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will depart farther and farther from its position and fall to the earth. So in communities where the masses are ignorant but respectful, if you once permit the ignorant class to begin to rule you may bid farewell to deference for ever.

Their demagogues will inculcate, their newspapers will recount, that the rule of the existing dynasty (the people) is better than the rule of the fallen dynasty (the aristocracy). A people very rarely hears two sides of a subject in which it is much interested; the popular organs take up the side which is acceptable, and none but the popular organs in fact reach the people. A people never hears censure of itself. No one will tell it that the educated minority whom it dethroned governed better or more wisely than it governs. A democracy will never, save after an awful catastrophe, return what has once been conceded to it, for to do so would be to admit an inferiority in itself, of which, except by some almost unbearable misfortune, it could never be convinced.




A VOLUME might seem wanted to say anything worth saying* on the History of the Euglish Constitution, and a great and new volume might still be written on it, if a competent writer took it in hand. The subject has never been treated by any one combining the lights of the newest research and the lights of the most matured philosophy. Since the masterly book of Hallam was written, both political thought and historical knowledge have gained much, and we might have a treatise applying our strengthened calculus to our augmented facts. I do not pretend that I could write such a book, but there are a few salient particulars which may be fitly brought together, both because of their past interest and of their present importance.

* Since the first edition of this book was published several valuable works have appeared, which, on many points, throw much light on our early constitutional history, especially Mr. Stubbs’ ‘Select Charters and other Illustrations of English Constitutional History, from the Earliest Times to the Reign of Edward the First, Mr. Freeman's lecture on The Growth of the English Constitution, and the chapter on the Anglo-Saxon Constitution in his ·History of the Norman Conquest :' but we have not yet a great and authoritative work on the whole subject such as I wished for when I wrote the passage in the text, and as it is most desirable that wo should have.


There is a certain common polity, or germ of polity, which we find in all the rude nations that have attained civilisation. These nations seem to begin in what I may call a consultative and tentative absolutism. The king of early days, in vigorous nations, was not absolute as despots now are; there was then no standing army

repress rebellion, no organised espionage to spy out discontent, no skilled bureaucracy to smooth the ruts of obedient life. The early king was indeed consecrated by a religious sanction; he was essentially a man apart, a man above others, divinely anointed, or even God-begotten. But in pations capable of freedom this religious domination was never despotic. There was indeed no legal limit: the very words could not be translated into the dialect of those times. The notion of law as we have it—of a rule imposed by human authority, capable of being altered by that authority when it likes, and in fact, so altered habitually—could not be conveyed to early nations, who regarded law half as an invincible prescription, and half as a Divine revelation. Laws came out of the king's mouth;" he gave it as Solomon gave judgment, -embedded in the particular case, and upon the authority of Heaven as well as his own. A Divine limit to the Divine revealer was impossible, and there was no other source of law. But though there was no legal limit, there was a practical limit to subjection in (what may be called) the pagan part of human nature,--the inseparable obstinacy of freemen. They never would do exactly what they were told.

To early royalty, as Homer describes it in Greece and as we may well imagine it elsewhere, there were always two adjuncts : one, the “old men,” the men of weight, the council, the Bouin, of which the king asked advice, from the debates in which the king tried to learn what he could do and what he ought to do. Besides this there was the ảyopá, the purely listening assembly, as some have called it, but the tentative assembly, as I think it: might best be called. The king came down to his assembled people in form to announce his will, but in reality, speaking in very modern words, to “ feel his way.” He was sacred, no doubt ; and popular, very likely; still he was half like a popular premier speaking to a highspirited chamber; there were limits to his authority and power-limits which he would discover by trying whether eager cheers received his mandate, or only hollow murmurs and a thinking silence.

This polity is a good one for its era and its place, but there is a fatal defect in it. The reverential associations upon which the government is built are transmitted according to one law, and the capacity needful to work the government is transmitted according to another law. The popular homage clings to the line of god-descended kings; it is transmitted by inheritance. But very soon that line comes to a child or an idiot, or cne by some defect or other incapable. Then we find everywhere the truth of the old saying, that liberty thrives under weak princes; then the listening assembly begins not only to musmur, but to speak; then the grave council begins not so much to suggest as to inculcate, not so much to advise as to enjoin.

Mr. Grote has told at length how out of these appendages of the original kingdom the free States of Greece derived their origin, and how they gradually grew-the oligarchical States expanding the council, and the democratical expanding the assembly. The history has as many varieties in detail as there were Greek cities, but the essence is the same everywhere. The political characteristic of the early Greeks, and of the early Romans, too, is that out of the tentacula of a monarchy they developed the organs of a republic.

English history has been in substance the same, though its form is different, and its growth far slower and longer. The scale was larger, and the elements more various. A Greek city soon got rid of its kings, for the political sacredness of the monarch would not bear the daily inspection and constant criticism of an eager and talking multitude. Everywhere in Greece the slave populationthe most ignorant, and therefore the most unsusceptible of intellectual influences- was struck out of the account. But England began as a kingdom of considerable size, inhabited by distinct races, none of them fit for prosaic criticism, and all subject to the superstition of royalty. In early England, too, royalty was much more than a superstition. A very strong executive was needed to keep down a divided, an armed, and an impatient country; and therefore the problem of political development was delicate. A formed free government in a homogeneous nation may have a strong executive; but during the transition state, while the republic is in course of development and the monarchy in course of decay, the executive

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