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ges, might make the addrefs, in which I joined, appear as the act of perfons in fome fort of corporate capacity, acknowledged by the laws of this kingdom, and authorized to fpeak the fenfe of fome part of it. On account of the ambiguity and uncertainty of unauthorized general defcriptions, and of the deceit which may be practifed under them, and not from mere formality, the house of commons would reject the most fneaking petition for the most trifling object, under that mode of fignature to which you have thrown open the folding-doors of your prefence chamber, and have ushered into your national affembly, with as much ceremony and parade, and with as great a buftle of applaufe, as if you had been visited by the whole representative majefty of the whole English nation. If what this fociety has thought proper to fend forth had been a piece of argument, it would have fignified little whofe argument it was. It would be neither the more nor the lefs convincing on account of the party it came from. But this is only a vote and refolution. It ftands folely on authority; and in this cafe it is the mere authority of individuals, few of whom appear. Their fignatures ought, in my
opinion, to have been annexed to their inftrument. The world would then have the means of knowing how many they are; who they are; and of what value their opinions may be, from their perfonal abilities, from their knowledge, their experience, or their lead and authority in this ftate. To me, who am but a plain man, the proceeding looks a little too refined, and too ingenious; it has too much the air of a political ftratagem, adopted for the fake of giving, under an high-founding name, an importance to the public declarations of this club, which, when the matter came to be closely infpected, they did not altogether fo well deserve. It is a policy that has very much the complexion of a fraud.
I flatter myself that I love a manly, moral, regu lated liberty as well as any gentleman of that fociety, be he who he will; and perhaps I have given as good proofs of my attachment to that caufe, in the whole courfe of my public conduct. I think I envy liberty as little as they do, to any other nation. But I can not ftand forward, and give praise or blame to any thing which relates to human actions, and human concerns, on a fimple view of the object, as it ftands ftripped of every relation, in all the nakednefs and folitude of metaphyfical abftraction. Circumstances (which with fome gentlemen pafs for nothing) give in reality to every political principle its diftinguishing colour, and difcriminating effect. The circumftances are what render every civil and political fcheme beneficial or noxious to mankind. Abstractedly fpeaking, government, as well as liberty, is good; yet could I, in common fenfe, ten years ago, have felicitated France on her enjoyment of a government (for The then had a government) without enquiry what the nature of that government was, or how it was administered? Can I now congratulate the fame nation upon its freedom? Is it becaufe liberty in the abstract may be claffed amongst the bleflings of mankind, that I am seriously to feliciate a mad-man, who has escaped from the protecting reftraint and wholesome darkness of his cell, on his restoration to the enjoyment of light and liberty? Am I to congratulate an highwayman and murderer, who has broke prifon, upon the recovery of his natural rights? This would be to act over again the fcene of the criminals condemned to the gallies, and their heroic deliverer, the metaphyfic knight of the forrowful countenance.
When I fee the fpirit of liberty in action, I fee a ftrong principle at work; and this, for a while, is all I can poffibly know of it. The wild gas, the fixed air is plainly broke loofe, but we ought
ought to fufpend our judgment until the first effervefcence is a little fubfided, till the liquor is cleared, and until we see something deeper than the agitation of a troubled and frothy furface. I must be tolera→ bly fure, before I venture publicly to congratulate men upon a bleffing, that they have really received one. Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver; and adulation is not of more fervice to the people than to kings. I fhould therefore fufpend my congratulations on the new liberty of France, until I was informed how it had been combined with government; with public force; with the difcipline and obedience of armies; with the collection of an effective and well diftributed-revenue; with morality and religion; with the folidity of property; with peace and order; with civil and focial manners. All thefe (in their way) are good things too; and, without them, liberty is not a benefit whilft it lafts, and is not likely to continue long. The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we rifque congratulations, which may be foon turned into complaints. Prudence would dictate this in the case of separate infulated private men; but liberty, when men act in bodies, is power. Confiderate people, before they declare themfelves, will obferve the ufe which is made of power; and particularly of fo trying a thing as new power in new perfons, of whofe principles, tempers, and difpofitions, they have little or no experience, and in fituations where those who appear the most stirring in the fcene may poffibly not be the real movers.
All these confiderations however were below the tranfcendental dignity of the revolution fociety. Whilft I continued in the country, from whence I had the honour of writing to you, I had but an imperfect idea of their transactions. On my coming to town, I fent for an account of their proceedVOL. III, с
ings, which had been published by their authority, containing a fermon of Dr. Price, with the Duke de Rochefaucault's and the Archbishop of Aix's letter, and feveral other documents annexed. The whole of that publication, with the manifeft defign of connecting the affairs of France with thofe of England, by drawing us into an imitation of the conduct of the national affembly, gave me a confiderable degree of uneafinefs. The effect of that conduct upon the power, credit, profperity, and tranquillity of France, became every day more evident. The form of conftitution to be fettled, for its future polity, became more clear. We are now in a condition to discern, with tolerable exactness, the true nature of the object held up to our imitation. If the prudence of referve and decorum dictates filence in fome circumstances, in others prudence of an higher order may justify us in fpeaking our thoughts. The beginnings of confu· fion with us in England are at prefent feeble enough; but with you we have feen an infancy ftill more feeble, growing by moments into a ftrength to heap mountains upon mountains, and to wage war with heaven itself. Whenever our neighbour's houfe is on fire, it cannot be amifs for the engines to play a little on our own. Better to be defpifed for too anxious apprehenfions, than ruined by too confident a fecurity..
Solicitous chiefly for the peace of my own country, but by no means unconcerned for your's, I wish to communicate more largely, what was at first intended only for your private fatisfaction. I fhall ftill keep your affairs in my eye, and continue to addrefs myself to you. Indulging myself in the freedom of epiftolary intercourfe, I beg leave to throw out my thoughts, and exprefs my feelings, just as they arife in my mind, with very little attention to formal method. I fet out with the proceedings of the revolution fociety, but I fhall not confine myself
to them. Is it poffible I should? It looks to me as if I were in a great crifis, not of the affairs of France alone, but of all Europe, perhaps of more than Europe. All circumstances taken together, the French revolution is the most aftonishing that has hitherto happened in the world. The most wonderful things are brought about in many inftances by means the moft abfurd and ridiculous; in the most ridiculous modes; and apparently, by the most contemptible inftruments. Every thing feems out of nature in this ftrange chaos of levity and ferocity, and of all forts of crimes jumbled together with all forts of follies. In viewing this monftrous tragi-comic fcene, the moft oppofite paffions neceffarily fucceed, and fometimes mix with each other in the mind; alternate contempt and indignation; alternate laughter and tears; alternate fcorn and hor
It cannot however be denied, that to fome this strange scene appeared in quite another point of view. Into them it infpired no other fentiments than thofe of exultation and rapture. They faw nothing in what has been done in France, but a firm and temperate exertion of freedom; fo confiftent, on the whole, with morals and with piety, as to make it deferving not only of the fecular applaufe of dashing Machiavelian politicians, but to render it a fit theme for all the devout effufions of facred eloquence.
On the forenoon of the 4th of November laft, Doctor Richard Price, a non-conforming minister of eminence, preached at the diffenting meetinghoufe of the Old Jewry, to his club or fociety, a very extraordinary mifcellaneous fermon, in which there are fome good moral and religious fentiments, and not ill expreffed, mixed up in a fort of porridge of various political opinions and reflections: but the revolution in France is the grand ingredient in the cauldron. I confider the addrefs tranfmitted by the