« ElőzőTovább »
verts to the subject of representation, he takes occasion to impress upon his readers the many excellencies of our British system. Setting aside discussions on the corrupo tions that have crept into it, his panegyrics are doubtless theoretically well deserved; but it has admitted of a serious question whether it be possible yet to communicate such advantages to France. In this kingdom, the representative system has been of gradual growth, from its embryo tlie Wiltenagemot of our Saxon ancestors : that institution, even in feudal times, affording privileges to the people beyond what the lower orders experienced in other countries of Europe : venerable from its antiquity, and admirable from its construction, it has for centuries been looked up to here as a sacred fabric: though eulogized by the ablest foreign writers, it has been adopted by no foreign government, with the exception of the kingdom of the Netherlands, which, within the last three years, almost under the dictation of Great Britain, has adopted its principle. In France, since the restoration of Louis XVIII., it has been attempted to be introduced with certain modifications ; but though it is a novelty to that country, (and thus possesses a charm which with us would be an objection,) it will be met by a national repugnance to English politics and practice, and even with more effect by the anti-representative disposition and character of the people. The representative system pre-eminently requires two qualities in which the French are pre-eminently deficient, viz. that individuals should lay aside all their amour propre, and act upon disinterested and enlarged views of public benefit; and that they should possess that degree of reflection and knowledge which will enable them to decide with judgment between conflicting candidates. Certainly the second or third election after the endeavour to establish this system, has begun under very unauspicious circumstances; for all the accounts received from the Continent shew, beyond a doubt, that, instead of endeavouring to maintain the purity of the choice, and the competence of the deputy, the ministers of Louis XVIII. have exerted all kinds of undue influence to procure the return of persons attached, not to the present royal family, but to what are termed the revolutionary interests : though we admit that many things in the government of Louis XVIII. require alteration, and that, perhaps, immediately, for the security of his throne, yet we must contend, on the other hand, that any government, and any form of government, is better than that which the degraded relies of popular commotion and of military domination would establish for his kingdom.The reflections we have above made, might more fitly have been introduced afterwards, when we quote what M. de Chateaubriand says upon the subject; but we may properly in this place insert some of his remarks upon the late dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies, and the reduction of the number of representatives, which are given in a postscript to his work, as relating to a transaction subsequent to the production of the body of it. He observes :
“ We were deceived, then, when we thought the number of deputies of departments too small. The nation, consisting of twentyfour millions of inhabitants, will be sufficiently represented, it seems, by two bundred deputies! The departments of the Lozere, and the Upper and Lower Alps, for example, who will have but one deputy to the Chamber, will they be fully satisfied ?
" If we change our ministers every year, are we to have from year to year a new mode of elections? Who can assure me, that the mi. nisters of the next year will not find the representation of this year too numerous ? Will not a hundred of their clerks (duly assembled, forsooth) appear to them to form a better Chamber, and more in the interests of France ?
“ Oh, no, say they; we will keep hereafter to the charter.-God grant! it is all I desire; but I am not at all easy upon the subject.
" In virtue of the 14th article of the charter, wbich gives the Kivg the power of making rules and ordonnances necessary for the execution of the laws and the safety of the state, may not the ministers see the safety of the state wherever they see the triumph of their systems? There are so many constitutionalists, who would now govern by ordonnances, that we may see, instead of laws, some fine morning, the whole Charter confiscated to the profit of Art. XIV.
“ Let me state the true reason why France is again thrown, as it were, into a lottery-wheel.
• The party that would drag down France to her ruin would, as the first step, sell the woods of the clergy: it would sell them-not as a good system of finance, but as a good revolutionary measurenot to pay the Allies, but to consecrate the Revolution; and, as it well knows that the Chamber of Deputies would never have consented to this sale, it has availed itself of the ill-humour and idle terrors of the Ministers, to persuade them, very unluckily, that their existence is incompatible with that of the Chamber.
“ It feared, besides, that the Chaniber might, as was its duty, enlighten the King as to the real opinion of France.
In fine—I have already said it,—that party has never forgiven the deputies for having unmasked its projects, and deposed, in the regicides, the princes of the Revolution.
“ You will read in the papers long and laboured articles in praise of the dissolution of the Chamber; but recollect, while you read
that the press is not free; that it is in the hands of ministers; that it is these very ministers that have dissolved the Chamber, and written, or paid for, the articles. You observe that the funds rose; but you should know, that on the day the ordonnance was published, a speculation, a trick, was played on the Exchange; and a jobber had the audacity to exclaim, “The scoundrels shall never return !'— These scoundrels were the deputies!
" What are the wishes of the King ?-If it were permitted to penetrate into the secrets of his royal wisdom, might we not presume, that by leaving constitutionally full liberty of action and opinion to his responsible ministers, he carried his views much farther than they? Perhaps he thinks that France may send him back the same deputies with whom they were both so justly satisfied; that we shall have a new Chamber, as royalist as the last, though convoked upon other principles; and, if that should be the case, that there would then be no possibility of mistake as to the real opinion of France." (p. 252-254.)
We will now return to the main body of the work. M. de Chateaubriand very fitly censures with severity the secret suggestion of laws to the Crown;
“ For they who speak but privately to kings,
Do seldom speak the best and fittest things ;' as one of our old poets remarks. From thence he proceeds to the constitution and privileges of the House of Peers of France; and subsequently, in these terms, speaks of the Chamber of Deputies, and its relation with the Ministers.
“ Our Chamber of Deputies would be perfectly well constituted, if the laws for regulating elections, and those regarding the responsibility of ministers, were conclusively framed. But the Chamber is as yet deficient in the precise knowledge of its own powers, and of those truths which can only be the children of experience.
" Its first duty is, to cause itself to be respected. It ought not to suffer ministers to establish any principle of independence of the legislature, or of being at liberty to attend or not, as they may please, the summons of the Chambers. In England, ministers are liable to be questioned, not only on legislative proceedings, but on questions of their individual administration, on the appointments which they make, and even upon articles of news which appear in the public journals.
“ If that sweeping phrase which we have lately heard, ministers are accountable for their administration* to the King only,' be tole
• The French use the word administration as contradistinguished from legislature, finance, or justice, to signify the mere civil duties of government, and the actual execution of these duties by the minister and his subordinate:--Trans.
rated, we shall soon see that every thing will be administration: idcapable ministers may ruin the country at their ease; and the Chamber, become their slaves, will fall into disrepute and disgrace.
“But what means have the Chambers of making themselves heard! If ministers refuse to answer them, how can they oblige them ! aad will they not, by a summons which they cannot enforce, impair their dignity, and render themselves ridiculous, by an empty presumption ?
“ I reply, that the Chamber has several modes of maintaining its rights.
" Let us state the true principles of this question.
• The Chambers have a right of putting to the ministers what questions they please.
“ The ministers ought always to attend, and to answer, whenever the Chambers desire it.
“ Ministers are not indeed, on all occasions, bound to enter into explanations. They may decline doing so, but they should ground their refusals on reasons of state, of which in due time the Clam. bers may be informed. The Chambers, treated with this attention, will go no further. A minister demanded that six millions per annuni should be placed at his disposal; he gave his word of honour that it was necessary for the public service; and the deputies did not hesitate to vote it without any further explanation.—Upon the benour of a gentleman,' is an old pledge, on which a Frenchman will always obtain credit.
" Again: the Chambers will never interfere in the administration of affairs, will never create inconvenient discussions, will never expose the ministry to real embarrassment, if the ministers are what they ought to be,-masters of the Chambers in fact, and their servants in form.
“ But how shall we attain this desirable result? Very easily:the ministry must be identified with the majority of the Chambers, and act with it, else no government can go on.
" I am aware that the kind of authority which the Chambers during their session exercise over the ministry, recals to our minds the usurpations of the Constituent Assembly. But again, I say, comparisons between that day and this are not only odious, but lame.
“ I deny that the experience of that period forbids us to hope that we may establish a representative monarchy in France. That government was not a representative monarchy, founded on natural principles, and balanced by a real distribution of powers--one absolute assembly, and a monarch whose veto was not absolute! What resemblance is there between the political system under the Constituent Assembly, and ours under the Charter.
“ Let us give the Charter a fair trial: if it fails--if the public opinion and the public service do not go with it—then we may say that a representative government is not suited to the feelings of France; but, until then, we have no right to condemn that which we have never tried;” (p. 33–36.)
• The author is, we apprehend, partially in error in the second paragraph of the above quotation, where he states, that in the British Parliament “ ministers are liable to be questioned, not only on legislative proceedings, but on questions of their individual administration, on the appointments which they make, and even upon articles of news which appear in the public journals.” This is correct as to part, if the author mean, that ministers may be so called to account upon the regular motion of a member, of which, by the practice of the House of Commons, previous notice is required, that the party charged may have time to defend himself; but it is incorrect, if he wish to be understood, that by the constitution of Parliament, a minister may upon the sudden he compelled to answer any interrogatory that a member starting up in his place shall think fit to propound, upon any subject : by courtesy, it is true, such questions are often put, and sometimes answered; but all who are acquainted with the rules of Parliament, know that this is only a courtesy; and many times in the two last sessions, Lord Castlereagh and other ministers refused to give any replies, grounding their refusal on the admitted strict practice of debate. It never happens (even the late Mr. Whitbread never infringed upon the rules quite so far) that a member puts a question founded, as he confessés, upon intelligence in the newspapers, because the public journals, and the mention of them, are carefully excluded, unless in the case of a breach of privilege, when there is occasion to make a complaint. Upon this point, it is not very surprising that a foreigner, however generally well informed, should be ignorant.
The inost important topie in the whole volume, the liberty of the press, is treated in a most enlightened and liberal manner, in the true spirit of knowledge: the author seems to ground himself upon English principles, more than upon English practice. Having enforced the necessity of the legislature causing itself to be respected by the public journals, and having made some general observations upon the importance of the liberty of the press in all free states, he proceeds in the following terms:
“ What, in fact, happens when the press (by the mediation of a censor) is in the hands of ministers? Their gazettes applaud all they do, all they say, all that their party does or says
" intra muros et extra. Those journals, the applause of which they cannot command, they at least can condemn to silence. CRIT. REV. VOL. IV. Oct. 1816.