Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

2. A Letter on the Distresses of the Country: addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent, in consequence of his Motion respecting "the Revulsion of Trade, and our sudden Transition from a System of extensive War to a State of Peace:" in which the supposed Influence of our Debt and Taxes, upon our Manufactures and Foreign Trade, is investigated. By John Ashton Yates. 8vo. pp. 211. Longman and Co. London, 1817.

THE case represented in the Acts of the Apostles has been very much the case of all succeeding ages. Some believe the things spoken, and some believe them not. But the present time differs from others in this, that those who believe cannot be distinguished from those who believe not, by any practical testimony of their faith, as far as public measures are concerned: the most opposite principles lead to the same course of action, or rather, in the matters which press upon us now, of inaction.

At no time, perhaps, since the Restoration, has speculative infidelity been so rare as at present in England, among those who take the lead in public opinion, and are capable from education of forming a judgment upon such a subject. The evidences by which the Christian Revelation is confirmed have been placed in such various and striking points of view, the objections have been set aside so triumphantly, and the masterly summary of testimony drawn up by Paley is at once so popular and so unanswerable, that infidelity has been fairly driven off the field, and those who are unconvinced at least are silenced. But we are little the better for having conquered systematic unbelief, if we have only exchanged it for inconsistent faith. We call that inconsistent faith, which acknowledges the premises, but refuses to act upon the conclusion, and does not admit in practice that to which it gives an unhesitating assent in speculation. The trite, but energetic exhortation, SAPERE AUDE, dare to follow out your principles, was suggested by clear views of the weakness of human

nature.

The conduct of our legislature, in matters of the greatest consequence in our domestic policy, affords a melancholy illustration of the preceding remarks. It is afraid to act upon acknowledged principles. While the truth of our religion is confessed, and public business is opened with its forms, that business is no sooner begun than Christianity is degraded into a sort of privilegium; as if it were an excellent rule, beyond dispute, in the direction of individual conduct and private obligation, but by no means an universal law for the empire at large; and thus the most opposite characters insensibly become partisans of those philosophic unbelievers, who, as Mr. Yates observes, "have proceeded upon a system of excluding, as much as possible, all religious con

siderations, all impressions of and regard to FUTURE EXISTENCE, from public business and public habits."

These are grave charges: we wish it were less easy to substantiate them. Look first at many of our financial expedients, and see whether they bear the stamp of heathenism, or of Christianity. The idolater of gold was wont to argue:

REM facias, Rem,

Si possis, rectè; și non, quocunque modo, REM.

But the Christian has two principles directly opposed to this maxim: first, he is taught to pursue right measures at all events, and to trust to the consequences; nothing doubting that actions, done on a good principle, and directed to a right end, will, in the course of events, meet with success, and be favoured by the Divine Blessing. Next, he is still more unequivocally assured that no apparent expediency can warrant him in countenancing what is wrong, or encouraging what is immoral. Such is the profession of our national faith: now let us turn to our national practice. Take the lottery for example; it is proposed, defended, and carried into execution, by those very persons to whose own principles all gaming is most repugnant; and all the concomitant evils which follow in its train, and have been so often and so unanswerably exposed, are introduced and virtually sanctioned; because, forsooth, the Treasury cannot afford to lose two or three hundred thousand pounds. If this is not to act on the grounds of rem, quocunque modo, rem; if this is not to do evil, with a view to expediency, we shall be at a loss to find an instance of that forbidden policy; and if it is, what is it but the open and systematic violation of a Christian precept?

And yet the Minister who should dare to say, This measure is wrong, I cannot consent to it; this practice is unchristian, I cannot consistently sanction it;-might find abundance of cool and sober reasoning, by which he might rebut the charge of enthusiasm, or the more serious imputation of expecting a miracle to support his measures. In proportion as men are moral, active, and industrious, they are useful to the state; in proportion as they are idle and vicious, they are unproductive, or even burthensome to society. This is the ordinary course of things; this the providential arrangement of human affairs; by which, without visible interposition, the promises of the Gospel are made good, and the observance of its precepts rewarded. Money, too, thus spared from the promotion and encouragement of the various forms of vice and misery, would still be money, and a part of the property of the community. It would either be saved, or spent in some other channel; if saved, it would be added to the productive capital of the country; if spent, how could it fail of con

tributing to the revenue? Being a superfluous expense, it is reasonable to imagine that what was rescued from the gulf of the lottery would not generally be employed in purchasing the absolute necessaries of life; and if expended on any of what may be called its luxuries, it would find its way at once into the Exchequer whether consumed in the shape of tea, or sugar, or salt, or malt liquor, or wine, or spirits, a proportion scarcely, if at all, inferior to the gains of the lottery, would still come to the service of the public, by swelling the produce of the excise; and the only difference would be, that the increase would be less easily computed; could not be so exactly marked out in a financial table; while, according to the present system, there is a tangible item, which appears as the evidence of public inconsistency, and the produce of individual misery.

The same course of argument is equally applicable to the unwillingness, sometimes secret and sometimes avowed, to diminish the number of houses licensed for the sale of ale and spirits. They promote profligacy-Granted-but they pay largely to the revenue; therefore do not discontinue them, except in flagrant cases, where public opinion is too strong to be resisted. Lucri bonus est odor, even when it rises from the sinks of debauchery. O for the political courage which shall dare to do well! or for the political foresight which shall look far enough to see that the industry of a hundred thousand heads of families must contribute more to the strength and riches of a state than the paltry consumption of a hundred gin-shops, even if their articles were the only exciseable articles! We see not how any statesman, or any political economist, but we are sure no Christian, can doubt, that if all the incentives to vice and immorality which grow out of our financial arrangements were cut off, as far as human wisdom can discover them, or even as far as experience has indicated them, and all other taxes remained the same, the Exchequer would be richer at the end of five years, and the edifice of public prosperity incomparably more secure. As, according to the paradox of financial arithmetic, multiplication does not always multiply, so neither does prudent subtraction always diminish the revenue of the state.

These errors, however, are trifling; these inconsistencies are but as specks in the political horizon, compared with the mass of evil and of danger to which the work at the head of this article refers, compared with the neglect of the National Church, and with it the neglect of religion and morals, and of all that follow these, among that part of our population which is most exposed to temptation. London and its vicinity, together with most of the great manufacturing and commercial towns, present the monstrous spectacle of 15, 20, 30, 40, or even 70,000 individuals,

accumulated together in one nominal parish, committed to the spiritual charge of one clergyman, and summoned to one parish church, which, if they attended to that summons, is manifestly incapable of containing a tenth, twentieth, or even fortieth part of their number. The evils attendant upon such an arrangement of things are evident on the mere statement, even if they were not too fatally legible in the disposition of the multitudes thus thrown upon the waves of this tempestuous world, without chart or compass, without either star or pilot to direct their voyage. The evil is pointed out, the danger is felt, the consequences are seen, and yet this monstrous state of things is suffered; session after session, year after year elapses, and no one has the zeal or courage to propose their reformation: in war, money must be otherwise appropriated; we cannot attend to the out-works while the citadel is threatened: peace ensues; there is a want of funds; the revulsion of trade has deranged our finances: in other words, Providence has saved the citadel, and we trust the out-works also to Providence.

Here however is the mistake, as to the real seat of the danger. What is the true citadel of the state, but the MIND of the people? The agitators know this, and are, in their generation, wiser than their political opponents: they begin by poisoning the hearts of their creatures and adherents, by mixing up ridicule and parody and blasphemy with all things sacred and mysterious; and when this poison has been once imbibed, they know they can depend upon its forcible operation. Their instruments are ready to their hands. But the legislature, on the contrary, looks to the stream, and passes by the source; it lops the unsound branches, but applies no remedy to the root. If an insurrection breaks out in the East, down goes a special commission to Ely: if the Luddites appear in force in the heart of the kingdom, down goes a special commission to York: if the spirit still works, and works universally, suspend the Habeas Corpus: like the unpractised boxer, in the lively image of the Athenian orator, where the blow has been given, there the hands are found-énɛ̃ioé, éioiy ài Xeges-but no one looks the antagonist in the face, or attempts to prevent instead of following the blow.

In our humble judgment, if it appears that a considerable part of the population show themselves so careless of the rights of property, and so indifferent to the value of human life, as to be ready, on the slightest temptation, to violate both: if it appears that moral and religious duties have no hold upon them, and that an awful regard of a future judgment has no longer any place in their considerations; then we have a plain indication that they are insuffi ciently instructed in these duties: and the case seems to point

* Vide Demosth. Phil. i,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

out, that among the consequent inquiries into the state of the district, the size of the parishes should not be overlooked; that the accommodation for public worship, and the means of religious education, should be examined: and if found deficient, provided for. It is equally easy, and equally economical, to endow a church, as to keep up a body of cavalry; and active pastors might be found, if they were encouraged, no less readily than active police officers. What then is wanting? a conviction on the part of our political leaders, that RELIGION is the strongest and surest check to profligacy, murder, and rebellion: or, in the words of Mr. Yates," That it is the basis of National welfare; a fact which is approved by reason, and declared by experience:" a fact which is elaborately shown by Warburton, and unwillingly allowed by Bolingbroke; a fact which was alike understood by the politic Numa, and the philosophical Charondas; a fact, in short, which we conceive was never denied by any legislator; but which, like other truths, is believed, and neglected; maintained in theory, but in practice forgotten.

We cannot doubt that the disorders which we daily witness are mainly to be attributed to the failure of such superintendence as our ancestors expected and provided for from our ecclesiastical establishment; and although we have little reason to hope that the feeble voice which we are able to raise will be listened to; yet we consider that it becomes all who possess, in any degree, the channels of public opinion, to throw their portion of weight into a scale, so big with our most momentous interests. We shall, therefore, endeavour briefly to point out the dangers with which the common safety is threatened, if the present state of things is permitted to continue; and also to prove that the remedy is much less difficult and burthensome than may be generally apprehended.

pro

It is agreed on all sides that there is a great disorganization of the public mind, among the lower classes in general, but particularly in those manufacturing districts where the dense population most readily excites the fermentation, and soonest spreads it through the whole mass.

"It must be allowed, and ought to obtain the most serious and prompt attention of all the friends of due subordination, domestic peace, social order, and good government,-that this successful attack of the many upon the few,-of animal and numerical strength upon the restraints of mind and opinion,-and the consequent rapid and rapacious transfer of wealth and power from their ancient possessors to hands before unused to them,-have made a deep impression upon the lower classes of society in this country; and that the means and instruments of delusion have now greater facilities, and greater influence upon them, than at any former period. Every street of every city and

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »