« PreviousContinue »
country's poets. At this solemn time, too, of the year-the graver and the holier thoughts of life-can scarcely be considered strangers altogether uninvited and unwelcome. And as for the rest-it is not perhaps amiss to refresh ever and anon our critical susceptibilities to genius-its defects and its beauties, by recurring to those departed writers, who being past the reach of our petty jealousies-may keep us, as it were, in the custom to praise without envy and blame without injustice. And I must confess, moreover-that it appears to me a sort of duty we owe to the illustrious dead-to turn at times from the busier and more urgent pursuits of the world-and to water from a liberal urn the flowers or the laurels which former gratitude planted above their tombs.*
A WORD FOR THE CONSTITUTION.
WHAT is the British Constitution? In what records is it contained? On what parchments is it written? At what period, and at whose creative fiat did the elements of its beauty and perfection rise out of chaos? If it be the work of a day, what is the date of that day? If years and centuries, what years and what centuries? When did its light first begin to struggle with the darkness, and on what day or year had it reached the high noon of its splendonr? Who can put his finger on the page of English history, and say, “ At this period our glorious Constitution was formed;" or, "Here its formation commenced, and there it was completed?" To whose wisdom are we indebted for it? By whose sagacity was it constructed? When did it exist in all its perfection and vigour, sending political health through the whole frame of society, satisfying all reasonable men, and defying the nice eye of captious criticism to discern a flaw in it? And before existed, what was Great Britain? Did it gain no victories, enjoy no peace, boast of no prosperity? If we be called on to thank our ancestors for the blessings which they have transmitted to us, which of our ancestors are we to thank? What generation, or what part of any generation? What is the Constitution, is it changeable or unchangeable? If unchangeable, how long has it existed unchanged; and if changeable, of what changes is it susceptible on this side of destruction or deterioration? Is a Whig or a Tory Ministry essential to it? Is the House of Commons part of the Constitution, and is it essential to the Constitution that Old Sarum should send two Members, and Manchester none? If Old Sarum can be disfranchised, and Manchester enfranchised, without injury to the Constitution, how far can disfranchisement of the depopulated, or enfranchisement of peopled districts proceed, without destroying the Constitution? Have we, then, no Constitution? Yes; we have a glorious Constitution, that is as old as the hills, free as the streams. Our Constitution is the air we breathe, the restless blood that circulates in our veins, the food that we eat, the soil that nourishes us, the waves that beat upon our shores, the beauty of our women, the strength of our men, the skill of our artisans, the science of our philosophers, the adventurousness of our merchants, the busy activity and civil ambition that keeps us in a constant state of effervescence, progressing in the arts and advancing in the comforts of civilized life. Our Constitution is imperishable and indestructible, save by a convulsion of nature, or a change which neither mobs nor monarchs can ever make. The constitution of every country under heaven is nothing more nor less than the national characteristics modified by the times. Constitutions are not made of paper, nor are they to be destroyed by paper. S.
*To be concluded in our next.
THERE is a propensity often found among eminent persons which, abstractedly from the gratification they derived from the performance of great actions, has given them pleasure in acting the part, as it were, belonging to the situation in which their talents placed them. This passion for acting, if we may so call it, has made many assume divers varieties of character-some hardly correspondent with their genius; some out of keeping with their position. Alexander, and Julius Cæsar, in particular, possessed it in an extraordinary degree; so that the one of those great men, even on board the pirate's vessel, wrote poems and orations, and rehearsed them, as Plutarch tells us. Bolingbroke, an able statesman, and with the elegant accomplishments of a man of letters, acted the melo-dramatic union of the debauchee and the philosopher. We have ventured, in a former Number, to say, that the most distinguished orator of our own time and country possesses this theatrical disposition-this feeling for stage effect; while few, we should think, have seen M. de Chateaubriand at Rome, in the Chamber of Peers, in the Institute-have read his travels, or his "Génie du Christianisme," or have even cast their eye on the Letter to M. Beranger, and the pamphlet on the banishment of Charles the Tenth and his family, (with which it is published,) without perceiving that the passion and disposition of an actor are as strong in the Noble Viscount, as they even could be in Garrick, in Talma," or in Kean.
If we could suppose this passion to be the ruling one of the distinguished person of whom we are about to make mention, few people certainly could ever have enjoyed a life in more accordance with, or better suited to, the developement of, their peculiar taste. Let us look back to the Past let us suppose that a year has rolled away since the destruction of the Bastille; and on the spot consecrated by the sighs of so many victims, "ICI L'ON DANSE," proclaims, with a characteristic, grace and gaiety, the triumph of the Revolution. It is the 14th of July-the celebrated day of the Federation-an immense and magnificent amphitheatre is erected in the Champ de Mars; there the descendant of St. Louis, and the President of the National Assembly the representatives of Old and Young France, are seated on two equal' thrones, resplendent with those arms which the Nation has taken from its ancient kings-and there is the infant hope of that nation and those kings-and there that Queen, "decorating and cheering the sphere she moves in, glittering like the morning-star, full of life, and splendour, and joy;"
and on each side of those thrones are ranged the members of that Assembly, which has displayed such talent, such energy, and such perseverance in creating a Constitution, which is, unfortunately, doomed to be too like the spectacle they are assisting at-the mere pageant of a day;-and in yonder balcony is the most graceful and splendid court (for such, even at that time, it was,) that ever existed; and the surrounding galleries are filled with the gayest people in the world, at all times easily enchanted, and at this moment in the presence of every thing that can captivate the eye and exalt the imagination;—in the open space, those confederated bands, collected from every part, and representing every feeling and interest in
France, and supporting the banners of their respective sections, deliver themselves up, with the enthusiasm of their national character, to those emotions of pleasure, which the lively splendor of the spectacle naturally inspires;-on a sudden, the sky, the light of which mingles so well with the joy of men, but which had hitherto been clouded and obscured-on a sudden, the sky clears up, and the sun blends his pomp with that of this noble ceremony-and now, robed in his pontifical garments, and standing on an altar, fashioned after the august models of antiquity, the steps of which are thronged by three hundred priests, in long white robes, and tricoloured girdles - the Bishop of Autun blesses the great standard of France, the oriflamme, no longer the ensign of war-the sign and symbol of peace between the past and the future-between the ancient recollections, and the modern aspirations of the French people. Who that had been present that day in Paris could have believed that those who wept with the children of Bearn at the foot of the statue of Henry IV. would so soon rejoice round the scaffold of his descendant; that the gay multitude, wandering in the Champs Elysées, amidst garlands of light, and breathing sounds of innocent happiness and delight, would so soon mingle with the ferocious mob, dripping with the blood of the victims of September;-that (the result of obstinacy, deceit, and delusion on one side-of indignation, violence, and ignorance on the other) the Monarch, the Court, the Deputies, the Priests, every popular illustration of this great spectacle-the very religion with which it was consecrated, would in such brief time pass away; that even the high priest of the ceremony, thus solemnly employing the mysterious rites of Christianity, would, in a very few years, be a lay citizen-the Minister for Foreign Affairs in a Republic, where the Catholic religion was unrecognized, if not proscribed. Yet such was the Bishop of Autun, M. de Talleyrand, when, on the 10th of December 1797, he presented the youthful Conqueror of Italy to the Directory, in a speech wherein, with that tact and sagacity for which this eminent person is so distinguished, the General Bonaparte's military talents were passed over, in order that the simplicity of his tastes, his love for the abstract branches of philosophy might be praised. "Il faudroit le soliciter peut-être," said the artful flatterer, "pour l'arracher un jour de sa studieuse retraite."
The Minister of Louis XVI.-of the Directory-of the Empire-of the Restoration, and finally of the Roi Citoyen-this singular man,— if he find pleasure in the performance of a variety of parts, has most undoubtedly had more than a mortal's ordinary share of enjoyment!
The happy versatility with which he passed from one personal attachment to another, and adopted with a certain easiness and grace the prevailing ideas and most powerful parties of each successive epoch, leaving off the old just in time to assume the new, with so little awkwardness and effort, as merely to appear to do that which was expected from him, is a quality that excites our admiration,— but at the expense of our respect. The many changes we have alluded to, seen, like so many chasms in history, apart, and from such a distance as to prevent our perceiving the gradual ascent or declivity which sloped the way from one to the other, strike us
Jan.-VOL. XXXIV. NO. CXXXIII.