« AnteriorContinuar »
lation, the attention of the two houses was forcibly withdrawn by the urgent, and apparently unforeseen, symptoms of suffering which broke out over the whole face of the country, and in almost all classes of the community.
During the earlier part of the year, the distress had appeared particularly confined to the agricultural labourers, at least the evils pressing upon them were those which had almost exclusively engaged the attention of the parliamentary speakers. But as the season advanced, and an unusual inclemency of weather brought with it the prospect of a general failure in the harvests of Europe, and a rapid rise in the corn market, much more serious distress burst forth among the manufacturing poor, who began to murmur that their reduced wages would no longer satisfy them with bread.
By the sudden failure of the war-demand for a vast variety of articles, which was not compensated as yet by the recovery of any peace-market, foreign or domestic, thousands of artisans were thrown out of employment, and reduced to a state of extreme want and penury. A detestable spirit of conspiracy which manifested itself in the early part of the year in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Huntingdon, and Cambridge, directed against houses, barns, and rick-yards, which were devoted to the flames, was probably the result of a want of agricultural employment, joined to the love of plunder. But the distressing scenes which afterwards took place amongst the colliers of Staffordshire, and the attempts made by the assembled workmen of the iron manufacturing districts of South Wales, to stop by force the working of the forges, arose from the causes above referred to. In general, however, the workmen conducted themselves without violence, and received with gratitude the contributions made for their relief.
The general sense of suffering found vent throughout the country in meetings called for the purpose of
discussing the causes and remedies of these evils, and petitions for redress of grievances, for economy and for parliamentary reform, poured in on all sides.
A meeting in Spa Fields, summoned for the avowed object of petitioning the Prince Regent, produced a daring insurrectionary attempt, by which the city was for some hours thrown into a state of violent alarm, but it was immediately checked by the spirited conduct of the magistrates, and ended without difficulty by the appearance of the military.
The expedition of Lord Exmouth to Algiers, added fresh laurels to the triumphs of the British navy, and animated for a moment the general gloom which was fast gathering round our domestic prospects. It afforded to humanity the gratifying result of the abolition of Christian slavery in all the piratical states of Barbary; and demonstrated that the present possessors of Malta, with equal good-will, possess far more efficacious means than the Order to which they have succeeded, of protecting the weaker European States on the shore of the Mediterranean.
In France the undisguised violence and bigotry of the emigrant party, more royalist than even the king himself, and attaching itself almost exclusively to the presumptive heir to the throne, appears very naturally to have excited the jealousy of the sovereign. The result has been the dismission of the ultra ministry, and the admission of the more liberal party to a share in the administration; an event which has added to the personal independence of the king, and has calmed in a considerable degree the apprehensions, entertained by the purchasers of national domains and ecclesiastical property, of violent resumptions.
The pirates of Greece, of Albania, and of other parts of the Mediterranean, who during the war hoisted the flag of one or other of the belligerent parties, and were allowed to carry on their depredations under the appellation of privateers, have, as might be expected,
been in no haste to suspend their profitable warfare; hence the reports of insults and outrages committed on the flags and territory of some of the smaller Italian States; but which no doubt will speedily be repressed by the interference of the superior powers.
The general and successful appeal which had been made by the Sovereigns of the German States to the great body of the people in throwing off the yoke which had been imposed by the French armies, had been accompanied by the promise of a liberal reform in their political institutions. Popular writers had been encouraged to arouse and create patriotic feelings by the contrast between slavish submission to a detestable foreign tyranny, and the acquiescence of freemen in a constitution (conceded by the sovereign and ratified by the several orders of the state) which, by adopting with greater or less modifications, the principles of a representative government, might, as far as human infirmities will permit, secure alike the legitimate rights both of the rulers and of the people.
In the triumph that succeeded their military labours, in the partitions and repartitions, in the intrigues and squabbles consequent on the division of the spoil
, or, to use a diplomatic phrase, the adjustment of the indemnities, so much time was occupied as very naturally to excite suspicions on the part of the Public, with regard to the good faith of the Sovereigns. The impatience of the people increased in proportion to the delay; and according as the projected reforms were supported in each state by the Military, the Nobility, and the Clergy, the respective Sovereigns withstood or yielded to the popular voice. Even under the most favourable circumstances, however, the practical difficulties of adjusting ancient and chartered privileges, and conciliating them with the extended exercise of equal law and proportioned taxation, have been so great, that the progress of reform has been, and must necessarily be, very slow. In Prussia and Wirtemburg,
and in some of the smaller States, the civil struggle has commenced: what will be the final result it is impossible to foresee: probably by no party, and in no state, will the question be set at rest by the rude and open interference of the sword ; and there seenis reason to hope, that the changes which may result, will upon the whole be for the general benefit of the community in which they take place.
The prodigious exertions, during the late war, which this country was enabled to make in proportion to its population, are attributed pretty generally on the continent, to the enterprize of our merchants, and the activity and diligence of our manufacturers and capitalists; overlooking the liberality of our political institutions, the cause and consequence of that public spirit, and private integrity, on which the prosperity of the British Empire essentially depends. Hence great pains have been taken, particularly by Russia, to obtain copies of our machinery, and to seduce our artisans. The times have been favourable to these attempts, which have been prosecuted with an openness and success, that has excited the jealousy and alarm of our manufacturers, though not of the Government. Probably most of these projects, like other similar ones, will prove abortive: those who would raise oaks must be content to plant acorns in the soil adapted to their growth, and to wait in hope, in faith, and in patience, for their late and robust maturity.