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COPYRIGHT 1901,

BY

M. WALTER DUNNE.

PUBLISHER

INTRODUCTION

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HAS fallen to the lot of few writings upon so disputatious a subject as the nature of the English Constitution to meet with almost universal praise and demand at the time of its appearance. It has happened to a still smaller number to be equally in demand and equally popular more than a quarter of a century after publication. Contemporary writers hailed the appearance of Bagehot's "English Constitution" in this apparently preempted field as "the most novel and philosophical dissertation on this subject in any language or from any pen." Modern critics continue to pronounce it "the most brilliant political work that has appeared in England since the death of Burke."

While other students of England's government have described its forms and given facts concerning it, Bagehot has gone below the external forms and has seized upon the principles which vitalize these forms. He possesses the ideal constructive imagination for a student of political science which enables him to see the ultimate end of the multiplied tendencies in the body politic. His generalizations are numerous and they are as brilliant as they are complete.

To those who anticipate or even suggest a change in Britain's form of government, Bagehot has always proven a serious obstacle. He forces upon his reader the unquestioned conclusion that the monarchy of England exists as a logical necessity; that its existence is a result of inevitable laws working through centuries toward that end. The necessity and reasonableness of the lesser parts of the governmental machinery are demonstrated with equal force and clearness.

Nor must it be understood that Bagehot describes the government of his own country in a spirit of bigotry. He praises that which is to be praised, but condemns with equal vigor that which deserves condemnation. Upon many of the dangers which must be confronted in the natural trend of events he speaks with no uncertain words. His manifest fairness in thus dealing with his own country has doubly endeared him to his American readers.

Another quality which appeals to his admirers on this side of the Atlantic is his lack of partisanship. While many Americans demand a partisan bias in commentators upon their own government, feeling themselves fully able to make allowance for such coloring, all Americans wish to have a foreign people described with an exactness from which party feeling is entirely absent. This is obviously a difficult task for any writer. Among America's commentators on home government, which one may be counted absolutely free from partisan or sectional partiality?

Yet Bagehot succeeded in this particular to a remarkable degree. It has long been a saying that from a perusal of his work one could not tell whether he was a Liberal or a Conservative.

There is still another reason for the interest of American readers in this book. The author, as if conscious of the growing importance of England's young offspring in the West, has instituted many interesting and profitable comparisons between the institutions of the United States and those of his own country. To some persons these contrasts may not always seem to put the newer government in the best light. But when these comments are compared with the majority of those which have emanated from the countrymen of Bagehot, their seeming unfairness becomes fairness by contrast. Much may be pardoned Bagehot on the ground of unacquaintance with the United States. He had not the opportunity of such personal familiarity as made a later English writer, Bryce, acceptable in nearly all particulars to his trans-Atlantic readers.

The teachers and students of America will welcome this new edition of Bagehot's "English Constitution," which has long been a dependence in the class room. After a student has acquired a general knowledge of the practical workings of the government of England, such as he is likely to get in the study of his English History, no book that can be put into his hands will be so suggestive and mind-broadening as this treatise by Bagehot.

"The general reading public" is a term which a few years since meant a select few, but now numbers its constituents by thousands and its private libraries by shelfloads. To these, Bagehot is commended as a most readable author upon an apparently uninteresting subject. His style is vivacious and fascinating. He invests the most inanimate topics with flesh and blood until they become living realities. Rarely has a writer been able to so combine the scholarly and the popular.

Although called to the bar in England, Bagehot found a literary career more suited to his taste. Nor was he confined to political subjects. Literary, economic, and even scientific subjects were covered in the wide range of his versatility. For several years he was editor of "The Economist." His death in 1877, at the age of 51, was the more to be deplored because he was in the midst of his productiveness.

Edwin E. Sparks

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