10 JULY 1852, Page 12


THOMAS CARLYLE would have a perfect 'light to say that the riots at Stockport prove neither more nor less than the want of go- vernment. We prate about government in its separate parts— Self-government, Local Government, Parliamentary Govern- ment—until we almost forget government by that which empha- tically we call" the Government." Our immediate forefathers in- herited a jealousy of the Executive which -with us has degenerated into a cant. After repeating the lumbering old formula, "the power of the Crown has increased," &c., until the objection to an abuse, surviving the abuse, was taken itself for a positive virtue, the statesmen of our day have carried the abnegation of government so far that they have almost succumbed to government by amateur as- sociations, and have superseded the demand for the practical self- government of the people by anticipating the wishes of the mob. Too weak to assert a sufficient influence or authority, the Govern- ment does not govern, but cajoles; it will not trust the people with the suffrage; but it Will catch the inspiration of its own dictates from the mood of the mob ; and if the unthinking multitude take offence at an outlandish Bishop, the Government will lend it a statute or a proclamation as a stick to beat the naughty Pope with. Our Ministers call themselves public servants, and insist on the title not without an eye to the privileges which it implies for themselves ; they revel in the post of servant with its recognized perquisites, including the right to cajole and bully their master. They have reduced their duties as much as possible to a routine, and think that they are acquitted when they pass a given number of bills per session. But there is a most important part of govern- ment which cannot be supplied by bill, 'nor even by common law, but which must be supplied by those who have consented to fill the responsible post of public leaders. It is that of giving direction at critical moments to the spirit and action of the entire commu- nity. In a free country the common law lies in usage, and will serve as far as usage can serve. In such a country the statute law is mostly worked out by the people ; the legislature or govern- ment but registering the matured opinions or well-ascertained de- mands of the community at large. Our most important statutes may be traced to counteraction against the craven John, the help- less James the Second, or the imbecile Toryism of the later Georges. The most glorious passages of history in any state where the sove- reign mingles with the glory will be found less in the recording of laws than in the lead and guidance of public-spirit; as it is far less the statutes of Elizabeth on which the historian dwells, than on the encouragement of literature, the energetic administration, and the dignified bearing towards foreign states or internal factions. It may happen that the humour of the people may waver for an in- stant between two courses which would lead respectively to fatal danger or to safety; and on such occasions the result hangs for that portentous instant on the guidance of the chief leader. The passing inspiration which prepared for such national disappoint- ment in Richard the Second is a capital instance : for a moment the mob wavered between anarchy and discipline' and in the next moment accepted with delight the offer, "I will be your leader." The function which Richard fulfilled for that pressing moment is not obsolete, although we have developed our system of govern- ment by "board" and " statute " to such intractable proportions.

An instance in our own time, not yet thoroughly worked out, is this very Anti-Papal affair. Never was there an occasion in which more might have been done, not by supineness or indifference, but by active lead and guidance of the public spirit. The encroach- ment on the part of Rome was a fact not to be ignored or neglected ; but it was something besides an encroachment—it was a reaction against that new spirit in the Roman Catholic world which has displayed itself almost simultaneously in Italian Protestantism, in German Neo-Catholicism, and in the Irish Liberalism that was filling the "Godless Colleges," Papal prohibitions notwithstanding. In that new spirit of spontaneous conversion liberal political religionists might have felt some interest ; at all events, it was a political resource, and much facilitated a right choice. The Government had to choose mainly between the encouragement of the vulgar "No Popery" spirit after the George Gordon fashion, or the encouragement of that new spirit, accordant with political freedom and scientific advancement, which threatened a disruption of the aggressive church from within. If the Cabinet of the late Premier had anticipated the excellent spirit which animated Lord Eglinton in his visit to Cork, and if that example had been copied by Lord Eglinton's own colleagues, the Government of the empire, followed and supported by the people, standing on the broadest grounds of religious and scientific freedom—upon the im- pregnable ground of the Queen's Colleges—might have laughed to scorn the " aggressions " of the tottering Pope, without provoking amongst ourselves, the British people, any expression more serious than a smile.

Unhappily, the choice which the Minister for the time being did make, and which in spite of his deterrent example was copied by his successor, was, to truokle to the vulgar spirit of George-Gor- donism—to pursue that course which was begun by the Durham Letter, continued by the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, renewed by the Anti-Processions Proclamation, and crowned by the Stockport Riots. In these days of non-government, it is thought more prac- tical and statesmanlike to pander to the passions of the Stockport excesses than to take a stand on the high ground of the Queen's Colleges, and help in leading the nations to the ultimate union of freedom, science, and religion.