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Select Works of Edmund Burke. A New Imprint of the Payne Edition. Foreword and Biographical Note by Francis Canavan (Indianapolis: :Liberty Fund, 1999). Vol. 3.
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On the Overtures of Peace
My Dear Sir,
Our last conversation, though not in the tone of absolute despondency, was far from chearful. We could not easily account for some unpleasant appearances. They were represented to us as indicating the state of the popular mind; and they were not at all what we should have expected from our old ideas even of the faults and vices of the English character. The disastrous events, which have followed one upon another in a long unbroken funereal train, moving in a procession that seemed to have no end—these were not the principal causes of our dejection. We feared more from what threatened to fail within, than what menaced to oppress us from abroad. To a people who have once been proud and great, and great because they were proud, a change in the national spirit is the most terrible of all revolutions.
I shall not live to behold the unravelling of the intricate plot, which saddens and perplexes the awful drama of Providence, now acting on the moral theatre of the world. Whether for thought or for action, I am at the end of my career. You are in the middle of yours. In what part of it’s orbit the nation, with which we are carried along, moves at this instant, it is not easy to conjecture. It may, perhaps, be far advanced in its aphelion. But when to return?
Not to lose ourselves in the infinite void of the conjectural world, our business is with what is likely to be affected for the better or the worse by the wisdom or weakness of our plans. In all speculations upon men and human affairs, it is of no small moment to distinguish things of accident from permanent causes, and from effects that cannot be altered. It is not every irregularity in our movement that is a total deviation from our course. I am not quite of the mind of those speculators, who seem assured, that necessarily, and by the constitution of things, all States have the same periods of infancy, manhood, and decrepitude, that are found in the individuals who compose them. Parallels of this sort rather furnish similitudes to illustrate or to adorn, than supply analogies from whence to reason. The objects which are attempted to be forced into an analogy are not found in the same classes of existence. Individuals are physical beings, subject to laws universal and invariable. The immediate cause acting in these laws may be obscure: the general results are subjects of certain calculation. But commonwealths are not physical but moral essences. They are artificial combinations; and, in their proximate efficient cause, the arbitrary productions of the human mind. We are not yet acquainted with the laws which necessarily influence the stability of that kind of work made by that kind of agent. There is not in the physical order (with which they do not appear to hold any assignable connexion) a distinct cause by which any of those fabrics must necessarily grow, flourish, or decay; nor, in my opinion, does the moral world produce any thing more determinate on that subject, than what may serve as an amusement (liberal indeed, and ingenious, but still only an amusement) for speculative men. I doubt whether the history of mankind is yet complete enough, if ever it can be so, to furnish grounds for a sure theory on the internal causes which necessarily affect the fortune of a State. I am far from denying the operation of such causes: but they are infinitely uncertain, and much more obscure, and much more difficult to trace, than the foreign causes that tend to raise, to depress, and sometimes to overwhelm a community.
It is often impossible, in these political enquiries, to find any proportion between the apparent force of any moral causes we may assign, and their known operation. We are therefore obliged to deliver up that operation to mere chance; or, more piously (perhaps more rationally), to the occasional interposition and the irresistible hand of the Great Disposer. We have seen States of considerable duration, which for ages have remained nearly as they have begun, and could hardly be said to ebb or flow. Some appear to have spent their vigour at their commencement. Some have blazed out in their glory a little before their extinction. The meridian of some has been the most splendid. Others, and they the greatest number, have fluctuated, and experienced at different periods of their existence a great variety of fortune. At the very moment when some of them seemed plunged in unfathomable abysses of disgrace and disaster, they have suddenly emerged. They have begun a new course, and opened a new reckoning; and even in the depths of their calamity, and on the very ruins of their country, have laid the foundations of a towering and durable greatness. All this has happened without any apparent previous change in the general circumstances which had brought on their distress. The death of a man at a critical juncture, his disgust, his retreat, his disgrace, have brought innumerable calamities on a whole nation. A common soldier, a child, a girl at the door of an inn, have changed the face of fortune, and almost of Nature.
Such, and often influenced by such causes, has commonly been the fate of Monarchies of long duration. They have their ebbs and their flows. This has been eminently the fate of the Monarchy of France. There have been times in which no Power has ever been brought so low. Few have ever flourished in greater glory. By turns elevated and depressed, that Power had been, on the whole, rather on the encrease; and it continued not only powerful but formidable to the hour of the total ruin of the Monarchy. This fall of the Monarchy was far from being preceded by any exterior symptoms of decline. The interior were not visible to every eye; and a thousand accidents might have prevented the operation of what the most clear-sighted were not able to discern, nor the most provident to divine. A very little time before its dreadful catastrophe, there was a kind of exterior splendour in the situation of the Crown, which usually adds to Government strength and authority at home. The Crown seemed then to have obtained some of the most splendid objects of state ambition. None of the Continental Powers of Europe were the enemies of France. They were all either tacitly disposed to her or publickly connected with her; and in those who kept the most aloof, there was little appearance of jealousy; of animosity there was no appearance at all. The British Nation, her great preponderating rival, she had humbled; to all appearance she had weakened; certainly had endangered, by cutting off a very large, and by far the most growing part of her empire. In that it’s acmé of human prosperity and greatness, in the high and palmy state of the Monarchy of France, it fell to the ground without a struggle. It fell without any of those vices in the Monarch, which have sometimes been the causes of the fall of kingdoms, but which existed, without any visible effect on the state, in the highest degree in many other Princes; and, far from destroying their power, had only left some slight stains on their character. The financial difficulties were only pretexts and instruments of those who accomplished the ruin of that Monarchy. They were not the causes of it.
Deprived of the old Government, deprived in a manner of all Government, France, fallen as a Monarchy, to common speculators might have appeared more likely to be an object of pity or insult, according to the disposition of the circumjacent powers, than to be the scourge and terror of them all. But out of the tomb of the murdered Monarchy in France, has arisen a vast, tremendous, unformed spectre, in a far more terrific guise than any which ever yet have overpowered the imagination and subdued the fortitude of man. Going straight forward to its end, unappalled by peril, unchecked by remorse, despising all common maxims and all common means, that hideous phantom overpowered those who could not believe it was possible she could at all exist, except on the principles, which habit rather than nature had persuaded them were necessary to their own particular welfare and to their own ordinary modes of action. But the constitution of any political being, as well as that of any physical being, ought to be known, before one can venture to say what is fit for its conservation, or what is the proper means for its power. The poison of other States is the food of the new Republick. That bankruptcy, the very apprehension of which is one of the causes assigned for the fall of the Monarchy, was the capital on which she opened her traffick with the world.
The Republick of Regicide, with an annihilated revenue, with defaced manufactures, with a ruined commerce, with an uncultivated and half depopulated country, with a discontented, distressed, enslaved, and famished people, passing with a rapid, eccentrick, incalculable course from the wildest anarchy to the sternest despotism, has actually conquered the finest parts of Europe, has distressed, disunited, deranged, and broke to pieces all the rest; and so subdued the minds of the rulers in every nation, that hardly any resource presents itself to them, except that of entitling themselves to a contemptuous mercy by a display of their imbecility and meanness. Even in their greatest military efforts and the greatest display of their fortitude, they seem not to hope, they do not even appear to wish, the extinction of what subsists to their certain ruin. Their ambition is only to be admitted to a more favoured class in the order of servitude under that domineering power.
This seems the temper of the day. At first the French force was too much despised. Now it is too much dreaded. As inconsiderate courage has given way to irrational fear, so it may be hoped, that through the medium of deliberate sober apprehension, we may arrive at steady fortitude. Who knows whether indignation may not succeed to terror, and the revival of high sentiment, spurning away the delusion of a safety purchased at the expence of glory, may not yet drive us to that generous despair, which has often subdued distempers in the State for which no remedy could be found in the wisest counsels?
Other great States having been without any regular certain course of elevation or decline, we may hope that the British fortune may fluctuate also; because the public mind, which greatly influences that fortune, may have it’s changes. We are therefore never authorized to abandon our country to it’s fate, or to act or advise as if it had no resource. There is no reason to apprehend, because ordinary means threaten to fail, that no others can spring up. Whilst our heart is whole, it will find means, or make them. The heart of the citizen is a perennial spring of energy to the State. Because the pulse seems to intermit, we must not presume that it will cease instantly to beat. The publick must never be regarded as incurable. I remember in the beginning of what has lately been called the Seven Years’ War, that an eloquent writer and ingenious speculator, Dr. Brown, upon some reverses which happened in the beginning of that war, published an elaborate philosophical discourse to prove that the distinguishing features of the people of England had been totally changed, and that a frivolous effeminacy was become the national character. Nothing could be more popular than that work. It was thought a great consolation to us, the light people of this country, (who were and are light, but who were not and are not effeminate,) that we had found the causes of our misfortunes in our vices. Pythagoras could not be more pleased with his leading discovery. But whilst, in that splenetick mood, we amused ourselves in a sour critical speculation, of which we were ourselves the objects, and in which every man lost his particular sense of the publick disgrace in the epidemic nature of the distemper; whilst, as in the Alps, goitre kept goitre in countenance; whilst we were thus abandoning ourselves to a direct confession of our inferiority to France, and whilst many, very many, were ready to act upon a sense of that inferiority, a few months effected a total change in our variable minds. We emerged from the gulph of that speculative despondency, and were buoyed up to the highest point of practical vigour. Never did the masculine spirit of England display itself with more energy, nor ever did it’s genius soar with a prouder pre-eminence over France, than at the time when frivolity and effeminacy had been at least tacitly acknowledged as their national character, by the good people of this kingdom.
For one (if they be properly treated) I despair neither of the publick fortune nor of the publick mind. There is much to be done undoubtedly, and much to be retrieved. We must walk in new ways, or we can never encounter our enemy in his devious march. We are not at an end of our struggle, nor near it. Let us not deceive ourselves: we are at the beginning of great troubles. I readily acknowledge that the state of publick affairs is infinitely more unpromising than at the period I have just now alluded to; and the position of all the Powers of Europe, in relation to us, and in relation to each other, is more intricate and critical beyond all comparison. Difficult indeed is our situation. In all situations of difficulty men will be influenced in the part they take, not only by the reason of the case, but by the peculiar turn of their own character. The same ways to safety do not present themselves to all men, nor to the same men in different tempers. There is a courageous wisdom: there is also a false reptile prudence, the result not of caution but of fear. Under misfortunes it often happens that the nerves of the understanding are so relaxed, the pressing peril of the hour so completely confounds all the faculties, that no future danger can be properly provided for, can be justly estimated, can be so much as fully seen. The eye of the mind is dazzled and vanquished. An abject distrust of ourselves, an extravagant admiration of the enemy, present us with no hope but in a compromise with his pride, by a submission to his will. This short plan of policy is the only counsel which will obtain a hearing. We plunge into a dark gulph with all the rash precipitation of fear. The nature of courage is, without a question, to be conversant with danger; but in the palpable night of their terrors, men under consternation suppose, not that it is the danger, which, by a sure instinct, calls out the courage to resist it, but that it is the courage which produces the danger. They therefore seek for a refuge from their fears in the fears themselves, and consider a temporizing meanness as the only source of safety.
The rules and definitions of prudence can rarely be exact; never universal. I do not deny that in small truckling states a timely compromise with power has often been the means, and the only means, of drawling out their puny existence. But a great state is too much envied, too much dreaded, to find safety in humiliation. To be secure, it must be respected. Power, and eminence, and consideration, are things not to be begged. They must be commanded: and they who supplicate for mercy from others can never hope for justice thro’ themselves. What justice they are to obtain, as the alms of an enemy, depends upon his character; and that they ought well to know before they implicitly confide.
Much controversy there has been in Parliament, and not a little amongst us out of doors, about the instrumental means of this nation towards the maintenance of her dignity, and the assertion of her rights. On the most elaborate and correct detail of facts, the result seems to be that at no time has the wealth and power of Great Britain been so considerable as it is at this very perilous moment. We have a vast interest to preserve, and we possess great means of preserving it. But it is to be remembered that the artificer may be incumbered by his tools, and that resources may be among impediments. If wealth is the obedient and laborious slave of virtue and of publick honour, then wealth is in it’s place, and has it’s use. But if this order is changed, and honor is to be sacrificed to the conservation of riches, riches, which have neither eyes nor hands, nor any thing truly vital in them, cannot long survive the being of their vivifying powers, their legitimate masters, and their potent protectors. If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free. If our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed. We are bought by the enemy with the treasure from our own coffers. Too great a sense of the value of a subordinate interest may be the very source of it’s danger, as well as the certain ruin of interests of a superiour order. Often has a man lost his all because he would not submit to hazard all in defending it. A display of our wealth before robbers is not the way to restrain their boldness, or to lessen their rapacity. This display is made, I know, to persuade the people of England that thereby we shall awe the enemy, and improve the terms of our capitulation: it is made, not that we should fight with more animation, but that we should supplicate with better hopes. We are mistaken. We have an enemy to deal with who never regarded our contest as a measuring and weighing of purses. He is the Gaul that puts his sword into the scale. He is more tempted with our wealth as booty, than terrified with it as power. But let us be rich or poor, let us be either in what proportion we may, nature is false or this is true, that where the essential publick force (of which money is but a part) is in any degree upon a par in a conflict between nations, that state which is resolved to hazard it’s existence rather than to abandon it’s objects, must have an infinite advantage over that which is resolved to yield rather than to carry it’s resistance beyond a certain point. Humanly speaking, that people which bounds it’s efforts only with it’s being, must give the law to that nation which will not push its opposition beyond its convenience.
If we look to nothing but our domestick condition, the state of the nation is full even to plethory; but if we imagine that this country can long maintain it’s blood and it’s food, as disjoined from the community of mankind, such an opinion does not deserve refutation as absurd, but pity as insane.
I do not know that such an improvident and stupid selfishness deserves the discussion, which, perhaps, I may bestow upon it hereafter. We cannot arrange with our enemy in the present conjuncture, without abandoning the interest of mankind. If we look only to our own petty peculium in the war, we have had some advantages; advantages ambiguous in their nature, and dearly bought. We have not in the slightest degree impaired the strength of the common enemy in any one of those points in which his particular force consists: at the same time that new enemies to ourselves, new allies to the Regicide Republick, have been made out of the wrecks and fragments of the general confederacy. So far as to the selfish part. As composing a part of the community of Europe, and interested in it’s fate, it is not easy to conceive a state of things more doubtful and perplexing. When Louis the Fourteenth had made himself master of one of the largest and most important provinces of Spain; when he had in a manner over-run Lombardy, and was thundering at the gates of Turin; when he had mastered almost all Germany on this side the Rhine; when he was on the point of ruining the august fabrick of the Empire; when, with the Elector of Bavaria in his alliance, hardly any thing interposed between him and Vienna; when the Turk hung with a mighty force over the Empire on the other side; I do not know, that in the beginning of 1704 (that is in the third year of the renovated war with Louis the Fourteenth) the state of Europe was so truly alarming. To England it certainly was not. Holland (and Holland is a matter to England of value inestimable) was then powerful, was then independent, and though greatly endangered, was then full of energy and spirit. But the great resource of Europe was in England. Not in a sort of England detached from the rest of the world, and amusing herself with the puppet shew of a naval power (it can be no better, whilst all the sources of that power, and of every sort of power, are precarious), but in that sort of England, who considered herself as embodied with Europe; in that sort of England, who, sympathetick with the adversity or the happiness of mankind, felt that nothing in human affairs was foreign to her. We may consider it as a sure axiom that, as on the one hand, no confederacy of the least effect or duration can exist against France, of which England is not only a part, but the head, so neither can England pretend to cope with France but as connected with the body of Christendom.
Our account of the war, as a war of communion, to the very point in which we began to throw out lures, oglings, and glances for peace, was a war of disaster and of little else. The independant advantages obtained by us at the beginning of the war, and which were made at the expence of that common cause, if they deceive us about our largest and our surest interest, are to be reckoned amongst our heaviest losses.
The allies, and Great Britain amongst the rest (perhaps amongst the foremost), have been miserably deluded by this great fundamental error; that it was in our power to make peace with this monster of a State, whenever we chose to forget the crimes that made it great, and the designs that made it formidable. People imagined that their ceasing to resist was the sure way to be secure. This “ pale cast of thought sicklied over all their enterprizes and turned all their politicks awry.” They could not, or rather they would not read, in the most unequivocal declarations of the enemy, and in his uniform conduct, that more safety was to be found in the most arduous war, than in the friendship of that kind of being. It’s hostile amity can be obtained on no terms that do not imply an inability hereafter to resist it’s designs. This great prolific error (I mean that peace was always in our power) has been the cause that rendered the allies indifferent about the direction of the war; and persuaded them that they might always risque a choice, and even a change in it’s objects. They seldom improved any advantage; hoping that the enemy, affected by it, would make a proffer of peace. Hence it was that all their early victories have been followed almost immediately with the usual effects of a defeat; whilst all the advantages obtained by the Regicides, have been followed by the consequences that were natural. The discomfitures, which the Republick of Assassins has suffered, have uniformly called forth new exertions, which not only repaired old losses, but prepared new conquests. The losses of the allies, on the contrary, (no provision having been made on the speculation of such an event) have been followed by desertion, by dismay, by disunion, by a dereliction of their policy, by a flight from their principles, by an admiration of the enemy, by mutual accusations, by a distrust in every member of the alliance of it’s fellow, of it’s cause, it’s power, and it’s courage.
Great difficulties in consequence of our erroneous policy, as I have said, press upon every side of us. Far from desiring to conceal or even to palliate the evil in the representation, I wish to lay it down as my foundation, that never greater existed. In a moment when sudden panick is apprehended, it may be wise, for a while to conceal some great publick disaster, or to reveal it by degrees, until the minds of the people have time to be re-collected, that their understanding may have leisure to rally, and that more steady counsels may prevent their doing something desperate under the first impressions of rage or terror. But with regard to a general state of things, growing out of events and causes already known in the gross, there is no piety in the fraud that covers it’s true nature; because nothing but erroneous resolutions can be the result of false representations. Those measures which in common distress might be available, in greater, are no better than playing with the evil. That the effort may bear a proportion to the exigence, it is fit it should be known; known in it’s quality, in it’s extent, and in all the circumstances which attend it. Great reverses of fortune there have been, and great embarrassments in counsel: a principled Regicide enemy possessed of the most important part of Europe, and struggling for the rest: within ourselves, a total relaxation of all authority, whilst a cry is raised against it, as if it were the most ferocious of all despotism. A worse phaenomenon—our government disowned by the most efficient member of it’s tribunals; ill supported by any of their constituent parts; and the highest tribunal of all (from causes not for our present purpose to examine) deprived of all that dignity and all that efficiency which might enforce, or regulate, or if the case required it, might supply the want of every other court. Public prosecutions are become little better than schools for treason; of no use but to improve the dexterity of criminals in the mystery of evasion; or to shew with what compleat impunity men may conspire against the Commonwealth; with what safety assassins may attempt it’s awful head. Every thing is secure, except what the laws have made sacred; every thing is tameness and languor that is not fury and faction. Whilst the distempers of a relaxed fibre prognosticate and prepare all the morbid force of convulsion in the body of the State, the steadiness of the physician is overpowered by the very aspect of the disease.1 The doctor of the Constitution, pretending to under-rate what he is not able to contend with, shrinks from his own operation. He doubts and questions the salutary but critical terrors of the cautery and the knife. He takes a poor credit even from his defeat; and covers impotence under the mask of lenity. He praises the moderation of the laws, as, in his hands, he sees them baffled and despised. Is all this, because in our day the statutes of the kingdom are not engrossed in as firm a character, and imprinted in as black and legible a type as ever? No! the law is a clear, but it is a dead letter. Dead and putrid, it is insufficient to save the State, but potent to infect and to kill. Living law, full of reason, and of equity and justice, (as it is, or it should not exist) ought to be severe and awful too; or the words of menace, whether written on the parchment roll of England, or cut into the brazen tablet of Rome, will excite nothing but contempt. How comes it, that in all the State prosecutions of magnitude, from the Revolution to within these two or three years, the Crown has scarcely ever retired disgraced and defeated from it’s Courts? Whence this alarming change? By a connexion easily felt, and not impossible to be traced to it’s cause, all the parts of the State have their correspondence and consent. They who bow to the enemy abroad will not be of power to subdue the conspirator at home. It is impossible not to observe, that in proportion as we approximate to the poisonous jaws of anarchy, the fascination grows irresistible. In proportion as we are attracted towards the focus of illegality, irreligion, and desperate enterprize, all the venomous and blighting insects of the State are awakened into life. The promise of the year is blasted, and shrivelled, and burned up before them. Our most salutary and most beautiful institutions yield nothing but dust and smut: the harvest of our law is no more than stubble. It is in the nature of these eruptive diseases in the State to sink in by fits, and re-appear. But the fuel of the malady remains; and in my opinion is not in the smallest degree mitigated in it’s malignity, though it waits the favourable moment of a freer communication with the source of Regicide to exert and to encrease it’s force.
Is it that the people are changed, that the Commonwealth cannot be protected by its laws? I hardly think it. On the contrary, I conceive, that these things happen because men are not changed, but remain always what they always were; they remain what the bulk of us must ever be, when abandoned to our vulgar propensities, without guide, leader or controul. That is, made to be full of a blind elevation in prosperity; to despise untried dangers; to be overpowered with unexpected reverses; to find no clue in a labyrinth of difficulties; to get out of a present inconvenience, with any risque of future ruin; to follow and to bow to fortune; to admire successful though wicked enterprize, and to imitate what we admire; to contemn the government which announces danger from sacrilege and regicide, whilst they are only in their infancy and their struggle, but which finds nothing that can alarm in their adult state, and in the power and triumph of those destructive principles. In a mass we cannot be left to ourselves. We must have leaders. If none will undertake to lead us right, we shall find guides who will contrive to conduct us to shame and ruin.
We are in a war of a peculiar nature. It is not with an ordinary community, which is hostile or friendly as passion or as interest may veer about; not with a State which makes war through wantonness, and abandons it through lassitude. We are at war with a system, which, by it’s essence, is inimical to all other Governments, and which makes peace or war, as peace and war may best contribute to their subversion. It is with an armed doctrine that we are at war. It has, by it’s essence, a faction of opinion, and of interest, and of enthusiasm, in every country. To us it is a Colossus which bestrides our channel. It has one foot on a foreign shore, the other upon the British soil. Thus advantaged, if it can at all exist, it must finally prevail. Nothing can so compleatly ruin any of the old Governments, ours in particular, as the acknowledgment, directly or by implication, of any kind of superiority in this new power. This acknowledgment we make, if in a bad or doubtful situation of our affairs, we solicit peace; or if we yield to the modes of new humiliation, in which alone she is content to give us an hearing. By that means the terms cannot be of our choosing; no, not in any part.
It is laid in the unalterable constitution of things—none can aspire to act greatly, but those who are of force greatly to suffer. They who make their arrangements in the first run of misadventure, and in a temper of mind the common fruit of disappointment and dismay, put a seal on their calamities. To their power they take a security against any favours which they might hope from the usual inconstancy of fortune. I am therefore, my dear friend, invariably of your opinion (though full of respect for those who think differently) that neither the time chosen for it, nor the manner of soliciting a negotiation, were properly considered; even though I had allowed (I hardly shall allow) that with the horde of Regicides we could by any selection of time, or use of means, obtain any thing at all deserving the name of peace.
In one point we are lucky. The Regicide has received our advances with scorn. We have an enemy, to whose virtues we can owe nothing; but on this occasion we are infinitely obliged to one of his vices. We owe more to his insolence than to our own precaution. The haughtiness by which the proud repel us, has this of good in it; that in making us keep our distance, they must keep their distance too. In the present case, the pride of the Regicide may be our safety. He has given time for our reason to operate; and for British dignity to recover from it’s surprise. From first to last he has rejected all our advances. Far as we have gone, he has still left a way open to our retreat.
There is always an augury to be taken of what a peace is likely to be, from the preliminary steps that are made to bring it about. We may gather something from the time in which the first overtures are made; from the quarter whence they come; from the manner in which they are received. These discover the temper of the parties. If your enemy offers peace in the moment of success, it indicates that he is satisfied with something. It shews that there are limits to his ambition or his resentment. If he offers nothing under misfortune, it is probable, that it is more painful to him to abandon the prospect of advantage than to endure calamity. If he rejects solicitation, and will not give even a nod to the suppliants for peace, until a change in the fortune of the war threatens him with ruin, then I think it evident, that he wishes nothing more than to disarm his adversary to gain time. Afterwards a question arises, which of the parties is likely to obtain the greater advantages, by continuing disarmed and by the use of time.
With these few plain indications in our minds, it will not be improper to re-consider the conduct of the enemy together with our own, from the day that a question of peace has been in agitation. In considering this part of the question, I do not proceed on my own hypothesis. I suppose, for a moment, that this body of Regicide, calling itself a Republick, is a politick person, with whom something deserving the name of peace may be made. On that supposition, let us examine our own proceeding. Let us compute the profit it has brought, and the advantage that it is likely to bring hereafter. A peace too eagerly sought, is not always the sooner obtained. The discovery of vehement wishes generally frustrates their attainment; and your adversary has gained a great advantage over you when he finds you impatient to conclude a treaty. There is in reserve, not only something of dignity, but a great deal of prudence too. A sort of courage belongs to negotiation, as well as to operations of the field. A negotiator must often seem willing to hazard the whole issue of his treaty, if he wishes to secure any one material point.
The Regicides were the first to declare war. We are the first to sue for peace. In proportion to the humility and perseverance we have shewn in our addresses, has been the obstinacy of their arrogance in rejecting our suit. The patience of their pride seems to have been worn out with the importunity of our courtship. Disgusted as they are with a conduct so different from all the sentiments by which they are themselves filled, they think to put an end to our vexatious solicitation by redoubling their insults.
It happens frequently, that pride may reject a public advance, while interest listens to a secret suggestion of advantage. The opportunity has been afforded. At a very early period in the diplomacy of humiliation, a gentleman was sent on an errand,1 of which, from the motive of it, whatever the event might be, we can never be ashamed. Humanity cannot be degraded by humiliation. It is it’s very character to submit to such things. There is a consanguinity between benevolence and humility. They are virtues of the same stock. Dignity is of as good a race; but it belongs to the family of Fortitude. In the spirit of that benevolence, we sent a gentleman to beseech the Directory of Regicide, not to be quite so prodigal as their Republick had been of judicial murder. We solicited them to spare the lives of some unhappy persons of the first distinction, whose safety at other times could not have been an object of solicitation. They had quitted France on the faith of the declaration of the rights of citizens. They never had been in the service of the Regicides, nor at their hands had received any stipend. The very system and constitution of government that now prevails was settled subsequent to their emigration. They were under the protection of Great Britain, and in his Majesty’s pay and service. Not an hostile invasion, but the disasters of the sea, had thrown them upon a shore more barbarous and inhospitable than the inclement ocean under the most pitiless of it’s storms. Here was an opportunity to express a feeling for the miseries of war; and to open some sort of conversation, which (after our publick overtures had glutted their pride), at a cautious and jealous distance, might lead to something like an accommodation. What was the event? A strange uncouth thing, a theatrical figure of the opera, his head shaded with three-coloured plumes, his body fantastically habited, strutted from the back scenes, and after a short speech, in the mock-heroic falsetto of stupid tragedy, delivered the gentleman who came to make the representation into the custody of a guard, with directions not to lose sight of him for a moment; and then ordered him to be sent from Paris in two hours.
Here it is impossible that a sentiment of tenderness should not strike athwart the sternness of politicks, and make us recal to painful memory the difference between this insolent and bloody theatre, and the temperate, natural majesty of a civilized court, where the afflicted family of Asgill did not in vain solicit the mercy of the highest in rank, and the most compassionate of the compassionate sex.
In this intercourse, at least, there was nothing to promise a great deal of success in our future advances. Whilst the fortune of the field was wholly with the Regicides, nothing was thought of but to follow where it led; and it led to every thing. Not so much as a talk of treaty. Laws were laid down with arrogance. The most moderate politician in their clan1 was chosen as the organ, not so much for prescribing limits to their claims, as to mark what, for the present, they are content to leave to others. They made, not laws, not conventions, not late possession, but physical nature and political convenience, the sole foundation of their claims. The Rhine, the Mediterranean, and the ocean were the bounds which for the time they assigned to the Empire of Regicide. What was the Chamber of Union of Louis the Fourteenth, which astonished and provoked all Europe, compared to this declaration? In truth, with these limits, and their principle, they would not have left even the shadow of liberty or safety to any nation. This plan of empire was not taken up in the first intoxication of unexpected success. You must recollect, that it was projected, just as the report has stated it, from the very first revolt of the faction against their Monarchy; and it has been uniformly pursued, as a standing maxim of national policy, from that time to this. It is, generally, in the season of prosperity that men discover their real temper, principles, and designs. But this principle, suggested in their first struggles, fully avowed in their prosperity, has in the most adverse state of their affairs been tenaciously adhered to. The report, combined with their conduct, forms an infallible criterion of the views of this Republick.
In their fortune there has been some fluctuation. We are to see how their minds have been affected with a change. Some impression it made on them undoubtedly. It produced some oblique notice of the submissions that were made by suppliant nations. The utmost they did was to make some of those cold, formal, general professions of a love of peace which no Power has ever refused to make; because they mean little, and cost nothing. The first paper I have seen (the publication at Hamburgh) making a shew of that pacific disposition, discovered a rooted animosity against this nation, and an incurable rancour, even more than any one of their hostile acts. In this Hamburgh declaration, they choose to suppose, that the war, on the part of England, is a war of Government, begun and carried on against the sense and interests of the people; thus sowing in their very overtures towards peace the seeds of tumult and sedition: for they never have abandoned, and never will they abandon, in peace, in war, in treaty, in any situation, or for one instant, their old steady maxim of separating the people from their Government. Let me add—and it is with unfeigned anxiety for the character and credit of Ministers that I do add—if our Government perseveres, in it’s as uniform course, of acting under instruments with such preambles, it pleads guilty to the charges made by our enemies against it, both on its own part, and on the part of Parliament itself. The enemy must succeed in his plan for loosening and disconnecting all the internal holdings of the kingdom.
It was not enough that the Speech from the Throne, in the opening of the session in 1795, threw out oglings and glances of tenderness. Lest this coquetting should seem too cold and ambiguous, without waiting for it’s effect, the violent passion for a relation to the Regicides produced a direct Message from the Crown, and it’s consequences from the two Houses of Parliament. On the part of the Regicides these declarations could not be entirely passed by without notice: but in that notice they discovered still more clearly the bottom of their character. The offer made to them by the message to Parliament was hinted at in their answer; but in an obscure and oblique manner as before. They accompanied their notice of the indications manifested on our side, with every kind of insolent and taunting reflection. The Regicide Directory, on the day which, in their gipsey jargon, they call the 5th of Pluviose, in return for our advances, charge us with eluding our declarations under “evasive formalities and frivolous pretexts.” What these pretexts and evasions were, they do not say, and I have never heard. But they do not rest there. They proceed to charge us, and, as it should seem, our allies in the mass, with direct perfidy; they are so conciliatory in their language as to hint that this perfidious character is not new in our proceedings. However, notwithstanding this our habitual perfidy, they will offer peace “on conditions as moderate” —as what? As reason and as equity require? No! as moderate “as are suitable to their national dignity. ” National dignity in all treaties I do admit is an important consideration. They have given us an useful hint on that subject: but dignity, hitherto, has belonged to the mode of proceeding, not to the matter of a treaty. Never before has it been mentioned as the standard for rating the conditions of peace; no, never by the most violent of conquerors. Indemnification is capable of some estimate; dignity has no standard. It is impossible to guess what acquisitions pride and ambition may think fit for their dignity. But lest any doubt should remain on what they think for their dignity, the Regicides in the next paragraph tell us “that they will have no peace with their enemies, until they have reduced them to a state, which will put them under an impossibility of pursuing their wretched projects”; that is, in plain French or English, until they have accomplished our utter and irretrievable ruin. This is their pacific language. It flows from their unalterable principle in whatever language they speak, or whatever steps they take, whether of real war, or of pretended pacification. They have never, to do them justice, been at much trouble in concealing their intentions. We were as obstinately resolved to think them not in earnest; but I confess jests of this sort, whatever their urbanity may be, are not much to my taste.
To this conciliatory and amicable publick communication, our sole answer, in effect, is this. “Citizen Regicides! whenever you find yourselves in the humour, you may have a peace with us. That is a point you may always command. We are constantly in attendance, and nothing you can do shall hinder us from the renewal of our supplications. You may turn us out at the door; but we will jump in at the window.”
To those, who do not love to contemplate the fall of human greatness, I do not know a more mortifying spectacle, than to see the assembled majesty of the crowned heads of Europe waiting as patient suitors in the antechamber of Regicide. They wait, it seems, until the sanguinary tyrant Carnot shall have snorted away the fumes of the indigested blood of his Sovereign. Then, when, sunk on the down of usurped pomp, he shall have sufficiently indulged his meditations with what Monarch he shall next glut his ravening maw, he may condescend to signify that it is his pleasure to be awake; and that he is at leisure to receive the proposals of his high and mighty clients for the terms on which he may respite the execution of the sentence he has passed upon them. At the opening of those doors, what a sight it must be to behold the plenipotentiaries of royal impotence, in the precedency which they will intrigue to obtain, and which will be granted to them according to the seniority of their degradation, sneaking into the Regicide presence, and with the reliques of the smile which they had dressed up for the levée of their masters still flickering on their curled lips, presenting the faded remains of their courtly graces, to meet the scornful, ferocious, sardonic grin of a bloody ruffian, who, whilst he is receiving their homage, is measuring them with his eye, and fitting to their size the slider of his Guillotine! These ambassadors may easily return as good courtiers as they went; but can they ever return from that degrading residence, loyal and faithful subjects; or with any true affection to their master, or true attachment to the constitution, religion, or laws of their country? There is great danger that they who enter smiling into this Trophonian Cave, will come out of it sad and serious conspirators; and such will continue as long as they live. They will become true conductors of contagion to every country which has had the misfortune to send them to the source of that electricity. At best they will become totally indifferent to good and evil, to one institution or another. This species of indifference is but too generally distinguishable in those who have been much employed in foreign Courts; but in the present case the evil must be aggravated without measure; for they go from their country, not with the pride of the old character, but in a state of the lowest degradation; and what must happen in their place of residence can have no effect in raising them to the level of true dignity, or of chaste self-estimation, either as men, or as representatives of crowned heads.
Our early proceeding, which has produced these returns of affront, appeared to me totally new, without being adapted to the new circumstances of affairs. I have called to my mind the speeches and messages in former times. I find nothing like these. You will look in the journals to find whether my memory fails me. Before this time, never was a ground of peace laid, (as it were, in a parliamentary record,) until it had been as good as concluded. This was a wise homage paid to the discretion of the Crown. It was known how much a negotiation must suffer by having any thing in the train towards it prematurely disclosed. But when those parliamentary declarations were made, not so much as a step had been taken towards a negotiation in any mode whatever. The measure was an unpleasant and unseasonable discovery.
I conceive that another circumstance in that transaction has been as little authorised by any example; and that it is as little prudent in itself; I mean the formal recognition of the French Republic. Without entering, for the present, into a question on the good faith manifested in that measure, or on it’s general policy, I doubt, upon mere temporary considerations of prudence, whether it was perfectly adviseable. It is not within the rules of dexterous conduct to make an acknowledgment of a contested title in your enemy, before you are morally certain that your recognition will secure his friendship. Otherwise it is a measure worse than thrown away. It adds infinitely to the strength, and consequently to the demands of the adverse party. He has gained a fundamental point without an equivalent. It has happened as might have been foreseen. No notice whatever was taken of this recognition. In fact, the Directory never gave themselves any concern about it; and they received our acknowledgment with perfect scorn. With them, it is not for the States of Europe to judge of their title. But in their eye the title of every other power depends wholly on their pleasure.
Preliminary declarations of this sort, thrown out at random, and sown, as it were, broad-cast, were never to be found in the mode of our proceeding with France and Spain, whilst the great Monarchies of France and Spain existed. I do not say, that a diplomatick measure ought to be, like a parliamentary or a judicial proceeding, according to strict precedent. I hope I am far from that pedantry. But this I know, that a great state ought to have some regard to it’s antient maxims; especially where they indicate it’s dignity; where they concur with the rules of prudence; and above all, where the circumstances of the time require that a spirit of innovation should be resisted, which leads to the humiliation of sovereign powers. It would be ridiculous to assert, that those powers have suffered nothing in their estimation. I admit that the greater interests of state will for a moment supersede all other considerations: but if there was a rule that a sovereign never should let down his dignity without a sure payment to his interest, the dignity of Kings would be held high enough. At present, however, fashion governs in more serious things than furniture and dress. It looks as if sovereigns abroad were emulous in bidding against their estimation. It seems as if the pre-eminence of Regicide was acknowledged; and that Kings tacitly ranked themselves below their sacrilegious murderers, as natural magistrates and judges over them. It appears as if dignity were the prerogative of crime; and a temporising humiliation the proper part for venerable authority. If the vilest of mankind are resolved to be the most wicked, they lose all the baseness of their origin, and take their place above Kings. This example in sovereign Princes, I trust, will not spread. It is the concern of mankind, that the destruction of order should not be a claim to rank: that crimes should not be the only title to preeminence and honour.
At this second stage of humiliation, (I mean the insulting declaration in consequence of the message to both Houses of Parliament) it might not have been amiss to pause; and not to squander away the fund of our submissions, until we know what final purposes of public interest they might answer. The policy of subjecting ourselves to further insults is not to me quite apparent. It was resolved however, to hazard a third trial. Citizen Barthelemi had been established on the part of the new Republick, at Basle; where, with his proconsulate of Switzerland and the adjacent parts of Germany, he was appointed as a sort of factor to deal in the degradation of the crowned heads of Europe. At Basle it was thought proper, in order to keep others, I suppose, in countenance, that Great Britain should appear at this market, and bid with the rest, for the mercy of the People-King.
On the 6th of March, 1796, Mr. Wickham, in consequence of authority, was desired to sound France on her disposition towards a general pacification; to know whether she would consent to send Ministers to a Congress at such a place as might be hereafter agreed upon; to know whether they would communicate the general grounds of a pacification such as France (the diplomatick name of the Regicide power) would be willing to propose, as a foundation for a negociation for peace with his Majesty and his allies: but he had no authority to enter into any negociation or discussion with citizen Barthelemi upon these subjects.
On the part of Great Britain this measure was a voluntary act, wholly uncalled for on the part of Regicide. Suits of this sort are at least strong indications of a desire for accommodation. Any other body of men but the Directory would be somewhat soothed with such advances. They could not however begin their answer, which was given without much delay, and communicated on the 28th of the same month, without a preamble of insult and reproach. “They doubt the sincerity of the pacific intentions of this Court.” She did not begin, say they, yet to “know her real interests” — “she did not seek peace with good faith. ” This, or something to this effect, has been the constant preliminary observation, (now grown into a sort of office-form) on all our overtures to this power: a perpetual charge on the British Government of fraud, evasion, and habitual perfidy.
It might be asked, from whence did these opinions of our insincerity and ill faith arise? It was because the British Ministry (leaving to the Directory, however, to propose a better mode) proposed a Congress for the purpose of a general pacification; and this they said “would render negociation endless.” From hence they immediately inferred a fraudulent intention in the offer. Unquestionably their mode of giving the law would bring matters to a more speedy conclusion. As to any other method more agreeable to them than a Congress, an alternative expressly proposed to them, they did not condescend to signify their pleasure.
This refusal of treating conjointly with the powers allied against this Republick, furnishes matter for a great deal of serious reflexion. They have hitherto constantly declined any other than a treaty with a single power. By thus dissociating every State from every other, like deer separated from the herd, each power is treated with on the merit of his being a deserter from the common cause. In that light the Regicide power finding each of them insulated and unprotected, with great facility gives the law to them all. By this system, for the present, an incurable distrust is sown amongst confederates; and in future, all alliance is rendered impracticable. It is thus they have treated with Prussia, with Spain, with Sardinia, with Bavaria, with the Ecclesiastical State, with Saxony; and here we see them refuse to treat with Great Britain in any other mode. They must be worse than blind who do not see with what undeviating regularity of system, in this case and in all cases, they pursue their scheme for the utter destruction of every independent power; especially the smaller, who cannot find any refuge whatever but in some common cause.
Renewing their taunts and reflections, they tell Mr. Wickham, “that their policy has no guides but openness and good faith, and that their conduct shall be conformable to these principles.” They say concerning their Government, that “yielding to the ardent desire by which it is animated to procure peace for the French Republick, and for all nations, it will not fear to declare itself openly. Charged by the Constitution with the execution of the laws, it cannot make or listen to any proposal that would be contrary to them. The constitutional act does not permit it to consent to any alienation of that which, according to the existing laws, constitutes the territory of the Republick.”
“With respect to the countries occupied by the French armies and which have not been united to France, they, as well as other interests political and commercial, may become the subject of a negociation, which will present to the Directory the means of proving how much it desires to attain speedily to a happy pacification. That the Directory is ready to receive in this respect any overtures that shall be just, reasonable, and compatible with the dignity of the Republick. ” On the head of what is not to be the subject of negotiation, the Directory is clear and open. As to what may be a matter of treaty, all this open dealing is gone. She retires into her shell. There she expects overtures from you; and that you are to guess what she shall judge just, reasonable, and above all, compatible with her dignity.
In the records of pride there does not exist so insulting a declaration. It is insolent in words, in manner, but in substance it is not only insulting but alarming. It is a specimen of what may be expected from the masters we are preparing for our humbled country. Their openness and candour consist in a direct avowal of their despotism and ambition. We know that their declared resolution had been to surrender no object belonging to France previous to the war. They had resolved, that the Republick was entire, and must remain so. As to what she has conquered from the allies and united to the same indivisible body, it is of the same nature. That is, the allies are to give up whatever conquests they have made or may make upon France, but all which she has violently ravished from her neighbours and thought fit to appropriate, are not to become so much as objects of negociation.
In this unity and indivisibility of possession are sunk ten immense and wealthy provinces, full of strong, flourishing and opulent cities, the Austrian Netherlands, the part of Europe the most necessary to preserve any communication between this kingdom and its natural allies, next to Holland the most interesting to this country, and without which Holland must virtually belong to France. Savoy and Nice, the keys of Italy, and the citadel in her hands to bridle Switzerland, are in that consolidation. The important territory of Liège is torn out of the heart of the Empire. All these are integrant parts of the Republick, not to be subject to any discussion, or to be purchased by any equivalent. Why? Because there is a law which prevents it. What law? The law of nations? The acknowledged public law of Europe? Treaties and conventions of parties? No! not a pretence of the kind. It is a declaration not made in consequence of any prescription on her side, not on any cession or dereliction, actual or tacit, of other powers. It is a declaration pendente lite in the middle of a war, one principal object of which was originally the defence, and has since been the recovery, of these very countries.
This strange law is not made for a trivial object, not for a single port, or for a single fortress; but for a great kingdom; for the religion, the morals, the laws, the liberties, the lives and fortunes of millions of human creatures, who without their consent, or that of their lawful government, are, by an arbitrary act of this regicide and homicide Government, which they call a law, incorporated into their tyranny.
In other words, their will is the law, not only at home, but as to the concerns of every nation. Who has made that law but the Regicide Republick itself, whose laws, like those of the Medes and Persians, they cannot alter or abrogate, or even so much as take into consideration? Without the least ceremony or compliment, they have sent out of the world whole sets of laws and lawgivers. They have swept away the very constitutions under which the Legislatures acted, and the Laws were made. Even the fundamental sacred Rights of Man they have not scrupled to profane. They have set this holy code at naught with ignominy and scorn. Thus they treat all their domestic laws and constitutions, and even what they had considered as a Law of Nature; but whatever they have put their seal on for the purposes of their ambition, and the ruin of their neighbours, this alone is invulnerable, impassible, immortal. Assuming to be masters of every thing human and divine, here, and here alone, it seems they are limited, “ cooped and cabined in”; and this omnipotent legislature finds itself wholly without the power of exercising it’s favourite attribute, the love of peace. In other words, they are powerful to usurp, impotent to restore; and equally by their power and their impotence they aggrandize themselves, and weaken and impoverish you and all other nations.
Nothing can be more proper or more manly than the state publication called a note on this proceeding, dated Downing-street, the 10th of April, 1796. Only that it is better expressed, it perfectly agrees with the opinion I have taken the liberty of submitting to your consideration.1 I place it below at full length as my justification in thinking that this astonishing paper is not only a direct negative to all treaty, but is a rejection of every principle upon which treaties could be made. To admit it for a moment were to erect this power, usurped at home, into a Legislature to govern mankind. It is an authority that on a thousand occasions they have asserted in claim, and whenever they are able, exerted in practice. The dereliction of this whole scheme of policy became, therefore, an indispensable previous condition to all renewal of treaty. The remark of the British Cabinet on this arrogant and tyrannical claim is natural and unavoidable. Our Ministry state, “ That while these dispositions shall be persisted in, nothing is left for the King but to prosecute a war that is just and necessary. ”
It was of course, that we should wait until the enemy shewed some sort of disposition on their part to fulfil this condition. It was hoped indeed that our suppliant strains might be suffered to steal into the august ear in a more propitious season. That season, however, invoked by so many vows, conjurations, and prayers, did not come. Every declaration of hostility renovated, and every act pursued with double animosity—the over-running of Lombardy—the subjugation of Piedmont—the possession of its impregnable fortresses—the seizing on all the neutral states of Italy—our expulsion from Leghorn— instances for ever renewed for our expulsion from Genoa—Spain rendered subject to them and hostile to us—Portugal bent under the yoke— half the Empire over-run and ravaged, were the only signs which this mild Republick thought proper to manifest of their pacific sentiments. Every demonstration of an implacable rancour and an untameable pride were the only encouragements we received to the renewal of our supplications. Here, therefore, they and we were fixed. Nothing was left to the British Ministry but “to prosecute a war just and necessary” —a war equally just as at the time of our engaging in it—a war become ten times more necessary by every thing which happened afterwards. This resolution was soon, however, forgot. It felt the heat of the season and melted away. New hopes were entertained from supplication. No expectations, indeed, were then formed from renewing a direct application to the French Regicides through the Agent General for the humiliation of Sovereigns. At length a step was taken in degradation which even went lower than all the rest. Deficient in merits of our own, a Mediator was to be sought—and we looked for that Mediator at Berlin! The King of Prussia’s merits in abandoning the general cause might have obtained for him some sort of influence in favour of those whom he had deserted—but I have never heard that his Prussian Majesty had lately discovered so marked an affection for the Court of St. James’s, or for the Court of Vienna, as to excite much hope of his interposing a very powerful mediation to deliver them from the distresses into which he had brought them.
If humiliation is the element in which we live, if it is become, not only our occasional policy, but our habit, no great objection can be made to the modes in which it may be diversified; though, I confess, I cannot be charmed with the idea of our exposing our lazar sores at the door of every proud servitor of the French Republick, where the court-dogs will not deign to lick them. We had, if I am not mistaken, a minister at that court, who might try it’s temper, and recede and advance as he found backwardness or encouragement. But to send a gentleman there on no other errand than this, and with no assurance whatever that he should not find, what he did find, a repulse, seems to me to go far beyond all the demands of a humiliation merely politick. I hope it did not arise from a predilection for that mode of conduct.
The cup of bitterness was not, however, drained to the dregs. Basle and Berlin were not sufficient. After so many and so diversified repulses, we were resolved to make another trial, and to try another Mediator, among the unhappy gentlemen in whose persons Royalty is insulted and degraded at the seat of plebeian pride and upstart insolence. There is a minister from Denmark at Paris. Without any previous encouragement to that, any more than the other steps, we sent through this turnpike to demand a passport for a person who on our part was to solicit peace in the metropolis, at the footstool of Regicide itself. It was not to be expected that any one of those degraded beings could have influence enough to settle any part of the terms in favour of the candidates for further degradation; besides, such intervention would be a direct breach in their system, which did not permit one sovereign power to utter a word in the concerns of his equal.—Another repulse. We were desired to apply directly in our persons.—We submitted and made the application.
It might be thought that here, at length, we had touched the bottom of humiliation; our lead was brought up covered with mud. But “in the lowest deep, a lower deep” was to open for us still more profound abysses of disgrace and shame. However, in we leaped. We came forward in our own name. The passport, such a passport and safe-conduct as would be granted to thieves who might come in to betray their accomplices, and no better, was granted to British supplication. To leave no doubt of it’s spirit, as soon as the rumour of this act of condescension could get abroad, it was formally announced, with an explanation from authority, containing an invective against the Ministry of Great Britain, their habitual frauds, their proverbial Punick perfidy. No such State Paper, as a preliminary to a negociation for peace, has ever yet appeared. Very few declarations of war have ever shewn so much and so unqualified animosity. I place it below1 as a diplomatick curiosity: and in order to be better understood, in the few remarks I have to make upon a piece which indeed defies all description; “None but itself can be it’s parallel.”
I pass by all the insolence and contumely of the performance as it comes from them. The question is not now how we are to be affected with it in regard to our dignity. That is gone. I shall say no more about it. Light lie the earth on the ashes of English pride. I shall only observe upon it politically, and as furnishing a direction for our own conduct in this low business.
The very idea of a negociation for peace, whatever the inward sentiments of the parties may be, implies some confidence in their faith, some degree of belief in the professions which are made concerning it. A temporary and occasional credit, at least, is granted. Otherwise men stumble on the very threshold. I therefore wish to ask what hope we can have of their good faith, who, as the very basis of the negociation, assume the ill faith and treachery of those they have to deal with? The terms, as against us, must be such as imply a full security against a treacherous conduct—that is, what this Directory stated in it’s first declaration, to place us “in an utter impossibility of executing our wretched projects.” This is the omen, and the sole omen, under which we have consented to open our treaty.
The second observation I have to make upon it, (much connected undoubtedly with the first,) is, that they have informed you of the result they propose from the kind of peace they mean to grant you; that is to say, the union they propose among nations with the view of rivalling our trade and destroying our naval power: and this they suppose (and with good reason too) must be the inevitable effect of their peace. It forms one of their principal grounds for suspecting our Ministers could not be in good earnest in their proposition. They make no scruple beforehand to tell you the whole of what they intend; and this is what we call, in the modern style, the acceptance of a proposition for peace! In old language it would be called a most haughty, offensive, and insolent rejection of all treaty.
Thirdly, they tell you what they conceive to be the perfidious policy which dictates your delusive offer; that is, the design of cheating not only them, but the people of England, against whose interest and inclination this war is supposed to be carried on.
If we proceed in this business, under this preliminary declaration, it seems to me that we admit, (now for the third time) by something a great deal stronger than words, the truth of the charges of every kind which they make upon the British Ministry, and the grounds of those foul imputations. The language used by us, which in other circumstances would not be exceptionable, in this case tends very strongly to confirm and realize the suspicion of our enemy. I mean the declaration, that if we do not obtain such terms of peace as suits our opinion of what our interests require, then, and in that case, we shall continue the war with vigour. This offer, so reasoned, plainly implies, that without it, our leaders themselves entertain great doubts of the opinion and good affections of the British people; otherwise there does not appear any cause, why we should proceed under the scandalous construction of our enemy, upon the former offer made by Mr. Wickham, and on the new offer made directly at Paris. It is not, therefore, from a sense of dignity, but from the danger of radicating that false sentiment in the breasts of the enemy, that I think, under the auspices of this declaration, we cannot, with the least hope of a good event, or, indeed, with any regard to the common safety, proceed in the train of this negociation. I wish Ministry would seriously consider the importance of their seeming to confirm the enemy in an opinion, that his frequent appeals to the people against their Government have not been without their effect. If it puts an end to this war, it will render another impracticable.
Whoever goes to the directorial presence under this passport, with this offensive comment, and foul explanation, goes in the avowed sense of the Court to which he is sent; as the instrument of a Government dissociated from the interests and wishes of the Nation, for the purpose of cheating both the people of France and the people of England. He goes out the declared emissary of a faithless Ministry. He has perfidy for his credentials. He has national weakness for his full powers. I yet doubt whether any one can be found to invest himself with that character. If there should, it would be pleasant to read his instructions on the answer which he is to give to the Directory, in case they should repeat to him the substance of the Manifesto which he carries with him in his portfolio.
So much for thefirst Manifesto of the Regicide Court which went along with the passport. Lest this declaration should seem the effect of haste, or a mere sudden effusion of pride and insolence, on full deliberation about a week after comes out a second. In this manifesto, which is dated the fifth of October, one day before the speech from the Throne, on the vigil of the festive day of cordial unanimity so happily celebrated by all parties in the British Parliament, the Regicides, our worthy friends, (I call them by advance and by courtesy what by law I shall be obliged to call them hereafter) our worthy friends, I say, renew and enforce the former declaration concerning our faith and sincerity, which they pinned to our passport. On three other points which run through all their declarations, they are more explicit than ever.
First, they more directly undertake to be the real representatives of the people of this kingdom: and on a supposition in which they agree with our parliamentary reformers, that the House of Commons is not that Representative, the function being vacant, they, as our true constitutional organ, inform his Majesty and the world of the sense of the nation. They tell us that “the English people see with regret his Majesty’s Government squandering away the funds which had been granted to him.” This astonishing assumption of the publick voice of England is but a slight foretaste of the usurpation which, on a peace, we may be assured they will make of all the powers in all the parts of our vassal constitution. “If it be thus in the green leaf, what will it be in the dry?”
Next they tell us, as a condition to our treaty, that “this Government must abjure the unjust hatred it bears to them, and at last open it’s ears to the voice of humanity.” Truly this is even from them an extraordinary demand. Hitherto, it seems, we have put wax into our ears, to shut them up against the tender, soothing strains, in the affettuoso of humanity, warbled from the throats of Reubel, Carnot, Tallien, and the whole chorus of Confiscators, Domiciliary Visitors, Committee-men of Research, Jurors and Presidents of Revolutionary Tribunals, Regicides, Assassins, Massacrers, and Septembrizers. It is not difficult to discern what sort of humanity our Government is to learn from these syren singers. Our Government also, (I admit, with some reason,) as a step towards the proposed fraternity, is required to abjure the unjust hatred which it bears to this body of honour and virtue. I thank God I am neither a Minister nor a leader of Opposition. I protest I cannot do what they desire, if I were under the guillotine, or as they ingeniously and pleasantly express it, “looking out of the little national window.” Even at that opening I could receive none of their light. I am fortified against all such affections by the declaration of the Government, which I must yet consider as lawful, made on the 29th of October 1793,1 and still ringing in my ears. This declaration was transmitted not only to all our commanders by sea and land, but to our Ministers in every Court of Europe. It is the most eloquent and highly finished in the style, the most judicious in the choice of topicks, the most orderly in the arrangement, and the most rich in the colouring, without employing the smallest degree of exaggeration, of any state paper that has ever yet appeared. An ancient writer, Plutarch, I think it is, quotes some verses on the eloquence of Pericles, who is called “the only orator that left stings in the minds of his hearers.” Like his, the eloquence of the declaration, not contradicting, but enforcing sentiments of the truest humanity, has left stings that have penetrated more than skin-deep into my mind; and never can they be extracted by all the surgery of murder; never can the throbbings they have created, be assuaged by all the emollient cataplasms of robbery and confiscation.
The third point which they have more clearly expressed than ever, is of equal importance with the rest; and with them furnishes a complete view of the Regicide system. For they demand as a condition without which our ambassador of obedience cannot be received with any hope of success, that he shall be “provided with full powers to negociate a peace between the French Republick and Great Britain, and to conclude it definitivelybetween the two powers.” With their spear they draw a circle about us. They will hear nothing of a joint treaty. We must make a peace separately from our allies. We must, as the very first and preliminary step, be guilty of that perfidy towards our friends and associates, with which they reproach us in our transactions with them our enemies. We are called upon scandalously to betray the fundamental securities to ourselves and to all nations. In my opinion, (it is perhaps but a poor one) if we are meanly bold enough to send an ambassador, such as this official note of the enemy requires, we cannot even dispatch our emissary without danger of being charged with a breach of our alliance. Government now understand the full meaning of the passport.
Strange revolutions have happened in the ways of thinking and in the feelings of men. But it requires a very extraordinary coalition of parties indeed, and a kind of unheard-of unanimity in public Councils, which can impose this new-discovered system of negociation, as sound national policy, on the understanding of a spectator of this wonderful scene, who judges on the principles of any thing he ever before saw, read, or heard of, and above all, on the understanding of a person who has had in his eye the transactions of the last seven years.
I know it is supposed, that if good terms of capitulation are not granted, after we have thus so repeatedly hung out the white flag, the national spirit will revive with tenfold ardour. This is an experiment cautiously to be made. Reculer pour mieux sauter, according to the French by-word, cannot be trusted to as a general rule of conduct. To diet a man into weakness and languor, afterwards to give him the greater strength, has more of the empirick than the rational physician. It is true that some persons have been kicked into courage; and this is no bad hint to give to those who are too forward and liberal in bestowing insults and outrages on their passive companions. But such a course does not at first view appear a well-chosen discipline to form men to a nice sense of honour, or a quick resentment of injuries. A long habit of humiliation does not seem a very good preparative to manly and vigorous sentiment. It may not leave, perhaps, enough of energy in the mind fairly to discern what are good terms or what are not. Men low and dispirited may regard those terms as not at all amiss, which in another state of mind they would think intolerable: if they grew peevish in this state of mind, they may be roused, not against the enemy whom they have been taught to fear, but against the Ministry,1 who are more within their reach, and who have refused conditions that are not unseasonable, from power that they have been taught to consider as irresistible.
If all that for some months I have heard have the least foundation, (I hope it has not,) the Ministers are, perhaps, not quite so much to be blamed, as their condition is to be lamented. I have been given to understand, that these proceedings are not in their origin properly theirs. It is said that there is a secret in the House of Commons. It is said that Ministers act not according to the votes, but according to the dispositions, of the majority. I hear that the minority has long since spoken the general sense of the nation; and that to prevent those who compose it from having the open and avowed lead in that house, or perhaps in both Houses, it was necessary to pre-occupy their ground, and to take their propositions out of their mouths, even with the hazard of being afterwards reproached with a compliance which it was foreseen would be fruitless.
If the general disposition of the people be, as I hear it is, for an immediate peace with Regicide, without so much as considering our publick and solemn engagements to the party in France whose cause we had espoused, or the engagements expressed in our general alliances, not only without an enquiry into the terms, but with a certain knowledge that none but the worst terms will be offered, it is all over with us. It is strange, but it may be true, that as the danger from Jacobinism is increased in my eyes and in yours, the fear of it is lessened in the eyes of many people who formerly regarded it with horror. It seems, they act under the impression of terrors of another sort, which have frightened them out of their first apprehensions. But let their fears, or their hopes, or their desires, be what they will, they should recollect, that they who would make peace without a previous knowledge of the terms, make a surrender. They are conquered. They do not treat; they receive the law. Is this the disposition of the people of England? Then the people of England are contented to seek in the kindness of a foreign systematick enemy combined with a dangerous faction at home, a security which they cannot find in their own patriotism and their own courage. They are willing to trust to the sympathy of Regicides the guarantee of the British Monarchy. They are content to rest their religion on the piety of atheists by establishment. They are satisfied to seek in the clemency of practised murderers the security of their lives. They are pleased to confide their property to the safeguard of those who are robbers by inclination, interest, habit, and system. If this be our deliberate mind, truly we deserve to lose, what it is impossible we should long retain, the name of a nation.
In matters of State, a constitutional competence to act is in many cases the smallest part of the question. Without disputing (God forbid I should dispute) the sole competence of the King and the Parliament, each in it’s province, to decide on war and peace, I venture to say, no war can be long carried on against the will of the people. This war, in particular, cannot be carried on unless they are enthusiastically in favour of it. Acquiescence will not do. There must be zeal. Universal zeal in such a cause, and at such a time as this is, cannot be looked for; neither is it necessary. A zeal in the larger part carries the force of the whole. Without this, no Government, certainly not our Government, is capable of a great war. None of the ancient regular Governments have wherewithal to fight abroad with a foreign foe, and at home to overcome repining, reluctance, and chicane. It must be some portentous thing, like Regicide France, that can exhibit such a prodigy. Yet even she, the mother of monsters, more prolifick than the country of old called ferax monstrorum, shews symptoms of being almost effete already; and she will be so, unless the fallow of a peace comes to recruit her fertility. But whatever may be represented concerning the meanness of the popular spirit, I, for one, do not think so desperately of the British nation. Our minds, as I said, are light; but they are not depraved. We are dreadfully open to delusion and to dejection; but we are capable of being animated and undeceived.
It cannot be concealed—we are a divided people. But in divisions, where a part is to be taken, we are to make a muster of our strength. I have often endeavoured to compute and to class those who, in any political view, are to be called the people. Without doing something of this sort we must proceed absurdly. We should not be much wiser, if we pretended to very great accuracy in our estimate. But I think, in the calculation I have made, the error cannot be very material. In England and Scotland, I compute that those of adult age, not declining in life, of tolerable leisure for such discussions, and of some means of information, more or less, and who are above menial dependence, (or what virtually is such) may amount to about four hundred thousand. There is such a thing as a natural representative of the people. This body is that representative; and on this body, more than on the legal constituent, the artificial representative depends. This is the British publick; and it is a publick very numerous. The rest, when feeble, are the objects of protection; when strong, the means of force. They who affect to consider that part of us in any other light, insult while they cajole us; they do not want us for counsellors in deliberation, but to list us as soldiers for battle.
Of these four hundred thousand political citizens, I look upon one fifth, or about eighty thousand, to be pure Jacobins; utterly incapable of amendment; objects of eternal vigilance; and when they break out, of legal constraint. On these, no reason, no argument, no example, no venerable authority, can have the slightest influence. They desire a change; and they will have it if they can. If they cannot have it by English cabal, they will make no sort of scruple of having it by the cabal of France, into which already they are virtually incorporated. It is only their assured and confident expectation of the advantages of French fraternity and the approaching blessings of Regicide intercourse, that skins over their mischievous dispositions with a momentary quiet.
This minority is great and formidable. I do not know whether if I aimed at the total overthrow of a kingdom I should wish to be encumbered with a larger body of partizans. They are more easily disciplined and directed than if the number were greater. These, by their spirit of intrigue, and by their restless agitating activity, are of a force far superior to their numbers; and if times grew the least critical, have the means of debauching or intimidating many of those who are now sound, as well as of adding to their force large bodies of the more passive part of the nation. This minority is numerous enough to make a mighty cry for peace, or for war, or for any object they are led vehemently to desire. By passing from place to place with a velocity incredible, and diversifying their character and description, they are capable of mimicking the general voice. We must not always judge of the generality of the opinion by the noise of the acclamation.
The majority, the other four fifths, is perfectly sound; and of the best possible disposition to religion, to government, to the true and undivided interest of their country. Such men are naturally disposed to peace. They who are in possession of all they wish are languid and improvident. With this fault, (and I admit it’s existence in all it’s extent) they would not endure to hear of a peace that led to the ruin of every thing for which peace is dear to them. However, the desire of peace is essentially the weak side of that kind of men. All men that are ruined, are ruined on the side of their natural propensities. There they are unguarded. Above all, good men do not suspect that their destruction is attempted through their virtues. This their enemies are perfectly aware of: and accordingly, they, the most turbulent of mankind, who never made a scruple to shake the tranquillity of their country to its center, raise a continual cry for peace with France. Peace with Regicide, and war with the rest of the world, is their motto. From the beginning, and even whilst the French gave the blows, and we hardly opposed the vis inertiae to their efforts—from that day to this hour, like importunate Guinea-fowls crying one note day and night, they have called for peace.
In this they are, as I confess in all things they are, perfectly consistent. They who wish to unite themselves to your enemies, naturally desire, that you should disarm yourself by a peace with these enemies. But it passes my conception, how they, who wish well to their country on its antient system of laws and manners, come not to be doubly alarmed, when they find nothing but a clamor for peace, in the mouths of the men on earth the least disposed to it in their natural or in their habitual character.
I have a good opinion of the general abilities of the Jacobins: not that I suppose them better born than others; but strong passions awaken the faculties. They suffer not a particle of the man to be lost. The spirit of enterprise gives to this description the full use of all their native energies. If I have reason to conceive that my enemy, who, as such, must have an interest in my destruction, is also a person of discernment and sagacity, then I must be quite sure that, in a contest, the object he violently pursues is the very thing by which my ruin is likely to be the most perfectly accomplished. Why do the Jacobins cry for peace? Because they know, that this point gained, the rest will follow of course. On our part, why are all the rules of prudence, as sure as the laws of material nature, to be at this time reversed? How comes it, that now for the first time, men think it right to be governed by the counsels of their enemies? Ought they not rather to tremble, when they are persuaded to travel on the same road, and to tend to the same place of rest?
The minority I speak of is not susceptible of an impression from the topics of argument to be used to the larger part of the community. I therefore do not address to them any part of what I have to say. The more forcibly I drive my arguments against their system, so as to make an impression where I wish to make it, the more strongly I rivet them in their sentiments. As for us, who compose the far larger, and what I call the far better part of the people, let me say, that we have not been quite fairly dealt with when called to this deliberation. The Jacobin minority have been abundantly supplied with stores and provisions of all kinds towards their warfare. No sort of argumentative materials, suited to their purposes, have been withheld. False they are, unsound, sophistical; but they are regular in their direction. They all bear one way; and they all go to the support of the substantial merits of their cause. The others have not had the question so much as fairly stated to them.
There has not been, in this century, any foreign peace or war, in it’s origin the fruit of popular desire, except the war that was made with Spain in 1739. Sir Robert Walpole was forced into the war by the people, who were inflamed to this measure by the most leading politicians, by the first orators, and the greatest poets of the time. For that war, Pope sung his dying notes. For that war, Johnson, in more energetic strains, employed the voice of his early genius. For that war, Glover distinguished himself in the way in which his muse was the most natural and happy. The crowd readily followed the politicians in the cry for a war which threatened little bloodshed, and which promised victories that were attended with something more solid than glory. A war with Spain was a war of plunder. In the present conflict with Regicide, Mr. Pitt has not hitherto had, nor will perhaps for a few days have, many prizes to hold out in the lottery of war, to tempt the lower part of our character. He can only maintain it by an appeal to the higher; and to those, in whom that higher part is the most predominant, he must look the most for his support. Whilst he holds out no inducements to the wise, nor bribes to the avaricious, he may be forced by a vulgar cry into a peace ten times more ruinous than the most disastrous war. The weaker he is in the fund of motives which apply to our avarice, to our laziness, and to our lassitude, if he means to carry the war to any end at all, the stronger he ought to be in his addresses to our magnanimity and to our reason.
In stating that Walpole was driven by a popular clamour into a measure not to be justified, I do not mean wholly to excuse his conduct. My time of observation did not exactly coincide with that event; but I read much of the controversies then carried on. Several years after the contests of parties had ceased, the people were amused, and in a degree warmed with them. The events of that aera seemed then of magnitude, which the revolutions of our time have reduced to parochial importance; and the debates, which then shook the nation, now appear of no higher moment than a discussion in a vestry. When I was very young, a general fashion told me I was to admire some of the writings against that Minister; a little more maturity taught me as much to despise them. I observed one fault in his general proceeding. He never manfully put forward the entire strength of his cause. He temporized; he managed; and, adopting very nearly the sentiments of his adversaries, he opposed their inferences. This, for a political commander, is the choice of a weak post. His adversaries had the better of the argument, as he handled it; not as the reason and justice of his cause enabled him to manage it. I say this, after having seen, and with some care examined, the original documents concerning certain important transactions of those times. They perfectly satisfied me of the extreme injustice of that war, and of the falsehood of the colours, which to his own ruin, and guided by a mistaken policy, he suffered to be daubed over that measure. Some years after, it was my fortune to converse with many of the principal actors against that Minister, and with those who principally excited that clamour. None of them, no not one, did in the least defend the measure, or attempt to justify their conduct. They condemned it as freely as they would have done in commenting upon any proceeding in history, in which they were totally unconcerned. Thus it will be. They who stir up the people to improper desires, whether of peace or war, will be condemned by themselves. They who weakly yield to them will be condemned by history.
In my opinion, the present Ministry are as far from doing full justice to their cause in this war, as Walpole was from doing justice to the peace which at that time he was willing to preserve. They throw the light on one side only of their case; though it is impossible they should not observe, that the other side which is kept in the shade has it’s importance too. They must know that France is formidable not only as she is France, but as she is Jacobin France. They knew from the beginning that the Jacobin party was not confined to that country. They knew, they felt, the strong disposition of the same faction in both countries to communicate and to co-operate. For some time past, these two points have been kept, and even industriously kept, out of sight. France is considered as merely a foreign Power; and the seditious English only as a domestic faction. The merits of the war with the former have been argued solely on political grounds. To prevent the mischievous doctrines of the latter from corrupting our minds, matter and argument have been supplied abundantly, and even to surfeit, on the excellency of our own government. But nothing has been done to make us feel in what manner the safety of that Government is connected with the principle and with the issue of this war. For any thing which in the late discussion has appeared, the war is entirely collateral to the state of Jacobinism; as truly a foreign war to us and to all our home concerns, as the war with Spain in 1739, about Guarda-Costas, the Madrid Convention, and the fable of Captain Jenkins’s ears.
Whenever the adverse party has raised a cry for peace with the Regicide, the answer has been little more than this, “that the Administration wished for such a peace, full as much as the Opposition; but that the time was not convenient for making it.” Whatever else has been said was much in the same spirit. Reasons of this kind never touched the substantial merits of the war. They were in the nature of dilatory pleas, exceptions of form, previous questions. Accordingly all the arguments against a compliance with what was represented as the popular desire, (urged on with all possible vehemence and earnestness by the Jacobins) have appeared flat and languid, feeble and evasive. They appeared to aim only at gaining time. They never entered into the peculiar and distinctive character of the war. They spoke neither to the understanding nor to the heart. Cold as ice themselves, they never could kindle in our breasts a spark of that zeal, which is necessary to a conflict with an adverse zeal; much less were they made to infuse into our minds that stubborn persevering spirit, which alone is capable of bearing up against those vicissitudes of fortune which will probably occur, and those burthens which must be inevitably borne in a long war. I speak it emphatically, and with a desire that it should be marked, in a long war; because, without such a war, no experience has yet told us, that a dangerous power has ever been reduced to measure or to reason. I do not throw back my view to the Peloponnesian war of twenty-seven years; nor to two of the Punic wars, the first of twenty-four, the second of eighteen; nor to the more recent war concluded by the treaty of Westphalia, which continued, I think, for thirty. I go to what is but just fallen behind living memory, and immediately touches our own country. Let the portion of our history from the year 1689 to 1713 be brought before us. We shall find, that in all that period of twenty-four years, there were hardly five that could be called a season of peace; and the interval between the two wars was in reality, nothing more than a very active preparation for renovated hostility. During that period, every one of the propositions of peace came from the enemy: the first, when they were accepted, at the peace of Ryswick; the second, when they were rejected, at the congress at Gertruydenburgh; the last, when the war ended by the treaty of Utrecht. Even then, a very great part of the nation, and that which contained by far the most intelligent statesmen, was against the conclusion of the war. I do not enter into the merits of that question as between the parties. I only state the existence of that opinion as a fact, from whence you may draw such an inference as you think properly arises from it.
It is for us at present to recollect what we have been; and to consider what, if we please, we may be still. At the period of those wars, our principal strength was found in the resolution of the people; and that in the resolution of a part only of the then whole, which bore no proportion to our existing magnitude. England and Scotland were not united at the beginning of that mighty struggle. When, in the course of the contest they were conjoined, it was in a raw, an ill-cemented, an unproductive union. For the whole duration of the war, and long after, the names, and other outward and visible signs of approximation, rather augmented than diminished our insular feuds. They were rather the causes of new discontents and new troubles, than promoters of cordiality and affection. The now single and potent Great Britain was then not only two countries, but, from the party heats in both, and the divisions formed in each of them, each of the old kingdoms within itself in effect was made up of two hostile nations. Ireland, now so large a source of the common opulence and power, which wisely managed might be made much more beneficial and much more effective, was then the heaviest of the burthens. An army not much less than forty thousand men was drawn from the general effort, to keep that kingdom in a poor, unfruitful, and resourceless subjection.
Such was the state of the empire. The state of our finances was worse, if possible. Every branch of the revenue became less productive after the Revolution. Silver, not as now a sort of counter, but the body of the current coin, was reduced so low as not to have above three parts in four of the value in the shilling. It required a dead expence of three millions sterling to renew the coinage. Publick credit, that great but ambiguous principle, which has so often been predicted as the cause of our certain ruin, but which for a century has been the constant companion, and often the means, of our prosperity and greatness, had it’s origin, and was cradled, I may say, in bankruptcy and beggary. At this day we have seen parties contending to be admitted, at a moderate premium, to advance eighteen millions to the Exchequer. For infinitely smaller loans, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day, Montagu, the father of publick credit, counter-securing the State by the appearance of the city, with the Lord-Mayor of London at his side, was obliged, like an agent at an election, to go cap in hand from shop to shop, to borrow an hundred pound and even smaller sums. When made up in driblets as they could, their best securities were at an interest of 12 per cent. Even the paper of the Bank (now at par with cash, and even sometimes preferred to it) was often at a discount of twenty per cent. By this the state of the rest may be judged.
As to our commerce, the imports and exports of the nation, now six and forty million, did not then amount to ten. The inland trade, which is commonly passed by in this sort of estimates, but which, in part growing out of the foreign and connected with it, is more advantageous, and more substantially nutritive to the State, is not only grown in a proportion of near five to one as the foreign, but has been augmented, at least, in a tenfold proportion. When I came to England, I remember but one river navigation, the rate of carriage on which was limited by an Act of Parliament. It was made in the reign of William the Third; I mean that of the Aire and Calder. The rate was settled at thirteen pence. So high a price demonstrated the feebleness of these beginnings of our inland intercourse. In my time, one of the longest and sharpest contests I remember in your House, and which rather resembled a violent contention amongst national parties than a local dispute, was, as well as I can recollect, to hold the price up to threepence. Even this, which a very scanty justice to the proprietors required, was done with infinite difficulty. As to private credit, there were not, as I best remember, twelve Banker’s shops at that time out of London. In this their number, when I first saw the country, I cannot be quite exact; but certainly those machines of domestick credit were then very few indeed. They are now in almost every market town: and this circumstance (whether the thing be carried to an excess or not) demonstrates the astonishing encrease of private confidence, of general circulation, and of internal commerce; an encrease out of all proportion to the growth of the foreign trade. Our naval strength in the time of King William’s war was nearly matched by that of France; and though conjoined with Holland, then a maritime Power hardly inferior to our own, even with that force we were not always victorious. Though finally superior, the allied fleets experienced many unpleasant reverses on their own element. In two years three thousand vessels were taken from the English trade. On the continent we lost almost every battle we fought.
In 1697, it is not quite an hundred years ago, in that state of things, amidst the general debasement of the coin, the fall of the ordinary revenue, the failure of all the extraordinary supplies, the ruin of commerce and the almost total extinction of an infant credit, the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, whom we have just seen begging from door to door, came forward to move a resolution, full of vigour, in which, far from being discouraged by the generally adverse fortune, and the long continuance of the war, the Commons agreed to address the Crown in the following manly, spirited, and truly animating style.
This is the EIGHTH year in which your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects the Commons in Parliament assembled, have assisted your Majesty with large supplies for carrying on a just and necessary war, in defence of our religion, and preservation of our laws, and vindication of the rights and liberties of the people of England.
Afterwards they proceed in this manner:
To shew to your Majesty and all Christendom, that the Commons of England will not be amused or diverted from their firm resolutions of obtaining by War, a safe and honourable peace, we do, in the name of those we represent, renew our assurances to support your Majesty and your Government against all your enemies at home and abroad; and that we will effectually assist you in carrying on the war against France.
The amusement and diversion they speak of, was the suggestion of a treaty proposed by the enemy, and announced from the Throne. Thus the people of England felt in the eighth, not in the fourth year of the war. No sighing or panting after negociation; no motions from the Opposition to force the Ministry into a peace; no messages from Ministers to palsy and deaden the resolution of Parliament or the spirit of the nation. They did not so much as advise the King to listen to the propositions of the enemy, nor to seek for peace but through the mediation of a vigorous war. This address was moved in an hot, a divided, a factious, and in a great part, disaffected House of Commons, and it was carried nemine contradicente.
While that first war (which was ill smothered by the treaty of Ryswick) slept in the thin ashes of a seeming peace, a new conflagration was in it’s immediate causes. A fresh and a far greater war was in preparation. A year had hardly elapsed when arrangements were made for renewing the contest with tenfold fury. The steps which were taken, at that time, to compose, to reconcile, to unite, and to discipline all Europe against the growth of France, certainly furnish to a statesman the finest and most interesting part in the history of that great period. It formed the master-piece of King William’s policy, dexterity, and perseverance. Full of the idea of preserving, not only a local civil liberty, united with order, to our country, but to embody it in the political liberty, the order, and the independence of nations united under a natural head, the King called upon his Parliament to put itself into a posture to preserve to England the weight and influence it at present had on the counsels and affairsabroad. “It will be requisite Europe should see you will not be wanting to yourselves.”
Baffled as that Monarch was, and almost heart-broken at the disappointment he met with in the mode he first proposed for that great end, he held on his course. He was faithful to his object; and in councils, as in arms, over and over again repulsed, over and over again he returned to the charge. All the mortifications he had suffered from the last Parliament, and the greater he had to apprehend from that newly chosen, were not capable of relaxing the vigour of his mind. He was in Holland when he combined the vast plan of his foreign negociations. When he came to open his design to his Ministers in England, even the sober firmness of Somers, the undaunted resolution of Shrewsbury, and the adventurous spirit of Montagu and Orford, were staggered. They were not yet mounted to the elevation of the King. The Cabinet met on the subject at Tunbridge Wells the 28th of August, 1698; and there, Lord Somers holding the pen, after expressing doubts on the state of the continent, which they ultimately refer to the King, as best informed, they give him a most discouraging portrait of the spirit of this nation.
“So far as relates to England,” say these Ministers,
it would be want of duty not to give your Majesty this clear account, that there is a deadness and want of spirit in the nation universally, so as not to be at all disposed to entering into a new war. That they seem to be tired out with taxes to a degree beyond what was discerned, till it appeared upon occasion of the late elections. This is the truth of the fact upon which your Majesty will determine what resolution ought to be taken.
His Majesty did determine; and did take and pursue his resolution. In all the tottering imbecility of a new Government, and with Parliament totally unmanageable, he persevered. He persevered to expel the fears of his people, by his fortitude; to steady their fickleness, by his constancy; to expand their narrow prudence, by his enlarged wisdom; to sink their factious temper in his public spirit. In spite of his people, he resolved to make them great and glorious; to make England, inclined to shrink into her narrow self, the Arbitress of Europe, the tutelary Angel of the human race. In spite of the Ministers, who staggered under the weight that his mind imposed upon theirs, unsupported as they felt themselves by the popular spirit, he infused into them his own soul; he renewed in them their ancient heart; he rallied them in the same cause.
It required some time to accomplish this work. The people were first gained; and through them their distracted representatives. Under the influence of King William, Holland had resisted the allurements of every seduction, and the terrors of every menace. With Hannibal at her gates, she had nobly and magnanimously refused all separate treaty, or any thing which might for a moment appear to divide her affection or her interest, or even to distinguish her in identity from England. Having settled the great point of the consolidation (which he hoped would be eternal) of the countries, made for a common interest and common sentiment, the King, in his message to both Houses, calls their attention to the affairs of the States General. The House of Lords was perfectly sound, and entirely impressed with the wisdom and dignity of the King’s proceedings. In answer to the message, (which you will observe was narrowed to a single point, the danger of the States General) after the usual professions of zeal for his service, the Lords opened themselves at large. They go far beyond the demands of the message. They express themselves as follows:
We take this occasion further to assure your Majesty, that we are sensible of the great and imminent danger to which the States General are exposed. And we perfectly agree with them in believing that their safety and ours are so inseparably united, that whatsoever is ruin to the one must be fatal to the other.
We humbly desire your Majesty will be pleased, not only to make good all the articles of any former treaties to the States General, but that you will enter into a strict league, offensive and defensive, with them, for their common preservation: and that you will invite into it all Princes and States who are concerned in the present visible danger, arising from the union of France and Spain.
And we further desire your Majesty, that you will be pleased to enter into such alliances with the Emperor, as your Majesty shall think fit, pursuant to the ends of the treaty of 1689; towards all which we assure your Majesty of our hearty and sincere assistance; not doubting, but whenever your Majesty shall be obliged to be engaged for the defence of your allies, and securing the liberty and quiet of Europe, Almighty God will protect your sacred person in so righteous a cause. And that the unanimity, wealth, and courage of your subjects will carry your Majesty with honour and success through all the difficulties of ajust war.
The House of Commons was more reserved; the late popular disposition was still in a great degree prevalent in the representative, after it had been made to change in the constituent body. The principle of the Grand Alliance was not directly recognized in the resolution of the Commons, nor the war announced, though they were well aware the alliance was formed for the war. However, compelled by the returning sense of the people, they went so far as to fix the three great immoveable pillars of the safety and greatness of England, as they were then, as they are now, and as they must ever be to the end of time. They asserted in general terms the necessity of supporting Holland; of keeping united with our allies; and maintaining the liberty of Europe; though they restricted their vote to the succours stipulated by actual treaty. But now they were fairly embarked; they were obliged to go with the course of the vessel; and the whole nation, split before into an hundred adverse factions, with a King at it’s head evidently declining to his tomb, the whole nation, Lords, Commons, and People, proceeded as one body, informed by one soul. Under the British union, the union of Europe was consolidated; and it long held together with a degree of cohesion, firmness, and fidelity not known before or since in any political combination of that extent.
Just as the last hand was given to this immense and complicated machine, the master workman died. But the work was formed on true mechanical principles; and it was as truly wrought. It went by the impulse it had received from the first mover. The man was dead: but the grand alliance survived, in which King William lived and reigned. That heartless and dispirited people, whom Lord Somers had represented, about two years before, as dead in energy and operation, continued that war to which it was supposed they were unequal in mind, and in means, for near thirteen years.
For what have I entered into all this detail? To what purpose have I recalled your view to the end of the last century? It has been done to shew that the British Nation was then a great people—to point out how and by what means they came to be exalted above the vulgar level, and to take that lead which they assumed among mankind. To qualify us for that pre-eminence, we had then an high mind, and a constancy unconquerable; we were then inspired with no flashy passions; but such as were durable as well as warm; such as corresponded to the great interests we had at stake. This force of character was inspired, as all such spirit must ever be, from above. Government gave the impulse. As well may we fancy that of itself the sea will swell, and that without winds the billows will insult the adverse shore, as that the gross mass of the people will be moved, and elevated, and continue by a steady and permanent direction to bear upon one point, without the influence of superior authority, or superior mind.
This impulse ought, in my opinion, to have been given in this war; and it ought to have been continued to it at every instant. It is made, if ever war was made, to touch all the great springs of action in the human breast. It ought not to have been a war of apology. The Minister had, in this conflict, wherewithal to glory in success; to be consoled in adversity; to hold high his principle in all fortunes. If it were not given him to support the falling edifice, he ought to bury himself under the ruins of the civilized world. All the art of Greece, and all the pride and power of eastern Monarchs, never heaped upon their ashes so grand a monument.
There were days when his great mind was up to the crisis of the world he is called to act in.1 His manly eloquence was equal to the elevated wisdom of such sentiments. But the little have triumphed over the great; an unnatural, (as it should seem) not an unusual victory. I am sure you cannot forget with how much uneasiness we heard in conversation the language of more than one gentleman at the opening of this contest, “that he was willing to try the war for a year or two, and if it did not succeed, then to vote for peace.” As if war was a matter of experiment! As if you could take it up or lay it down as an idle frolick! As if the dire goddess that presides over it, with her murderous spear in her hand, and her gorgon at her breast, was a coquette to be flirted with! We ought with reverence to approach that tremendous divinity, that loves courage, but commands counsel. War never leaves, where it found a nation. It is never to be entered into without a mature deliberation; not a deliberation lengthened out into a perplexing indecision, but a deliberation leading to a sure and fixed judgment. When so taken up, it is not to be abandoned without reason as valid, as fully and as extensively considered. Peace may be made as unadvisedly as war. Nothing is so rash as fear; and the counsels of pusillanimity very rarely put off, whilst they are always sure to aggravate, the evils from which they would fly.
In that great war carried on against Louis the Fourteenth, for near eighteen years, Government spared no pains to satisfy the nation that, though they were to be animated by a desire of glory, glory was not their ultimate object; but that every thing dear to them, in religion, in law, in liberty—every thing which as freemen, as Englishmen, and as citizens of the great commonwealth of Christendom, they had at heart, was then at stake. This was to know the true art of gaining the affections and confidence of an high-minded people; this was to understand human nature. A danger to avert a danger; a present inconvenience and suffering to prevent a foreseen future, and a worse calamity; these are the motives that belong to an animal, who, in his constitution, is at once adventurous and provident; circumspect and daring; whom his Creator has made, as the Poet says, “of large discourse, looking before and after.” But never can a vehement and sustained spirit of fortitude be kindled in a people by a war of calculation. It has nothing that can keep the mind erect under the gusts of adversity. Even where men are willing, as sometimes they are, to barter their blood for lucre, to hazard their safety for the gratification of their avarice, the passion which animates them to that sort of conflict, like all the short-sighted passions, must see it’s objects distinct and near at hand. The passions of the lower order are hungry and impatient. Speculative plunder; contingent spoil; future, long adjourned, uncertain booty; pillage which must enrich a late posterity, and which possibly may not reach to posterity at all; these, for any length of time, will never support a mercenary war. The people are in the right. The calculation of profit in all such wars is false. On balancing the account of such wars, ten thousand hogsheads of sugar are purchased at ten thousand times their price. The blood of man should never be shed but to redeem the blood of man. It is well shed for our family, for our friends, for our God, for our country, for our kind. The rest is vanity; the rest is crime.
In the war of the Grand Alliance, most of these considerations voluntarily and naturally had their part. Some were pressed into the service. The political interest easily went in the track of the natural sentiment. In the reverse course the carriage does not follow freely. I am sure the natural feeling, as I have just said, is a far more predominant ingredient in this war, than in that of any other that ever was waged by this kingdom.
If the war made to prevent the union of two crowns upon one head was a just war, this, which is made to prevent the tearing all crowns from all heads which ought to wear them, and with the crowns to smite off the sacred heads themselves, this is a just war.
If a war to prevent Louis the Fourteenth from imposing his religion was just, a war to prevent the murderers of Louis the Sixteenth from imposing their irreligion upon us is just; a war to prevent the operation of a system, which makes life without dignity, and death without hope, is a just war.
If to preserve political independence and civil freedom to nations, was a just ground of war; a war to preserve national independence, property, liberty, life, and honour, from certain universal havock, is a war just, necessary, manly, pious; and we are bound to persevere in it by every principle, divine and human, as long as the system which menaces them all, and all equally, has an existence in the world.
You, who have looked at this matter with as fair and impartial an eye as can be united with a feeling heart, you will not think it an hardy assertion, when I affirm, that it were far better to be conquered by any other nation, than to have this faction for a neighbour. Before I felt myself authorised to say this, I considered the state of all the countries in Europe for these last three hundred years, which have been obliged to submit to a foreign law. In most of those I found the condition of the annexed countries even better, certainly not worse, than the lot of those which were the patrimony of the conquerour. They wanted some blessings; but they were free from many very great evils. They were rich and tranquil. Such was Artois, Flanders, Lorrain, Alsatia, under the old Government of France. Such was Silesia under the King of Prussia. They who are to live in the vicinity of this new fabrick, are to prepare to live in perpetual conspiracies and seditions; and to end at last in being conquered, if not to her dominion, to her resemblance. But when we talk of conquest by other nations, it is only to put a case. This is the only power in Europe by which it is possible we should be conquered. To live under the continual dread of such immeasurable evils is itself a grievous calamity. To live without the dread of them is to turn the danger into the disaster. The influence of such a France is equal to a war; it’s example, more wasting than an hostile irruption. The hostility with any other power is separable and accidental; this power, by the very condition of it’s existence, by it’s very essential constitution, is in a state of hostility with us, and with all civilized people.1
A Government of the nature of that set up at our very door, has never been hitherto seen, or even imagined, in Europe. What our relation to it will be cannot be judged by other relations. It is a serious thing to have a connexion with a people, who live only under positive, arbitrary, and changeable institutions; and those not perfected nor supplied, nor explained, by any common acknowledged rule of moral science. I remember that in one of my last conversations with the late Lord Camden, we were struck much in the same manner with the abolition in France of the law, as a science of methodized and artificial equity. France, since her Revolution, is under the sway of a sect, whose leaders have deliberately, at one stroke, demolished the whole body of that jurisprudence which France had pretty nearly in common with other civilized countries. In that jurisprudence were contained the elements and principles of the law of nations, the great ligament of mankind. With the law they have of course destroyed all seminaries in which jurisprudence was taught, as well as all the corporations established for it’s conservation. I have not heard of any country, whether in Europe or Asia, or even in Africa on this side of Mount Atlas, which is wholly without some such colleges and such corporations, except France. No man, in a publick or private concern, can divine by what rule or principle her judgments are to be directed; nor is there to be found a professor in any University, or a practitioner in any Court, who will hazard an opinion of what is or is not law in France, in any case whatever. They have not only annulled all their old treaties, but they have renounced the law of nations from whence treaties have their force. With a fixed design, they have outlawed themselves, and, to their power, outlawed all other nations.
Instead of the religion and the law by which they were in a great politick communion with the Christian world, they have constructed their Republick on three bases, all fundamentally opposite to those on which the communities of Europe are built. It’s foundation is laid in Regicide; in Jacobinism; and in Atheism; and it has joined to those principles, a body of systematick manners which secures their operation.
If I am asked how I would be understood in the use of these terms, Regicide, Jacobinism, Atheism, and a system of correspondent manners and their establishment, I will tell you.
I call a commonwealth Regicide, which lays it down as a fixed law of nature, and a fundamental right of man, that all government, not being a democracy, is an usurpation;1  that all Kings, as such, are usurpers, and for being Kings, may and ought to be put to death, with their wives, families, and adherents. The commonwealth which acts uniformly upon those principles; and which after abolishing every festival of religion, chooses the most flagrant act of a murderous Regicide treason for a feast of eternal commemoration, and which forces all her people to observe it—this I call Regicide by establishment.
Jacobinism is the revolt of the enterprising talents of a country against it’s property. When private men form themselves into associations for the purpose of destroying the pre-existing laws and institutions of their country; when they secure to themselves an army by dividing amongst the people of no property, the estates of the ancient and lawful proprietors; when a state recognizes those acts; when it does not make confiscations for crimes, but makes crimes for confiscations; when it has it’s principal strength, and all it’s resources in such a violation of property; when it stands chiefly upon such a violation; massacring by judgments, or otherwise, those who make any struggle for their old legal government, and their legal, hereditary, or acquired possessions—I call this Jacobinism by Establishment.
I call it Atheism by Establishment, when any State, as such, shall not acknowledge the existence of God as a moral Governor of the World; when it shall offer to Him no religious or moral worship: when it shall abolish the Christian religion by a regular decree; when it shall persecute with a cold, unrelenting, steady cruelty, by every mode of confiscation, imprisonment, exile, and death, all it’s ministers; when it shall generally shut up, or pull down, churches; when the few buildings which remain of this kind shall be opened only for the purpose of making a profane apotheosis of monsters whose vices and crimes have no parallel amongst men, and whom all other men consider as objects of general detestation, and the severest animadversion of law. When, in the place of that religion of social benevolence, and of individual self-denial, in mockery of all religion, they institute impious, blasphemous, indecent theatric rites, in honour of their vitiated, perverted reason, and erect altars to the personification of their own corrupted and bloody Republick; when schools and seminaries are founded at publick expence to poison mankind, from generation to generation, with the horrible maxims of this impiety; when wearied out with incessant martyrdom, and the cries of a people hungering and thirsting for religion, they permit it, only as a tolerated evil—I call this Atheism by Establishment.
When to these establishments of Regicide, of Jacobinism, and of Atheism, you add the correspondent system of manners, no doubt can be left on the mind of a thinking man, concerning their determined hostility to the human race. Manners are of more importance than laws. Upon them, in a great measure, the laws depend. The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex or sooth, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in. They give their whole form and colour to our lives. According to their quality, they aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them. Of this the new French Legislators were aware; therefore, with the same method, and under the same authority, they settled a system of manners, the most licentious, prostitute, and abandoned that ever has been known, and at the same time the most coarse, rude, savage, and ferocious. Nothing in the Revolution, no, not to a phrase or a gesture, not to the fashion of a hat or a shoe, was left to accident. All has been the result of design; all has been matter of institution. No mechanical means could be devised in favour of this incredible system of wickedness and vice, that has not been employed. The noblest passions, the love of glory, the love of country, have been debauched into means of it’s preservation and it’s propagation. All sorts of shews and exhibitions calculated to inflame and vitiate the imagination, and pervert the moral sense, have been contrived. They have sometimes brought forth five or six hundred drunken women, calling at the bar of the Assembly for the blood of their own children, as being royalists or constitutionalists. Sometimes they have got a body of wretches, calling themselves fathers, to demand the murder of their sons; boasting that Rome had but one Brutus, but that they could shew five hundred. There were instances in which they inverted and retaliated the impiety, and produced sons, who called for the execution of their parents. The foundation of their Republick is laid in moral paradoxes. Their patriotism is always prodigy. All those instances to be found in history, whether real or fabulous, of a doubtful publick spirit, at which morality is perplexed, reason is staggered, and from which affrighted nature recoils, are their chosen, and almost sole examples for the instruction of their youth.
The whole drift of their institution is contrary to that of the wise Legislators of all countries, who aimed at improving instincts into morals, and at grafting the virtues on the stock of the natural affections. They, on the contrary, have omitted no pains to eradicate every benevolent and noble propensity in the mind of men. In their culture it is a rule always to graft virtues on vices. They think everything unworthy of the name of publick virtue, unless it indicates violence on the private. All their new institutions, (and with them every thing is new,) strike at the root of our social nature. Other Legislators, knowing that marriage is the origin of all relations, and consequently the first element of all duties, have endeavoured, by every art, to make it sacred. The Christian Religion, by confining it to the pairs, and by rendering that relation indissoluble, has, by these two things, done more towards the peace, happiness, settlement, and civilization of the world, than by any other part in this whole scheme of Divine Wisdom. The direct contrary course has been taken in the Synagogue of Antichrist, I mean in that forge and manufactory of all evil, the sect which predominated in the Constituent Assembly of 1789. Those monsters employed the same, or greater industry, to desecrate and degrade that State, which other Legislators have used to render it holy and honourable. By a strange, uncalled-for declaration, they pronounced, that marriage was no better than a common civil contract. It was one of their ordinary tricks, to put their sentiments into the mouths of certain personated characters, which they theatrically exhibited at the bar of what ought to be a serious Assembly. One of these was brought out in the figure of a prostitute, whom they called by the affected name of “a mother without being a wife.” This creature they made to call for a repeal of the incapacities, which in civilized States are put upon bastards. The prostitutes of the Assembly gave to this their puppet the sanction of their greater impudence. In consequence of the principles laid down, and the manners authorised, bastards were not long after put on the footing of the issue of lawful unions. Proceeding in the spirit of the first authors of their constitution, succeeding assemblies went the full length of the principle, and gave a licence to divorce at the mere pleasure of either party, and at a month’s notice. With them the matrimonial connexion is brought into so degraded a state of concubinage, that, I believe, none of the wretches in London, who keep warehouses of infamy, would give out one of their victims to private custody on so short and insolent a tenure. There was indeed a kind of profligate equity in thus giving to women the same licentious power. The reason they assigned was as infamous as the act; declaring that women had been too long under the tyranny of parents and of husbands. It is not necessary to observe upon the horrible consequences of taking one half of the species wholly out of the guardianship and protection of the other.
The practice of divorce, though in some countries permitted, has been discouraged in all. In the East polygamy and divorce are in discredit; and the manners correct the laws. In Rome, whilst Rome was in it’s integrity, the few causes allowed for divorce amounted in effect to a prohibition. They were only three. The arbitrary was totally excluded; and accordingly some hundreds of years passed, without a single example of that kind. When manners were corrupted, the laws were relaxed; as the latter always follow the former, when they are not able to regulate them, or to vanquish them. Of this circumstance the Legislators of vice and crime were pleased to take notice, as an inducement to adopt their regulation: holding out an hope, that the permission would as rarely be made use of. They knew the contrary to be true; and they had taken good care, that the laws should be well seconded by the manners. Their law of divorce, like all their laws, had not for it’s object the relief of domestick uneasiness, but the total corruption of all morals, the total disconnection of social life.
It is a matter of curiosity to observe the operation of this encouragement to disorder. I have before me the Paris paper, correspondent to the usual register of births, marriages, and deaths. Divorce, happily, is no regular head of registry among civilized nations. With the Jacobins it is remarkable, that divorce is not only a regular head, but it has the post of honour. It occupies the first place in the list. In the three first months of the year 1793, the number of divorces in that city amounted to 562. The marriages were 1785; so that the proportion of divorces to marriages was not much less than one to three; a thing unexampled, I believe, among mankind. I caused an enquiry to be made at Doctor’s Commons, concerning the number of divorces; and found, that all the divorces, (which, except by special Act of Parliament, are separations, and not proper divorces) did not amount in all those Courts, and in a hundred years, to much more than one fifth of those that passed, in the single city of Paris, in three months. I followed up the enquiry relative to that city through several of the subsequent months until I was tired, and found the proportions still the same. Since then I have heard that they have declared for a revisal of these laws: but I know of nothing done. It appears as if the contract that renovates the world was under no law at all. From this we may take our estimate of the havock that has been made through all the relations of life. With the Jacobins of France, vague intercourse is without reproach; marriage is reduced to the vilest concubinage; children are encouraged to cut the throats of their parents; mothers are taught that tenderness is no part of their character; and to demonstrate their attachment to their party, that they ought to make no scruple to rake with their bloody hands in the bowels of those who came from their own.
To all this let us join the practice of cannibalism, with which, in the proper terms, and with the greatest truth, their several factions accuse each other. By cannibalism, I mean their devouring, as a nutriment of their ferocity, some part of the bodies of those they have murdered; their drinking the blood of their victims, and forcing the victims themselves to drink the blood of their kindred slaughtered before their faces. By cannibalism, I mean also to signify all their nameless, unmanly, and abominable insults on the bodies of those they slaughter.
As to those whom they suffer to die a natural death, they do not permit them to enjoy the last consolations of mankind, or those rights of sepulture, which indicate hope, and which meer nature has taught to mankind in all countries, to soothe the afflictions, and to cover the infirmity of mortal condition. They disgrace men in the entry into life; they vitiate and enslave them through the whole course of it; and they deprive them of all comfort at the conclusion of their dishonoured and depraved existence. Endeavouring to persuade the people that they are no better than beasts, the whole body of their institution tends to make them beasts of prey, furious and savage. For this purpose the active part of them is disciplined into a ferocity which has no parallel. To this ferocity there is joined not one of the rude, unfashioned virtues, which accompany the vices, where the whole are left to grow up together in the rankness of uncultivated nature. But nothing is left to nature in their systems.
The same discipline which hardens their hearts relaxes their morals. Whilst courts of justice were thrust out by revolutionary tribunals, and silent churches were only the funeral monuments of departed religion, there were no fewer than nineteen or twenty theatres, great and small, most of them kept open at the publick expence, and all of them crowded every night. Among the gaunt, haggard forms of famine and nakedness, amidst the yells of murder, the tears of affliction, and the cries of despair, the song, the dance, the mimick scene, the buffoon laughter, went on as regularly as in the gay hour of festive peace. I have it from good authority, that under the scaffold of judicial murder, and the gaping planks that poured down blood on the spectators, the space was hired out for a shew of dancing dogs. I think, without concert, we have made the very same remark on reading some of their pieces, which, being written for other purposes, let us into a view of their social life. It struck us that the habits of Paris had no resemblance to the finished virtues, or to the polished vice, and elegant, though not blameless luxury, of the capital of a great empire. Their society was more like that of a den of outlaws upon a doubtful frontier; of a lewd tavern for the revels and debauches of banditti, assassins, bravos, smugglers, and their more desperate paramours, mixed with bombastick players, the refuse and rejected offal of strolling theatres, puffing out ill-sorted verses about virtue, mixed with the licentious and blasphemous songs, proper to the brutal and hardened course of life belonging to that sort of wretches. This system of manners in itself is at war with all orderly and moral society, and is in it’s neighbourhood unsafe. If great bodies of that kind were any where established in a bordering territory, we should have a right to demand of their Governments the suppression of such a nuisance. What are we to do if the Government and the whole community is of the same description? Yet that Government has thought proper to invite ours to lay by its unjust hatred, and to listen to the voice of humanity as taught by their example.
The operation of dangerous and delusive first principles obliges us to have recourse to the true ones. In the intercourse between nations, we are apt to rely too much on the instrumental part. We lay too much weight upon the formality of treaties and compacts. We do not act much more wisely when we trust to the interests of men as guarantees of their engagements. The interests frequently tear to pieces the engagements; and the passions trample upon both. Entirely to trust to either, is to disregard our own safety, or not to know mankind. Men are not tied to one another by papers and seals. They are led to associate by resemblances, by conformities, by sympathies. It is with nations as with individuals. Nothing is so strong a tie of amity between nation and nation as correspondence in laws, customs, manners, and habits of life. They have more than the force of treaties in themselves. They are obligations written in the heart. They approximate men to men, without their knowledge, and sometimes against their intentions. The secret, unseen, but irrefragable bond of habitual intercourse, holds them together, even when their perverse and litigious nature sets them to equivocate, scuffle, and fight about the terms of their written obligations.
As to war, if it be the means of wrong and violence, it is the sole means of justice amongst nations. Nothing can banish it from the world. They who say otherwise, intending to impose upon us, do not impose upon themselves. But it is one of the greatest objects of human wisdom to mitigate those evils which we are unable to remove. The conformity and analogy of which I speak, incapable, like every thing else, of preserving perfect trust and tranquillity among men, has a strong tendency to facilitate accommodation, and to produce a generous oblivion of the rancour of their quarrels. With this similitude, peace is more of peace, and war is less of war. I will go further. There have been periods of time in which communities, apparently in peace with each other, have been more perfectly separated than, in later times, many nations in Europe have been in the course of long and bloody wars. The cause must be sought in the similitude throughout Europe of religion, laws, and manners. At bottom, these are all the same. The writers on public law have often called this aggregate of nations a Commonwealth. They had reason. It is virtually one great state having the same basis of general law; with some diversity of provincial customs and local establishments. The nations of Europe have had the very same christian religion, agreeing in the fundamental parts, varying a little in the ceremonies and in the subordinate doctrines. The whole of the polity and oeconomy of every country in Europe has been derived from the same sources. It was drawn from the old Germanic or Gothic custumary; from the feudal institutions which must be considered as an emanation from that custumary; and the whole has been improved and digested into system and discipline by the Roman law. From hence arose the several orders, with or without a Monarch, which are called States, in every European country; the strong traces of which, where Monarchy predominated, were never wholly extinguished or merged in despotism. In the few places where Monarchy was cast off, the spirit of European Monarchy was still left. Those countries still continued countries of States; that is, of classes, orders, and distinctions, such as had before subsisted, or nearly so. Indeed the force and form of the institution called States, continued in greater perfection in those republican communities than under Monarchies. From all those sources arose a system of manners and of education which was nearly similar in all this quarter of the globe; and which softened, blended, and harmonized the colours of the whole. There was little difference in the form of the Universities for the education of their youth, whether with regard to faculties, to sciences, or to the more liberal and elegant kinds of erudition. From this resemblance in the modes of intercourse, and in the whole form and fashion of life, no citizen of Europe could be altogether an exile in any part of it. There was nothing more than a pleasing variety to recreate and instruct the mind, to enrich the imagination, and to meliorate the heart. When a man travelled or resided for health, pleasure, business or necessity, from his own country, he never felt himself quite abroad.
The whole body of this new scheme of manners, in support of the new scheme of politicks, I consider as a strong and decisive proof of determined ambition and systematick hostility. I defy the most refining ingenuity to invent any other cause for the total departure of the Jacobin Republick from every one of the ideas and usages, religious, legal, moral, or social, of this civilized world, and for her tearing herself from its communion with such studied violence, but from a formed resolution of keeping no terms with that world. It has not been, as has been falsely and insidiously represented, that these miscreants had only broke with their old Government. They made a schism with the whole universe; and that schism extended to almost every thing great and small. For one, I wish, since it is gone thus far, that the breach had been so compleat, as to make all intercourse impracticable; but, partly by accident, partly by design, partly from the resistance of the matter, enough is left to preserve intercourse, whilst amity is destroyed or corrupted in it’s principle.
This violent breach of the community of Europe we must conclude to have been made, (even if they had not expressly declared it over and over again) either to force mankind into an adoption of their system, or to live in perpetual enmity with a community the most potent we have ever known. Can any person imagine, that in offering to mankind this desperate alternative, there is no indication of a hostile mind, because men in possession of the ruling authority are supposed to have a right to act without coercion in their own territories? As to the right of men to act any where according to their pleasure, without any moral tie, no such right exists. Men are never in a state of total independence of each other. It is not the condition of our nature: nor is it conceivable how any man can pursue a considerable course of action without it’s having some effect upon others; or, of course, without producing some degree of responsibility for his conduct. The situations in which men relatively stand produce the rules and principles of that responsibility, and afford directions to prudence in exacting it.
Distance of place does not extinguish the duties or the rights of men; but it often renders their exercise impracticable. The same circumstance of distance renders the noxious effects of an evil system in any community less pernicious. But there are situations where this difficulty does not occur; and in which, therefore, these duties are obligatory, and these rights are to be asserted. It has ever been the method of publick jurists, to draw a great part of the analogies on which they form the law of nations from the principles of law which prevail in civil community. Civil laws are not all of them merely positive. Those which are rather conclusions of legal reason, than matters of statutable provision, belong to universal equity, and are universally applicable. Almost the whole praetorian law is such. There is a Law of Neighbourhood which does not leave a man perfect master on his own ground. When a neighbour sees a new erection, in the nature of a nuisance, set up at his door, he has a right to represent it to the judge; who, on his part, has a right to order the work to be staid; or if established, to be removed. On this head, the parent law is express and clear; and has made many wise provisions, which, without destroying, regulate and restrain the right of ownership, by the right of vicinage. No innovation is permitted that may redound, even secondarily, to the prejudice of a neighbour. The whole doctrine of that important head of praetorian law, “ De novi operis nunciatione, ” is founded on the principle, that no new use should be made of a man’s private liberty of operating upon his private property, from whence a detriment may be justly apprehended by his neighbour. This law of denunciation is prospective. It is to anticipate what is called damnum infectum, or damnum nondum factum, that is a damage justly apprehended but not actually done. Even before it is clearly known whether the innovation be damageable or not, the judge is competent to issue a prohibition to innovate, until the point can be determined. This prompt interference is grounded on principles favourable to both parties. It is preventive of mischief difficult to be repaired, and of ill blood difficult to be softened. The rule of law, therefore, which comes before the evil, is amongst the very best parts of equity, and justifies the promptness of the remedy; because, as it is well observed, Res damni infecti celeritatem desiderat et periculosa est dilatio. This right of denunciation does not hold, when things continue, however inconveniently to the neighbourhood, according to the antient mode. For there is a sort of presumption against novelty, drawn out of a deep consideration of human nature and human affairs; and the maxim of jurisprudence is well laid down, Vetustas pro lege semper habetur.
Such is the law of civil vicinity. Now where there is no constituted judge, as between independent states there is not, the vicinage itself is the natural judge. It is, preventively, the assertor of its own rights; or remedially, their avenger. Neighbours are presumed to take cognizance of each other’s acts. Vicini vicinorum facta praesumuntur scire. This principle, which, like the rest, is as true of nations as of individual men, has bestowed on the grand vicinage of Europe a duty to know, and a right to prevent, any capital innovation which may amount to the erection of a dangerous nuisance.1 Of the importance of that innovation, and the mischief of that nuisance, they are, to be sure, bound to judge not litigiously; but it is in their competence to judge. They have uniformly acted on this right. What in civil society is a ground of action, in politick society is a ground of war. But the exercise of that competent jurisdiction is a matter of moral prudence. As suits in civil society, so war in the political, must ever be a matter of great deliberation. It is not this or that particular proceeding, picked out here or there, as a subject of quarrel, that will do. There must be an aggregate of mischief. There must be marks of deliberation; there must be traces of design; there must be indications of malice; there must be tokens of ambition. There must be force in the body where they exist; there must be energy in the mind. When all these circumstances combine, or the important parts of them, the duty of the vicinity calls for the exercise of it’s competence; and the rules of prudence do not restrain, but demand it.
In describing the nuisance erected by so pestilential a manufactory, by the construction of so infamous a brothel, by digging a night-cellar for such thieves, murderers, and house-breakers, as never infested the world, I am so far from aggravating, that I have fallen infinitely short of the evil. No man who has attended to the particulars of what has been done in France, and combined them with the principles there asserted, can possibly doubt it. When I compare with this great cause of nations, the trifling points of honour, the still more contemptible points of interest, the light ceremonies, the undefinable punctilios, the disputes about precedency, the lowering or the hoisting of a sail, the dealing in a hundred or two of wild-cat skins on the other side of the globe, which have often kindled up the flames of war between nations, I stand astonished at those persons who do not feel a resentment, not more natural than politick, at the atrocious insults that this monstrous compound offers to the dignity of every nation, and who are not alarmed with what it threatens to their safety.
I have therefore been decidedly of opinion, with our declaration at Whitehall, in the beginning of this war, that the vicinage of Europe had not only a right, but an indispensable duty, and an exigent interest, to denunciate this new work before it had produced the danger we have so sorely felt, and which we shall long feel. The example of what is done by France is too important not to have a vast and extensive influence; and that example, backed with it’s power, must bear with great force on those who are near it; especially on those who shall recognize the pretended Republick on the principle upon which it now stands. It is not an old structure which you have found as it is, and are not to dispute of the original end and design with which it had been so fashioned. It is a recent wrong, and can plead no prescription. It violates the rights upon which not only the community of France, but all communities, are founded. The principles on which they proceed are general principles, and are as true in England as in any other country. They who (though with the purest intentions) recognize the authority of these Regicides and robbers upon principle, justify their acts, and establish them as precedents. It is a question not between France and England. It is a question between property and force. The property claims; and it’s claim has been allowed. The property of the nation is the nation. They who massacre, plunder, and expel the body of the proprietary, are murderers and robbers. The State, in it’s essence, must be moral and just: and it may be so, though a tyrant or usurper should be accidentally at the head of it. This is a thing to be lamented: but this notwithstanding, the body of the commonwealth may remain in all it’s integrity and be perfectly sound in it’s composition. The present case is different. It is not a revolution in government. It is not the victory of party over party. It is a destruction and decomposition of the whole society; which never can be made of right by any faction, however powerful, nor without terrible consequences to all about it, both in the act and in the example. This pretended Republick is founded in crimes, and exists by wrong and robbery; and wrong and robbery, far from a title to any thing, is war with mankind. To be at peace with robbery is to be an accomplice with it.
Mere locality does not constitute a body politick. Had Cade and his gang got possession of London, they would not have been the Lord-Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council. The body politick of France existed in the majesty of it’s throne; in the dignity of it’s nobility; in the honour of it’s gentry; in the sanctity of it’s clergy; in the reverence of it’s magistracy; in the weight and consideration due to it’s landed property in the several bailliages; in the respect due to it’s moveable substance represented by the corporations of the kingdom. All these particular moleculae united, form the great mass of what is truly the body politick, in all countries. They are so many deposits and receptacles of justice; because they can only exist by justice. Nation is a moral essence, not a geographical arrangement, or a denomination of the nomenclator. France, though out of her territorial possession, exists; because the sole possible claimant, I mean the proprietary, and the Government to which the proprietary adheres, exists and claims. God forbid, that if you were expelled from your house by ruffians and assassins, that I should call the material walls, doors and windows of — — —, the ancient and honourable family of — — —. Am I to transfer to the intruders, who not content to turn you out naked to the world, would rob you of your very name, all the esteem and respect I owe to you? The Regicides in France are not France. France is out of her bounds, but the kingdom is the same.
To illustrate my opinions on this subject, let us suppose a case, which, after what has happened, we cannot think absolutely impossible, though the augury is to be abominated, and the event deprecated with our most ardent prayers. Let us suppose then, that our gracious Sovereign was sacrilegiously murdered; his exemplary Queen, at the head of the matronage of this land, murdered in the same manner: that those Princesses whose beauty and modest elegance are the ornaments of the country, and who are the leaders and patterns of the ingenuous youth of their sex, were put to a cruel and ignominious death, with hundreds of others, mothers and daughters, ladies of the first distinction; that the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, princes the hope and pride of the nation, with all their brethren, were forced to fly from the knives of assassins; that the whole body of our excellent Clergy were either massacred or robbed of all, and transported; the Christian Religion, in all its denominations, forbidden and persecuted; the law totally, fundamentally, and in all it’s parts destroyed; the judges put to death by revolutionary tribunals; the Peers and Commons robbed to the last acre of their estates; massacred if they staid, or obliged to seek life in flight, in exile, and in beggary; that the whole landed property should share the very same fate; that every military and naval officer of honour and rank, almost to a man, should be placed in the same description of confiscation and exile; that the principal merchants and bankers should be drawn out, as from an hen-coop, for slaughter; that the citizens of our greatest and most flourishing cities, when the hand and the machinery of the hangman were not found sufficient, should have been collected in the publick squares, and massacred by thousands with cannon; if three hundred thousand others should have been doomed to a situation worse than death in noisome and pestilential prisons—in such a case, is it in the faction of robbers I am to look for my country? Would this be the England that you and I, and even strangers, admired, honoured, loved, and cherished? Would not the exiles of England alone be my Government and my fellow-citizens? Would not their places of refuge be my temporary country? Would not all my duties and all my affections be there and there only? Should I consider myself as a traitor to my country, and deserving of death, if I knocked at the door and heart of every potentate in Christendom to succour my friends, and to avenge them on their enemies? Could I, in any way, shew myself more a patriot? What should I think of those potentates who insulted their suffering brethren; who treated them as vagrants, or at least as mendicants; and could find no allies, no friends, but in Regicide murderers and robbers? What ought I to think and feel, if being geographers instead of Kings, they recognized the desolated cities, the wasted fields, and the rivers polluted with blood, of this geometrical measurement, as the honourable member of Europe, called England? In that condition, what should we think of Sweden, Denmark, or Holland, or whatever Power afforded us a churlish and treacherous hospitality, if they should invite us to join the standard of our King, our Laws, and our Religion, if they should give us a direct promise of protection—if after all this, taking advantage of our deplorable situation, which left us no choice, they were to treat us as the lowest and vilest of all mercenaries? If they were to send us far from the aid of our King, and our suffering Country, to squander us away in the most pestilential climates for a venal enlargement of their own territories, for the purpose of trucking them, when obtained, with those very robbers and murderers they had called upon us to oppose with our blood? What would be our sentiments, if in that miserable service we were not to be considered either as English, or as Swedes, Dutch, Danes, but as outcasts of the human race? Whilst we were fighting those battles of their interest, and as their soldiers, how should we feel if we were to be excluded from all their cartels? How must we feel, if the pride and flower of the English Nobility and Gentry, who might escape the pestilential clime, and the devouring sword, should, if taken prisoners, be delivered over as rebel subjects, to be condemned as rebels, as traitors, as the vilest of all criminals, by tribunals formed of Maroon negro slaves, covered over with the blood of their masters, who were made free and organized into judges, for their robberies and murders? What should we feel under this inhuman, insulting, and barbarous protection of Muscovites, Swedes, or Hollanders? Should we not obtest Heaven, and whatever justice there is yet on earth? Oppression makes wise men mad; but the distemper is still the madness of the wise, which is better than the sobriety of fools. Their cry is the voice of sacred misery, exalted, not into wild raving, but into the sanctified phrensy of prophecy and inspiration. In that bitterness of soul, in that indignation of suffering virtue, in that exaltation of despair, would not persecuted English loyalty cry out, with an awful warning voice, and denounce the destruction that waits on Monarchs, who consider fidelity to them as the most degrading of all vices; who suffer it to be punished as the most abominable of all crimes; and who have no respect but for rebels, traitors, Regicides, and furious negro slaves, whose crimes have broke their chains? Would not this warm language of high indignation have more of sound reason in it, more of real affection, more of true attachment, than all the lullabies of flatterers, who would hush Monarchs to sleep in the arms of death? Let them be well convinced, that if ever this example should prevail in it’s whole extent, it will have it’s full operation. Whilst Kings stand firm on their base, though under that base there is a sure-wrought mine, there will not be wanting to their levées a single person of those who are attached to their fortune, and not to their persons or cause. But hereafter none will support a tottering throne. Some will fly for fear of being crushed under the ruin; some will join in making it. They will seek in the destruction of Royalty, fame, and power, and wealth, and the homage of Kings, with Reubel, with Carnot, with Revellière, and with the Merlins and the Talliens, rather than suffer exile and beggary with the Condés, or the Broglies, the Castries, the D’Avrais, the Serrents, the Cazalés, and the long line of loyal, suffering Patriot Nobility, or to be butchered with the oracles and the victims of the laws, the D’Ormestons, the d’Espremesnils, and the Malesherbes. This example we shall give, if, instead of adhering to our fellows in a cause which is an honour to us all, we abandon the lawful Government and lawful corporate body of France, to hunt for a shameful and ruinous fraternity with this odious usurpation that disgraces civilized society and the human race.
And is then example nothing? It is every thing. Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other. This war is a war against that example. It is not a war for Louis the Eighteenth, or even for the property, virtue, fidelity of France. It is a war for George the Third, for Francis the Second, and for all the dignity, property, honour, virtue, and religion of England, of Germany, and of all nations.
I know that all I have said of the systematick unsociability of this new-invented species of republick, and the impossibility of preserving peace, is answered by asserting that the scheme of manners, morals, and even of maxims and principles of state, is of no weight in a question of peace or war between communities. This doctrine is supported by example. The case of Algiers is cited, with an hint, as if it were the stronger case. I should take no notice of this sort of inducement, if I had found it only where first it was. I do not want respect for those from whom I first heard it—but having no controversy at present with them, I only think it not amiss to rest on it a little, as I find it adopted with much more of the same kind, by several of those on whom such reasoning had formerly made no apparent impression. If it had no force to prevent us from submitting to this necessary war, it furnishes no better ground for our making an unnecessary and ruinous peace.
This analogical argument drawn from the case of Algiers would lead us a good way. The fact is, we ourselves with a little cover, others more directly, pay a tribute to the Republick of Algiers. Is it meant to reconcile us to the payment of a tribute to the French Republick? That this, with other things more ruinous, will be demanded hereafter, I little doubt; but for the present, this will not be avowed—though our minds are to be gradually prepared for it. In truth, the arguments from this case are worth little, even to those who approve the buying an Algerine forbearance of piracy. There are many things which men do not approve that they must do to avoid a greater evil. To argue from thence, that they are to act in the same manner in all cases, is turning necessity into a law. Upon what is matter of prudence, the argument concludes the contrary way. Because we have done one humiliating act, we ought with infinite caution to admit more acts of the same nature, lest humiliation should become our habitual state. Matters of prudence are under the dominion of circumstances, and not of logical analogies. It is absurd to take it otherwise.
I, for one, do more than doubt the policy of this kind of convention with Algiers. On those who think as I do, the argument ad hominem can make no sort of impression. I know something of the Constitution and composition of this very extraordinary Republick. It has a Constitution, I admit, similar to the present tumultuous military tyranny of France, by which an handful of obscure ruffians domineer over a fertile country and a brave people. For the composition, too, I admit, the Algerine community resembles that of France; being formed out of the very scum, scandal, disgrace, and pest of the Turkish Asia. The grand Seignor, to disburthen the country, suffers the Dey to recruit, in his dominions, the corps of Janissaries, or Asaphs, which form the Directory and Council of Elders of the African Republick one and indivisible. But notwithstanding this resemblance, which I allow, I never shall so far injure the Janissarian Republick of Algiers, as to put it in comparison for every sort of crime, turpitude, and oppression with the Jacobin Republick of Paris. There is no question with me to which of the two I should choose to be a neighbour or a subject. But situated as I am, I am in no danger of becoming to Algiers either the one or the other. It is not so in my relation to the atheistical fanaticks of France. I am their neighbour; I may become their subject. Have the gentlemen who borrowed this happy parallel, no idea of the different conduct to be held with regard to the very same evil at an immense distance, and when it is at your door? When it’s power is enormous, as when it is comparatively as feeble as it’s distance is remote? When there is a barrier of language and usages, which prevents corruption through certain old correspondences and habitudes, from the contagion of the horrible novelties that are introduced into every thing else? I can contemplate, without dread, a royal or a national tyger on the borders of Pegu. I can look at him, with an easy curiosity, as prisoner within bars in the menagerie of the Tower. But if, by habeas corpus, or otherwise, he was to come into the lobby of the House of Commons whilst your door was open, any of you would be more stout than wise, who would not gladly make your escape out of the back windows. I certainly should dread more from a wild cat in my bed-chamber, than from all the lions that roar in the deserts behind Algiers. But in this parallel it is the cat that is at a distance, and the lions and tygers that are in our ante-chambers and our lobbies. Algiers is not near; Algiers is not powerful; Algiers is not our neighbour; Algiers is not infectious. Algiers, whatever it may be, is an old creation; and we have good data to calculate all the mischief to be apprehended from it. When I find Algiers transferred to Calais, I will tell you what I think of that point. In the mean time, the case quoted from the Algerine reports, will not apply as authority. We shall put it out of court; and so far as that goes, let the counsel for the Jacobin peace take nothing by their motion.
When we voted, as you and I did, with many more whom you and I respect and love, to resist this enemy, we were providing for dangers that were direct, home, pressing, and not remote, contingent, uncertain, and formed upon loose analogies. We judged of the danger with which we were menaced by Jacobin France, from the whole tenor of it’s conduct; not from one or two doubtful or detached acts or expressions. I not only concurred in the idea of combining with Europe in this war; but to the best of my power ever stimulated Ministers to that conjunction of interests and of efforts. I joined with them with all my soul, on the principles contained in that manly and masterly state-paper, which I have two or three times referred to,1 and may still more frequently hereafter. The diplomatick collection never was more enriched than with this piece. The historick facts justify every stroke of the master. “Thus painters write their names at Co.”
Various persons may concur in the same measure on various grounds. They may be various, without being contrary to, or exclusive of each other. I thought the insolent, unprovoked aggression of the Regicide upon our ally of Holland, a good ground of war. I think his manifest attempt to overturn the balance of Europe, a good ground of war. As a good ground of war, I consider his declaration of war on his Majesty and his kingdom. But though I have taken all these to my aid, I consider them as nothing more than as a sort of evidence to indicate the treasonable mind within. Long before their acts of aggression, and their declaration of war, the faction in France had assumed a form, had adopted a body of principles and maxims, and had regularly and systematically acted on them, by which she virtually had put herself in a posture, which was in itself a declaration of war against mankind.
It is said by the Directory in their several manifestoes, that we of the people are tumultuous for peace; and that Ministers pretend negociation to amuse us. This they have learned from the language of many amongst ourselves, whose conversations have been one main cause of whatever extent the opinion for peace with Regicide may be. But I, who think the Ministers unfortunately to be but too serious in their proceedings, find myself obliged to say a little more on this subject of the popular opinion.
Before our opinions are quoted against ourselves, it is proper that, from our serious deliberation, they may be worth quoting. It is without reason we praise the wisdom of our Constitution, in putting under the discretion of the Crown the awful trust of war and peace, if the Ministers of the Crown virtually return it again into our hands. The trust was placed there as a sacred deposit, to secure us against popular rashness in plunging into wars, and against the effects of popular dismay, disgust, or lassitude in getting out of them as imprudently as we might first engage in them. To have no other measure in judging of those great objects than our momentary opinions and desires, is to throw us back upon that very democracy which, in this part, our Constitution was formed to avoid.
It is no excuse at all for a minister, who at our desire, takes a measure contrary to our safety, that it is our own act. He who does not stay the hand of suicide, is guilty of murder. On our part I say, that to be instructed, is not to be degraded or enslaved. Information is an advantage to us; and we have a right to demand it. He that is bound to act in the dark cannot be said to act freely. When it appears evident to our governors that our desires and our interests are at variance, they ought not to gratify the former at the expence of the latter. Statesmen are placed on an eminence, that they may have a larger horizon than we can possibly command. They have a whole before them, which we can contemplate only in the parts, and even without the necessary relations. Ministers are not only our natural rulers but our natural guides. Reason, clearly and manfully delivered, has in itself a mighty force: but reason in the mouth of legal authority, is, I may fairly say, irresistible.
I admit that reason of state will not, in many circumstances, permit the disclosure of the true ground of a public proceeding. In that case, silence is manly; and it is wise. It is fair to call for trust when the principle of reason itself suspends it’s public use. I take the distinction to be this. The ground of a particular measure, making a part of a plan, it is rarely proper to divulge. All the broader grounds of policy on which the general plan is to be adopted, ought as rarely to be concealed. They who have not the whole cause before them, call them politicians, call them people, call them what you will, are no judges. The difficulties of the case, as well as it’s fair side, ought to be presented. This ought to be done: and it is all that can be done. When we have our true situation distinctly presented to us, if then we resolve, with a blind and headlong violence, to resist the admonitions of our friends, and to cast ourselves into the hands of our potent and irreconcileable foes, then, and not till then, the ministers stand acquitted before God and man, for whatever may come.
Lamenting as I do, that the matter has not had so full and free a discussion as it requires, I mean to omit none of the points which seem to me necessary for consideration, previous to an arrangement which is for ever to decide the form and the fate of Europe. In the course, therefore, of what I shall have the honour to address to you, I propose the following questions to your serious thoughts. 1. Whether the present system, which stands for a Government in France, be such as in peace and war affects the neighbouring States in a manner different from the internal Government that formerly prevailed in that country? 2. Whether that system, supposing its views hostile to other nations, possesses any means of being hurtful to them peculiar to itself? 3. Whether there has been lately such a change in France, as to alter the nature of its system, or it’s effect upon other Powers? 4. Whether any publick declarations or engagements exist, on the part of the allied Powers, which stand in the way of a treaty of peace, which supposes the right and confirms the power of the Regicide faction in France? 5. What the state of the other Powers of Europe will be with respect to each other, and their colonies, on the conclusion of a Regicide Peace? 6. Whether we are driven to the absolute necessity of making that kind of peace?
These heads of enquiry will enable us to make the application of the several matters of fact and topicks of argument, that occur in this vast discussion, to certain fixed principles. I do not mean to confine myself to the order in which they stand. I shall discuss them in such a manner as shall appear to me the best adapted for shewing their mutual bearings and relations. Here then I close the public matter of my Letter; but before I have done, let me say one word in apology for myself.
In wishing this nominal peace not to be precipitated, I am sure no man living is less disposed to blame the present Ministry than I am. Some of my oldest friends, (and I wish I could say it of more of them) make a part in that Ministry. There are some indeed, “ whom my dim eyes in vain explore.” In my mind, a greater calamity could not have fallen on the publick than the exclusion of one of them. But I drive away that, with other melancholy thoughts. A great deal ought to be said upon that subject, or nothing. As to the distinguished persons to whom my friends, who remain, are joined, if benefits, nobly and generously conferred, ought to procure good wishes, they are intitled to my best vows; and they have them all. They have administered to me the only consolation I am capable of receiving, which is to know that no individual will suffer by my thirty years’ service to the publick. If things should give us the comparative happiness of a struggle, I shall be found, (I was going to say fighting—that would be foolish—but) dying by the side of Mr. Pitt. I must add, that if any thing defensive in our domestick system can possibly save us from the disasters of a Regicide peace, he is the man to save us. If the finances in such a case can be repaired, he is the man to repair them. If I should lament any of his acts, it is only when they appear to me to have no resemblance to acts of his. But let him not have a confidence in himself, which no human abilities can warrant. His abilities are fully equal (and that is to say much for any man) to those that are opposed to him. But if we look to him as our security against the consequences of a Regicide Peace, let us be assured, that a Regicide Peace and a Constitutional Ministry are terms that will not agree. With a Regicide Peace the King cannot long have a Minister to serve him, nor the Minister a King to serve. If the Great Disposer, in reward of the royal and the private virtues of our Sovereign, should call him from the calamitous spectacles, which will attend a state of amity with Regicide, his successor will surely see them, unless the same providence greatly anticipates the course of nature. Thinking thus, (and not, as I conceive, on light grounds) I dare not flatter the reigning Sovereign, nor any Minister he has or can have, nor his Successor Apparent, nor any of those who may be called to serve him, with what appears to me a false state of their situation. We cannot have them and that Peace together.
I do not forget that there had been a considerable difference between several of our friends, with my insignificant self, and the great man at the head of Ministry, in an early stage of these discussions. But I am sure there was a period in which we agreed better in the danger of a Jacobin existence in France. At one time, he and all Europe seemed to feel it. But why am not I converted with so many great Powers, and so many great Ministers? It is because I am old and slow. I am in this year, 1796, only where all the powers of Europe were in 1793. I cannot move with this procession of the Equinoxes, which is preparing for us the return of some very old, I am afraid no golden aera, or the commencement of some new aera that must be denominated from some new metal. In this crisis I must hold my tongue, or I must speak with freedom. Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatever: but, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an oeconomy of truth. It is a sort of temperance, by which a man speaks truth with measure that he may speak it the longer. But, as the same rules do not hold in all cases, what would be right for you, who may presume on a series of years before you, would have no sense for me, who cannot, without absurdity, calculate on six months of life. What I say, I must say at once. Whatever I write is in it’s nature testamentary. It may have the weakness, but it has the sincerity of a dying declaration. For the few days I have to linger here, I am removed completely from the busy scene of the world; but I hold myself to be still responsible for every thing that I have done whilst I continued on the place of action. If the rawest tyro in politicks has been influenced by the authority of my grey hairs, and led by any thing in my speeches, or my writings, to enter into this war, he has a right to call upon me to know why I have changed my opinions, or why, when those I voted with, have adopted better notions, I persevere in exploded errour.
When I seem not to acquiesce in the acts of those I respect in every degree short of superstition, I am obliged to give my reasons fully. I cannot set my authority against their authority. But to exert reason is not to revolt against authority. Reason and authority do not move in the same parallel. That reason is an amicus curiae who speaks de plano, not pro tribunali. It is a friend who makes an useful suggestion to the Court, without questioning it’s jurisdiction. Whilst he acknowledges it’s competence, he promotes it’s efficiency. I shall pursue the plan I have chalked out in my Letters that follow this.
[1.]“ Mussabat tacito medicina timore.”
[1.]Mr. Bird sent to state the real situation of the Duc de Choiseul.
[1.]“This Court has seen, with regret, how far the tone and spirit of that answer, the nature and extent of the demands which it contains, and the manner of announcing them, are remote from any dispositions for peace.
[1.]Official Note, extracted from the Journal of the Defenders of the Country.
[1.]“In their place has succeeded a system destructive of all publick order, maintained by proscriptions, exiles, and confiscations, without number: by arbitrary imprisonment; by massacres which cannot be remembered without horror; and at length by the execrable murder of a just and beneficent Sovereign, and of the illustrious Princess, who, with an unshaken firmness, has shared all the misfortunes of her Royal Consort, his protracted sufferings, his cruel captivity and his ignominious death.” — “They (the allies) have had to encounter acts of aggression without pretext, open violations of all treaties, unprovoked declarations of war; in a word, whatever corruption, intrigue or violence could effect for the purpose so openly avowed, of subverting all the institutions of society, and of extending over all the nations of Europe that confusion, which has produced the misery of France.” — “This state of things cannot exist in France without involving all the surrounding powers in one common danger, without giving them the right, without imposing it upon them as a duty, to stop the progress of an evil, which exists only by the successive violation of all law and all property, and which attacks the fundamental principles by which mankind is united in the bonds of civil society.” — “The King would impose none other than equitable and moderate conditions, not such as the expence, the risques and the sacrifices of the war might justify; but such as his Majesty thinks himself under the indispensable necessity of requiring, with a view to these considerations, and still more to that of his own security and of the future tranquillity of Europe. His Majesty desires nothing more sincerely than thus to terminate a war, which he in vain endeavoured to avoid, and all the calamities of which, as now experienced by France, are to be attributed only to the ambition, the perfidy and the violence of those, whose crimes have involved their own country in misery, and disgraced all civilized nations.” — “The King promises on his part the suspension of hostilities, friendship, and (as far as the course of events will allow, of which the will of man cannot dispose) security and protection to all those who, by declaring for a monarchical form of Government, shall shake off the yoke of sanguinary anarchy; of that anarchy which has broken all the most sacred bonds of society, dissolved all the relations of civil life, violated every right, confounded every duty; which uses the name of liberty to exercise the most cruel tyranny, to annihilate all property, to seize on all possessions; which founds it’s power on the pretended consent of the people, and itself carries fire and sword through extensive provinces for having demanded their laws, their religion and their lawful Sovereign. ”Declaration sent by his Majesty’s command to the Commanders of his Majesty’s fleets and armies employed against France, and to his Majesty’s Ministers employed at foreign Courts.— Whitehall, Oct. 29, 1793.
[1.]Ut lethargicus hic, cum fit pugil, et medicum urget.— Hor.
[1.]See the Declaration.
[1.]See declaration, Whitehall, October 29, 1793. [Ante, p. 99.]
[1.]Nothing could be more solemn than their promulgation of this principle as a preamble to the destructive code of their famous articles for the decomposition of society into whatever country they should enter. “La Convention Nationale, après avoir entendu le rapport de ses Comités de Finances, de la Guerre, & Diplomatiques réunis, fidèle au principe de souveraineté de peuples qui ne lui permet pas de reconnoître aucune institution qui y porte atteinte, ” &c. &c. Decrêt sur le Rapport de Cambon, Dec. 18, 1792, and see the subsequent proclamation.
[1.]“This state of things cannot exist in France without involving all the surrounding powers in one common danger, without giving them the right, without imposing it on them as a duty, to stop the progress of an evil which attacks the fundamental principles by which mankind is united in civil society.” Declaration, 29th Oct., 1793.
[1.]Declaration, Whitehall, Oct. 29, 1793.
Page 62, line 2. Our last conversation. Burke assumes for his correspondent the same point of view as his own. Cp. post, p. 77, l. 8. The letters are therefore not controversial in form. The Monthly Review, April, 1815, describes them as “addressed to those advocates of the peace who had originally been partizans of the war: and it was only with persons of this description that Mr. B. deigned to enter into controversy.” This is true of the ultimate public whom he hoped to influence, but not of the ostensible correspondent.
l. 4. unpleasant appearances. The continued manifestations of a desire for peace with France.
l. 8. disastrous events. The military disasters of the allies on the Continent, beginning with the battle of Fleurus in 1794, and followed by the separate treaties of peace successively made with the Republic by Tuscany, Prussia, Sweden, Holland, and Spain, leaving only Great Britain and Austria at war with it.
l. 23. in its aphelion, i.e. in its deviation from its normal path. Burke would have hailed the returning popularity of the war in 1798 as a return to this normal path.
l. 33. same periods of infancy, &c. The allusion is to an ever-popular but false theory of history, which may be traced as early as Polybius. In Burke’s time this theory was put forth in many forms. Churchill, Gotham, Book iii:
So Young, Second Letter on Pleasure: “It has often been observed that it is with states as with men. They have their birth, growth, health, distemper, decay, and death. Men sometimes drop suddenly by an apoplexy, states by conquest; in full vigour both . . . . On the soft beds of luxury most kingdoms have expired. Casti, Animali Parlanti, Canto iv:
As to England, Mr. Hallam remarks that it differs from all free governments of powerful nations which history has recorded by manifesting, after the lapse of several centuries, not merely no symptoms of decay, but a more expansive energy. Middle Ages, vol. ii. chap. viii.
P. 63, l. 3. similitudes—analogies. The hint has been developed by Mill, in his account of Fallacies of Generalization, Logic, Book 5. “Bodies politic,” says Mr. Mill, “die; but it is of disease, or violent death. They have no old age.”
l. 10. moral essences. Cp. post, p. 139, l. 28.
l. 14. There is not, &c. Specific attempts to create a “philosophy of history” have at length ceased with the extinction of the German schools of speculative philosophy. Burke’s criticism thoroughly agrees with the general spirit of the best historians.
l. 29. It is often impossible, in these political enquiries, &c. Burke derived his observations from a favourite author: “La conservation des estats est chose qui vraysemblablement surpasse nostre intelligence: c’est comme dict Platon, chose puissante et de difficile dissolution, qu’une police civile; elle dure souvent contre les maladies mortelles et intestines, contre les injures des loix injustes, contre la tyrannie, contre le desbordement et ignorance des magistrats, license et sedition des peuples.” Montaigne, Liv. iii., chap. 9. In an earlier chapter of Montaigne, and in Bolingbroke, we have the duration of states compared with that of individuals.
P. 64, l. 1. remained nearly as they have begun. e.g. China.
l. 3. spent their vigour, &c. e.g. the Mahomedan Caliphate, the monarchy of Charlemagne, &c.
l. 4. blazed out, &c. The allusion is clearly to the Mogul Empire in the time of Aurungzebe. “Most nations,” says Young, in the letter above quoted, “have been gayest when nearest to their end, and like a taper in the socket have blazed as they expired.”
l. 5. meridian of some. Ancient Rome, Venice, Holland, are instances.
l. 9. plunged in unfathomable abysses, &c. Burke has in mind the phrase “Mersus profundo pulchrior evenit.”
l. 16. death of a man. Among many instances that will occur to the reader, Pericles is perhaps the best.
Ibid. his disgust. Coriolanus is an instance.
Ibid. his retreat. Burke probably alludes to Pitt, and his disastrous withdrawal from public affairs in 1768–1770. See vol. i. p. 206, where the revolt of America from England is traced to this cause. The resignation of Charles V. is another instance, in its effects on the Netherlands.
l. 17. his disgrace. The allusion is probably to the Constable Charles de Bourbon, whose disgrace at the French court led to the misfortunes sustained by France under Francis I.
l. 18. A common soldier. The allusion is to Arnold of Winkelried, whose self-devotion on the field of Sempach secured the freedom of Switzerland.
Ibid. a child. The allusion is to Hannibal, and the oath administered to him at twelve years old, by his father Hamilcar. Cp. p. 348, l. 14.
Ibid. a girl at the door, &c. The allusion is to Joan of Arc, who according to one version of her story (probably the true one) acted as ostler at a small inn.
P. 65, l. 9. humbled—weakened—endangered. By the independence of America, established by the aid of France.
l. 13. high and palmy state. Hamlet, Act i. sc. 1.
l. 29. a vast, tremendous, unformed spectre. Burke is thinking of Virgil’s “Monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens.” Burke seems to have been the first Englishman who discerned accurately the portentous shape which France was assuming. This powerful description was fully justified during the following years.
P. 66, l. 7. poison of other States, &c. A new application of the proverb that “one man’s meat is another’s poison.”
l. 17. finest parts of Europe. The Austrian Netherlands, the Rhine, Savoy and Nice, Lombardy.
l. 28. At first, &c. Burke himself was among those who believed France to be crushed as a nation by the Revolution: but he soon undeceived himself.
P. 67, l. 15. publick—never regarded, &c. Burke has in mind the famous Roman maxim, “non de republica desperare.”
l. 18. Dr. Brown. The work was his “Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times.” See vol. i. p. 88, and the Editor’s note.
l. 27. Pythagoras. Burke probably means Archimedes, and alludes to the well-known story of his great discovery in solid geometry.
l. 32. as in the Alps, goitre kept goitre, &c. The phrase is Juvenal’s:
P. 68, l. 5. never did the masculine spirit, &c. This great stir in the public mind occurred when Burke was a young man lately arrived in London, and just turning his attention to public affairs. It profoundly affected him, and influenced his whole life.
l. 33. eye of the mind is dazzled and vanquished. Burke copies the phrase, “In bello oculi primi vincuntur.”
P. 69, l. 6. palpable night. “Palpable darkness,” Par. Lost, xii. 188.
l. 29. at no time has the wealth, &c. See the Third Letter, pp. 254–306, where this is proved in detail.
l. 31. vast interest to preserve—great means of preserving it. “You must not consider the money you spend in your defence, but the fortune you would lose if you were not defended; and further, you must recollect you will pay less to an immediate war, than to a peace with a war establishment and a war to follow it . . . . Your empire cannot be saved by a calculation.” Grattan, Speech on Downfall of Buonaparte. Reference to the use of the argument by Bacon and Swift will be given in a note to the Third Letter.
P. 70, l. 7. If our wealth commands us, &c. So B. Jonson, “The Fox,” Act vi. sc. 12:
The conceit is derived from a classical source: “Ea invasit homines habendi cupido ut possideri magis quam possidere videamur”: Pliny, Letters, B. ix. Lett. 30. So Archbishop Leighton, Commentary on 1 St. Peter, iv. 8: “Hearts glued to the poor riches they possess or rather are possessed by.” Leighton repeats it in his “Commentary on the Ten Commandments.”
l. 8. poor indeed. Shakspeare, Othello, Act iii. sc. 3:
l. 21. He is the Gaul, &c. Alluding to the story of Brennus, Livy, Lib. v. cap. 48.
l. 27. that state which is resolved, &c. i.e. Republican France.
P. 71, l. 9. petty peculium. Burke alludes to the additions by conquest to the colonial empire, which went on until both the French and the Dutch were left without any colonies at all.
l. 10. ambiguous in their nature. He alludes to the conquest of Martinique with its population of revolutionary people of colour.
l. 12. any one of those points, &c. i.e. in his conquests on the border of France, especially Austrian Flanders.
l. 19. When Louis the Fourteenth, &c. Burke describes the most critical period in the War of the Grand Alliance.
l. 36. puppet shew of a naval power. See p. 164, where Burke maintains that England ought to have made a campaign with 100,000 men on the Continent.
P. 72, l. 5. nothing in human affairs, &c. The common phrase “Nihil humani alienum.”
l. 12. our account, &c. See note to p. 270, l. 6.
l. 25. pale cast, &c. Hamlet, Act iii. sc. 2, transposed:
l. 32. prolific error, i.e. prolific of other errors. Cp. vol. i. p. 137, l. 31.
P. 73, l. 5. early victories. The capture of Valenciennes, Condé, Quesnoy, Landrécy, and Toulon. See the Introduction.
l. 13. desertion. Prussia deserted the campaign as soon as it began to fail.
l. 15. mutual accusations. Between England and Austria.
P. 74, l. 7. cry is raised against it. Burke alludes to the public indignation which followed on the passing of the “Gagging Act” of 1794.
l. 9. most efficient member, &c. Burke alludes to the failure of the prosecutions of Hardy and Horne Tooke at the Old Bailey in 1794.
l. 11. highest tribunal of all. Parliament.
P. 75, l. 17. poisonous jaws, &c. The allusion is to the fascination said to be exercised by serpents over birds.
l. 24. It is in the nature, &c. The modern historian will hardly sympathise with Burke’s lament over the failure of the State prosecutions, nor could Burke himself have seriously wished to recall the days of Scroggs and Jefferies. Besides, his wishes had been amply satisfied in the State Trials in Scotland, where, owing to the difference in procedure, all the prisoners had been convicted.
l. 34. what the bulk of us must ever be. A powerful statement of the weaknesses inherent in democracies.
P. 76, l. 16. Burke now powerfully enforces that view of the nature of the war of which he was the author, and for a long time the sole expositor. It was perfectly true, and in a year or two its truth was obvious to every one.
l. 20. a system—an armed doctrine. Grattan, Speech on Downfall of Buonaparte: “Sirs, the French Government is war; it is a Stratocracy elective, aggressive, and predatory. . . . . Their constitution is essentially war, and the object of that war is the downfall of Europe . . . . Not an army, but a military government in march!” Again: “If the government of any other country contains an insurrectionary principle, as France did when she offered to aid the insurrections of her neighbours, your interference is warranted: if the government of another country contains the principle of universal empire, as France did and promulgated, your interference is justifiable.” It was no easy task to prove to the English government and people how the France of the Directory differed from the France of Louis XIV. Macaulay, in a passage founded on the present one, has admirably described Mr. Pitt’s own blindness to what was so distinctly seen by Burke: “He went to war: but he would not understand the peculiar nature of that war. He was obstinately blind to the plain fact that he was contending against a state which was also a sect, and that the new quarrel between England and France was of quite a different kind from the old quarrels about colonies in America and fortresses in the Netherlands. He had to combat frantic enthusiasm, restless activity, the wildest and most audacious spirit of innovation: and he acted as if he had had to deal with the harlots and fops of the old court of Versailles, with Madame de Pompadour and the Abbé Bernis.” “Biographies,” Pitt.
l. 25. in every country. See the Second Letter, p. 155.
Ibid. a Colossus. &c. Burke alludes to the famous Colossus which bestrode the harbour of Rhodes. Jacobin sympathies in England were rapidly extinguished after Burke’s death, when the struggle with France became a struggle for national existence.
P. 77, l. 6. To their power = “as far as in them lies.”
P. 78, l. 28. Regicides—first to declare war. This statement, pertinaciously repeated in the early Parliamentary debates on the Peace question, is not strictly true. England was the first to break off all diplomatic communication with France. The King recalled Lord Gower from Paris, and commanded that ordinary relations should cease with Chauvelin after the 10th of August, 1792, when the French monarchy was abolished. Chauvelin, whom the Convention still continued in London, was only communicated with as representing the monarchy, and on the execution of the King in January, 1793, he received from the English government notice to quit England. It is true that the French government had already instructed him to the same effect, but these instructions were unknown to the English government.
P. 79, l. 16. some unhappy persons. The Duke of Choiseul, and other “emigrants” in British service, were shipwrecked and taken prisoners near Calais in 1795. Choiseul was condemned by the Directory, but saved by the Revolution of Brumaire. He lived to take part in the Revolution of 1830, and became aide-de-camp to Louis Philippe.
P. 80, l. 11. afflicted family of Asgill. Charles Asgill, a young captain in the British army in America, chosen by lot to be surrendered to the enemy’s mercy in reprisal for the execution of Huddy, April 12, 1782. Asgill’s mother appealed to the King and Queen of France to intercede in her son’s behalf. The intercession was successful: and Asgill visited Paris to acknowledge in person the exertions of Marie Antoinette.
P. 81, l. 22. a war of Government, &c. Such it unquestionably was in 1793. Whether it continued to be so when the French government avowedly carried it on for the purpose of destroying the European balance of power, and annihilating England, is another question.
P. 82, l. 1. Speech from the Throne. Intended to stop the mouths of the opposition and prepare the way for negotiations with France. See Introduction. It had neither effect.
l. 15. gipsey jargon. The phrase is borrowed from the account given in the Annual Register of the nomenclature adopted by the Convention.
P. 83, l. 15. “Citizen Regicides,” &c. In Burke’s most effective Parliamentary style, and scarcely a caricature of the attitude assumed by the ministry. The passage reminds us of Thomson, Britannia:
l. 24. patient suitors, &c. The picture which follows is in that vein of profound and scornful irony of which Burke was almost as great a master as his countryman Swift.
l. 25. sanguinary tyrant Carnot. Burke has no word of toleration, much less of praise, for a single statesman of the Revolution. Cp. the allusion to Hoche, p. 221. Carnot’s vote for the death of the King outweighed everything else in the eyes of his critic.
l. 27. down of usurped pomp. Carnot was one of the Directors, who lived in the palace of the Luxembourg.
P. 84, l. 15. Trophonian Cave. The rites of the deity Trophonius were celebrated in a cave near Lebadea, in Boeotia. Pausanias denies the tradition to which Burke here alludes, that none ever laughed after once visiting the cave.
l. 33. speeches and messages in former times. Burke’s usual line of argument. Cp. vol. i. p. 267. Burke in the next page qualifies this reference to the past, to avoid the charge of “pedantry.”
P. 86, l. 29. squander away the fund of our submissions. Burke gloomily anticipates the time when this humiliating attitude on the part of England may really become necessary. Cp. vol. ii. p. 128, l. 26.
l. 33. Barthélemy. This able diplomatist, who negotiated the Treaties with Spain and Prussia, afterwards became a Director. Allied with Carnot, his upright and statesmanlike opposition produced the Revolution of Fructidor. Carnot escaped: but Barthélemy was dragged through the streets of Paris, and before the windows of the Luxembourg, in an iron cage, on his way to the convict settlement of Cayenne.
P. 89, l. 34. ten immense and wealthy provinces. Burke proceeds to characterize the pretensions of France to the “Rhine, Alps, and Mediterranean” boundary.
P. 90, l. 25. a law, &c. The decree of the Convention incorporating Belgium with France, like Savoy and Nice.
l. 34. sacred Rights of Man. See vol. ii. p. 149. The allusion is, of course, ironical.
P. 91, l. 7. cooped and cabined in. “Cribbed, cabined, and confined.” Macbeth, Act iii. sc. 4.
P. 92, l. 22. over-running of Lombardy. This had taken place early in the year (1796).
l. 23. Piedmont—its impregnable fortresses. Alessandria, Tortona, Coni, Ceva, and others. See Hamley’s Operations of War, p. 142.
l. 25. instances for ever renewed—Genoa. The Ligurian republic was constituted in the next year, and the French policy thus completed.
l. 27. half the Empire. Swabia and Bavaria, overrun by Moreau in this year.
P. 94, l. 17. “in the lowest deep, a lower deep.” Par. Lost, Book iv. l. 76.
P. 95, l. 2. “None but itself,” &c. The line “None but himself can be his parallel,” is quoted from Theobald, in Martinus Scriblerus, as a specimen of fustian.
P. 96, l. 4. Light lie the earth, &c. The phrase, repeated from Letter IV (p. 351) is from the well-known elegy of Prior on Col. Villiers:
The conception is borrowed, through the Latins, from the Greek elegiac authors. Meleager in Anthol.;
P. 99, l. 6. “If it be thus,” &c. St. Luke, xxiii. 31.
l. 12. wax into our ears, &c. Burke alludes to the story of Ulysses and the Sirens, Odyssey, Book xii.
l. 14. Reubel, Carnot, Tallien. The two former were Directors: but Tallien had by this time ceased to be a leading politician. He had sunk into obscurity as a member of the Council of Five Hundred. He afterwards went to Egypt, and in 1801 appeared in London as a prisoner, on which occasion he was feted by the Opposition.
l. 15. Domiciliary Visitors. Under the law of August 1792, 3000 persons were at once dragged away to prison in one night.
l. 17. Revolutionary Tribunals. The famous Revolutionary Tribunal, which took cognizance of treason against the Republic, was instituted by Danton, who was himself condemned by it. It had ceased to exist in December 1794, after employing its vigour during the last six months against the party of Robespierre. It sent to the guillotine 2,774 persons, including the Queen and the Princess Elizabeth.
l. 18. Septembrizers. Alluding to the massacres at Paris in September 1792, in which 1500 persons perished. The “Septembriseur” par excellence was Tallien.
l. 26. little national window. One of the pleasantries which enlivened the despatches from Carrier to the Convention, describing his cruelties in La Vendée.
l. 28. declaration of the Government. The Whitehall Declaration, which filled Burke with unbounded admiration, to which he more than once recurs (see pp. 156, 318), was from the pen of Lord Grenville.
P. 101, l. 2. Plutarch. The allusion is not in Plutarch. Burke is thinking of Cicero, De Oratore, Lib. III, cap. 34, where the critic recalls the satire poured on Pericles by the comedians, who nevertheless ascribed to him such force and power of engaging attention “ut in eorum mentibus qui audissent quasi aculeos quosdam relinqueret.”
l. 18. With their spear, &c. The allusion is to the story of C. Popilius Laenas.
P. 104, l. 8. competence to act. Cp. vol. i. p. 254. Burke’s observations on the necessity of popular support to a great war, though apparently quite modern in spirit, were based on history, as he presently shows.
P. 104, l. 25. country of old called ferax monstrorum. Burke quotes as usual from memory, “Asia, terra ferax miraculorum,” Plin. Epist. 173.
l. 34. muster of our strength. The remarkable estimate which follows excludes, as usual with Burke, the mass of the people, who are regarded (P. 105, l. 15) as merely the “objects of protection,” and the “means of force.” It is curious that one who had laid down the rational doctrine of the causes of hostility between people and government contained in vol. i. p. 75 (Present Discontents), should now see no anomaly in the existence of an incurable Jacobin faction numbering one-fifth of the effective forces of the country.
P. 106, l. 10. By passing from place to place, &c. Cp. vol. ii. p. 180.
l. 18. naturally disposed to peace. The observation is true: and it illustrates Pitt’s difficulty. The mass of his supporters in the country were interested in peace.
l. 19. languid and improvident. Dryden, the Medal:
P. 107, l. 11. But strong passions awaken the faculties, &c. Burke clearly has in mind the lines of Akenside, “Pleasures of the Imagination,” Bk. ii.
P. 108, l. 14. Pope—dying notes. See the last fifty lines of the two dialogues called “Epilogue to the Satires.”
l. 15. Johnson. See the first sixty lines of “London” (1738).
l. 17. Glover. See his poem, London, or the Progress of Commerce, and the pathetic ballad, Admiral Hosier’s Ghost.
l. 35. driven by a popular clamour, &c. See Lord Stanhope’s History of England.
P. 110, l. 25. Guarda-Costas. The coast-guards of Spanish America, whose insolence to English ships was a main cause of the war.
Ibid. Madrid Convention. Made in 1713, for thirty years. It secured to England the “Assiento,” or contract for supplying Spanish America with African slaves.
l. 26. Captain Jenkins’s ears. Exhibited in the House of Commons as having being cut off by a Spanish captain.
l. 34. dilatory pleas, exceptions of form. Proceedings under the old legal system, which deferred the consideration of the question without touching its merits. Moving and carrying the previous question has the same effect in parliamentary debate.
P. 113, l. 7. contending to be admitted at a moderate premium. Burke states the circumstances of the loan voted in December, 1795, with the partiality to be expected. For the facts, see the notes, post, to pp. 254–60.
l. 26. When I came to England. In 1750.
l. 29. Aire and Calder. The improvement of the navigation of these rivers, which connected the West Riding with the port of Hull, may be said to be the first step in the construction of those two great networks of canals and railways, which have played so important a part in developing English trade and manufactures. Burke returns to the subject in the Third Letter, p. 290.
P. 118, l. 26. three great immoveable pillars. Cp. vol. i. p. 295, note to p. 73, l. 17.
P. 121, l. 14. “Of large discourse,” &c. Hamlet, Act iv. sc. 4.
P. 122, l. 8. If the war, &c. In these three brief paragraphs Burke puts his argument for the war into a compendious and striking form. Compare with the whole argument Bacon’s very similar plea for a Holy War. As will be seen, Burke evidently had Bacon in mind in some other passages: “Such people as have utterly degenerated from the laws of Nature, as have in their very body and frame of estate a monstrosity, and may be truly accounted, according to the examples we have formerly recited, common enemies and grievances of mankind and disgraces and reproaches to human nature—such people all nations are interested or ought to be interested to reform.” “When the constitution of a State and the fundamental laws and customs of the same, if laws they may be called, are against the laws of Nature and of Nations, then I say a war upon them is lawful.”
P. 123, l. 31. abolition of the law. Cp. vol. ii. p. 191.
P. 125, l. 9. Jacobinism is the revolt, &c. So Southey, Essay on Popular Disaffection: “Of mere men of letters, wherever they exist as a separate class, a large proportion are always enlisted in hostility, open or secret, against the established order of things.”
l. 27. regular decree. The allusion is to the frantic efforts made under the Convention to get rid of Christianity and even faith in a God and the soul. They came to an end with the acknowledgment of Deism as the national faith, and the establishment of the Festival of the Supreme Being by Robespierre in 1794.
P. 126, l. 2. profane apotheosis. The allusion is to the funeral honours paid to the remains of Marat in the Pantheon.
l. 8. rites in honour of Reason. Burke alludes to the scene of Nov. 10, 1793, when the Commune of Paris enthroned a superannuated prostitute in Nôtre Dame as the goddess of Reason. Similar scenes were repeated throughout the country.
l. 11. schools founded at the publick expence. By the Convention. They were mere primary schools, in which were to be taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and the republican catechism.
l. 23. Manners are what, &c. Burke draws his arguments from the old, French school itself. Massillon (Vices et Vertus des Grands): “Moeurs cultivées, bienséances voisines de la vertu.” Again, “Les bienséances qui sont inseparables du rang, et qui sont comme la première école de la vertu.”
P. 127, l. 8. five or six hundred drunken women. It may be objected that Burke has no business to charge upon the Directory all the excesses of the Assembly and Convention. The presumption in the eyes of any candid observer was now in favour of reaction. Burke had denied the reality of the reaction in his then unpublished Fourth Letter.
l. 17. paradoxes. Cp. vol. ii. p. 277, l. 13.
l. 20. at which morality is perplexed, &c. The same idea is admirably expressed by Molière: “Ne fatiguez point mon devoir par les propositions d’une facheuse extrémité dont peut être nous n’aurons pas besoin.” Mons. Pourceaugnac, Act i, Scene 4.
l. 24. improving instincts into morals. On this doctrine, so often insisted on by Burke, see Introduction to vol. ii. p. 40, &c.
P. 128, l. 12. common civil contract. Here again Burke goes back to the early legislation of the Revolution. Subsequent legislation, in European countries least to be suspected of revolutionism, has justified the advocates of the measure.
P. 130, l. 21. cannibalism. Burke follows Bacon, in the Tract on a Holy War, in arguing from the cannibalism, among other traits, of the American Indians that their territory was forfeited by the Law of Nations, and that the Spaniards, or any one else, might lawfully invade it.
P. 132, l. 21. papers and seals. Cp. vol. i. p. 288, &c.
l. 24. Nothing is so strong, &c. Burke’s sketch of the European system may remind the reader of the relations of the Greek communities as reflected in Herodotus and Thucydides.
l. 33. As to war—sole means of justice. Burke uses a saying of Bacon, “Wars are the highest trials of right,” Observations on a Libel.
P. 133, l. 28. several orders. i.e. church, nobles, and commons.
P. 134, l. 2. continued in greater perfection, &c. As in Venice, Holland, and Switzerland. This was natural enough. The power of a Crown counterbalanced the authority of the upper orders.
l. 25. formed resolution, &c. Peace had however been made by France with all Europe except England and Austria.
P. 135, l. 11. never in a state, &c. Cp. Introduction to vol. ii. pp. 44–45.
l. 32. praetorian law. The “Equity” of Roman law.
Ibid. Law of Neighbourhood. So M. de Puisaye, quoted by Southey, “Public Opinion and the Political Reformers”: “It is with the independence of nations as with the liberty of individuals, they have a right to do everything which involves no wrong to others. So long as my neighbour demeans himself conformably to the laws his conduct is no concern of mine: but if he converts his house into a brothel or commence a manufactory there which should poison my family with its unwholesome stench, I prosecute him for a nuisance.”
P. 137, l. 9. ground of action—ground of war. So Bacon, On a War with Spain. “Wars (I speak not of ambitious, predatory wars) are suits of appeal to the Tribunal of God’s justice.”
P. 138, l. 1. trifling points of honour, &c. Imitated by Casti, Anim. Parl. Canto iii.:
l. 5. wild-cat skins. In the American settlements.
P. 139, l. 23. bailliages. Districts of judicature.
P. 140, l. 4. France is out of her bounds. Burke means that the emigrants were the real France. Sheridan often refers to this striking expression of Burke on the subject: “Look at the map of Europe: there, where a great man (who however was always wrong on this subject) said he looked for France, and found nothing but a chasm.” Speech, Dec. 8, 1802. Again, Aug. 13, 1807: “France,” —as Mr. Burke described it— “a blank in the map of Europe.”
P. 142, l. 9. negro slaves. Burke alludes to the blacks of Hayti.
l. 15. Oppression makes, &c. Ecclesiastes vii. 7.
l. 19. bitterness of soul. Burke evidently had in mind the lines of Addison (The Campaign) describing the cry of Europe for deliverance from Louis XIV:
This poem was sometimes quoted in the debates on peace in Parliament.
P. 143, l. 30. Algiers. The argument had been advanced by Fox, on the occasion of the famous debate, Dec. 15, 1792, when Burke first took his seat on the Treasury bench. Mr. Fox moved the house to send a minister to Paris to treat with the provisional government. “If we objected to the existing form of government in France, we had as strong objections to the form of government at Algiers; yet at Algiers we had a consul.” The argument from Mahomedan communities is derived from the controversial theologians of a preceding age. See Hooker, Eccl. Pol. iv. 7, &c.
P. 146, l. 22. “Thus painters write,” &c. Prior, “Protogenes and Apelles.” Apelles of Co (Cos) visits his brother artist at Rhodes, and not finding him at home, draws a perfect circle on a panel:
Burke alludes to Grenville’s master-hand similarly displayed in the Declaration.
P. 149, l. 30. whom my dim eyes, &c. Burke has in mind a pathetic triplet from Pope’s Homer: