is no small consolation to know that, however objectionable they alike are, they cannot both do harm, but, on the contrary, they each carry consolation for the other. The one is, as to the utter impossibility of Great Bri. tain ever liquidating ber existing debt, and the other, as to the no less impossibility of her thriving or even continuing as a great nation without it. Now, if it be found that we cannot pay our debt, it is, indeed, a consolation to know, that our inability to do so saves us from ruin. We shall, therefore, not stop to quarrel with such a consequence, but proceed to prove that both theories are wholly false. We shall endeavour to satisfy the public that Great Britain possesses ample means to liquidate her debt, onerous as no doubt it is, and to make even mightier pecuniary exertions, should such be found necessary. We shall likewise endeavour to show that, however beneficial to a few, and convenient to all, may be the facility of investing surplus capital on national security, the existence of a National Debt is a positive evil. The distinction we draw between a National Debt, and a National Security, we will at present only illustrate by desiring the community to consider what would have been the advantages to Great Britain had the eight hundred millions, which she now owes, been expended in improving the three kingdoms, instead of having been squandered in the unproductive expenditure of war.

The first point to be laid down regarding the debt of this country is, that all that is in it stands pledged for the repayment of it. Great Britain has borrowed eight hundred millions sterling, subject to an annual payment of interest of not less than twenty-nine millions ; for which interest and principal debt, until repaid, every acre in the country, and all that is upon or under them, is pawned to the lenders ; and the personal responsibility of every individual in the kingdom is to a certain degree mortgaged, for so long as he remains in it, he is liable to contribute bis proportion towards the annual interest, and as long as the people of Great Britain can afford to eat and drink, so long will it be paid. That the debt thus owing was legally and constitutionally contracted no one pretends to deny, and consequently there is no doubt as to its validity. But there are some persons of such questionable honesty as to think, that, although the debt was contracted on the unimpeachable security stated, joined to the moral obligation which binds the honest debtor to pay his creditor so long as he is able, the people of Great Britain ought to cry quits with their lenders, and, to use the favourite phrase, to apply the sponge to the debt-in other words, to cheat the individuals who, in times of peril and alarm, lent their money for the use and upon the credit of the state ; and, strange as it may appear, those who are most anxious for the sponge-system, are the very individuals who, during a period of five and twenty-years, were incessantly supporting the Government in a profligate and wasteful expenditure, and compelled their country to incur the debt she now groans under. We say compelled ; for by the votes, the reckless votes they gave in return for high prices, the landowners of England left us no alternative.

The sponge !—and what would the sponge do for us? Would it add one farthing to our national wealth, beyond cancelling the debt due to foreigners ? No. But it would do this :- it would, in the first place, destroy for ever that national good faith which has distinguished Great Britain above the other nations of the earth, and which enabled her, in times of peril and alarm, to borrow money from those who had it to lend, for the defence of those who could but contribute an interest. With the end of our good faith would end our national credit, and with it the power of borrowing money ; a power which, however much to be regretted in the abuse, is always a desirable one to have for use. We should, in short, be practising a trick on ourselves, not less gross than if a mercantile company of many partners were to declare themselves bankrupt, having at the time no creditors but the members of their own firm. In the next place, such a measure would reduce to beggary, from comparative affluence, many thousands of our fellow-subjects ; for be it observed, that of the whole number of fundholders not fewer than 235,580 receive dividends of not more than 1001. a year; and if we take the numbers at six to a family, we should have 1,353,480 individuals, and these, too, of the class least likely to keep themselves, reduced to absolute want. Well then, having ruined our national credit, and reduced to starvation a million and a half of our neighbours, in what situation should we find ourselves? We should be imperiously bound to support the very individuals we had iniquitously deprived of bread. And at what cost would this support be given ? Why, not one farthing less than the amount of dividends, to save which so much misery and ruin had been created; for to allow the individuals thrown upon the national bounty one shilling a day throughout the year, (a bare pittance !) would require some millions a year more than are at present paid in interest for the funded debt of Great Britain. From this calculation (which, although every man may vary according to his own fancy, we defy any one materially to impeach,) it will be seen, that of all theories that ever entered the head of visionary man, that of relieving the nation by extinguishing her debt with the sponge, is the wildest, the most iniquitous, and traught with the most tremendous consequences. And whom would it benefit, even in the fancy of its most zealous advocates ? Those only upon whom the pressure of supporting the plundered would fall the lightest—upon the lordly proprietors of splendid demesnes. To them (and only to them) would it be beneficial; for besides diminishing their expenditure, in the shape of taxes on articles the essentials of luxury, it would take them out of that pawn in which they now stand, roof and rafter, acres and oaks, for the debt which the sponge would rub off. The people would, therefore, by the sponge, only increase the wealth of those who are now rich beyond comparison, and increase the burdens of those who are already overwhelmed to that degree, that the whole would go down in one mass of indiscriminate ruin. Whenever the wealth of a nation becomes so disproportioned, as in such a case it would be, it must, like water, find its level, and like water seeking its level, will overcome all obstructions by bringing into play the great political leveller, a popular revolution; and as certain as water finds a level, so would, in this case, the wealth of England find its level in a revolution. The people, it is true, would in common with the land-owners be relieved from the pressure of the taxes by the Sponge System, that are necessary for the payment of the dividends; but they would thereby be exposed to a pressure much more severe. But the good sense, good faith, and feelings of the British community forbid it; and upon these we should have rested satisfied upon this point, did not many individuals, in other respects sober-minded, intelligent, well-intentioned, and honourable, seriously urge the necessity of thus iniquitously sweeping away the public debt. Having disposed of this question, the two points to be now considered are as to ihe ability of Great Britain to pay the interest of her debt, and ultimately to redeem it. The first is the most important question for the existing generation, especially in the capacity of lenders, but not so in that of borrowers; for although the lenders may rest satisfied, if certain of their interest, the borrowers will feel, that by establishing the means of ultimate repayment, they may look forward to a reduction of the rate of interest. But as the lender and the borrower are in this case the same people, our debt being, in fact, but a loan from John Bull rich to John Bull poor, the conflicting interests of parties, as now pointed out, are of comparative insignificance, to what they would be were the Lenders foreigners and the Borrowers Englishmen.

By the latest returns to Parliament, the number of stockholders, or lenders to the nation, amounted to 288,481, which are entitled to dividends annually, as follows : 92,223 of 101.; 42,083 of 201.; 101,274 of 1001. ; 26,410 of 2001.; 15,604 of 4001.; 5178 of 6001. ; 3260 of 10001.; 1741 of 20001.; 490 of 40001.; and exceeding 40001. 213. The above does not include the investments made by the Commissioners for Savings' Banks, but it embraces the amount held by foreigners, which, however, by a late return, was only equal to 12,486,9131, stock, and 57911. terminable annuities-about one-sixty-fourth part of the whole debt.

From this statement it will be seen that the debt owing by Great Britain is due almost exclusively to about 288,000 of her children; and consequently, although heavily in debt, it is for the most part to her own family; and if it be necessary to collect taxes to the amount of twenty-nine millions the one day to mcet the interest thereof, it is for the purpose of distributing it the next, and with the self-same hand, among her own people. Having thus shown that the National Debt of England is due, if we may so express it, from herself to herself, and that the taxes extracted from the pockets of her people on account of it are returned to them again in the shape of interest or dividends, it remains for us to inquire into the operation of the taxes as affecting the different branches of the community, and to ascertain, as correctly as an undefined subject of the kind is susceptible of, how nearly the annual expenditure of the country approaches to its annual profit. In preparing to do this, we wish we could assure the public that we are as well satisfied with the probable result of the first inquiry as of the last; for whilst we lament that taxation bears with the most unequal and destructive pressure, we feel assured of the ability of Great Britain, from her profits as a nation, to bear a much larger amount of taxation than she at present pays, were it fairly and properly levied. That such is not the case we are compelled to admit, and to declare our fixed and firm belief, that unless taxation be more judiciously apportioned it will defeat itself, by utterly destroying those classes of the community which alone bring wealth into existence. We shall not now go into the proof of these assertions, or point out the defects of the existing system, because by so doing we should not only run into greater length than would be convenient for a single paper, and because we think that, if a division of space were no object to us, we deal more fairly with the subjectmatter under the title of this article by stopping at this point; in order that due reflection may be given to the questions it embraces-questions which resolve themselves into the consideration, whether the British Empire is to be regarded as a spendthrift that has wantoned away her property until she has become unable to pay her debts, or as a solvent nation? That she has been a spendthrift and squandered away her treasure most heedlessly, we are free to admit; but we deny that she is insolvent, if she be fairly dealt by and a just stewardship of her resources commenced.

In concluding this part of our subject, we would remark that we have been induced to the task under a strong sense of public duty, and under a firm conviction that the whole truth must be stated to the nation upon all questions of her domestic policy. A revolution has already commenced, as important in its consequences as that which we, of this generation, delight to dwell upon as the most glorious event in the annals of England ; and the present epoch will be equally celebrated by posterity. The great duty is to prevent the revolution that we are now contemplating from descending into anarchy, and destroying the social system. This prevention can only be rendered by moving in unison with the spirit of the times; by ameliorating the common condition, as especially contradistinguished from the pretensions of particular classes ; by breaking down prejudices, if possible by argument and persuasion in the first instance; if not, at any rate to break them down in practice, and let the measures that emanate from this course in due time destroy them; by resisting boldly bigotry in all its branches, and selfishness, and overweening pride of birth, and casual distinctions. If national changes should occur beyond the limits of those which every honest politician and good subject contemplate with satisfaction, because they feel the necessity of them, such changes will have their origin in high places, and not from a bad spirit among the people. In a word, if this great and glorious country be driven into the horrors of a sanguinary revolution, the people will have been goaded to it by the senseless and desperate efforts of those who resist all change, and who, with exclusive loyalty upon their lips, are the worst enemies of their country and the human race.

O FOUNTAIN! in whose depths of silver-green
The boughs that shade thee beaded thick are seen,
And the white Dove, nestling their leaves between,

Drops crystal from her wings;
While sparkling orbs upon thy surface swim,
Or lie in seedy rows about thy rim,
Spreading a shore of pearls, close at thy brim,

To tempt the fairy things!
Thee never can the fiery Noontide seethe;
But here the scented violets moistly breathe ;
And oft the banded bee doth warp beneath

Thy roof with echoing hum.
Fountain ! thy flow is melody to me!
Of England's Helicon thou Castaly !
And to drink deep of thy translucency
Will future Poets come..


THE SONNETS OF SHAKSPEARE. I am frequently obliged to decline communications transmitted to this periodical, from their containing paradoxical opinions which I have no desire to promulgate. It is not always, however, without reluctance; that I take my leave of those unsuitable productions. In some of them there is such an amusing vein of perverted ingenuity, that, but for my aversion to be responsible for other men's eccentricities, I should be tempted to publish them.

A paper completely answering to this description has been lately supplied to me by a friend, who is lucid on every subject in the world excepting one, but on that one, which is Shakspeare, the zeal of God's house has eaten him up. My friend has discovered, as he imagines, in Shakspeare's sonnets, a clue to the entire history of the poet's life; and he hails these poems as a rich mine of information, which, by a folly little short of fatality, has been hitherto neglected by all the poet's biographers. Happy discovery, could he only make good his words ! How blessedly would it save us from repeating the stale truth, and lamenting the irremediable misfortune, that we know so little of our Shakspeare's private history. For who can pardon the Genius of Biography that she neglected the poet in his own days, and consigned not his living picture to her tablets—that she has told us every thing about ordinary men, and almost nothing about the prodigy of nature that she has embalmed so many dwarfs of our literature, and buried its Colossus in oblivion ?

But to return to my sanguine friend,-after he has lustily belaboured George Steevens, for daring to say that the strongest Act of Parliament would not be strong enough to enforce the popular reading of Shakspeare's sonnets, and even bestowed some flagellation on Mr. Malone for having so weakly defended them, he proceeds to dig up, and, in his own words, to exhaust the discovered mine of Shakspearian biography. Alas! it is but a poor Potosi, and very easily exhausted ; and his golden hopes turn out like the generality of modern mining speculations. I was less surprised, however, that my friend should have fallen into a fit of exaggeration on any subject connected with Shakspeare, than that this erroneous over-estimate of the light derivable from these poems respecting the poet's history, should have apparently originated with one of the most brilliant and acute spirits of the age, -I mean Augustus Wilhelm Schlegel : he is an excellent and eloquent critic. But with all my respect for Schlegel, I cannot belp thinking that he had not exactly weighed the force of his words, when he made the following remark in bis dramatic lectures. “ It betrayed,” he says, “no ordinary deficiency of critical acumen in the commentators of Shakspeare, that no one of them has ever thought of availing himself of his sonnets for tracing the history of his life. These sonnets paint, most unequivocally, the actual situation and sentiments of the poet, and they enable us to become acquainted with the passions of the man. They even contain the most remarkable confession of his youthful errors.”

Now, if Shakspeare's commentators were to make new discoveries in the poet's biography, it must have been in one of two ways- either by the facts and traditions otherwise existing respecting his life, receiving illustrations from the contents of the sonnets, or from additional inDec.-VOL. XXVI. NO. CVIII.


« ElőzőTovább »