صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

Penda. A society sunk in ignorance, and ruled by mere physical force, has great reason to rejoice when a class, of which the influence is intellectual and moral, rises to ascendancy. Such a class will doubtless abuse its power: but mental power, even when abused, is still a nobler and better power than that which consists merely in corporeal strength. We read in our Saxon chronicles of tyrants, who, when at the height of greatness, were smitten with remorse, who abhorred the pleasures and dignities which they had purchased by guilt, who abdicated their crowns, and who sought to atone for their offences by cruel penances and incessant prayers. These stories have drawn forth bitter expressions of contempt from some writers who, while they boasted of liberality, were in truth as narrow-minded as any Monk of the dark ages, and whose habit was to apply to all events in the history of the world the standard received in the Parisian society of the eighteenth century. Yet surely a system which, however deformed by superstition, introduced strong moral restraints into communities previously governed only by vigour of muscle and by audacity of spirit, a system which taught the fiercest and mightiest ruler that he was, like his meanest bondman, a responsible being, might have seemed to deserve a more respectful mention from philosophers and philanthropists.

The same observations will apply to the contempt with which, in the last century, it was fashionable to speak of the pilgrimages, the sanctuaries, the crusades, and the monastic institutions of the middle ages. In times when men were scarcely ever induced to travel by liberal curiosity, or by the pursuit of gain, it was better that the rude inhabitant of the North should visit Italy and the East as a pilgrim, than that he should never see anything but those squalid cabins and uncleared woods amidst which he was born. In times when life and when female honour were exposed to daily risk from tyrants and marauders, it was better that the precinct of a shrine should be regarded with an irrational awe, than that there should be no refuge inaccessible to cruelty and licentiousness. In times when statesmen were incapable of forming extensive political combinations, it was better that the Christian nations should be roused and united for the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre, than that they should, one by one, be overwhelmed by the Mahometan power. Whatever reproach may, at a

later period, have been justly thrown on the indolence and luxury of religious orders, it was surely good that, in an age of ignorance and violence, there should be quiet cloisters and gardens, in which the arts of peace could be safely cultivated, in which gentle and contemplative natures could find an asylum, in which one brother could employ himself in transcribing the Eneid of Virgil, and another in meditating the Analytics of Aristotle, in which he who had a genius for art might illuminate a Martyrology, or carve a crucifix, and in which he who had a turn for natural philosophy might make experiments on the properties of plants and minerals. Had not such retreats been scattered here and there, among the huts of a miserable peasantry, and the castles of a ferocious aristocracy, European society would have consisted merely of beasts of burden and beasts of prey. The church has many times been compared by Divines to the ark of which we read in the book of Genesis; but never was the resemblance more perfect than during that evil time when she alone rode, amidst darkness and tempest, on the deluge beneath which all the great works of ancient power and wisdom lay entombed, bearing within her that feeble germ from which a second and more glorious civilization was to spring.

Even the spiritual supremacy arrogated by the Pope was, in the dark ages, productive of far more good than evil. Its effect was to unite the nations of Western Europe in one great commonwealth. What the Olympian chariotcourse and the Pythian oracle were to all the Greek cities, from Trebizond to Marseilles, Rome and her Bishop were to all Christians of the Latin communion, from Calabria to the Hebrides. Thus grew

up sentiments of enlarged benevolence. Races separated from each other by seas and mountains, acknowledged a fraternal tie and a common code of public law. Even in war, the cruelty of the conqueror was not seldom mitigated by the recollection that he and his vanquished enemies were all members of one great federation.

Into this federation our Saxon ancestors were now admitted [on their conversion to Christianity through the instrumentality of Augustine and his successors]. A regular communication was opened between our shores and that part of Europe in which the traces of ancient power and policy were yet discernible. Many noble monuments which have since been destroyed or defaced still retained their pristine magnificence; and travellers, to whom Livy and Sallust were

unintelligible, might gain from the Roman aqueducts and temples some faint notion of Roman history. The dome of Agrippa, still glittering with bronze, the mausoleum of Adrian, not yet deprived of its columns and statues, the Flavian amphitheatre, not yet degraded into a quarry, told to the Mercian and Northumbrian pilgrims some part of the story of that great civilized world which had passed away. The islanders returned, with awe deeply impressed on their halfopened minds, and told the wondering

inhabitants of the hovels of London and York that, near the grave of St. Peter, a mighty race, now extinct, had piled up buildings which would never be dissolved till the judgment-day. Learning followed in the train of Christianity. The poetry and elegance of the Augustan age was assiduously studied in Mercian and Northumbrian monasteries. The names of Bede, of Alcuin, and of John, sur. named Erigena, were justly celebrated throughout Europe. (Page 10.)

That evil was overruled in many respects for good, is true. Thanks to the "never-failing Providence which ordereth all things in heaven and earth." But, if the remnants of truth, neutralized and even counteracted by admixtures and corruptions, effected so much, what might truth, in its own simplicity and power, have accomplished! How much mischief, too, was wrought by these errors and abuses! If there was some light in the monastery, how deep was the darkness that had settled on the masses! Who can tell how many perished in their sins, because the watchman uttered no warning, or gave forth from his trumpet an uncertain and misdirecting sound? And if in some cases the ferocities of war were mitigated, in others they were heightened, and rendered more fierce and devastating than those which had been witnessed in the progresses of invading barbarians. Let the horrors of the crusades against the Albigenses and Waldenses be made a part of the picture, for they were a part of the scenery to be described. And when these wars were directed against Heathens and idolaters, how merciless were the warriors, how sanguinary their combats, -rather, their slaughters,-let the history of the Peruvian conquest by the Spaniards-we refer to only one instance-declare. In such cases, the entire truth should be exhibited. It was right to show the beneficial results of an overruling Providence; but the pernicious influence of human errors and corruptions required to be stated with equal distinctness.

Mr. Macaulay represents the formation of the English people, properly so called, as resulting from the amalgamation of the Norman and Saxon races, who had previously dwelt together in a state of comparative isolation, as taking place in the two reigns succeeding that of John,-that of Henry III., who became King A.D. 1216; and of Edward I., who reigned from A.D. 1272, to A.D. 1307. It was therefore during the course of the thirteenth century that Britons, Saxons and Normans, (the Welch excepted,) were blended in one, constituting that Anglo-Saxon race which seems appointed by Providence to perform a most important task, in being the chief agent in promoting the civilization of mankind.


Here commences the history of the English nation. The history of the preceding events is the history of wrongs inflicted and sustained by various tribes, which indeed all dwelt on English ground, but which regarded each other with aversion such as has scarcely ever existed between communities separated by physical barriers. For even the mutual animosity of countries at war with each

other is languid when compared with the animosity of nations which, morally separated, are yet locally intermingled. In no country has the enmity of race been carried farther than in England. In no country has that enmity been more completely effaced. The stages of the process by which the hostile elements were melted down into one homogeneous mass are not accurately known to us.

But it is certain that when John became King, the distinction between Saxons and Normans was strongly marked, and that before the end of the reign of his grandson it had almost disappeared. In the time of Richard the First, the ordinary imprecation of a Norman gentleman was, "May I become an Englishman!" His ordinary form of indignant denial was, "Do you take me for an Englishman ?" The descendant of such a gentleman a hundred years later was proud of the English name.

The sources of the noblest rivers which spread fertility over continents, and bear richly-laden fleets to the sea, are to be sought in wild and barren mountaintracts, incorrectly laid down in maps, and rarely explored by travellers. To such a tract the history of our country during the thirteenth century may not unaptly be compared. Sterile and obscure as is that portion of our annals, it is there that we must seek for the origin of our freedom, our prosperity, and our glory. Then it was that the great English people was formed, that the national character began to exhibit those peculiarities which it has ever since retained, and that our fathers became emphatically islanders, islanders not merely in geographical position, but in their politics, their feelings, and their manners. Then first appeared with distinctness that constitution which has ever since, through all changes, preserved its identity; that constitution of which all the other free constitutions in the world are copies, and which, in spite of some defects, deserves to be regarded as the best under which any great

society has ever yet existed during many ages. Then it was that the House of Commons, the archetype of all the representative assemblies which now meet, either in the old or in the new world, held its first sittings. Then it was that the common law rose to the dignity of a science, and rapidly became a not unworthy rival of the imperial jurisprudence. Then it was that the courage of those sailors who manned the rude barks of the Cinque Ports first made the flag of England terrible on the seas. Then it was that the most ancient colleges which still exist at both the great national seats of learning were founded. Then was formed that language, less musical indeed than the languages of the south, but in force, in richness, in aptitude for all the highest purposes of the poet, the philosopher, and the orator, inferior to the tongue of Greece alone. Then too appeared the first faint dawn of that noble literature, the most splendid and the most durable of the many glories of England. Early in the fourteenth century the amalgamation of the races was all but complete; and it was soon made manifest, by signs not to be mistaken, that a people inferior to none existing in the world had been formed by the mixture of three branches of the great Teutonic family with each other, [Saxons, Danes, and Normans,] and with the aboriginal Britons. There was, indeed, scarcely anything in common between the England to which John had been chased by Philip Augustus, and the England from which the armies of Edward the Third went forth to conquer France. (Page 18.)

When the Stuarts endeavoured to establish an absolute monarchy in England, they and their supporters were fond of appealing to earlier English history, and proving from it the high prerogatives of the Monarch: their opponents, on the other hand, made the same appeal, for the purpose of establishing the antiquity of those limitations which, they said, had always existed in connexion with the monarchy. Mr. Macaulay's observations on this subject are equally just and impartial.


The prerogatives of the Sovereign were undoubtedly extensive. The spirit of religion, and the spirit of chivalry, concurred to exalt his dignity. The sacred oil had been poured on his head. It was no disparagement to the bravest and noblest Knights to kneel at his feet. His person was inviolable. He alone was entitled to convoke the estates of the realm; he could at his pleasure dismiss them; and his assent was necessary to all their legislative acts. He was the chief of the executive administration, the


sole organ of communication with foreign
powers, the Captain of the naval and
military forces of the State, the fountain
of justice, of mercy, and of honour.
had large powers for the regulation of
trade. It was by him that money was
coined, that weights and measures were
fixed, that marts and havens were ap-
pointed. His ecclesiastical patronage
was immense. His hereditary revenues,
economically administered, sufficed to
meet the ordinary charges of govern-
ment. His own domains were of vast

extent. He was also feudal lord paramount of the whole soil of his kingdom, and, in that capacity, possessed many lucrative and many formidable rights, which enabled him to annoy and depress

those who thwarted him, and to enrich and aggrandize, without any cost to himself, those who enjoyed his favour. (Page 29.)

It might seem easy for a Monarch, by hereditary right, too, possessing such powers, to make himself as absolute as any of the continental Sovereigns. But along with these lofty dignities and extensive prerogatives, were three checks and restraints, coeval with the monarchy, and which the people always claimed as their inalienable birth-right.


But his power, though ample, was limited by three great constitutional principles, so ancient that none can say when they began to exist, so potent that their natural development, continued through many generations, has produced the order of things under which we live.

First, the King could not legislate without the consent of his Parliament. Secondly, he could impose no taxes without the consent of his Parliament. Thirdly, he was bound to conduct the executive administration according to the laws of the land, and, if he broke those laws, his advisers and his agents were responsible.

No candid Tory will deny that these principles had, five hundred years ago, acquired the authority of fundamental rules. On the other hand, no candid Whig will affirm that they were, till a later period, cleared from all ambiguity, or followed out to all their consequences. A constitution of the middle ages was not, like a constitution of the eighteenth or nineteenth century, created entire by a single act, and fully set forth in a single document. It is only in a refined and speculative age that a polity is constructed on system. In rude societies the progress of government resembles the progress of

language and of versification. Rude societies have language, and often copious and energetic language; but they have no scientific grammar, no definitions of nouns and verbs, no names for declensions, moods, tenses, and voices. Rude societies have versification, and often versification of great power and sweetness: but they have no metrical canons; and the minstrel whose numbers, regulated solely by his ear, are the delight of his audience, would himself be unable to say of how many dactyls and trochees each of his lines consists. As eloquence exists before syntax, and song before prosody, so government may exist in a high degree of excellence long before the limits of legislative, executive, and judicial power have been traced with precision. It was thus in our country. The line which bounded the royal prerogative, though in general sufficiently clear, had not everywhere been drawn with accuracy and distinctThere was, therefore, near the border, some debatable ground on which incursions and reprisals continued to take place, till, after ages of strife, plain and durable landmarks were at length set up. (Page 30.)


Mr. Macaulay has some admirable remarks on one of the most important questions in English history, which he thus introduces: "It may be instructive to note in what way, and to what extent, our ancient Sovereigns were in the habit of violating the three great principles by which the liberties of the nation were protected." To the observations which follow this sentence, we would earnestly direct the attention of all youthful students of the history of England. They will assist them in tracing their way out of many an involved labyrinth, and enable them to solve many a difficult problem, which they may find in its pages.

We cannot pass away from the foregoing extracts without expressing the thankful admiration we have often felt to-let us be allowed to quote the significant language of a poet, and a dramatic poet, rather than that of a theologian, who might be thought to be ready to obtrude his theology where it had no right to enter

"That Divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them as we will."

Our constitution, undoubtedly, was not "created entire by a single act, nor fully set forth in a single document." It has been the work of ages, and has been brought almost by piece-meal to its more perfect form. Its adjustment has been gradual: sometimes this power has been diminished, sometimes the other check has been strengthened. The arrangement of it in its altogetherness is the work of the wisdom of no single Statesman or Lawyer. And yet, as we have it now, its completeness-we speak of the constitution, not of the mere collection of legislative acts-is so remarkable that it might easily, by those who knew not its origin and history, be considered as the production of an individual mind. The great principles of all good government are included in it; the independent, supreme authority of law, and the inalienable rights of a rational, social freedom. The extreme Tory will not find the absolute right divine of the Monarch personally considered; but he will find the sacred, irreversible sovereignty of right. The extreme Whig will find no metaphysical "rights of man," no literal "sovereignty of the people," as such phrases will always be understood by the masses; but he will find the sacred irreversible rights of free action, subject only to laws which know no respect of person, and in the enactment and application of which, directly or indirectly, he has himself a voice. It is not easy to give to spiritual and intellectual principles a visible shape and character; to do it fully is perhaps impossible. And yet, the British constitution, with its hereditary and sacred monarchy, Dei gratiá, its Judges, independent of both crown and people, its juries, and its senatorial assemblies, does present, as nearly as in this imperfect state can be presented, the two great principles which must be contained and developed in every good form of government,-that righteous law comes from a higher source than human will, and exists independently of it; and that the liberty to do all that he believes to be necessary for his security, comfort, and improvement, so far as is consistent with the enjoyment of the same liberty by all his fellows, belongs, by the appointment of a higher power than human will, to every man. The assertion of the first alone would unavoidably conduct to vassalage and slavery: the assertion of the second alone, would as unavoidably lead to licentiousness and anarchy. The materials of the British constitution, collected in the course of ages, and adjusted by the labours, and sometimes the strivings and contests, of ages, are found to contain and assert them both in inseparable union. We are not unthankful to the Lawyers and Statesmen who have employed their wisdom at different times in the important work of rough-hewing; but our chief debt of gratitude is due to the divine Providence that has shaped the whole into completeness and consistency. RIGHTS and PRIVILEGES, OBLIGATIONS and DUTIES, in opposition to all DESPOTISM and all ANARCHY, are alike and fully recognised by the British constitution.

Remarks on the English aristocracy are often made with great flippancy by persons who never considered the important bearing of a permanent assembly on a mixed Government like ours, nor allowed their mind to dwell on the singular and remarkable character which it possesses, unlike anything of the kind in either ancient or modern times, and by which it is so admirably adapted to the position which it occupies, and the duties which it has to perform. The well-known and decided liberality of Mr. Macaulay's political principles, as well as his own unpatrician descent, guarantees the absence of any prejudice in favour of those whom he thus describes :

« السابقةمتابعة »