Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

C

friction. The situation afforded obvious advantages to enterprising men. Its peculiarity did not escape the shrewd eyes of John, Lord Eldon. If,' said the Conservative Chancellor, I were to begin life again, dn my eyes, but I would begin as an agitator.' Henry Brougham did so begin. During the war he had distinguished himself in the exposition of the grievances of the trading interest. Our Government had chosen a mode of carrying it on specially fitted to injure our commerce. 'Napoleon had said, that no vessel should touch a British port, and then enter a French one, or one under French control. The Orders in Council said, that no vessel whatever should enter any such port without having first touched at some port in Great Britain.' The natural results were the annihilation of our trade with the Continent, and a quarrel with the United States. The merchants of the country were alarmed at both consequences. Perhaps until then men hardly knew how powerful our trading classes had become. Meetings were held in populous places; petitions in great numbers-an impressive and important thing in those times were presented. Wherever foreign commerce existed, the discontent expressed itself in murmurs. The forms of the House of Commons were far more favourable than they now are to an action from without; and this is not unnatural, since there had been as yet but few actions from without, and it had not been necessary to have a guard against them. The petitions, as has been said, were numerous; and on the presentation of each there was a speech from the member presenting it, trying to bring on a debate, and suggesting topics which

might irritate the ministry and convince the country. Mr. Brougham was always in his place.' 'Hardly an hour passed without detecting some false statement. or illogical argument; hardly a night passed without gaining some convert to the cause of truth.' The result was decisive. Although opposed by the whole weight of the Government both in public and out of doors; although at first vigorously resisted by the energy, the acuteness, the activity, and the expertness, which made Mr. Perceval one of the first debaters of his day; although, after his death, the father of the system, with all his fire and with his full knowledge of the subject,-nay although' the ministry risked their existence on the question, the victory remained with the petitioners. The Orders in Council. were abolished, and the efficacy of agitation proved. The session of 1816 offered an example yet more remarkable of the same tactics being attended with signal success. On the termination of the war, the Government were determined, instead of repealing the whole income-tax, which the law declared to be for and during the coninuance of the war, and no longer,' to retain one-half of it.' As soon as this intention was announced, several meetings were held.' Some petitions were presented. Mr. Brougham declared that, if the motion were pressed on Thursday, he should avail himself of the forms of the House.' Of course the unpopularity of paying money was decisive the income-tax fell. The same faculty of aggression, which had been so successful in these instances,

6

This and the following quotations are from the Speeches of Lord Brougham and the Introduction to them, published in 1838; the latter were written by himself.

6

was immediately so applied as to give voice to the sullenness of the country; to express forms of discontent as real, though not with an object as determinate. Mr. Brougham did not understate his case: There is one branch of the subject which I shall pass over altogether, I mean the amount of the distresses which are now universally admitted to prevail over almost every part of the empire. Upon this topic all men are agreed; the statements connected with it are as unquestionable as they are afflicting.' Nor did he shrink from detail. 'I shall suppose,' he observed to the House, a farm of 400 acres of fair good land, yielding a rent of from 500l. to 600l. a-year.' 'It will require a four years' course,-200 acres being in corn, 100 in fallow, and 100 in hay and grass;' and he seems to prove that at least it ought not to answer, independently of the great rise in lime and all sorts of manure.' The commercial mania of the time takes its turn in the description. After the cramped state in which the enemy's measures and our own retaliation (as we termed it) had kept our trade for some years, when the events of spring 1814 suddenly opened the Continent, a rage for exporting goods of every kind burst forth, only to be explained by reflecting on the previous restrictions we had been labouring under, and only to be equalled (though not in extent) by some of the mercantile delusions connected with South American speculations. Every thing that could be shipped was sent off; all the capital that could be laid hold of was embarked. The frenzy, I can call it nothing less, after the experience of 1806 and 1810, descended to persons in the humblest circumstances, and

[ocr errors]

the farthest removed, by their pursuits, from commercial cares. It may give the committee some idea of this disease, if I state what I know to have happened in one or two places. Not only clerks and labourers, but menial servants, engaged the little sums which they had been laying up for a provision against old age and sickness; persons went round tempting them to adventure in the trade to Holland, and Germany, and the Baltic; they risked their mite in the hopes of boundless profits; it went with the millions of the more regular traders: the bubble soon burst, like its predecessors of the South Sea, the Mississippi, and Buenos Ayres; English goods were selling for much less in Holland and the north of Europe, than in London and Manchester; in most places they were lying a dead weight without any sale at all; and either no returns whatever were received, or pounds came back for thousands that had gone forth. The great speculators broke; the middling ones lingered out a precarious existence, deprived of all means of continuing their dealings either at home or abroad; the poorer dupes of the delusion had lost their little hoards, and went upon the parish the next mishap that befell them; but the result of the whole has been much commercial distress-a caution now absolutely necessary in trying new adventures-a prodigious diminution in the demand for manufactures, and indirectly a serious defalcation in the effectual demand for the produce of land.' Next year he described as the worst season ever known. The year 1812, a year before esteemed one of much suffering, rose in comparison to one of actual prosperity. He began with the clothing, a branch of

trade which, from accidental circumstances, is not as depressed as our other great staples;' he passed to the iron trade, &c. &c. He dilated on the distress, the discontent, and suffering of the people. Of course the Government were to blame. He moved that the unexampled' difficulties of trade and manufactures were materially increased by the policy pursued with respect to our foreign commerce,-that the continuance of these difficulties is in a great degree owing to the severe pressure of taxation under which the country labours, and which ought by every practicable means to be lightened, -that the system of foreign policy pursued by his Majesty's ministers has not been such as to obtain for the people of this country those commercial advantages which the influence of Great Britain in foreign countries fairly entitled them to expect.' As became a pupil of the Edinburgh University, Mr. Brougham was not averse to political economy. He was ready to discuss the theory of rent or the Corn-laws. He made a speech, which he relates as having had a greater success than any other which he made in Parliament, in support of Mr. Calcraft's amendment, to substitute 192,638l. 4s. 9d. for 385,276l. 98. 6d., the estimate for the household troops.' Foreign policy was a favourite topic. Almost unsupported,. as he said some years after, he attacked the Holy Alliance. Looking back through the softening atmosphere of reminiscence, he almost seems to have a kindness for Lord Castlereagh. He remembers with pleasure the utter 'courage with which he exposed himself unabashed to the most critical audience in the world, while incapable of uttering any

« AnteriorContinuar »