Volume 2, Chapter 09
Volume 2, Chapter 09
Among the members of our club who were not themselves authors, there were a few who were among the most distinguished ornaments of the English senate. The intercourse of these men was particularly delightful to me. Their manners were more urbane, attentive, flattering, and uniform, than those of the professional authors. They were gentlemen by birth and education; and, as they had not the same goad urging them along in the pursuit of praise as 1 those who embraced literature as a profession, their passions, at least as seen within these walls, were less restless, their views more enlarged, and their souls possessed of more calm and repose. -In this comparison, be it remembered, I speak only of the majority of the authors who were members of this dub. Among them I knew some illustrious exceptions; and I should think myself highly censurable in deciding, from those I saw, upon the merits of others whom I never knew.
The pleasure, however, I felt in the intercourse of such of our members as were senators, and the admiration with which I was impressed of their manners and temper, inspired me with the desire of becoming myself a representative in the English parliament. It will readily be perceived how ill my temper was suited to the office of courting suffrages and soliciting votes. In this one instance I conquered my temper. I promised myself that it should be but for once. I blamed myself for being so unbending to the manners of the world. I saw that the task I was undertaking, would afford me a copious opportunity of studying the humors and predilections of the middling and lower classes of the community: why should I quit the stage of human life without having obtained such an opportunity? I made myself popular, and I resolved to do so. I gave entertainments, and I delivered speeches. I laughed at the rude jokes of handicraftsmen, and cracked my jokes in return. I smoked my pipe, and toasted Church and King, and the wooden walls of old England. I saw that, in complying with the plain, coarse manners of my constituents, I ran no such risk as I had done in my former compliances with the manners of the Oxoniuns and the Parisians; and, instead of despising myself for what I did, I esteemed myself the more, in proportion as I found that I possessed one faculty which I had not before suspected, and as I was able thus stoically to adapt myself to a certain object, and pursue it to the end. I was elected by a considerable majority of votes; and those who had supported me with their suffrages, or who had vociferated and huzzahed in my behalf, were satisfied that they had gained a more important cause, than could have been secured by the deliverance of an oppressed / country, or the emancipation of one quarter of the world.
I entered with awe the walls of the British parliament. I recollected the illustrious men of past ages who had figured upon that scene. I recollected the glorious struggles of our ancestors which had there been made, and by means of which greater privileges and liberties bad been secured to the people of England, than any of the neighboring countries could boast. I looked round with complacence upon the accomplished characters who now filled some of the most conspicuous seats on those benches. I eagerly courted the acquaintance of these leaders. I was desirous to understand their views, and enter into their projects.
There is always something more interesting to a young and uncorrupted mind, in the cause of opposition, than in the cause of administration. The topics on which they have to expatiate are of a more animated and liberal cast: rhetoric ever finds a more congenial and less thorny field, in the office of attack, than in that of defense. Liberty is the theme of their declamation; and their bosoms beat with the thought that they are pleading the cause of the great mass of their countrymen, who are denied the advantage of being able to plead for themselves. Beside which, modern governments always must, or at least always do, have recourse to various modes of proceeding not exactly in accord with pure notions of integrity: a statesman in place cannot, but in a very limited sense of the word, be an honest man. 1therefore enlisted myself in the ranks of opposition.
But, in proportion as I became more familiarly acquainted with the maxims and views of opposition, I felt my satisfaction in them diminished. I saw that their aim was to thrust the ministers in possession out of office, that they might take their places. I became aware that they objected to many things, not because they were bad, but because their defects, real or apparent) afforded plausible topics of declamation. I perceived that the spirit of censuring the measures of government grew too much into a habit, and was directed too much by the intention of bringing the immediate conductors of public affairs into discredit and contempt. I acquitted the most considerable / of the leaders from the consciousness of pursuing so pitiful a plan. Men of generous minds will always dwell upon that view of the business in which they are engaged, which is most congenial to their natural tempers. But, beside every other disadvantage attending them in this situation, persons of merit, engaged in a party, must accommodate themselves to the views of the dullest and meanest of their adherents, -to their impatience, their perverseness, and their acrimony; they must employ a thousand arts to soothe their prejudices and keep them in temper; and as, in every party that ever existed, the fools greatly outnumber the men of understanding, so in matters of party it will infallibly happen that the honorable and the sage must, on a thousand occasions, be made the tools and dupes of the vilest of the herd. A parliamentary leader scarcely appeared to me the same man in a political consultation, that he had done in a literary club. In his club he was free, ingenuous, and gay; in his political character he was vigilant and uneasy, calculating with restless anxiety upon appearances and results, and still burning with ever-new disappointments.
I saw that the public character of England, as it exists in the best pages of our history, was gone. I perceived that we were grown a commercial and arithmetical nation; and that, as we extended the superficies of our empire, we lost its moral sinews and its strength." The added numbers which have been engrafted upon both houses of parliament have destroyed the health and independence of its legislature; the wealth of either India has been poured upon us, to smother that free spirit which can never be preserved but in a moderate fortune. Contractors, directors, and upstarts, -men fattened on the vitals of their fellow-citizens, - have taken the place which was once filled by the Wentworths, the Seldens, and tbe Pyms. By the mere project, -the most detestable and fatal that ever was devised, -of England borrowing of the individuals who constitute England, and accumulating what is called a national debt, she has mortgaged her sons to an interminable slavery.
I did not, however, immediately see things in this point of view. I regarded my entrance into the station of an English senator as a memorable epoch in my life. 1 said, I 'I have been too long a mere spectator of the scene of existence; it is owing to this, that I have felt such a constant corroding and dissatisfaction. I will now take an active part. In the measures which are adopted I will have a voice; I will contribute by my advice to their improvement or their overthrow; I will study the principles of legislation; I will detect bad laws, and procure their abrogation; I will bring forward such regulations as the present state of manners and policy demands; I will from time to time urge and unfold, in a greater or a smaller circle, as occasion may offer, such maxims as may insensibly tend to the correction and elevation of the character of my country.'
I know not whether it was owing to any radical vise in my disposition, but I did not long persist in these gallant resolutions. The difficulties were much greater than at a distance I had imagined. The contrast, which gradually obtruded upon me, between England as T found her in the volumes of her history, and England as she now was, and had insensibly become for more than a hundred years, damped the ardor of my enthusiasm.
Once or twice, indeed, I felt that animation which raised my soul to such a pitch, that I was conscious I had nothing left, for the moment, to desire. Some measures in which I had a part, were of immediate importance to the welfare of thousands. Some struggles in which I had joined were arduous; some victories, in which I was one among the conquerors, carried transport to my heart. I witnessed situations like that which Burke describes upon the repeal of the American Stamp Act, -'When at length, after the suitors most interested respecting the issue had waited with a trembling and anxious expectation, almost to a winter's return of light, the doors of the house were thrown open, and showed them the figure of their deliverer in the moment of his well-earned triumph; when they jun1ped upon him like children on a long absent father, and dung about him as captives about their redeemer.' But these occasions were of rare occurrence; we soon fell back into the shopkeeping and traffic-trained character I deplored; and even these triumphs themselves, so beautiful to the eye, it was often found that treachery, calculation, and cabal had contributed their polluted aid.
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