blessings of Venetian politics, Dutch finance, and French wars: against which, in their happiest days, and with their happiest powers, struggled the three greatest of English statesmen,--Bolingbroke, Shelburne, and lastly the son of Chatham.

We have endeavoured in another work, not we hope without

Sybil, or the Two Nations - 5/101

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