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COURTESY OF PARLIAMENT.
hearing no more of it, or by what the members may be told as private persons.
In each House, the members take care, even in the heat of debate, never to go beyond certain bounds in their manner of speaking of each other : if they were to offend in that respect, they would certainly incur the censure of the House. And as reason has taught mankind to refrain, in their wars, from all injuries to each other that have no tendency to promote the main object of their contentions, so a kind of law of nations (if I may so express myself) has been introduced among the persons who form the parliament and take a part in the debates; they have discovered that they may very well be of opposite parties, and yet not hate and persecute one another. Coming fresh from debates carried on even with considerable warmth, they meet without reluctance in the ordinary intercourse of life; and, suspending all hostilities, they hold every place out of parliament to be neutral ground.
In regard to the generality of the people, as they never are called upon to come to a final decision with respect to any public measures, or expressly to concur in supporting them, they preserve themselves still more free from party spirit than their representatives themselves sometimes are. Considering, as we have observed, the affairs of government as only matter of speculation, they never have occasion to engage in any vehement contests among themselves on that account: much less do they think of taking an active and violent part in the differences of particular factions, or the quarrels of private individuals. And those family feuds, those party animosities, those victories and consequent outrages of factions alternately successful; in short, all those inconveniences which in so many other states have constantly been the attendants of liberty, and which authors tell us we must submit to, as the price of it, are things in very great measure unknown in England.
But are not the English perpetually making complaints against the administration ? and do they not speak and write as if they were continually exposed to grievances of every kind?
Undoubtedly, I shall answer, in a society of beings subject to error, dissatisfaction will necessarily arise from some quarter or other; and, in a free society, they will be openly manifested by complaints. Besides, as every man in England is permitted to give his opinion upon all snbjects, and as, to watch over the administration, and complain of grievances, is the proper duty of the representatives of the people, complaints must necessarily be heard in such a government, and even more frequently, and upon more subjects, than in any other.
But those complaints, it should be remembered, are not in England the cries of oppression forced at last to break its silence. They do not suppose hearts deeply wounded. Nay, I will go farther,—they do not even suppose very determinate sentiments; and they are often nothing more than the first vent which men give to their new and yet unsettled conceptions.
The agitation of the popular mind, therefore, is not in England what it would be in other states; it is not the symptom of a profound and general discontent, and the forerunner of violent commotions. Foreseen, regulated, even hoped for by the constitution, this agitation animates all parts of the state, and is to be considered only as the beneficial vicissitude of the seasons. The governing power, being dependent on the nation, is often thwarted; but, so long as it continues to deserve the affection of the people, it can never be endangered. Like a vigorous tree which stretches its branches far and wide, the slightest breath can put it in motion; but it acquires and exerts at every moment a new degree of force, and resists the winds, by the strength and elasticity of its fibres, and the depth of its roots.
In a word, whatever revolutions may at times happen among the persons who conduct the public affairs in England, they never occasion the shortest interruption of the power of the laws, or the smallest diminution of the security of individuals.* A man who should have incurred the enmity
* No observation can be more just. Within the last two years, when for several days after the first resignation of Lord John Russell, and when it was said “there was no government," a distinguished foreigner, in conversation with the Editor in the portico of the Atheneum Club, alluded to the absence of excitement in such an event to the tranquillity and security which prevailed in the town and country; and he then
of the most powerful men in the state—what do I say ? though he had, like another Vatinius drawn upon himself the united detestation of all parties,-might, under the protection of the laws, and by keeping within the bounds required by them, continue to set both his enemies and the whole nation at defiance.
The limits prescribed to this book do not admit of entering into any farther particulars on the subject we are treating here; but if we were to pursue this inquiry, and investigate the influence which the English government has on the manners and customs of the people, perhaps we should find that, instead of inspiring them with any disposition to disorder or anarchy, it produces in them a quite contrary effect. As they see the highest powers in the state constantly submit to the laws, and they receive, themselves, such a certain protection from those laws whenever they appeal to them, it is impossible but they must insensibly contract a deep-rooted reverence for them, which can at no time cease to have some influence on their actions. And, in fact, we see that even the lower classes of the people, in England, notwithstanding the apparent excesses into which they are sometimes hurried, possess a spirit of justice and order superior to what is to be observed in the same rank of men in other countries. The extraordinary indulgence which is shown to accused persons of every degree, is not
remarked, “that nothing could be more instructive to legislators, statesmen, and rulers, than the condition of England at that time. In France,” he said, “ the idea of the country being without a government for a day would create consternation. Here industry is not in the least impeded; the funds and public securities are not disturbed ; tranquil. lity prevails everywhere ; every body is attending to his particular pursuit; ships arrive and depart, discharge and take on board their cargoes; railway traffic is as brisk as ever; public and private carriages roll on as usual ; prices are not disturbed; intercourse by your steem-packets and by post goes on as usual ; and were it not for a leading article in the newspapers, it would be difficult to ascertain that the ministry had resigned, or whether a new ministry was likely to be formed." The truth is, that in Great Britain we govern ourselves : each locality has its local self-government, and every British house is, in fact, a little government within itself. This is the secret of the tranquillity and security which has so long prevailed in our streets and in our towns, in our fields and highways, while the nations of continental Europe have been plunged in the calamities of revolution and bloodshed.-- Ed.
attended with any of those pernicious consequences which we might at first be apt to fear from it. And it is, perhaps, to the nature of the English constitution itself (however remote the cause may seem), and to the spirit of justice which it continually and insensibly diffuses through all orders of the people, that we are to ascribe the singular advantage possessed by the English nation, of employing an incomparably milder mode of administering justice in criminal matters than any other nation, and at the same time of affording, perhaps, fewer instances of violence or cruelty.
Another consequence which we might observe here, as flowing also from the principles of the English government, is the moderate behaviour of those who are invested with any branch of public authority. If we look at the conduct of public officers, from the minister of state, or the judge, down to the lowest officer of justice, we find a spirit of forbearance and lenity prevailing in England, among the persons in power, which cannot but create surprise in those who have visited other countries.
Two circumstances more I shall mention here, as peculiar to England; namely, the constant attention of the legislature in providing for the interests and welfare of the people, and the indulgence shown by them to their very prejudices : advantages these, which are, no doubt, the consequence of the general spirit that animates the whole English govern. ment, but are also particularly owing to the circumstance peculiar to it, of having lodged the active part of legislation in the hands of the representatives of the nation, and committed the care of alleviating the grievances of the people to persons who either feel them, or see them nearly, and whose surest path to advancement and fame is to be active in finding remedies for them.
I mean not, however, to affirm that the English government is free from abuses, or that all possible good laws are enacted, but that there is a constant tendency in it both to correct the one and improve the other. And that all the laws which are in being are strictly executed, whenever appealed to, is what I look upon as the characteristic and undisputed advantage of the English constitution,-a constitution the more likely to produce all the effects we have
mentioned, and to procure in general the happiness of the people, since it has taken mankind as they are, and has not endeavoured to prevent every thing, but to regulate every thing; I shall add, the more difficult to discover, because its form is complicated, while its principles are natural and simple. Hence it is that the politicians of antiquity, sensible of the inconveniences of the governments they had opportunities of knowing, wished for the establishment of such a government, without much hope of ever seeing it realised :* even Tacitus, an excellent judge of political subjects, considered it as a project entirely chimerical.t Nor was it because he had not thought of it, had not reflected on it, that he was of this opinion: he had sought for such a government, bad had a glimpse of it, and yet continued to pronounce it impracticable.
Let us not, therefore, ascribe to the confined views of man, to his imperfect sagacity, the discovery of this important secret. The world might have grown old, generations might have succeeded generations, still seeking it in vain. It has been by a fortunate conjunction of circumstances, I shall add, by the assistance of a favourable situation,-that Liberty has at last been able to erect herself a temple.
Invoked by every nation, but of too delicate a nature, as it should seem, to subsist in societies formed of such imperfect beings as mankind, she showed, and merely showed herself, to the ingenious nations of antiquity who inhabited the south of Europe. They were constantly mistaken in the form of the worship they paid to her. As they continually aimed at extending dominion and conquest over other nations, they were no less mistaken in the spirit of that worship; and though they continued for ages to pay their devotions to this divinity, she still continued, with regard to them, to be the unknown goddess.
Excluded since that time from those places to which she had seemed to give a preference, driven to the extremity of
* “Statuo esse optime constitutam rempublicam quæ ex tribus generibus illis, regali, optimo, et populari, modice confusa."-Cic. Frag.
† “ Cunctas nationes et urbes, populus, aut priores, aut singuli, regunt. Delecta ex his et constituta reipublicæ forma, laudari facilius quam evenire : vel si evenit, haud diuturna esse potest."--Tac. Ann. lib. iv.