« AnteriorContinuar »
The commencement of a new Volume of our Magazine appears to us a proper opportunity for taking a general review of our labours, their effects, and their tendency. We may truly say, and without fear of contradiction, that our Magazine has excited more attention, whether for praise or blame, than any Periodical which ever existed in this country; and it may be worth while to say something about the cause which produced that notoriety; to state the principles which entitled us, as we think, justly, to the encomiums, and exposed us, as we think, unjustly, to the abuse, which it has been our lot to meet.
When we started, in 1817, the party to which we have always been attached was sadly in want of literary defenders. While the excitement of the war lasted, the paper pellets wherewith ministers were pelted, were of little moment; for the nation was too deeply engaged to think seriously of such things. The ardent spirits were abroad; and the stake played for was too deep to allow those who remained at home to be diverted from the game by anything less serious. When peace came.on, the reaction which men of sense anticipated—the change which Lord Castlereagh's phrase so admirably expressed—“ the transition from a state of war to a state of peace,”—was productive of more domestic misery than was remembered for a long time in England. Thousands thrown out of employment—the usual channels elosed—no others as yet adequately opened—were of themselves sufficiently dreadful ; but when to them were added the dreadful seasons of 1816 and 1817, when the crops failed all through Europe, it is no wonder that an unparalleled degree of distress was the consequence. So dreadful were these years, that our readers may remember the doleful pro
phecies uttered concerning the change of our climate. The Quarterly Review,—always the great depositary of all the alarms of the nation, the tocsin, which has been always as ready to sound the existence of dangers, not traceable to ministers, as it has been ready to deny any which its ill-minded opponents may have attributed to that quarter,—told us, in good set terms, that we were deteriorating in our atmosphere; that the fruits formerly borne in this country would never be borne there again ; that, as former generations had lost the vineyards of their ancestors, so we were in the progress of losing, and our posterity would certainly lose, the orchards of our fathers; and that, ere a hundred years elapsed, apples and pears would be growing in hot-houses, as grapes are now; while the only indigenous plants which would flourish in the
open air would be sloes and blackberries !!
Why do we here repeat this silly stuff? To show that a general panic had then seized on the minds of the best informed and best affected men in the country. The difficulties of all kinds, whether of the heaven, or the earth, had visibly affected even those who were inclined to talk the boldest. Agricultural distresses prevailed, actually to an alarming degree, and they were besides exaggerated by those on whom they pressed. During the war, our agriculturists in general had lived as if the high prices produced by that unnatural position of things would have lasted for ever-and when the time came when that state of things being altered, alterations of prices, &c. came with it, they clamoured with as much indignation as if they had been actually robbed of some portion of property to which they had an undoubted claim. The man who before the Bank restriction of 1797, and the operation of the Berlin and Milan Decrees, and our own Orders in Council, had a property of two hundred a-year, found it after these events increased to a rental of a thousand. When their operation ceased, he found it getting down again, to eight hundred, six hundred, four hundred. As Birkbeck said, it was not easy to descend. Many, like that Friend of Operatives, forgot that though they were descending, still the minimum to which they sunk was higher than the maximum from which they rose. Some landlords clung to the war prices, and thereby inflicted much misery and wretchedness on their tenants, and eventual ruin on themselves. All this found its own level—we knew it should; but in the intervening time, during the operation of coming to rights again, a period which the hard-hearted school of Political Economists never take into calculation at all—it is not to be denied that the distress occasionally pinched severely enough.
The manufacturing classes, no doubt, did not suffer so much as the agricultural; but when the latter great body suffers, it must be felt by all classes in the nation. The solid commercial interests suffered least the houses of straw were of course shaken down by the whirlwind. The sudden opening of so many markets was, as we see now, productive of permanent advantage; but then, (we are still speaking of 1816 and 1817,) by giving scope for scheming and injudicious speculation, they produced also much loss and injury. That has passed away; at the time, the instances of loss and failure were thought more about, because they made more noise, than the slow and steady returns of successful commerce. In short, he who will cast back his eyes on the period to which we have been referring, will find, that look what way he pleases, he can discover little to cheer him. And besides the
general calamity of that time, there were many local causes of distress, as, for instance, a typhus fever which ravaged half Ireland like a plague--and many other things which it would be tedious to insist upon.
How the Opposition behaved during the pelting of this pitiless storm, is now matter of history; and the most disgraceful chapter of their portion in it. 'We might forgive their cavillings in the war, for war is proverbially a matter of chance and change, which may puzzle the wisest, and baulk the most experienced calculator. What matter to us, after all, was it that they told us that the French were invincible, when we knew that we conquered them every time they dared to look upon the bristling of our bayonets? Why need we have troubled ourselves, because a silly fellow, who knew nothing of war, proved, to the satisfaction of the hungry benches of Opposition, that Lord Wellington would have been pushed from the heights of Torres Vedras head foremost into the sea, when we were quite sure that he should succeed in beating the French out of the Peninsula ? These were mere nonsense, nothing more--just such nonsense as Charles Fox vomited, when he declared that the Crusaders were not more absurd in their speculations than the British nation, when it fancied that its banners would float over the walls of Paris-mere putid and idiotic trash, supported on no just grounds of military or political information ; defended by no data, except the narrow ignorance, or the wide impudence, of the speaker. But it did no harm. The country had warmed to the VOL. XIX.
War, and their ravings were in vain. We knew that we were lords of the sea—we felt that the never beaten infantry of England, and her buoyant though untried cavalry, would not, when put to the proof, be found of different materials from the men who had seen the Union Jack flying over the prostrate navies of France, Spain, Holland, and Denmark--we felt, as the old song has it, in its uncouth, but spirit-stirring measure, that
“ We were the sons of the main,
Who had conquer'd on Cressy plain;
Against this feeling it was in vain to talk; and the Opposition talked foolishly to no purpose, but to display their folly.
They had their revenge on us at the commencement of peace, and they were determined not to let the opportunity slip. Their charaeter as prophets in the war had gone—they were, as the Quarterly Review (i. e. we believe, John Wilson Croker) wittily said, not merely * petites runwy, but were PLAYTELS rexos. An opportunity now presented itself for them to redeem their character. The country was confessedly in difficulty-we might say, in distress. They had all along said, that the war was ruinous. How easy then it was to connect the two propositions. “A ruinous war-we said it was ruinous-has brought distress-we said it must bring distress. Such, reduced to few words, was the Opposition reasoning. They kept out of sight that the ruin they prognosticated was military ruin, and the distress they had predicted was the distress of defeat and subjugation. They kept out of sight that we had at all times admitted what we know to be borne out by the records of history, and the suggestions of common sense, that peace, under such circumstances, was not to be expected immediately to be followed by its proverbial attendant, plenty. This was, of course, consistent with the usual conduct of the party. At the time, the argument was irresistible with the mob, who really feeling the distress, were naturally impatient under it, and anxious to turn, as desperate and foolish people will turn, to the first quack, who with noise and impudence quantum suff. professes to have a nostrum to cure the affliction complained of.
Not merely prophets of evil, but evil prophets. We beg no pardon for subjoining the translation, for everybody is not bound to know Greek.
How often during that time did we not hear that the country was ruined by Ministers, and that the ruin would not have happened had we been managed by the Whigs ! The statesman, the philosopher, the competent reader of history, knew the folly and falsehood of this assertion; but it is needless to say that these people do not constitute the crowd. To men the very reverse of these characters the Opposition addressed themselves. There was not a piece of vulgar prejudice or ignorance, which they did not stoop to flatter, nor a cry against Government, no matter how raised, or how contradictory to their own avowed opinions, that they did not swell to the full compass of their lungs. This is the reason why we said that their conduct during the interval which immediately succeeded the peace of 1815, was more disgraceful to them than any other chapter in their unfortunate history. Men of true patriotism, at such a period, would have stepped forward to assist their distressed country—they would have given party-questions, and party-feelings to the winds, and made common cause with those whose endeavours were directed to advance our endangered interests ; but the Opposition are not men of true patriotism, and they exerted all their energies, and devoted all their time and all their talents to embroil, to distract, and to paralyze. They have got their reward-they got what they looked for, the temporary and foolish huzzas of a mob—and they lost, what a little reflection must have convinced them they must lose, if not heated by low and spiteful passions, the good opinion of the Friends of the Country; who, after all, are the vast and overwhelming body of the population. They sold themselves to the devil of mob-favour, and revelled for a short time in the transient prosperity which he could bestow, with the certain fate of being destined to the everlasting doom of contempt and degradation in which they are now inextricably seated.
The engines used to carry on this unholy war against their country was of every kind. Parliament-Spafield meetings--Manchester arrays—Guildhall Courts, &c. In the first of these, Parliaments, they were not eminently successful. The only measure of actual annoyance worth speaking about that they carried there, was the premature repeal of the income-tax-a measure which, beyond question, tended more than any other of their pieces of tactics, to delay the return of prosperity. In the mobs they were speedily defeated by agents whom they had not expected—the Radicals. The experience of the French Revolution might have taught them, without looking very far back, that the mob does not