« AnteriorContinuar »
THE CHARACTER OF LORD BROUGHAM.1
It was a bold, perhaps a rash idea, to collect the writings of Henry Brougham. They were written at such distant dates; their subjects are so various; they are often so wedged into the circumstances of an age, that they scarcely look natural in a series of volumes. Some men, doubtless, by a strong grasp of intellect, have compacted together subjects as various; the fingermarks of a few are on all human knowledge; others, by a rare illuminative power, have lit up as many with a light that seems peculiar to themselves: Franciscus Baconus sic cogitavit may well illustrate an opera omnia. But Lord Brougham has neither power; his restless genius has no claim to the still illuminating imagination; his many-handed, apprehensive intelligence is scarcely able to fuse and concentrate. Variety is his taste, and versatility his power. His career has not been quiet. For many years rushing among the details of an age, he has written as he ran.
1 Works of Henry Lord Brougham, F.R.S., Member of the National Institute of France and the Royal Academy of Naples. London and Glasgow: Griffin & Co.
There are not many undertakings bolder than to collect. the works of such a life and such a man.
The edition itself seems a good one. The volumes are convenient in size, well printed, and fairly arranged. The various writings it contains have been revised, but not over-revised, by their author. It is not, however, of the collection that we wish to speak. We would endeavour, so far as a few hasty pages may serve, to delineate the career and character of the writer. The attempt is among the most difficult. He is still among us; we have not the materials, possibly not the impartiality, of posterity. Nor have we the familiar knowledge of contemporaries; the time when Lord Brougham exerted his greatest faculties is beyond the political memory of younger men. are no sufficient books on the events of a quarter of a century ago, we have only traditions; and this must be our excuse if we fall, or may seem to fall, into error and confusion.
The years immediately succeeding the great peace were years of sullenness and difficulty. The idea of the war had passed away; the thrill and excitement of the great struggle were no longer felt. We had maintained, with the greatest potentate of modern times, a successful contest for existence: we had our existence, but we had no more; our victory had been great, but it had no fruits. By the aid of pertinacity and capital, we had vanquished genius and valour; but no visible increase of European influence followed. Napoleon said, that Wellington had made peace as if he had been defeated. We had delivered the Continent; such was our natural idea: but the Con
The Holy Alliance,
tinent went its own way. There was nothing in its state to please the everyday Englishman. There were kings and emperors; which was very well for foreigners, they had always been like that; but it was not many kings could pay ten per cent. income-tax.' Absolutism, as such, cannot be popular in a free country. which made a religion of despotism, was scarcely to be reconciled with the British constitution. Altogether we had vanquished Napoleon, but we had no pleasure in what came after him. The cause which agitated our hearts was gone; there was no longer a noise of victories in the air; continental affairs were dead, despotic, dull; we scarcely liked to think that we had made them so; with weary dissatisfaction we turned to our own condition.
This was profoundly unsatisfactory. Trade was depressed; agriculture ruinous; the working classes disaffected. During the war, our manufacturing industry had grown most rapidly; there was a not unnatural expectation that, after a general peace, the rate of increase would be accelerated. The whole continent, it was considered, would be opened to us; Milan and Berlin decrees no longer excluded us; Napoleon did not now interpose between 'the nation of shopkeepers' and its customers; now he was at St. Helena, surely those customers would buy? It was half-forgotten that they could not. The drain of capital for the war had been, at times, heavily felt in England; there had been years of poverty and discredit; still our industry had gone on, our workshops had not stopped. We had never known what it was to be the seat of war, as well as a power at war. We had never known
our burdens enormously increased, just when our industry was utterly stopped; disarranged as trading credit sometimes was, it had not been destroyed. No conscription had drained us of our most efficient consumers. The Continent, south and north, had, though not every where alike, suffered all these evils; its population were poor, harassed, depressed. They could not buy our manufactures, for they had no money. The large preparations for a continental export lay on hand; our traders were angry and displeased. Nor was content to be found in the agricultural districts. During the war, the British farmer had inevitably a monopoly of this market; at the approach of peace, his natural antipathy to foreign corn influenced the legislature. The Home Secretary of the time had taken into consideration, whether 768. or 80s. was such a remunerating price as the agriculturist should obtain, and a Corn-law had passed accordingly. But no law could give the farmer famine-prices, when there was scarcity here and plenty abroad. There were riots at the passing of the Bread-tax,' as it was; in 1813, the price of corn was 1208.; the rural mind was sullen in 1816, when it sunk to 578. The protection given, though unpopular with the poor, did not satisfy the farmer.
The lower orders in the manufacturing districts were, of necessity, in great distress. The depression of trade produced its inevitable results of closed mills and scanty employment. Wages, when they could be obtained, were very low. The artisan population was then new to the vicissitudes of industry: how far they are, even now, instructed in the laws of trade, recent prosperity will
hardly let us judge; but, at that time, they had no doubt that it was the fault of the State, and if not of particular statesmen, then of the essential institutions, that they were in want. They believed the Government ought to regulate their remuneration, and make it sufficient. During some straitened years of the war, the name of 'Luddites' became known. They had principally shown their discontent by breaking certain machines, which they fancied deprived them of work. After the peace, the records of the time are full of Spencean Philanthropists,' Hampden Clubs,' and similar associations, all desiring a great reform-some of mere politics, others of the law of property and all social economy. Large meetings were every where held, something like those of the year 1839: a general insurrection, doubtless a wild dream of a few hot-brained dreamers, was fancied to have been really planned. The name 'Radical' came to be associated with this discontent. The spirit which, in after-years, clamoured distinctly for the five points of the Charter, made itself heard in mutterings and threatenings.
Nor were the capitalists, who had created the new wealth, socially more at ease. Many of them, as large employers of labour, had a taste for Toryism; the rule of the people to them meant the rule of their work-people. Some of the wealthiest and most skilful became associated with the aristocracy; but it was in vain with the majority to attempt it. Between them and the possessors of hereditary wealth, there was fixed a great gulf; the contrast of habits, speech, manners, was too wide. The two might coincide in particular opinions; they might