תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

grievous famine," &c. &c. And then he goes on, in a few words, to lay down all the proper principles, which were afterwards so beautifully drawn out and explained by Adam Smith in his Dissertation on the Corn Laws; and which required all the authority of the minister, the late Mr. Pitt, to enforce upon the community, and even upon the houses of parliament themselves, while men were every where raving about “monopolizers of corn," “the necessity of fixing proper rates to the price,” &c. &c. This was the expedient of the parliament of Edward II.

The necessities of the state during the wars that began in the year 1793, have brought the science of political economy into more general attention; and have served, very forcibly, to display the merits of the two great instructors of our English ministers and reasoners, Hume and Smith.

The public, however, have still much to learn; and when our young men of rank and property have dismissed their academical pursuits, or rather whenever they have an opportunity, they should apply themselves to the study of political economy, the science of the prosperity of mankind, a study of all others the most interesting and important.

A young man of reflection may find that the principles of political economy partake of the nature of literature, as described by Cicero, “moving along with him, let him go and do what he will, by night, by day, in the town, in the country,” &c. &c.

LECTURE VII.

FRANCE.

WE

which we may

E must now turn to the French history. The period

consider is that which intervened between the accession of Philip of Valois, and the death of Louis XI.

This period I would wish particularly to recommend to your examination, for it is the most important in the constitutional history of France.

I have already endeavoured to draw your attention to this great subject-the constitutional history of France. There are few that can be thought of more consequence in the annals of modern Europe. Had France acquired a good form of government, while the feudal system was falling into decay, the character of the French nation would have been very different from what, in the result, it afterwards became. All the nations on the continent would have been materially influenced in their views and opinions by such an example. The whole history of France and of those countries would have been changed, and the private and public happiness of the world would have been essentially improved.

The first and great subject of inquiry, therefore, in the French history, is this,—What were the circumstances that more particularly affected the civil liberties of France ?

It is quite necessary to remark, that this subject is never properly treated by the French historians. They never seem to feel its importance; to understand its nature. When they advert to the state of France; when they endeavour to consider how the country is to be improved, how advanced to perfection, they content themselves, as their orators seem to have done in the States General, with vague declamations about order and virtue, and the discharge of the duties of life: a love of his people must they think be found in the sovereign, purity of morals in his subjects. These are the topics on which they harangue. Every political good, they suppose, is to result from the private and individual merits of the monarch and those whom he is to govern. They look no further. It seems never to have occurred to them, that the virtues which they wish for, both in the prince and the subject, are generated by a free government, and that it is in vain to expect them under

any other.

From this general observation on the French writers, one illustrious exception must be made-the Abbé de Mably. His work must therefore be continually compared with the representations of the historians Velly, Mezeray, and Le Père Daniel. It is in his work, and in his alone, that the philosophy of the French history can be found. Without it an English student would pass through the whole detail, continually misled by his guides, or suffered to move on, without once finding his intention properly directed to the great misfortune of France; the misfortune of her political system;

the decline and the destruction of her constitutional liberties.

This subject has not been overlooked by our own great historian, Robertson. In his Introduction to his History of Charles V., he describes, in a concise and unaffected manner, the means by which the prerogative and the power of the crown were extended, and the alteration that took place in the constitution and government so unfavourable to the general liberty of the subject; the fatal manner in which the ancient national assemblies lost their legislative power, and in which the monarch gradually assumed it, and still more fatally assumed, the power of levying taxes. There are three notes (38, 39, 40) particularly worth reading, in his preface to Charles V.

With respect to the constitution of France, the great point in that constitution was, as it has been in all the European constitutions, simply this,—whether the national assemblies could maintain their importance, and above all, preserve their right of taxation. On this right of taxation every thing depended.

To the general principles of liberty, a nation is easily made blind, or can even become indifferent. Such principles are never understood by the multitude; and the interest they excite is of a nature too refined and generous to animate the mass of mankind either long or deeply. But fortunately for them, they who trample upon their rights, generally (as it would be expressed by the people themselves) want their money; and here at least is found a coarser string, which can always vibrate strongly and steadily. The tax-gatherer can at all events be discovered by the people to be an enemy, as they suppose, to their happiness. Popular insurrections have seldom had any other origin ; and the unfeeling luxury of the great is thus sometimes most severely punished by the headlong and brutal fury of the multitude. Patriots and legislators are, therefore, the most successfully employed when they are fighting the ignorant selfishness of the low against the vicious selfishness of the high ; when they are exchanging tax for privilege, and purchasing what is, in fact, the happiness of both, by converting the mean passions of each, to the purposes of a generous and enlightened prudence. But to do this, it is necessary that some body of men who can sympathise with the people should have a political existence, and that their assent should be necessary to make taxation legal. Of peaceful, regular, constitutional freedom, which is the only freedom, this is the best and the only practical safeguard.

You must now recall to your minds what I have already said of the French history.

That the great writers are too voluminous, and that you must therefore meditate the incidents that appear in the abridgments of Hénault and Millot, or the concise history of D'Anquetil; and when they seem likely to be of importance, consult, if you please, the great historians.

An instance of this kind occurs early in the period we are now considering. You will see in the abridgments that the States-general assemble; an important circumstance always. You will turn to Mably, and you will find that a very remarkable struggle, as he conceives, took place between the crown and the people ; and you might here therefore turn to Velly and the regular historians. The fact seems to be, that a

N

great crisis in the French constitution did really take place during the reigns of the earlier princes of the house of Valois, particularly of John, when the country was oppressed by the successful and unjust inroads of our Edward III. The states-general were called ; and the opportunity was taken by the third estate, and more particularly by Marcel, the Parisian, and his associates, to raise the public into importance, and to balance, or as the French historians represent it, to overpower the authority of the prince.

Here then is evidently a period that cannot be too deeply meditated. The historian Villaret, the successor of Velly, seems to have taken due pains with this part of his undertaking. Le Père Daniel appears unfortunately to have no just apprehension of its importance, and, indeed, not to be animated by any principles of legislation and government sufficiently favourable to the rights of the people. The political sentiments of Mezeray are more accurate; but he is too concise in his narrative, and too sparing of his observations. These are the great historians. But the Abbé de Mably is well aware how important to the liberties of France was the conduct of the states-general on this occasion; and he states, explains, and criticizes their views and their feelings apparently with great penetration and propriety.

The student will contrast these writers with each other, and form his own estimate of these memorable transactions.

The narrative in Velly or Villaret opens with a history of the states-general, to which there seems nothing to object. But the moment the historian arrives at the particular point we are considering, his inadequacy to the subject appears. He speaks of the third estate as having gradually learnt to discuss the rights and encroach on the limits of the royal authority; and their efforts to improve the constitution by managing the taxation, and by bargaining for the reformation of various abuses, he calls the first essay of a power usurped. He observes that many writers have seen a parallel between these transactions and those of the English at Runnymede; and he therefore very properly gives an estimate of all those proceedings in our own country.

When this estimate is considered, the parallel is, no doubt, most striking and complete: the requisitions of the states

« הקודםהמשך »