Imágenes de páginas

nothing of the burnings, the rackings, and the wars, which have arisen out of these disputes. Yet the Bible has been sent out amongst the people with so much zeal that servant men and maids have been, by circular letters, and by all kinds of means invited, under pain of almost perdition in case of refusal, to subscribe their penny per week towards the funds for circulating this Book. And yet, questions of plain matter-offact, all depending upon proofs close at hand, are above the people's comprehension! But, then, the Bible does not treat of Sinecures, of unearned Pensions and Grants ; of a double interest for a Debt; of Standing Armies in time of peace; of trafficking in seats, and of a Parliamentary Reform.

For many years past there had been such a fuss made about enlightening the people, and about the wonderful success of the projectors, that it seemed, only about eight months ago, that there would not be a man left in the country who would not be a small-beer philosopher at least. To enlighten the people was Mr. WAITBREAD's grand scheme for reducing the Poor-rales. To enlighten the people was Sir Samuel Romilly's means of preventing crimes. The enlightening of the people was to produce every good, and check every evil. The work of eulightening went on : schools sprang up in every corner; the Church vied with the Dissenters; all were at work enlightening the people. Meetings and Dinners and Speeches without end : Reports, Subscriptions, Lists, proofs of the good effects. In vain did I say, that it would be better to give the poor bread, or, rather, to let them cat it when they had earned it, and leave them to enlighten themselves out of their own means. I was abused for this, and represented as a man who wished to keep the " Lower Orders" in ignorance. Nothing was thought of but enlightening the people ; and, their improvement at home had, at last, brought them to so perfect a state of light, that the projectors began to cast their eyes abroad, and there was actually founded a “ British and Foreign School-society," with one of the Royal Dukes at its head.

One' would have expected, therefore, that ignorance in the people would have been amongst the last things to be alleged upon this occasion. But, when the people in Lancashire began to meet, and to discuss the great questions of national interest, it was discovered all at once, that they were a set of ignorant Weaver-Boys! And this was absolutely necessary, too, or else the charge of seducers must have died of itself. In short, it was necessary to say that the people were nynorunt, or to acknowledge that their petitions ought to be attended to.

The truth is, that the great mass of the Labouring Classes had become really enlightened as to matters that were not only within their full comprehension, but in which every man of them was most deeply interested. This light they had derived chiefly from expérience. And, indeed, if the picture that their country presented at the close of a war, which they had been told was for religion and liberty, and which had restored the Pope, the Inquisition, and the Jesuits ; if that picture, which, instead of promised plenty and happiness, was a picture of such misery as was never before beheld in the world; if that picture had not enlightened them, their capacities must have been dull beyond that of any of the natives of Africa, not excepting the monkeys and baboons, or, our less-enlightened fellow subjects of the Cape of Good Hope. To the aid of this great teacher, experience, was, however, added that of the press, and especially the "Twopenny Trash" publications, which, as I before observed, were the great object of the Boroughmongers' dread

To this it came at last; and, whatever shifts were resorted to in order to disguise the fact, this, and this only, was the cause of that celebrated GREEN BAG, of the contents of which, of the manner of examining those contents, and of the mode of acting upon that examination, I shall treat of in my next; and, in the meanwhile, in good health, and in the midst of an abundance of cherries, and with pine-apples to eat at 2s. English, each, I remain, my worthy and beloved friends,

Your faithful friend,




LETTER IV. On the Extraordinary Conduct of Sir Francis Burdett, during the last Winter-08

his Motion for a Committee, and on his Speech at the Westminster Dinner, en the 23rd of May last.

(Political Register, September, 1817.)

North Hampstead, Long Island, June 23, 1817. MY WORTHY AND Beloved Friends,

In my last I treated of what passed in the Parliament at its opening in January last. It was my intention, in this Letter, to go into the history of the proceedings of the Green-Bag Committee; but, upon reflection, I choose rather, first to examine, a little, the mysterious part, which our great leader, Sir Francis BURDETT acted upon that memora. ble occasion; and, in the pursuing of this course, I am, in a greater measure, determined by the account which has reached me of his motion or the subject of Rejorm of the 20th May last, and which motion was precisely the thing which the Reformers disliked, and against which they have uniformly protested for years past, and of which I shall speak more fully by-and-by.

And here let me observe, that the past conduct of no man, however meritorious, ought, for one moment, to be put in competition with the good of our country. It is our duty to examine freely the acts of Sir Francis Burdett, as well as the acts of Castlereagh himself. Indeed, the plain truth is this, that a clear statement, relative to the conduct of Sir Francis, during the last winter, is absolutely necessary to rescue the character of all the Reformers from the charge of folly approaching to madness. And,

it now plainly comes to this: either he does not belong to us, or we are the most inconsistent of human beings, and our prayers are worthy of not the smallest degree of attention.

I am well aware of the ten thousand calumnies, that the performance of this duty will give rise to. I am aware, that I shall be accused of dipping my pen in poison to inflict a deadly wound on the man, whose services to his country I have so often extolled. And, though it be my intention to inflict no wound; though I shall have the most respectful and most kind feelings towards the individual constantly in my heart; though I shall say not one word, which truth, which the good of my country, and which justice to my own character, do not all imperiously call for ; though I shall deny myself every aid that I night derive from private communications ; though nothing which has passed between Sir Francis and me, or others, privately, shall be brought in to enforce any thing that I may have to say; still I am aware that I shall be charged with every thing that the tongue of calumny can utter. But, even this shall never induce me to imitate the ecumple, which, in the minds of a great majority of mankind, would fully justify me in making public all that has ever passed between us.

I will resort to the statement of no facts, which are not already well known to numerous persons, and which the public might not have known as well as I. I shall very clearly, or, at least, as clearly as I am able, give an account of this gentleman's conduct, during the time that I have mentioned ; and I shall inquire very freely into the motives for that conduct.

That I have a right to do this is evident, and I think it will soon appear, that it is a duty as well as a right. It is a duty towards myself; but, what is that compared with the duty which I owe my country; and which I owe, in a more particular manner, to those millions of men, who bave read my writings, and who have shown their attachment to me by every mark within their power! But, here again will come the old charge of my“ inconsistency.My change of opinionwill be again blazoned forth. What change? The change is not in my opinion, bot, as I shall show, in the conduct of the person spoken of. OTHELLO, in one act of the play, praises lago for his honesty, fidelity, and know. ledge ; but at the close of the drama, he exclaims : “ Perfidious, damned lago!” No critic has ever thought of accusing OTHELLO of either inconsistency or injustice. The merchant, who, to-day, confides the keeping of his strong box to his clerk, and who, to-morrow, accuses him of theft, and pursues him to the gallows, is never accused of incon. sistency. It was lago who was inconsistent; it is the clerk. who is inconsistent; and not Othello and the merchant.

Besides, it is not my intention to deal in accusations against Sir Francis Burdett. I impute to him no crimes ; I charge him with no perfidy; I insinuate nothing coul against him. His conduct I impute to those weaknesses in man's nature, which the far greater part of mankind will be ready to excuse ; but, those weaknesses must be stated, or the character of Reform and of Reformers must be blackened, which latter, nature as well as reason cry aloud in my heart and tell me, that, if I have the power to prevent it, I ought not to permit. Moreover, my object also is to induce Sir. Francis to return to the old path. He has by no means forfeited any portion of my good opinion, as far as regards his honesty and his love of the. liberties of his country. It is of his inde. cision and his inconsistency, of his jealousies and of his envies, of which I complain ; and of all these a man may, by an effort of which any man is capable, easily cure himself.

The good of the cause," I shall, by some, be told, demands silence and oblivion; that the common enemy will be pleased to see this disunion. But the disunion has taken place, and, this was known to the Boroughmongers, and this it was that rendered them bold. So that the question is simply this : shall the cause of the people be sacrificed to the whims, or the indecision, or the jealousies, or the envies, or any other of the weaknesses of Sir Francis Burdett, or shall it not? I answer in the negative ; and upon that ground I now proceed to inquire into his con. duct, during the last winter.

It is very notorious, that the Reformers looked up to Sir Francis Burdett as the man who was to be the great advocate of their cause in Parliament. Indeed, the calls, which he had been making upon the People, for so many years, to come forward in a body, naturally led to the universal opinion, that he would be transported with joy, when he found, that they had actually come forward in far greater numbers and with demonstrations of greater knowledge, zeal and resolution than he ever could have anticipated. Strange to say, the reverse was the fact, and that in the precise degree, that he perceived the People to wax warm, he appeared to wax cold; and to see nothing but obstacles in the pursuit of that, to the full. accomplishment of which he had always declared, that nothing but the hearty and unanimous good-will of the People was wanting. While all was life and hope amongst the Reformers, he remained as it were entombed at Brighthelmstone and at Hastings, amidst a circle of that very Standing Army, the bare appearance of which one would have thought was enough to blast his sight.

There he remained until late in December, or, rather, early in January ;' while millions of men were anxiously looking, from every corner of the country, to know what he meant to do, and how he meant to proceed in bringing forward their cause to a decision. People were surprised, that no Meeting took place in Westminster. What! Palace Yard, which had been the very focus of Reform, and which had been sending forth its burning rays so long, NOW, when all the rest of the nation was in a blaze, to become dead and cold as a horse-pond! The holding up of bis finger would have produced a Meeting at Westminster. And yet no Meeting took place, though it was very eagerly called for by many most respectable persons, and though an occasion loudly called for it, independent of the cause of Reform ; namely, the imprisonment of my LORD Cochrane. It was anxiously desired, that a public Meeting, and not one at a Tavern, should have taken place upon that occasion. Preparations were actually made for such a Meeting. Nay, the Requisition for it was sent to the High Bailiff. But, strange to tell, the Meeting dwindled into a Tavern size by the refusal of Sir Francis to attend it. This fact soon became public, and a most injurious effect it had. Lord Cochrane had acquired great and well-founded popularity for his most manly conduct at the London Tavern, when he blew the sinecure-soup project into air. The real causes of his sufferings were now become known to every man; and his gallant perseverance and disregard of suffering had gained him wonderful applause. The Penny Subscription set on foot to pay his fine had excited an enthusiasm that never was surpassed, and in which all ranks, except tax-eaters, participated. There was never such a Meeting in Westminster as that would have been. And, was it patriotic in Sir Francis to prevent that Meeting ? Would his popularity have suffered because another man received marks of popularity ?

When Sir Francis came to London early in January, then, at any rate, we expected to learn what were his precise intentions. In this, however, we were disappointed ; though it was impossible for us to believe, that he would not, at the opening of the Session, give notice of his intention to bring in a Bill for a Reform. The idea of a motion, for the dozenth time, for a Committee to inquire about the necessity of a Reform, was scouted by us all, not only as ridiculous in itself, but as manifestly decep. tious and mischievous in its tendency. But, of this more by-and-by. We could have no doubt, that a Bill was intended; and though we had great reason to complain of the sluggishness of our Chief, none of us doubted, as yet, that he would, in the distinct terms of a Bill, move for what we wanted, and what we were praying for. It was not more long speeches that we wanted. It was something to the point ; something that we might rally round till we obtained our object.

There was, at the period now alluded to, a degree of hope and of en. thusiasm prevailing, such as had never before been witnessed. Like a salamander in the fire, Sir Francis appeared untouched by the blaze of public spirit that shone around him, and the ardour of which was all directed towards himself. He appeared like a lover, who had passed the honey-moon; or, rather like VAINLOVE, in one of ConGREVE's Plays, who, as another character terms it, delighted in springing the covey, and then abandoning the sport; for, instead of being at his house in London to answer the numerous eager inquiries of zealous and honest men from all parts of the country, he was, we were told, hunting in Surrey with the hounds of Maberly, the ARMY TAILOR! This circumstance alone, which I found to have been truly stated, was enough to excite suspicion ; and, it did excite, in my mind, very strong suspicions; or, rather, it confirmed those suspicions, which (for reasons by-and-by to be stated) I had conceived before he came to London,

As the day for opening the Parliament approached, his house was, of course, more and more resorted to by Reformers from all parts of the country ; and, this was precisely the time, these momentous days were precisely those days, which he selected for spending in Leicestershire a fox-hunting! Why! I loved the country and hated London quite as cordially as he did. I could have written, too, at Botley, just as well as in London; but, I thought it my duty, or, rather, I thought nothing about the matter; I felt, that I could not, at such a time, be absent from the place of grand resort without committing something very little short of a crime. If, indeed, he had been fixed in his purpose to bring in the Bill, his absence might have been prudent to avoid solicitations on the other side. But, the real motive of so perfectly voluntary an absence became but too apparent in the sequel : that is to say, to avoid our importunities to keep up to the mark of our wishes; a motive which became the more obvious, when it was considered, that he had left his Son, whose illness had, till then, been the ostensible cause of his absence, and had also left all his family, in Sussex, while he took his line of march to the North.

The day of the Meeting of Parliament was now at hand. The town was crowded with new faces and anxious hearts from all parts of the kingdom. He being absent, and no one being able to tell when he would return, the houses of Major Cartwright and myself became the scenes of

« AnteriorContinuar »