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are ignorant at least that they might be governed better. But the grand cause of our apathy upon internal questions is that our whole attention is riveted on what is passing abroad. We are the interested spectators of great events. The Corn laws had not long been repealed, when it became evident that home politics no longer were to be the all-absorbing study that they hitherto had been. Up to that date we had been stirring, and Europe had been motionless for a time. But with the advent of free trade all imperious necessity for internal change subsided throughout the kingdom. Nearly at the same moment the Continent, which for years had en joyed repose, was once more visited by a political earthquake; which, though less terrible than its great predecessor of sixty years before, was still sufficiently violent to arrest all eyes, and to shake a great portion of the civilized world. Since the commencement of 1848, our situation has been reversed. Till then we were actors in a drama of our own; we have become the audience at greater tragedies enacted by our neighbours. The newspapers, so long read chiefly for the sake of their political manifestoes and their domestic intelligence, now were important as the vehicles for conveying to us the contemporary history of the Continent. Paris, Vienna, Constanti. nople, and Turin, grew to be centres of political interest, which drew away the thoughts of practical Englishmen from their own more immediate concerns. Nor has our excitement been to us a mere excitement of the imagination.
The history of the Continent for the last decade, touching ourselves so closely as it does, has been much more to us than a mere thrilling romance. Our possession of India, and of the chain of communicating outposts which run from India to the Mediterranean and Gibraltar, gives us, unhappily it may be, too much reason to be interested in European complications. Our proximity to France compels us to follow, with fascinated eyes, each movement of that powerful, dangerous, and feverish empire. It is idle to talk
Europe is in flames, or threatening us with the explosion of sullen and pentup volcanic forces. Jam proximus ardet Ucalegon. Safety to-day ; purity of election, and extension of the franchise, can afford to wait till to-morrow.
Mr. Bright, who, if he is often unwise in the means he adopts, at least knows the nature of the obstacles with which he has to contend, sees perfectly that it is hopeless to inoculate with the fever of reform agitation a patient from whom the intense interest of foreign politics has driven out all minor political excitements. Napoleon III., by way of withdrawing the minds of his fiery subjects from home, feeds them with the intoxicating spectacle of continual disturbance beyond their frontier. Conversely, the Apostle of reform is aware that, before he can interest the nation in the task of reforming itself, he must succeed in calming the interest it takes in the affairs of Europe. He has hit two of the right nails upon the head. India and France are, as he correctly judges, the sources of a great portion of that keen unrest which attracts our eyes from home, and fixes them abroad : and he acts consistently with himself in endeavouring in the one case to cut away the cause of our alarm, in the other to persuade us that our alarm is foolish. Without entering into the question whether the Eastern policy of Lord Palmerston is, or is not, a policy of mere obstruction and temporary shift, we may fairly say, that as regards France, Mr. Bright labours under a dangerous, and, fortunately, a singular delusion. The second Empire has conferred some benefits, if not on France, at least on the rest of Europe, and there is no necessity for either underrating or overrating their value. But France, in any aspect of the case, stands beside us with drawn sword, an armed and ambitious missionary. Mr. Bright has chosen the wrong season to persuade us that we can afford to look away from this restless neighbour, and to devote our entire energies to mastering the Manchester theory of the British Constitution.
espousing the cause of reaction, but many years that the giants who, in 1815, simply acting upon an instinct of self- seemed buried for ever under mountains, preservation.
were able successfully to re-emerge into But, were her own safety and fortunes the upper air ; a saddened, a sobered, not indirectly involved, the paramount and a wiser crew. Once more, another interest of the scenes which are passing Paris Revolution set going the problems, before her gaze would be sufficient to which as yet had been mooted, but never justify the indifference which England solved in the first : and European order displays for almost everything except set to work to refashion itself. New European questions. We are entering and unknown phenomena, great forces on another cycle : and “the world's of which the world was little conscious, great age” seems to be “ beginning anew" spring up into sight. Questions of even if the “golden years” are not nationalities, of the will of the people, of returning. Religious preachers exclaim, universal suffrage, arise and lock themas they have done in every generation, selves one with the other, producing that the end of all things is at hand, complexities innumerable, compared but to an unbiassed eye it would rather with which all questions as to forms of appear as if all things were commencing government seem of minor moment. afresh, and the earth had begun to spin Society, which since the French Revoluat railroad speed down a new and un- tion has discovered the steam engine tried groove. With the first French and the telegraph, finds that the new Revolution a fresh page was turned in and gigantic opportunities for centralizathe history of civilization. The old tion thereby introduced, increase all our heavens and the old earth passed away,' political difficulties and dangers a hunand a new heaven and a new earth sup- dredfold. In a word, Europe is explied their place. New principles, new perimentalising on herself, and on those theories of society and human rights, new weapons for self-decomposition, or new truths and new errors, were let instruments for self-cultivation, which loose upon France, and, thanks partly have been put into her hands. to the universality of the French lan- It is true, that England is a spectator guage, and partly to the irresistible élan of these things, and takes no part in of the French character, vibrated through the ordeal of analysis ; but there is no Europe, till Europe shook again. Weary reason to suppose that she is not learning of an old civilization, which had been a and profiting by what she sees. We are kind of fortuitous growth out of hetero- not a creative nation, like the Italians ; geneous and discordant elements, an we are not a nation which pushes everyimportant part of the Continent endea- thing to its logical conclusion, like the voured to fling off all law, all social French. We are a nation that clings tradition, all order which could not be tenaciously to the past : we are drawn explained deductively from some simple slowly and reluctantly into the agitating and logical first principles, to undo the vortex of new social opinions : we are knots which ages had been tying, to fonder of legal fictions than of imaginary return, if necessary, to a fictitious state logical axioms, and unfitted altogether of primitive simplicity, and-upon a logical tu reconstruct society from given philobasis to begin the work of constructing sophical premises. It is said, and pertinathe world over again. The Treaty of ciously said-because, suddenly occupied Vienna and the Holy Alliance surprised with the sight of what is stirring abroad, these new world-makers before their we are doing little or nothing at hometask was finished. The gods of a classical that England is passing through a phase civilization succeeded for a time in van- of reaction. That this country has quishing the brawny Titans of a more been forcibly struck with the evil revigorous and mundane birth. Apollo sults of pushing to their conclusion and Minerva overcame and bound Ty- some of the principles laid down by de
But there is a double lesson to be drawn from all great events, and we do not see why Conservatism should suppose that England is only drawing half of it. The first French Revolution retarded the first Reform Bill. But no one who has observed the effect of that great convulsion can doubt its influence upon English Liberalism. The events of the last twelve years, in like manner, are affecting Englishmen in two distinct and different ways. For the moment they are rendering us disinclined to take any decided onward step. But, meanwhile, the country, from land's end to land's end, is unconsciously imbibing broad, manly, and liberal opinions.
Much of our just hesitation to embark at once on the perilous seas of extreme Radicalism may be traced to a prevalent feeling, that we have seen Radicalism tried and have seen it fail. France, as it is said, has proved to us that the tyranny of the one follows naturally upon the tyranny of the many. America shows conclusively that the tyranny of the many is as bad as the tyranny of the one. Nor are we content to ascribe to democracy merely its own inherent defects. Democratical institutions are considered enough to account for every ill that flesh is heir to. Universal suffrage bears its own and other people's bur dens. Thus, even the American civil war is set down as a flagrant instance of what we may expect to come to if we lower the suffrage in our large towns, and every American filibuster who misconducts himself upon the high seas is regarded as a frightful example of the results of voting by ballot
A popular preacher of the day, who assiduously takes upon himself to explain the ways of Providence, regards the cholera as an heaven-inflicted evil, flowing immediately from Catholic emancipation, and the passing of the Maynooth grant. Adopting this kind of reasoning, anything may no doubt be explained by anything. But, though the world of literary politicians is too fond of accounting for all foreign calamities by the fact that the
their own, we are justified by the aspect of American affairs in pausing before we take any leap into the dark. America must accordingly bear the imputation of having fairly brought into some disrepute and odium universal suffrage, the ballot, and large constituencies. As for large constituencies, the horror in which they are held is perhaps unnecessary. Our metropolitan members are not ideal statesmen. Finsbury and Marylebone are not abodes of political innocence, but likely to be the walk for many years of successful Old Bailey barristers, or of triumphant insecticides, and to borrow what little respectability either may acquire from the occasional election of—at most-a retired alderman. But Finsbury and Marylebone represent a large class who have only since the Reform Bill known what it is to enjoy political life. These cannot be expected to emerge at once from the stage of political mollusks into the stage of highly-organised politicians. They will only learn to use political privileges rightly after being allowed for some little time to abuse them. Still, in spite of all, large constituencies will probably long remain unpopular, and each successive instance of electoral folly will increase this unpopularity. Though over-fastidiousness may lead us to be unnecessarily indignant with, and want of confidence in the future of society to despair of, monster constituencies, we can hardly be said upon these subjects to be undergoing a “reaction.”
A moment's consideration of the method by which the so-called “reaction” has been brought about, will demonstrate that, whatever it be, it is certainly not a “ Conservative” reaction. It has not been caused by the Conservatives. All that the Conservatives have had to do, has been to make no noise, and not provoke a counter-reaction, by showing undesirable symptoms of life. If Lord Derby returns to office, he has to thank not the activity of his partisans —though their activity has not been less because they have been silent-he cated classes whose opinions proceed from a kind of political dyspepsia. It is natural that the majority of the literary order should view with dislike any further addition to the power of the body below them. The Semi-Liberals belong neither to the upper nor to the lower ranks ; neither to the sons of heaven nor to the sons of earth. They are themselves kept back from power and distinction by the aristocracy above; they fear to be swamped altogether by the democracy below. Let us sympa thise with the dilemma. It is perhaps difficult to say with whom they should unite. Years ago their course was not so difficult to steer. They devoted their keen swords to the service of Reform ; led the van of Liberalism ; and contributed not a little to turn the tide of public opinion into its present channel. In the palmy days of the Edinburgh, the most influential of the educated literary class were Liberals. Like the Whigs, they have since discovered that the champions of an oppressed cause sink into minor importance when the victory is won. Partly, too, it may be, a qualm of suspicion has come upon them as to the nature of the work they have been accomplishing. They thought they were labouring to remove a mill-dam, and lo! the Atlantic is upon them. Hesitatingly and tremblingly they determine to go no further. Mr. Bright is noisy and violent. The crowd which seemed pleasant to lead, is vulgar and offensive to mix with. The old waters of Abana and Pharpar are better after all.
There is much truth in the gloomy reflections of the Semi-Liberals. Those who have seen anything of the English middle and lower classes know that they are constituted by nature to accept an aristocracy of birth, and to rebel against all aristocracies of talent. The thinkers who most influence working men are not the thinkers who think most clearly, but those who think most strongly. At a certain feverish crisis in the progress of society, knowledge ceases to be necessarily power. The tumultuous fires
white heat the souls of the great masses, whom the clearer flame of science, economy, and learning cannot affect. The alarm of the Semi-Liberals, then, though excessive, is not unnatural. They undertook to sow the wind, and they find that they were well-nigh sowing a whirlwind. But, whether their alarm be excessive or justifiable, it must not be forgotten that no reaction caused by such men as these could fairly or without grave qualification be called a Conservative reaction. At best it is not a Conservative reaction, it is a political pause. For those who have been instrumental in effecting it are not to be confounded with the advocates of abuse. Their temporal interests are on the side of moderate progress. Their intellectual bias is in favour of freedom in everything, but especially of free thought. They have fought in days gone by, and are ready to contend again, for civil and religious liberty. They refuse to give their goodwill to the established order of things, when it has produced nothing but despotism and corruption. Italy, Hungary, Poland-these are the causes that consistently receive their sympathy and their support. Men like these may be timid and mistaken, but they never can be reactionaries.
England this last year has been pausing with them : but a great people cannot be said to be retrograding which is hourly drinking in all the lessons that experience can teach it. We are not rowing against wind and tide, or endeavouring to remount whence we have descended. We are resting on our oars—intent on the sights and sounds around us : and the great stream is bearing us gently and happily along upon its bosom. For it would be untrue to say that, because we make no conscious movement onward, our thoughts are not changing, growing, ripening. The country is gradually learning to understand, and here and there to sympathise with, the aspirations and ideas of other countries which are widely unlike our own. We are more tolerant towards forms of government which differ from
come almost a joke, has ceased at all events to be a bugbear. The ballot seems to thinking statesmen no longer to be a monstrosity, but to be merely a mistake. The antiquated and senti. mental notion of the Divine right of kings, which long ago was beaten into silence, has at last nearly disappeared even from our pulpits. A new Divine right has made its way upon the stage, with the evident intention of replacing the old--the Divine right of the "fait accompli.” We are gradually learning to comprehend that the voice of the people, if it is seldom the voice of God, is generally a voice that makes itself heard at last. We now see that a nation's resolute will, noble self-control, and moral strength, may win for it prizes which its armies could never have won, and Order and Law may lift their heads higher at the sight of revolution itself submitting to their own mild sway. Light has been thrown on the relations subsisting between subjects and their sovereign. The political value of social distinctions—the world's most important problem-is being tested at one and the same time in many places : and, whatever its solution, it can hardly fail to be without some influence on English minds. From France itself in the last two months we have received a solemn recognition of the value of constitutional government from the mouth of the most unconstitutional of monarchs. The country, it seems, is quietest and governed most cheaply where the people tax themselves; and it has been reserved for a foreign despot practically to remind us of the old maxim, that Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform, are three sisters who go hand in hand. The questions regarding capital and labour are likely to be solved in England sooner even than elsewhere, except, perhaps, in Italy; but the state of Paris and the South of France may recall to our recollection the unsentimental and homely truth, that, if the capitalist does not invariably understand his true interests, the labourer is not the best judge of what is good for labour, and that the
ways successfully slighted. This, and far more than this, the great majority of Englishmen have been learning during the last two years; and the years in which they have been so occupied cannot with propriety be termed years of reaction.
That 1861 has been a year of religious reaction is equally untrue. It has, indeed, been in England a year of considerable theological excitement. “Essays and Reviews," a now famous volume, which was published in the spring of 1860, at the commencement of last winter began to fall into the hands of the bishops and country clergy. Great agitation followed in all parts of the country; and a storm of invectives, arguments, and confutation, was directed against the clerical writers who had taken part in its composition. We are not now concerned with the merits or demerits of the work, the opinions contained in which were at the time no novelties to many educated men. But at first it seemed likely that great injus. tice would be done to the authors by society at large. They were treated by many as if they were the preachers of some Methodist congregation of Little Bethel, who were paid only to teach what their audience chose ; instead of being the ministers of a great and generous national Church, which, if its ministers could discover a new truth, would claim to share it with them. It was said, and said intemperately, that the Essayists were bound to leave the pale before they promulgated views contrary to the opinions of their fellowChurchmen. It would have been as wise and as just to insist that a man who was accused of a crime which he denied, should spontaneously try, condemn, and execute himself. By the customs of Japan a notorious offender is required to disembowel himself. It would be too much, every time an English incumbent passed through a phase of thought which he imagined inconsistent with his subscription to the Articles, that he should be considered a dishonoured man unless at