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to define a Pensioner as a traitor and a slave, the Excise as a hateful tax, the Commissioners of the Excise as wretches, if he were to write a satire full of reflections on men who receive “the price of boroughs and of souls,” who “explain their country's dear-bought rights away,” or
“ whom pensions can incite
we should set him down for something more democratic than a Whig. Yet this was the language which Johnson, the most bigoted of Tories and High Churchmen, held under the administration of Walpole and Pelham.
Thus doctrines favourable to public liberty were inculcated alike by those who were in power and by those who were in opposition. It was by means of these doctrines alone that the former could prove that they had a King de jure. The servile theories of the latter did not prevent them from offering every molestation to one whom they considered as merely a King de facto. The attachment of one party to the House of Hanover, of the other to that of Stuart, induced both to talk a language much more favourable to popular rights than to monarchical power. What took place at the first representation of Cato is no bad illustration of the way in which the two great sections of the community almost invariably acted. A play, the whole merit of which consists in its stately rhetoric, a rhetoric sometimes not unworthy of Lucan, about hating tyrants and dying for freedom, is brought on the stage in a time of great political excitement. Both parties crowd to the theatre. Each affects to consider every line as a compliment to itself, and an attack on its opponents. The curtain falls amidst an unanimous roar of applause. The Whigs of the Kit Cat embrace the author, and assure him that he has rendered an inestimable service to liberty. The Tory secretary of state presents a purse to the chief actor for defending the cause of liberty so well. The history of that night was, in miniature, the history of two generations.
We well know how much sophistry there was in the reasonings, and how much exaggeration in the declamations of both parties. But when we compare the state in which political science was at the close of the reign of George the Second with the state in which it had been when James the Second came to the throne, it is impossible not to admit that a prodigious improvement had taken place. We are no admirers of the political doctrines laid down in Blackstone's Commentaries. But if we consider that those Commentaries were read with great applause in the very schools where, seventy or eighty years before, books had been publicly burned by order of the University of Oxford for containing the damnable doctrine that the English monarchy is limited and mixed, we cannot deny that a salutary change had taken place. “ The Jesuits,” says Pascal, in the last of his incomparable letters, “have obtained a Papal decree, condemning Galileo's doctrine about the motion of the earth. It is all in vain. If the world is really turning round, all mankind together will not be able to keep it from turning, or to keep themselves from turning with it.” The decrees of Oxford were as ineffectual to stay the great moral and political revolution as those of the Vatican to stay the motion of our globe. That learned University found itself not only unable to keep the mass from moving, but unable to keep itself from moving along with the mass. Nor was the effect of the discussions and speculations of that period confined to our own country. While the Jacobite party was in the last dotage and weakness of its paralytic old age, the political philosophy of England began to produce a mighty effect on France, and, through France, on Europe.
Here another vast field opens itself before us. But we must resolutely turn away from it. We will conclude by advising all our readers to study Sir James Mackintosh's valuable Fragment, and by expressing our hope that they will soon be able to study it without those accompaniments which have hitherto impeded its circulation.
The Works of Francis Bacon, Lord Chancellor of England.
A new Edition. By BASIL MONTAGU, Esq. 16 vols. 8vo.
We return our hearty thanks to Mr. Montagu for this truly valuable work. From the opinions which he expresses as a biographer we often dissent. But about his merit as a collector of the materials out of which opinions are formed, there can be no dispute; and we readily acknowledge that we are in a great measure indebted to his minute and accurate researches for the means of refuting what we cannot but consider as his errors.
The labour which has been bestowed on this volume has been a labour of love. The writer is evidently enamoured of the subject. It fills his heart. It constantly overflows from his lips and his pen. Those who are acquainted with the Courts in which Mr. Montagu practises with so much ability and success well know how often he enlivens the discussion of a point of law by citing some weighty aphorism, or some brilliant illustration, from the De Augmentis or the Novum Organum. The Life before us doubtless owes much of its value to the honest and generous enthusiasm of the writer. This feeling has stimulated his activity, has sustained his perseverance, has called forth all his ingenuity and eloquence : but, on the other hand, we must frankly say that it has, to a great extent, perverted his judgment.
We are by no means without sympathy for Mr. Montagu even in what we consider as his weakness. There is scarcely any delusion which has a better
claim to be indulgently treated than that under the influence of which a man ascribes every moral excellence to those who have left imperishable monuments of their genius. The causes of this error lie deep in the inmost recesses of human nature. We are all inclined to judge of others as we find them. Our estimate of a character always depends much on the manner in which that character affects our own interests and passions. We find it difficult to think well of those by whom we are thwarted or depressed; and we are ready to admit every excuse for the vices of those who are useful or agreeable to us.
This is, we believe, one of those illusions to which the whole human race is subject, and which experience and reflection can only partially remove. It is, in the phraseology of Bacon, one of the idola tribus. Hence it is that the moral character of a man eminent in letters or in the fine arts is treated, often by contemporaries, almost always by posterity, with extraordinary tenderness. The world derives pleasure and advantage from the performances of such a man. The number of those who suffer by his personal vices is small, even in his own time, when compared with the number of those to whom his talents are a source of gratification. In a few years all those whom he has injured disappear. But his works remain, and are a source of delight to millions. The genius of Sallust is still with us. But the Numidians whom he plundered, and the unfortunate husbands who caught him in their houses at unseasonable hours, are forgotten. We suffer ourselves to be delighted by the keenness of Clarendon's observation, and by the sober majesty of his style, till we forget the oppressor and the bigot in the historian. Falstaff and Tom Jones have survived the gamekeepers whom Shakspeare cudgelled and the landladies whom Fielding bilked. A great writer is the friend and benefactor of his