POLITICS, Reflections suggested by the Career of the late Premier. 131ackwood and dons.
TRAVELS, Views A-Foot ; or Europe Seen with Knapsack and Staff. By J. Bayard Taylor.
With a Preface by N. P. Willis. In two Parts Wiley and PUINSNI•
Trevor, or the New Saint Francis ; a Tale for the Times. Longman and Co.
The Miscellany of tbe Spalding Club. Volume Third. Aberdeen. Prinled for the Club •
Select Writings of Robert Chambers. Volume I. Essays Familiar and Humorous. Orr; Chambers, Edinburgh.
REFLECTIONS SUGGESTED BY THE CAREER OF THE LATE PREMIER.
Tins is a clever book, but of a curious kind of cleverness. It is not the cleverness of a political litterateur ; it has less impudence and less empti- ness, with also, be it said, inferior skill and more honesty. Though Peel is the principal and Free Trade a collateral subject, the writer admits he knows very little of either ; which might happen well enough to a party scribe, but he would never own it. The author does not seem to be an actual politician : he has more logic, more aim, is less practical, with a better style, and he falls into errors that such a one would scarcely commit; for be accuses Peel of "leaving" Canning's Ministry,—whereas Peel refused to join it ; and says that he "was brought into office as the Protestant champion to resist the Catholic claims,"—whereas it was Wellington who was brought into office, to carry on the government, which Goderich could not manage to do. No stipulation was made ; nobody thought of making any. George the Fourth had bargained with Canning, that he should not be " troubled " about the Catholic question ; but the Sybarite thought he might spare himself even the trouble of mooting such a trouble with the Duke.
_ , = From the evidently habitual cast of the author's mind, one could fancy he was in some way connected with scholastic matters.
Consilium dedimus Sallie, privatus at album Dormiret,"
is the spirit of his theme and treatment. The classical ages not only serve to turn his periods and illustrate his positions, they are his tests for present affairs : his notions are upwards of two thousand years old ; his "eyes are blinded by the dust of learning." "Aristides, Phocion, and Demosthenes " are his statesmen ; he resorts to Aristophanes to find in the Sausage-seller of "The Knights" an elaborate parallel of Peel ; and he illustrates the ethical difference between an excusable and an inexcus- able untruth by taking the "splendide mendax" of Horace as a text, and comparing Peel's concealment of his intentions with the conduct of Hypermnestra, whom some readers of this attention-demanding world may have forgotten as that one of the fifty daughters of Danaus who alone saved her husband's life. The aptness of this comparison is not so striking as the professor-like character of the author's style. The follow- ing very much resembles a lecture to hobbledehoys.
"Let us then examine, on both these points, the conduct of the late Premier; let us weigh Peel against Hypermnestra. Let us scrutinize the character of his ' mendacia,' and see whether it should be ranked in the category of splendida' or ingloria.'" There is also a sense of personal dignity about the writer : he speaks like one having authority and not as the scribes,—though it scarcely seems an authority exercised over men in this world. He has a touch of self-importance, which it is probable his individual position would scarcely warrant in these rough and ready times. He smacks somewhat af the great man in a small way. He seems accustomed to the " mon- strari digito" of a country place. Yet his composition is too good for a lord; it smells of the writer, though scarcely of the writer accustomed to address the public. There are power and painting in the following sketches, though a little partaking of the sermon and the drawn " character."
"And when we speak of the weakness or servility of conviction, we would by no means be understood to mean a mere liability to change. The man of sincere and earnest mind frequently changes his opinions oftenest. The diffirence lies in the motives of the change. In the case of the earnest man these arise from his own mind; in the case of the servile-minded man, from external circumstances. :•ch, for instance, are political advantages, or the number or clamour or strength of the advocates of an opinion. Circumstances generally enable us to discriminate pretty accurately. If a man always rejects an opinion when shared by few, and always adopts it when popular and dominant—if he has nothing to say to it when it is of no service to him, but embraces it when it is strong, and can give him renown and popularity—we shall not probably err in deeming that man to be of a servile mind, wanting in sincere and earnest convictions. The truthful-minded man at once avows his change; the servile-minded one cunningly conceals it till it suits his purpose. If, besides this, a man be cold, pompous, and an egoist—if his eharacter be marked by duplicity—if his language be plausible, but unsatisfactory— if he be found to pay more deference to his foes through fear than to his friends from affection,—all these are corroborating testa of the servile character in ques- tion. Though it may be difficult to assign its precise tokens in words, there is less difficulty in discriminating it in practice.
"It is this total want of all earnest and heartfelt conviction of the truth, which
forms the key to the interpretation of the whole of Sir R. Peel's career. '1' • "Had he lived in the Roman world at an earlier age, when Christianity was yet striving against the secular powers, while it was weak and despised, who would have opposed it more loudly than the Robert Peel of the day? who would have more warmly urged its impracticability, its unfitness for the concerns of life? who would more eloquently have exhorted the Roman world to hold to the wisdom of their forefathers? As, however, the tide gradually and steadily rolled on, and day by day one conversion followed another, these eloquent protestations would begin somewhat to flag, and at length that plausible tongue would lie in silence. But when at last it began to make its way among the higher powers of the land, amid the eminent and wealthy—when, finally, it even penetrated into the court of the Emperor, and rumours began to be whispered that he himself looked on it with no unfavourable eye—a few days before Constantine's conversion Pellius would announce his formal adhesion to its principles, with an intimation that he had for some years been leaning that way, and that a similar course had suggested itself to his mind' even at the time when he took some part in the Dioclealan persecu- tion." A skilful management of government influence,' pouring grace and unc- tion on many benighted minds, would secure him a good claim to merit; and he would doubtless be rewarded for his seasonable change by a high post amid the officers of the regenerate Emperor. " This time-serving conduct, skilfully managed, will frequently succeed ad- mirably with the world; for these children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. The sincere advocates of principles through good and through bad report, are looked upon as unpractical and fanciful theorists; while those who carefully watch their opportunity, and conform themselves with good grace to the dom;nant tide of opinion, are hailed as able and practical men and even obtain from the mass the praise of more than common honesty, inasmuch as they are not ashamed to avow a change in their opinions." These passages, like moat other long passages in the volume, contain its doctrinal essence. The plan of the author is to show that Sir Robert Peel conceals his intentions when he ought to avow them ; ergo, he is guilty of deceiving his party, and so forth. This object is carried out by the writer with ingenuity, warmth, and earnestness ; and though without malice, he puts the worst construction upon everything, and per- sists in testing the practical by the abstract. Leaving out of view the vast change in the world itself since the days of Manchester massacres, spies, and gagging-bills, and suppressing the often blundering and too late conversions in many political competitors, it is easy enough to convict Sir Robert Peel of "apostacy" ; and, making no allowance for the isola- tion and reserve of his nature, it is not difficult to fasten upon him the charge of apparent insincerity. The main statement of the book, that he deceived his party or led them to deceive themselves in reference to Free Trade and the Corn-laws, is not accurate. There might be deception in the matter, but it was self-deception. The party never trusted Peel ; on the contrary, they mistrusted him, but took him in the hopes of making him a tool. It was said when the anger of the country gentlemen broke out in speeches, "Boa locutus est." But a more wonderful portent bad occurred at an earlier day. "Boa" scripsit—actually held the pen We remember pamphlets on "Peel or Stanley ? " We remember, too, a Peer's threat, that if the proximate Premier attempted to touch the agricultural interests, those who put him in could turn him out. "Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit, there is more hope of a fool than of him." The country gentlemen not only conceited themselves wise, but powerful. Like the silly German experimentalist in the fiction, they fancied they could control the giant they had raised. But in point of fact, Peel did all for them that could be done. He held their brief till the case was desperate, and only threw it up when it was no longer tenable,—a course which is allowed even by the unscrupulous client-sticking morality of the bar.
For, to speak seriously, does the Country party suppose that the Corn- laws could have been maintained under existing circumstances ? For the time, party is extinct ; Peel has destroyed it ; all men are anxious to do what they can to meet the present distress. The repeal of the Corn- laws has not really destroyed their mischievous working, (for without them England would have been the emporium of the corn-trade, and the surplus of the world accumulated in store); but the public mind thinks it has, and the present scarcity is received as a natural infliction, which, when human efforts fail, must be borne like disease or death. Would this good feeling, would this submission to events, would this national calm- ness, have obtained were the Corn monopoly in existence? With O'Con- nell hounding on the hungry Irish against " the Tories " as their mur- derers in mass—with Lord John Russell and the Whigs declaring that their policy would have procured food, and tracing all existing evils to the Corn-laws—with the League agitating the country, addressing the pinched trader, the hungry mechanic, and the half-starved labourer, in the murderous animus of a jockey lord, but more formidable from the absence of his folly, and pointing to the landed interests as the incubus of society,—do these "slight unmeritable men" fancy that the Corn- laws could have been maintained ? But for the prescient sagacity of Sir Robert Peel, society would have been shaken to its centre ; the Corn-laws would have been swept away in a storm of national indignation ; and who can tell what besides they would have carried with them?
"* This chronology might seem difficult to conciliate with the life of an individual; but it must be remembered that the Robert Peel never dies. There are always in Use world not only one, but many representatives of the character."