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Percy Bysshe Shelley at Oxford
The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge
Colonel Brereton-The Necessity of Notoriety— A Croaker —The
The Lion's Mouth
THE QUARTERLY REVIEW.
REMARKS IN REPLY TO THE ARTICLE THEREIN, ENTITLED THE PROGRESS OF MISGOVERNMENT."
THIS article of the Quarterly Reviewer's is certainly incomparable. We know not whether the most to admire the grace of the style, the sharpness of the irony, or the cogency of the argument. It is altogether a masterpiece-Swift never wrote any thing equal to it. It begins with that show of candour recommended by cunning rhetoricians to the commencement of all controversial writing. "In avowing our conviction," quoth the writer, "that the state of anarchy into which society appeared a few weeks ago to be rapidly falling to be the fruit of misgovernment-the direct, natural, and necessary result of the acts and omissions of Ministers-it can scarcely, we suppose, be requisite that we should disclaim any intention of holding up
Feb. 1832.-VOL. XXXIV. NO. CXXXIV.
those dignified persons to the world as the deliberate instigators or abettors of burning and massacre." What generosity in this admission!-it is a pleasure to deal with so noble an adversary!
But our Reviewer hastens to atone for this unlooked-for moderation he begins to open a fearful battery on the Premier—and alluding to the interview between Mr. Place and Lord Grey, entitles the latter with a scalding bitterness of irony, wholly Archilochian-"This first of place-men!" Assuredly a pun upon names is the most biting species of sarcasm. This witty assailant then becomes serious; he falls upon the Political Unions and the Bristol riots, which (wits being rarely logicians) he couples together somewhat confusedly; and after reprobating the former for excesses they did not commit-for we are, as yet, ignorant of any they did, he declares that the latter "must be classed, by every man who is capable of forming an unbiassed analysis of the many symptoms simultaneously apparent of a general disorganization of the social frame-symptoms all distinctly traceable to one common cause, and that cause assuredly no other than the agitation of this question of Reform," among the sins of the Ministers; and we are told of the " temerity with which Ministers gave the original impulse to this agitation." It is the property of all great geniuses to throw a new light on a subject. We thank this admirable writer for his present discovery; an historian, at once so deep and so ingenious, must, we should think, be the author of a new edition of Boswell-aut Crokerus, aut Diabolus. We did believe, with the rest of the simple world, that the "original impulse" to this agitation had been sufficiently apparent before the Ministers came into office. We feared that it had occasioned some little trouble to a Tory Government; nay, we had fancied, that it was from opposing this "impulse," that the Duke of Wellington lost, in one fell swoop, power, place, and growing popularity. But such impressions are obviously erroneous; the lucubrator before us is far too bold in assertion not to be in the right. This ardour for truth (however novel) is a distinguishing trait of this accomplished sage, for it leads him even into cutting the throat of his own most favoured argument. We beg the reader to mark. He goes on to state that there ought to be no popular concession-that "confederacies ought to be put down with a strong arm"-" that assemblages of 150,000 men ought not to be tolerated;" and, in reply to Lord Grey's observation, that "the best mode of dealing with sedition in the first instance, is to take away the cause, and if he sees any real grievances, to show a disposition to redress them before he employ force;" the Reviewer asserts, with a meekness and regard for humanity worthy of a Christian statesman, "that you ought first to employ the force, and then to redress the grievance!" Mark-this policy our Author repeats and reiterates, over and over again-to insist upon it is, indeed, the chief purport of this excellent article. Yet so perfect is his candour, so entirely is it a part of his nature, that, wholly unconscious of the importance of the admission, he says, in another place, "We are quite confident we do not at all exceed the bounds of truth when we affirm, that in the recent temper of the times there would have been no life in England for the man, who falling into the opposite error to that of the Authorities of Bristol, should, in the least jot, have gone beyond the range
of his commission on such an occasion-who, for instance, should by any indiscretion, or in a moment of perturbation, have ordered the troops to fire on the people one instant before-we shall not say the act might be justifiable by law-but before it had become obviously indispensable in the eyes of all men for the salvation of the city and its inhabitants. Such an unfortunate individual would have been hunted down like a wild beast!" Noble, disinterested admission! Here, in order to speak "within the bounds of truth," the Author sacrifices all for which he has been contending; for if such was indeed "the temper of the times," that even in the disgraceful riots of Bristol, no officer could with safety to his life have exerted force against the rioters, save at the last extremity, how much less safely could such force have been employed against National Unions, committing no outrages, and those assemblages of 150,000 men, which our excellent legislator declares ought so decisively to have been put down!" The reader will confess that it is rare to find a political controversialist so ingenuous in his self-contradictions.
We shall not follow this philosophical lucubrator through all the lamentations he pours forth on the stagnation of business-the commercial distress-the unwholesome nature of the present excitement, for all this we know already; we thought it, however, another proof of his ingenuousness that he should so dilate upon those evils, for which we plain men have thought we had to thank his party, in delaying the accomplishment of Reform. "But not at all," cries he; "you brought on the measure-you are answerable for this measure." A few words will settle this question at once. The Duke of Wellington lost office in not granting Reform; and if he, great man as he was, could not stem opinion, no minister could hope to do so. A Cabinet indeed could not be formed, but on the understanding that it was to introduce Reform. No Tory denies this.-Ay, but a moderate Reform.-Moderate! why, in a part of this very article, you say that moderate Reform is "moderate mischief." But look back-before Ministers introduced the Bill, did ye not all, organs of the Tories! did ye not all say that the Ministers would be lost, if, in the then state of the public mind, any lukewarm measure was proposed: nay, so loud was the cry for the Ballot, that without Ballot it was doubtful whether any plan would be accepted by the people? Reform was, by the abdication of the Duke of Wellington, proved to be necessary. Inefficient Reform, by your own reiterated avowal, confessed to be out of the question, unless Ministers wished to be out of their places. A Bill introduced, excitement naturally attends it. But the Bill was necessary, and the consequent excitement unavoidable. You refuse to pass the Bill, you therefore maintain the excitement-on your heads the continuance of the excitement, and its consequent evils, rest! But you, O, admirable Reviewer! say that that excitement has been so prolonged, that even if the Bill were finally rejected, it would be now vain to expect a speedy restoration of the tranquillity which its promulgation disturbed! Who prolonged that excitement?-was it the Reformers? Note, Reader, the blessed assurance of these reasoners. Most men, when they want to persuade people to something against their will, tell them of the benefits that will follow such persuasion; but these gentlemen tell us, with a
charming sang froid, that we ought at once to reject the Bill, though, certainly, we shall be as badly off as ever after that rejection. This avowal places the question thus-Reject the Bill, and you may have disturbance-disunion-civil war; and you certainly will not have restored tranquillity and improved trade. They are certainly seductive reasoners, these Tories!
Our Reviewer now proceeds to another charge, "resulting out of this tremendous agitation." "For the space of fifteen months the agitation, and its consequences, have been keeping our rulers in a state of utter inefficiency and incapacity for conducting most of the ordinary and much of the most important business of the Government." Certainly the Tories are not to blame here. They have wasted no precious hours in the House. How sparing they have constantly been of occupying too much attention in the Committee! How brief Mr. Croker! How laconic Sir Charles Wetherell! There is a modesty in this accusation which is perfectly bewitching. And now our assailant bears down his irrefragable force on the present Bill. "Before," cries this merciful sparer of public time, "before we can venture to admit with confidence this (viz. any) degree of amendment, we must wait till the Bill shall have passed through that searching investigation which it will receive in the Committee." Typical, then, of that "searching investigation," the Reviewer wastes much breath on the said Bill, and asserts it to be equally frightful as, and more democratic, than the last. True! it is more democratic. The story of the Sibyl applies-reject this, and we will make a bold push for the Ballot!
But now we have cleared our way to the grand dilemma, on the horns of which our logician thinks triumphantly to toss us. It is certainly very new. "It is this!"-quoth the Reviewer solemnly, (how wise he must have looked when he wrote it down! we can fancy the saturnine sagacity of his countenance,)—" Either the new House of Commons, to be produced by the operation of this Bill, will be a more democratic assembly than the present-that is, an assembly in which the voice of the population, considered numerically, will be more potent than it is in the existing Parliament, or it will not. If it will not," says the Reviewer, "then is the whole device an imposture and a lie; and as soon as its real nature shall be manifested, the disappointment and rage of those who have been made its dupes, will, in all probability, be vented in some signal retribution on the heads of its contrivers. If, on the other hand, the constituency to be created by the measure will return a House of Commons, of which, not only will the deliberations be more liable to take their character from the prevailing feelings, prejudices, and passions of the population at large than those of any Parliament that ever before sat in England, but of which a great portion of the individual Members will be pledged, and in pursuance of such pledges, required to give to those feelings, prejudices, and passions an uncompromising practical effect in every case, and will be supported in so doing by the whole physical array of the populace ;-then comes to be considered the great question whether, with such a legislature, it will be practicable, on any principles of which we have the least experience, or on any that are known as intelligible, to conduct this monarchical Government !”
Well, having arrived, Deo volente, at the end of this long sentence, let us take breath, and consider this "great question." On any principles of which Tories have the least experience, or on any that are known to them as intelligible, we certainly think-and thank Heaven for it!-it may not be possible to govern this monarchical government; viz. upon the principles of borough jobbing, court favour, and Dukeries-doing as they will with their own. But what does the Bill do? It opens free vent to opinion; it creates a numerous constituency, and it shuts up boroughs without electors; it gives great force to the agricultural interests, great force to the commercial. Are not these two interests capable of judging for themselves? But these 10%. householders, you say, are against the monarchical government! Pray, in what popular election do you hear a word against the monarchy? In order for the majority of the country, or, as you call it, the numerical force, to insist against a monarchy, they must first feel fully convinced that that form of government is counter to their interests. Do you mean to tell us, that they will feel so convinced? If so, grant Reform, or refuse it, that conviction must be obeyed. On the conviction of the many, all forms of government depend. But have rotten boroughs never been found hostile to a monarchical government? We will tell the Reviewer an historical fact:-in the time of Charles the First, when Thomas Mauleverer, the regicide, was Member for that very borough of Boroughbridge, so notably tenanted by his successor, Sir Charles Wetherell it was not the Members for counties; it was not the Members for large towns, (they had been purged from the House); no, it was the Members for the close boroughs, whom you now think so essential a support to the aristocracy and the Sovereign, who voted the abolition of the House of Lords, and the destruction of the monarchy! In fact, if there be any political truth, it is this-there is no moral dependence upon men whom you absolve from political responsibility. They may stem the tide of opinion to-day, but they may accelerate it to-morrow; for, bound by no duty to their constituents, they are, in times of excitement, unavoidably, though, perhaps, unconsciously, the creatures of self-interest, vary with its changes, and shift with its caprices.
But we have before had occasion to compliment our philosopher of the Quarterly on that spirit of candour which makes him refute, in one part of his article, the arguments advanced in another: in the same breath with which he is contending for the difficulty with which monarchical government will hereafter be carried on, he admits that "It must surely be impossible for any candid person to shut his eyes to the great difficulty which the King's Government has experienced for some years past in carrying on the current affairs of their Administration in any thing like regular harmony with the House of Commons." This is kind in the Reviewer. If, as he justly observes, it has been so difficult, by the present system, to carry on the Government with any degree of harmony with the Commons, doubly necessary is it to devise a new system; for surely this ingenious gentleman would not contend, that because it was very difficult to carry on government according to the present system-a difficulty rapidly augmenting therefore we ought to retain the difficulty, and reject an alteration." I am," said the sophist, "therefore I must be ;"-the Go