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Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke. by Edmund Burke

Part 7 out of 9

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representation." I shall only say here, in justice to that old-fashioned
constitution, under which we have long prospered, that our
representation has been found perfectly adequate to all the purposes for
which a representation of the people can be desired or devised. I defy
the enemies of our constitution to show the contrary. To detail the
particulars in which it is found so well to promote its ends, would
demand a treatise on our practical constitution. I state here the
doctrine of the revolutionists, only that you and others may see, what
an opinion these gentlemen entertain of the constitution of their
country, and why they seem to think that some great abuse of power, or
some great calamity, as giving a chance for the blessing of a
constitution according to their ideas, would be much palliated to their
feelings; you see WHY THEY are so much enamoured of your fair and equal
representation, which being once obtained, the same effects might
follow. You see they consider our House of Commons as only "a
semblance," "a form," "a theory," "a shadow," "a mockery," perhaps "a


There is nothing more memorable in history than the actions,
fortunes, and character of this great man; whether we consider the
grandeur of the plans he formed, the courage and wisdom with which
they were executed, or the splendour of that success, which, adorning
his youth, continued without the smallest reserve to support his age
even to the last moments of his life. He lived above seventy years,
and reigned within ten years as long as he lived: sixty over his
dukedom, above twenty over England; both of which he acquired or kept
by his own magnanimity, with hardly any other title than he derived
from his arms; so that he might be reputed, in all respects, as happy
as the highest ambition, the most fully gratified, can make a man.
The silent inward satisfactions of domestic happiness he neither had
nor sought. He had a body suited to the character of his mind, erect,
firm, large, and active; whilst to be active was a praise; a
countenance stern, and which became command. Magnificent in his
living, reserved in his conversation, grave in his common deportment,
but relaxing with a wise facetiousness, he knew how to relieve his
mind and preserve his dignity; for he never forfeited by a personal
acquaintance that esteem he had acquired by his great actions.
Unlearned in books, he formed his understanding by the rigid
discipline of a large and complicated experience. He knew men much,
and therefore generally trusted them but little; but when he knew any
man to be good, he reposed in him an entire confidence, which
prevented his prudence from degenerating into a vice. He had vices in
his composition, and great ones; but they were the vices of a great
mind: ambition, the malady of every extensive genius; and avarice,
the madness of the wise: one chiefly actuated his youth; the other
governed his age. The vices of young and light minds, the joys of
wine, and the pleasures of love, never reached his aspiring nature.
The general run of men he looked on with contempt, and treated with
cruelty when they opposed him. Nor was the rigour of his mind to be
softened but with the appearance of extraordinary fortitude in his
enemies, which, by a sympathy congenial to his own virtues, always
excited his admiration, and insured his mercy. So that there were
often seen in this one man, at the same time, the extremes of a
savage cruelty, and a generosity, that does honour to human nature.
Religion, too, seemed to have a great influence on his mind from
policy, or from better motives; but his religion was displayed in the
regularity with which he performed his duties, not in the submission
he showed to its ministers, which was never more than what good
government required. Yet his choice of a counsellor and favourite was
not, according to the mode of the time, out of that order, and a
choice that does honour to his memory. This was Lanfranc, a man of
great learning for the times, and extraordinary piety. He owed his
elevation to William; but, though always inviolably faithful, he
never was the tool or flatterer of the power which raised him; and
the greater freedom he showed, the higher he rose in the confidence
of his master. By mixing with the concerns of state he did not lose
his religion and conscience, or make them the covers or instruments
of ambition; but tempering the fierce policy of a new power by the
mild lights of religion, he became a blessing to the country in which
he was promoted. The English owed to the virtue of this stranger, and
the influence he had on the king, the little remains of liberty they
continued to enjoy; and at last such a degree of his confidence, as
in some sort counterbalanced the severities of the former part of his


When Alfred had once more reunited the kingdoms of his ancestors, he
found the whole face of things in the most desperate condition; there
was no observance of law and order; religion had no force; there was no
honest industry; the most squalid poverty, and the grossest ignorance,
had overspread the whole kingdom. Alfred at once enterprised the cure of
all these evils. To remedy the disorders in the government, he revived,
improved, and digested all the Saxon institutions; insomuch that he is
generally honoured as the founder of our laws and constitution.
(Historians, copying after one another, and examining little, have
attributed to this monarch the institution of juries; an institution
which certainly did never prevail amongst the Saxons. They have likewise
attributed to him the distribution of England into shires, hundreds, and
tithings, and of appointing officers over these divisions. But it is
very obvious that the shires were never settled upon any regular plan,
nor are they the result of any single design. But these reports, however
ill imagined, are a strong proof of the high veneration in which this
excellent prince has always been held; as it has been thought that the
attributing these regulations to him would endear them to the nation. He
probably settled them in such an order, and made such reformations in
his government, that some of the institutions themselves, which he
improved, have been attributed to him; and indeed there was one work of
his, which serves to furnish us with a higher idea of the political
capacity of that great man than any of these fictions. He made a general
survey and register of all the property in the kingdom, who held it, and
what it was distinctly; a vast work for an age of ignorance and time of
confusion, which has been neglected in more civilized nations and
settled times. It was called the "Roll of Winton," and served as a model
of a work of the same kind made by William the Conqueror.) The shire he
divided into hundreds; the hundreds into tithings; every freeman was
obliged to be entered into some tithing, the members of which were
mutually bound for each other for the preservation of the peace, and the
avoiding theft and rapine. For securing the liberty of the subject, he
introduced the method of giving bail, the most certain fence against the
abuses of power. It has been observed, that the reigns of weak princes
are times favourable to liberty; but the wisest and bravest of all the
English princes is the father of their freedom. This great man was even
jealous of the privileges of his subjects; and as his whole life was
spent in protecting them, his last will breathes the same spirit,
declaring, that he had left his people as free as their own thoughts. He
not only collected with great care a complete body of laws, but he wrote
comments on them for the instruction of his judges, who were in general
by the misfortune of the time ignorant; and if he took care to correct
their ignorance, he was rigorous towards their corruption. He inquired
strictly into their conduct; he heard appeals in person; he held his
Wittena-Gemotes, or parliaments, frequently, and kept every part of his
government in health and vigour.

Nor was he less solicitous for the defence, than he had shown himself
for the regulation, of his kingdom. He nourished with particular care
the new naval strength, which he had established; he built forts and
castles in the most important posts; he settled beacons to spread an
alarm on the arrival of an enemy; and ordered his militia in such a
manner, that there was always a great power in readiness to march, well
appointed and well disciplined. But that a suitable revenue might not be
wanting for the support of his fleets and fortifications, he gave great
encouragement to trade; which by the piracies on the coasts, and the
rapine and injustice exercised by the people within, had long become a
stranger to this island.

In the midst of these various and important cares, he gave a peculiar
attention to learning, which by the rage of the late wars had been
entirely extinguished in his kingdom. "Very few there were (says this
monarch) on this side the Humber, that understood their ordinary
prayers; or that were able to translate any Latin book into English; so
few, that I do not remember even one qualified to the southward of the
Thames when I began my reign." To cure this deplorable ignorance, he was
indefatigable in his endeavours to bring into England men of learning in
all branches from every part of Europe; and unbounded in his liberality
to them. He enacted by a law, that every person possessed of two hides
of land should send their children to school until sixteen. Wisely
considering where to put a stop to his love even of the liberal arts,
which are only suited to a liberal condition, he enterprised yet a
greater design than that of forming the growing generation,--to instruct
even the grown; enjoining all his earldormen and sheriffs immediately to
apply themselves to learning or to quit their offices. To facilitate
these great purposes, he made a regular foundation of a university,
which with great reason is believed to have been at Oxford. Whatever
trouble he took to extend the benefits of learning amongst his subjects,
he showed the example himself, and applied to the cultivation of his
mind with unparalleled diligence and success. He could neither read nor
write at twelve years old; but he improved his time in such a manner
that he became one of the most knowing men of his age, in geometry, in
philosophy, in architecture, and in music. He applied himself to the
improvement of his native language; he translated several valuable works
from Latin, and wrote a vast number of poems in the Saxon tongue with a
wonderful facility and happiness. He not only excelled in the theory of
the arts and sciences, but possessed a great mechanical genius for the
executive part; he improved the manner of ship-building, introduced a
more beautiful and commodious architecture, and even taught his
countrymen the art of making bricks, most of the buildings having been
of wood before his time; in a word, he comprehended in the greatness of
his mind the whole of government and all its parts at once; and what is
most difficult to human frailty, was the same time sublime and minute.
Religion, which in Alfred's father was so prejudicial to affairs,
without being in him at all inferior in its zeal and fervour, was of a
more enlarged and noble kind; far from being a prejudice to his
government, it seems to have been the principle that supported him in so
many fatigues, and fed like an abundant source his civil and military
virtues. To his religious exercises and studies he devoted a full third
part of his time. It is pleasant to trace a genius even in its smallest
exertions; in measuring and allotting his time for the variety of
business he was engaged in. According to his severe and methodical
custom, he had a sort of wax candles, made of different colours, in
different proportions, according to the time he allotted to each
particular affair; as he carried these about with him wherever he went,
to make them burn evenly, he invented horn lanthorns. One cannot help
being amazed, that a prince, who lived in such turbulent times, who
commanded personally in fifty-four pitched battles, who had so
disordered a province to regulate, who was not only a legislator but a
judge, and who was continually superintending his armies, his navies,
the traffic of his kingdom, his revenues, and the conduct of all his
officers, could have bestowed so much of his time on religious exercises
and speculative knowledge; but the exertion of all his faculties and
virtues seemed to have given a mutual strength to all of them. Thus all
historians speak of this prince, whose whole history was one panegyric;
and whatever dark spots of human frailty may have adhered to such a
character, they are entirely hid in the splendour of his many shining
qualities and grand virtues, that throw a glory over the obscure period
in which he lived, and which is for no other reason worthy of our


The Druids are said to be very expert in astronomy, in geography, and in
all parts of mathematical knowledge. And authors speak, in a very
exaggerated strain, of their excellence in these, and in many other
sciences. Some elemental knowledge I suppose they had; but I can
scarcely be persuaded that their learning was either deep or extensive.
In all countries where Druidism was professed, the youth were generally
instructed by that order; and yet was there little either in the manners
of the people, in their way of life, or their works of art, that
demonstrates profound science, or particularly mathematical skill.
Britain, where their discipline was in its highest perfection, and which
was therefore resorted to by the people of Gaul, as an oracle in
Druidical questions, was more barbarous in all other respects than Gaul
itself, or than any other country then known in Europe. Those piles of
rude magnificence, Stonehenge and Abury, are in vain produced in proof
of their mathematical abilities. These vast structures have nothing
which can be admired, but the greatness of the work; and they are not
the only instances of the great things, which the mere labour of many
hands united, and persevering in their purpose, may accomplish with very
little help from mechanics. This may be evinced by the immense
buildings, and the low state of the sciences, among the original
Peruvians. The Druids were eminent, above all the philosophic lawgivers
of antiquity, for their care in impressing the doctrine of the soul's
immortality on the minds of their people, as an operative and leading
principle. This doctrine was inculcated on the scheme of transmigration,
which some imagine them to have derived from Pythagoras. But it is by no
means necessary to resort to any particular teacher for an opinion which
owes its birth to the weak struggles of unenlightened reason, and to
mistakes natural to the human mind. The idea of the soul's immortality
is indeed ancient, universal, and in a manner inherent in our nature;
but it is not easy for a rude people to conceive any other mode of
existence than one similar to what they had experienced in life; nor any
other world as the scene of such an existence, but this we inhabit,
beyond the bounds of which the mind extends itself with great
difficulty. Admiration, indeed, was able to exalt to heaven a few
selected heroes; it did not seem absurd, that those, who in their mortal
state had distinguished themselves as superior and overruling spirits,
should after death ascend to that sphere, which influences and governs
everything below; or that the proper abode of beings, at once so
illustrious and permanent, should be in that part of nature, in which
they had always observed the greatest splendour and the least mutation.
But on ordinary occasions it was natural some should imagine, that the
dead retired into a remote country, separated from the living by seas or
mountains. It was natural, that some should follow their imagination
with a simplicity still purer, and pursue the souls of men no further
than the sepulchres, in which their bodies had been deposited; whilst
others of deeper penetration, observing that bodies, worn out by age, or
destroyed by accidents, still afforded the materials for generating new
ones, concluded likewise, that a soul being dislodged did not wholly
perish, but was destined, by a similar revolution in nature, to act
again, and to animate some other body. This last principle gave rise to
the doctrine of transmigration; but we must not presume of course, that
where it prevailed it necessarily excluded the other opinions; for it is
not remote from the usual procedure of the human mind, blending, in
obscure matters, imagination and reasoning together, to unite ideas the
most inconsistent. When Homer represents the ghosts of his heroes
appearing at the sacrifices of Ulysses, he supposes them endued with
life, sensation, and a capacity of moving, but he has joined to these
powers of living existence uncomeliness, want of strength, want of
distinction, the characteristics of a dead carcass. This is what the
mind is apt to do; it is very apt to confound the ideas of the surviving
soul and the dead body. The vulgar have always, and still do confound
these very irreconcilable ideas. They lay the scene of apparitions in
churchyards; they habit the ghost in a shroud; and it appears in all the
ghastly paleness of a corpse. A contradiction of this kind has given
rise to a doubt, whether the Druids did in reality hold the doctrine of
transmigration. There is positive testimony, that they did hold it.
There is also testimony as positive, that they buried, or burned with
the dead, utensils, arms, slaves, and whatever might be judged useful to
them, as if they were to be removed into a separate state. They might
have held both these opinions; and we ought not to be surprised to find
error inconsistent.


But whatever was the condition of the other parts of Europe, it is
generally agreed that the state of Britain was the worst of all. Some
writers have asserted, that except those who took refuge in the
mountains of Wales and Cornwall, or fled into Armorica, the British race
was, in a manner, destroyed. What is extraordinary, we find England in a
very tolerable state of population in less than two centuries after the
first invasion of the Saxons; and it is hard to imagine either the
transplantation, or the increase, of that single people to have been, in
so short a time, sufficient for the settlement of so great an extent of
country. Others speak of the Britons, not as extirpated, but as reduced
to a state of slavery; and here these writers fix the origin of personal
and predial servitude in England.

I shall lay fairly before the reader all I have been able to discover
concerning the existence or condition of this unhappy people. That they
were much more broken and reduced than any other nation which had fallen
under the German power, I think may be inferred from two considerations:
first, that in all other parts of Europe the ancient language subsisted
after the conquest, and at length incorporated with that of the
conquerors; whereas in England, the Saxon language received little or no
tincture from the Welsh; and it seems, even among the lowest people, to
have continued a dialect of pure Teutonic to the time in which it was
itself blended with the Norman. Secondly, that on the continent, the
Christian religion, after the northern irruptions, not only remained,
but flourished. It was very early and universally adopted by the ruling
people. In England it was so entirely extinguished, that, when Augustin
undertook his mission, it does not appear that among all the Saxons
there was a single person professing Christianity. The sudden extinction
of the ancient religion and language appears sufficient to show that
Britain must have suffered more than any of the neighbouring nations on
the continent. But it must not be concealed, that there are likewise
proofs, that the British race, though much diminished, was not wholly
extirpated; and that those who remained, were not merely as Britons
reduced to servitude; for they are mentioned as existing in some of the
earlier Saxon laws. In these laws they are allowed a compensation on the
footing of the meaner kind of English; and they are even permitted, as
well as the English, to emerge out of that low rank into a more liberal
condition. This is degradation, but not slavery. (Leges Inae 32 de
Cambrico homine agrum possidente. Id. 54.) The affairs of that whole
period are, however, covered with an obscurity not to be dissipated. The
Britons had little leisure or ability to write a just account of a war
by which they were ruined; and the Anglo-Saxons, who succeeded them,
attentive only to arms, were until their conversion, ignorant of the use
of letters.

It is on this darkened theatre that some old writers have introduced
those characters and actions, which have afforded such ample matter to
poets, and so much perplexity to historians. This is the fabulous and
heroic age of our nation. After the natural and just representations of
the Roman scene, the stage is again crowded with enchanters, giants, and
all the extravagant images of the wildest and most remote antiquity. No
personage makes so conspicuous a figure in these stories as King Arthur;
a prince, whether of British or Roman origin, whether born on this
island or in Armorica, is uncertain; but it appears that he opposed the
Saxons with remarkable virtue, and no small degree of success, which has
rendered him and his exploits so large an argument of romance, that both
are almost disclaimed by history. Light scarce begins to dawn until the
introduction of Christianity, which, bringing with it the use of
letters, and the arts of civil life, affords at once a juster account of
things and facts that are more worthy of relation; nor is there, indeed,
any revolution so remarkable in the English story.

The bishops of Rome had for sometime meditated the conversion of the
Anglo-Saxons. Pope Gregory, who is surnamed the Great, affected that
pious design with an uncommon zeal; and he at length found a
circumstance highly favourable to it in the marriage of a daughter of
Charibert, a king of the Franks, to the reining monarch of Kent. This
opportunity induced Pope Gregory to commission Augustin, a monk of
Rheims, and a man of distinguished piety, to undertake this arduous

It was in the year of Christ 600, and 150 years after the coming of the
first Saxon colonies into England, that Ethelbert, king of Kent,
received intelligence of the arrival in his dominions of a number of men
in a foreign garb, practising several strange and unusual ceremonies,
who desired to be conducted to the king's presence, declaring that they
had things to communicate to him and to his people of the utmost
importance to their eternal welfare. This was Augustin, with forty of
the associates of his mission, who now landed in the Isle of Thanet, the
same place by which the Saxons had before entered, when they extirpated


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 expense 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 often 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 its 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
its 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 irreconcilable foes, then, and not till then,
the ministers stand acquitted before God and man, for whatever may come.


In the change of religion, care was taken to render the transit from
falsehood to truth as little violent as possible. Though the first
proselytes were kings, it does not appear that there was any
persecution. It was a precept of Pope Gregory, under whose auspices this
mission was conducted, that the heathen temples should not be destroyed,
especially where they were well built; but that, first removing the
idols, they should be consecrated anew by holier rites, and to better
purposes (Bed. Hist. Eccl. l. i. c. 30.), in order that the prejudices
of the people might not be too rudely shocked by a declared profanation
of what they had so long held sacred; and that everywhere beholding the
same places, to which they had formerly resorted for religious comfort,
they might be gradually reconciled to the new doctrines and ceremonies
which were there introduced; and as the sacrifices used in the Pagan
worship were always attended with feasting, and consequently were highly
grateful to the multitude, the pope ordered, that oxen should as usual
be slaughtered near the church, and the people indulged in their ancient
festivity. (Id. c. eod.) Whatever popular customs of heathenism were
found to be absolutely not incompatible with Christianity were retained;
and some of them were continued to a very late period. Deer were at a
certain season brought into St. Paul's Church in London, and laid on the
altar (Dugdale's History of St. Paul's.); and this custom subsisted
until the Reformation. The names of some of the church festivals were,
with a similar design, taken from those of the heathen, which had been
celebrated at the same time of the year. Nothing could have been more
prudent than these regulations; they were indeed formed from a perfect
understanding of human nature.

Whilst the inferior people were thus insensibly led into a better order,
the example and countenance of the great completed the work. For the
Saxon kings and ruling men embraced religion with so signal, and in
their rank so unusual, a zeal, that in many instances they even
sacrificed to its advancement the prime objects of their ambition.
Wulfere, king of the West Saxons, bestowed the Isle of Wight on the king
of Sussex, to persuade him to embrace Christianity. (Bed. Hist. Eccl. l.
iv. c. 13.) This zeal operated in the same manner in favour of their
instructors. The greatest kings and conquerors frequently resigned their
crowns, and shut themselves up in monasteries. When kings became monks,
a high lustre was reflected upon the monastic state, and great credit
accrued to the power of their doctrine, which was able to produce such
extraordinary effects upon persons, over whom religion has commonly the
slightest influence.

The zeal of the missionaries was also much assisted by their superiority
in the arts of civil life. At their first preaching in Sussex, that
country was reduced to the greatest distress from a drought, which had
continued for three years. The barbarous inhabitants, destitute of any
means to alleviate the famine, in an epidemic transport of despair
frequently united forty and fifty in a body, and joining their hands,
precipitated themselves from the cliffs, and were either drowned or
dashed to pieces on the rocks. Though a maritime people, they knew not
how to fish; and this ignorance probably arose from a remnant of
Druidical superstition, which had forbidden the use of that sort of
diet. In this calamity, Bishop Wilfred, their first preacher, collecting
nets, at the head of his attendants, plunged into the sea; and having
opened this great resource of food, he reconciled the desperate people
to life, and their minds to the spiritual care of those who had shown
themselves so attentive to their temporal preservation. (Bed. Hist.
Eccl. l. iv. c. 13.) The same regard to the welfare of the people
appeared in all their actions. The Christian kings sometimes made
donations to the church of lands conquered from their heathen enemies.
The clergy immediately baptized and manumitted their new vassals. Thus
they endeared to all sorts of men doctrines and teachers, which could
mitigate the rigorous law of conquest; and they rejoiced to see religion
and liberty advancing with an equal progress. Nor were the monks in this
time in anything more worthy of their praise than in their zeal for
personal freedom. In the canon, wherein they provided against the
alienation of their lands, among other charitable exceptions to this
restraint, they particularize the purchase of liberty. (Spelm. Concil.
Page 329.) In their transactions with the great the same point was
always strenuously laboured. When they imposed penance, they were
remarkably indulgent to persons of that rank. But they always made them
purchase the remission of corporal austerity by acts of beneficence.
They urged their powerful penitents to the enfranchisement of their own
slaves, and to the redemption of those which belonged to others; they
directed them to the repair of highways, and to the construction of
churches, bridges, and other works of general utility. (Instauret etiam
Dei ecclesiam; et instauret vias publicas, pontibus super aquas
profundas et super caenosas vias; et manumittat servos suos proprios, et
redimat ab aliis hominibus servos suos ad libertatem.--L. Eccl. Edgari
14.) They extracted the fruits of virtue even from crimes, and whenever
a great man expiated his private offences, he provided in the same act
for the public happiness. The monasteries were then the only bodies
corporate in the kingdom; and if any persons were desirous to perpetuate
their charity by a fund for the relief of the sick or indigent, there
was no other way than to confide this trust to some monastery. The monks
were the sole channel, through which the bounty of the rich could pass
in any continued stream to the poor; and the people turned their eyes
towards them in all their distresses.

We must observe, that the monks of that time, especially those from
Ireland (Aidanus Finam et Colmanus mirae sanctitatis fuerunt et
parsimoniae. Adeo enim sacerdotes erant illius temporis ab avaritia
immunes, ut nec territoria nisi coacti acciperent.--Hen. Hunting. apud
Decem. l. iii. page 333. Bed. Hist. Eccl. l. iii. c. 26.), who had a
considerable share in the conversion of all the northern parts, did not
show that rapacious desire of riches, which long disgraced, and finally
ruined, their successors. Not only did they not seek, but seemed even to
shun, such donations. This prevented that alarm, which might have arisen
from an early and declared avarice. At this time the most fervent and
holy anchorites retired to places the furthest that could be found from
human concourse and help, to the most desolate and barren situations,
which even from their horror seemed particularly adapted to men who had
renounced the world. Many persons followed them in order to partake of
their instructions and prayers, or to form themselves upon their
example. An opinion of their miracles after their death drew still
greater numbers. Establishments were gradually made. The monastic life
was frugal, and the government moderate. These causes drew a constant
concourse. Sanctified deserts assumed a new face; the marshes were
drained, and the lands cultivated. And as this revolution seemed rather
the effect of the holiness of the place than of any natural causes, it
increased their credit; and every improvement drew with it a new
donation. In this manner the great abbeys of Croyland and Glastonbury,
and many others, from the most obscure beginnings, were advanced to a
degree of wealth and splendour little less than royal. In these rude
ages, government was not yet fixed upon solid principles, and everything
was full of tumult and distraction. As the monasteries were better
secured from violence by their character, than any other places by laws,
several great men, and even sovereign princes, were obliged to take
refuge in convents, who, when by a more happy revolution in their
fortunes they were reinstated in their former dignities, thought they
could never make a sufficient return for the safety they had enjoyed
under the sacred hospitality of these roofs. Not content to enrich them
with ample possessions, that others also might partake of the protection
they had experienced, they formally erected into an asylum those
monasteries, and their adjacent territory. So that all thronged to that
refuge, who were rendered unquiet by their crimes, their misfortunes, or
the severity of their lords; and content to live under a government, to
which their minds were subject, they raised the importance of their
masters by their numbers, their labour, and above all, by an inviolable

The monastery was always the place of sepulture for the greatest lords
and kings. This added to the other causes of reverence a sort of
sanctity, which, in universal opinion, always attends the repositories
of the dead; and they acquired also thereby a more particular protection
against the great and powerful; for who would violate the tomb of his
ancestors, or his own? It was not an unnatural weakness to think, that
some advantage might be derived from lying in holy places, and amongst
holy persons: and this superstition was fomented with the greatest
industry and art. The monks of Glastonbury spread a notion, that it was
almost impossible any person should be damned, whose body lay in their
cemetery. This must be considered as coming in aid of the amplest of
their resources, prayer for the dead.

But there was no part of their policy, of whatever nature, that procured
to them a greater or juster credit, than their cultivation of learning
and useful arts. For if the monks contributed to the fall of science in
the Roman empire, it is certain, that the introduction of learning and
civility into this northern world is entirely owing to their labours. It
is true, that they cultivated letters only in a secondary way, and as
subsidiary to religion. But the scheme of Christianity is such, that it
almost necessitates an attention to many kinds of learning. For the
Scripture is by no means an irrelative system of moral and divine
truths; but it stands connected with so many histories, and with the
laws, opinions, and manners of so many various sorts of people, and in
such different times, that it is altogether impossible to arrive to any
tolerable knowledge of it, without having recourse to much exterior
inquiry. For which reason the progress of this religion has always been
marked by that of letters. There were two other circumstances at this
time, that contributed no less to the revival of learning. The sacred
writings had not been translated into any vernacular language, and even
the ordinary service of the church was still continued in the Latin
tongue; all, therefore, who formed themselves for the ministry, and
hoped to make any figure in it, were in a manner driven to the study of
the writers of polite antiquity, in order to qualify themselves for
their most ordinary functions. By this means a practice, liable in
itself to great objections, had a considerable share in preserving the
wrecks of literature; and was one means of conveying down to our times
those inestimable monuments, which otherwise, in the tumult of barbarous
confusion on one hand, and untaught piety on the other, must inevitably
have perished. The second circumstance, the pilgrimages of that age, if
considered in itself, was as liable to objection as the former; but it
proved of equal advantage to the cause of literature. A principal object
of these pious journeys was Rome, which contained all the little that
was left in the western world, of ancient learning and taste. The other
great object of those pilgrimages was Jerusalem; this led them into the
Grecian empire, which still subsisted in the East with great majesty and
power. Here the Greeks had not only not discontinued the ancient
studies, but they added to the stock of arts many inventions of
curiosity and convenience that were unknown to antiquity. When,
afterwards, the Saracens prevailed in that part of the world, the
pilgrims had also, by the same means, an opportunity of profiting from
the improvements of that laborious people; and however little the
majority of these pious travellers might have had such objects in their
view, something useful must unavoidably have stuck to them; a few
certainly saw with more discernment, and rendered their travels
serviceable to their country by importing other things besides miracles
and legends. Thus a communication was opened between this remote island
and countries, of which it otherwise could then scarcely have heard
mention made; and pilgrimages thus preserved that intercourse amongst
mankind, which is now formed by politics, commerce, and learned
curiosity. It is not wholly unworthy of observation, that Providence,
which strongly appears to have intended the continual intermixture of
mankind, never leaves the human mind destitute of a principle to effect
it. This purpose is sometimes carried on by a sort of migratory
instinct, sometimes by the spirit of conquest; at one time avarice
drives men from their homes, at another they are actuated by a thirst of
knowledge; where none of these causes can operate, the sanctity of
particular places attracts men from the most distant quarters. It was
this motive which sent thousands in those ages to Jerusalem and Rome;
and now, in a full tide, impels half the world annually to Mecca.

By those voyages, the seeds of various kinds of knowledge and
improvement were at different times imported into England. They were
cultivated in the leisure and retirement of monasteries; otherwise they
could not have been cultivated at all: for it was altogether necessary
to draw certain men from the general rude and fierce society, and wholly
to set a bar between them and the barbarous life of the rest of the
world, in order to fit them for study, and the cultivation of arts and
science. Accordingly, we find everywhere, in the first institutions for
the propagation of knowledge amongst any people, that those, who
followed it, were set apart and secluded from the mass of the community.

The great ecclesiastical chair of this kingdom, for near a century, was
filled by foreigners; they were nominated by the popes, who were in that
age just or politic enough to appoint persons of a merit in some degree
adequate to that important charge. Through this series of foreign and
learned prelates, continual accessions were made to the originally
slender stock of English literature. The greatest and most valuable of
these accessions was made in the time and by the care of Theodorus, the
seventh archbishop of Canterbury. He was a Greek by birth; a man of a
high ambitious spirit, and of a mind more liberal, and talents better
cultivated, than generally fell to the lot of the western prelates. He
first introduced the study of his native language into this island. He
brought with him a number of valuable books in many faculties; and
amongst them a magnificent copy of the works of Homer; the most ancient
and best of poets, and the best chosen to inspire a people, just
initiated into letters, with an ardent love, and with a true taste for
the sciences. Under his influence a school was formed at Canterbury; and
thus the other great fountain of knowledge, the Greek tongue, was opened
in England in the year of our Lord 669.


The common law, as it then prevailed in England, was in a great measure
composed of some remnants of the old Saxon customs, joined to the feudal
institutions brought in at the Norman conquest. And it is here to be
observed, that the constitutions of Magna Charta are by no means a
renewal of the laws of St. Edward, or the ancient Saxon laws, as our
historians and law-writers generally, though very groundlessly, assert.
They bear no resemblance, in any particular, to the laws of St. Edward,
or to any other collection of these ancient institutions. Indeed, how
should they? The object of Magna Charta is the correction of the feudal
policy, which was first introduced, at least in any regular form, at the
Conquest, and did not subsist before it. It may be further observed,
that in the preamble to the Great Charter it is stipulated, that the
barons shall HOLD the liberties, there granted TO THEM AND THEIR HEIRS,
from THE KING AND HIS HEIRS; which shows, that the doctrine of an
unalienable tenure was always uppermost in their minds. Their idea even
of liberty was not (if I may use the expression) perfectly free; and
they did not claim to possess their privileges upon any natural
principle or independent bottom, but, just as they held their lands,
from the king. This is worthy of observation. By the feudal law all
landed property is, by a feigned conclusion, supposed to be derived, and
therefore to be mediately or immediately held, from the Crown. If some
estates were so derived, others were certainly procured by the same
original title of conquest, by which the crown itself was acquired; and
the derivation from the king could in reason only be considered as a
fiction of law. But its consequent rights being once supposed, many real
charges and burthens grew from a fiction made only for the preservation
of subordination; and in consequence of this, a great power was
exercised over the persons and estates of the tenants. The fines on the
succession to an estate, called in the feudal language "Reliefs," were
not fixed to any certainty; and were therefore frequently made so
excessive, that they might rather be considered as redemptions, or new
purchases, than acknowledgments of superiority and tenure. With respect
to that most important article of marriage, there was, in the very
nature of the feudal holding, a great restraint laid upon it. It was of
importance to the lord, that the person, who received the feud, should
be submissive to him; he had therefore a right to interfere in the
marriage of the heiress, who inherited the feud. This right was carried
further than the necessity required; the male heir himself was obliged
to marry according to the choice of his lord: and even widows, who had
made one sacrifice to the feudal tyranny, were neither suffered to
continue in the widowed state, nor to choose for themselves the partners
of their second bed. In fact, marriage was publicly set up to sale. The
ancient records of the exchequer afford many instances where some women
purchased, by heavy fines, the privilege of a single life; some the free
choice of a husband; others the liberty of rejecting some person
particularly disagreeable. And, what may appear extraordinary, there are
not wanting examples, where a woman has fined in a considerable sum,
that she might not be compelled to marry a certain man; the suitor on
the other hand has outbid her; and solely by offering more for the
marriage than the heiress could to prevent it, he carried his point
directly and avowedly against her inclinations. Now, as the king claimed
no right over his immediate tenants, that they did not exercise in the
same, or in a more oppressive manner over their vassals, it is hard to
conceive a more general and cruel grievance than this shameful market,
which so universally outraged the most sacred relations among mankind.
But the tyranny over women was not over with the marriage. As the king
seized into his hands the estate of every deceased tenant in order to
secure his relief, the widow was driven often by a heavy composition to
purchase the admission to her dower, into which it should seem she could
not enter without the king's consent.

All these were marks of a real and grievous servitude. The Great Charter
was made not to destroy the root, but to cut short the overgrown
branches, of the feudal service; first, in moderating, and in reducing
to a certainty, the reliefs, which the king's tenants paid on succeeding
to their estate according to their rank; and secondly, in taking off
some of the burthens, which had been laid on marriage, whether
compulsory or restrictive, and thereby preventing that shameful market,
which had been made in the persons of heirs, and the most sacred things
amongst mankind.

There were other provisions made in the Great Charter, that went deeper
than the feudal tenure, and affected the whole body of the civil
government. A great part of the king's revenue then consisted in the
fines and amercements, which were imposed in his courts. A fine was paid
there for liberty to commence, or to conclude a suit. The punishment of
offences by fine was discretionary; and this discretionary power had
been very much abused. But by Magna Charta things were so ordered, that
a delinquent might be punished, but not ruined, by a fine or amercement,
because the degree of his offence, and the rank he held, were to be
taken into consideration. His freehold, his merchandise, and those
instruments, by which he obtained his livelihood, were made sacred from
such impositions. A more grand reform was made with regard to the
administration of justice. The kings in those days seldom resided long
in one place, and their courts followed their persons. This erratic
justice must have been productive of infinite inconvenience to the
litigants. It was now provided, that civil suits, called COMMON PLEAS,
should be fixed to some certain place. Thus one branch of jurisdiction
was separated from the king's court, and detached from his person. They
had not yet come to that maturity of jurisprudence as to think this
might be made to extend to criminal law also; and that the latter was an
object of still greater importance. But even the former may be
considered as a great revolution. A tribunal, a creature of mere law,
independent of personal power, was established, and this separation of a
king's authority from his person was a matter of vast consequence
towards introducing ideas of freedom, and confirming the sacredness and
majesty of laws.

But the grand article, and that which cemented all the parts of the
fabric of liberty, was this: "that no freeman shall be taken or
imprisoned, or disseized, or outlawed, or banished, or in any wise
destroyed, but by judgment of his peers."

There is another article of nearly as much consequence as the former,
considering the state of the nation at that time, by which it is
provided, that the barons shall grant to their tenants the same
liberties which they had stipulated for themselves. This prevented the
kingdom from degenerating into the worst imaginable government, a feudal
aristocracy. The English barons were not in the condition of those great
princes, who had made the French monarchy so low in the preceding
century; or like those, who reduced the imperial power to a name. They
had been brought to moderate bounds by the policy of the first and
second Henrys, and were not in a condition to set up for petty
sovereigns by an usurpation equally detrimental to the Crown and the
people. They were able to act only in confederacy; and this common cause
made it necessary to consult the common good, and to study popularity by
the equity of their proceedings. This was a very happy circumstances to
the growing liberty.


Before the period of which we are going to treat, England was little
known or considered in Europe. Their situation, their domestic
calamities, and their ignorance, circumscribed the views and politics of
the English within the bounds of their own island. But the Norman
conqueror threw down all these barriers. The English laws, manners, and
maxims, were suddenly changed; the scene was enlarged; and the
communication with the rest of Europe being thus opened, has been
preserved ever since in a continued series of wars and negotiations.
That we may therefore enter more fully into the matters which lie before
us, it is necessary that we understand the state of the neighbouring
continent at the time when this island first came to be interested in
its affairs.

The northern nations, who had overrun the Roman empire, were at first
rather actuated by avarice than ambition, and were more intent upon
plunder than conquest; they were carried beyond their original purposes,
when they began to form regular governments, for which they had been
prepared by no just ideas of legislation. For a long time, therefore,
there was little of order in their affairs, or foresight in their
designs. The Goths, the Burgundians, the Franks, the Vandals, the Suevi,
after they had prevailed over the Roman empire, by turns prevailed over
each other in continual wars, which were carried on upon no principles
of a determinate policy, entered into upon motives of brutality and
caprice, and ended as fortune and rude violence chanced to prevail.
Tumult, anarchy, confusion, overspread the face of Europe; and an
obscurity rests upon the transactions of that time, which suffers us to
discover nothing but its extreme barbarity.

Before this cloud could be dispersed, the Saracens, another body of
barbarians from the south, animated by a fury not unlike that, which
gave strength to the northern irruptions, but heightened by enthusiasm,
and regulated by subordination and uniform policy, began to carry their
arms, their manners, and religion into every part of the universe. Spain
was entirely overwhelmed by the torrent of their armies; Italy, and the
islands, were harassed by their fleets, and all Europe alarmed by their
vigorous and frequent enterprises. Italy, who had so long sat the
mistress of the world, was by turns the slave of all nations. The
possession of that fine country was hotly disputed between the Greek
emperor and the Lombards, and it suffered infinitely by that contention.
Germany, the parent of so many nations, was exhausted by the swarms she
had sent abroad. However, in the midst of this chaos there were
principles at work, which reduced things to a certain form, and
gradually unfolded a system, in which the chief movers and main springs
were the papal and the imperial powers; the aggrandisement or diminution
of which have been the drift of almost all the politics, intrigues, and
wars, which have employed and distracted Europe to this day.

From Rome the whole western world had received its Christianity. She was
the asylum of what learning had escaped the general desolation; and even
in her ruins she preserved something of the majesty of her ancient
greatness. On these accounts she had a respect and a weight, which
increased every day amongst a simple religious people, who looked but a
little way into the consequences of their actions. The rudeness of the
world was very favourable for the establishment of an empire of opinion.
The moderation with which the popes at first exerted this empire, made
its growth unfelt until it could no longer be opposed. And the policy of
later popes, building on the piety of the first, continually increased
it; and they made use of every instrument but that of force. They
employed equally the virtues and the crimes of the great; they favoured
the lust of kings for absolute authority, and the desire of subjects for
liberty; they provoked war, and mediated peace; and took advantage of
every turn in the minds of men, whether of a public or private nature,
to extend their influence, and push their power from ecclesiastical to
civil; from subjection to independency; from independency to empire.

France had many advantages over the other parts of Europe. The Saracens
had no permanent success in that country. The same hand, which expelled
those invaders, deposed the last of a race of heavy and degenerate
princes, more like eastern monarchs than German leaders, and who had
neither the force to repel the enemies of their kingdom, nor to assert
their own sovereignty. This usurpation placed on the throne princes of
another character; princes, who were obliged to supply their want of
title by the vigour of their administration. The French monarch had need
of some great and respected authority to throw a veil over his
usurpation, and to sanctify his newly-acquired power by those names and
appearances, which are necessary to make it respectable to the people.
On the other hand, the pope, who hated the Grecian empire, and equally
feared the success of the Lombards, saw with joy this new star arise in
the north, and gave it the sanction of his authority. Presently after he
called it to his assistance. Pepin passed the Alps, relieved the pope,
and invested him with the dominion of a large country in the best part
of Italy.

Charlemagne pursued the course which was marked out for him, and put an
end to the Lombard kingdom, weakened by the policy of his father, and
the enmity of the popes, who never willingly saw a strong power in
Italy. Then he received from the hand of the pope the imperial crown,
sanctified by the authority of the Holy See, and with it the title of
emperor of the Romans; a name venerable from the fame of the old empire,
and which was supposed to carry great and unknown prerogatives; and thus
the empire rose again out of its ruins in the West; and what is
remarkable, by means of one of those nations which had helped to destroy
it. If we take in the conquests of Charlemagne, it was also very near as
extensive as formerly; though its constitution was altogether different,
as being entirely on the northern model of government.

From Charlemagne the pope received in return an enlargement and a
confirmation of his new territory. Thus the papal and imperial powers
mutually gave birth to each other. They continued for some ages, and, in
some measure, still continue closely connected, with a variety of
pretensions upon each other, and on the rest of Europe. Though the
imperial power had its origin in France, it was soon divided into two
branches, the Gallic and the German. The latter alone supported the
title of empire; but the power being weakened by this division, the
papal pretensions had the greater weight. The pope, because he first
revived the imperial dignity, claimed a right of disposing of it, or at
least of giving validity to the election of the emperor. The emperor, on
the other hand, remembering the rights of those sovereigns, whose title
he bore, and how lately the power, which insulted him with such demands,
had arisen from the bounty of his predecessors, claimed the same
privileges in the election of a pope. The claims of both were somewhat
plausible; and they were supported, the one by force of arms, and the
other by ecclesiastical influence, powers which in those days were very
nearly balanced. Italy was the theatre upon which this prize was
disputed. In every city the parties in favour of each of the opponents
were not far from an equality in their numbers and strength. Whilst
these parties disagreed in the choice of a master, by contending for a
choice in their subjection, they grew imperceptibly into freedom, and
passed through the medium of faction and anarchy into regular
commonwealths. Thus arose the republics of Venice, of Genoa, of
Florence, Sienna, and Pisa, and several others. These cities,
established in this freedom, turned the frugal and ingenious spirit
contracted in such communities to navigation and traffic; and pursuing
them with skill and vigour, whilst commerce was neglected and despised
by the rustic gentry of the martial governments, they grew to a
considerable degree of wealth, power, and civility.

The Danes, who in this latter time preserved the spirit and the numbers
of the ancient Gothic people, had seated themselves in England, in the
Low Countries, and in Normandy. They passed from thence to the southern
part of Europe, and in this romantic age gave rise in Sicily and Naples
to a new kingdom, and a new line of princes.

All the kingdoms on the continent of Europe were governed nearly in the
same form; from whence arose a great similitude in the manners of their
inhabitants. The feodal discipline extended itself everywhere, and
influenced the conduct of the courts, and the manners of the people,
with its own irregular martial spirit. Subjects, under the complicated
laws of a various and rigorous servitude, exercised all the prerogatives
of sovereign power. They distributed justice, they made war and peace at
pleasure. The sovereign, with great pretensions, had but little power;
he was only a greater lord among great lords, who profited of the
differences of his peers; therefore no steady plan could be well
pursued, either in war or peace. This day a prince seemed irresistible
at the head of his numerous vassals, because their duty obliged them to
war, and they performed this duty with pleasure. The next day saw this
formidable power vanish like a dream, because this fierce undisciplined
people had no patience, and the time of the feudal service was contained
within very narrow limits. It was therefore easy to find a number of
persons at all times ready to follow any standard, but it was hard to
complete a considerable design, which required a regular and continued
movement. This enterprising disposition in the gentry was very general,
because they had little occupation or pleasure but in war; and the
greatest rewards did then attend personal valour and prowess. All that
professed arms, became in some sort on an equality. A knight was the
peer of a king; and men had been used to see the bravery of private
persons opening a road to that dignity. The temerity of adventurers was
much justified by the ill order of every state, which left it a prey to
almost any who should attack it with sufficient vigour. Thus, little
checked by any superior power, full of fire, impetuosity, and ignorance,
they longed to signalize themselves wherever an honourable danger called
them; and wherever that invited, they did not weigh very deliberately
the probability of success. The knowledge of this general disposition in
the minds of men will naturally remove a great deal of our wonder at
seeing an attempt, founded on such slender appearances of right, and
supported by a power so little proportioned to the undertaking as that
of William, so warmly embraced and so generally followed, not only by
his own subjects, but by all the neighbouring potentates. The counts of
Anjou, Bretagne, Ponthieu, Boulogne, and Poictou, sovereign princes;
adventurers from every quarter of France, the Netherlands, and the
remotest parts of Germany, laying aside their jealousies and enmities to
one another, as well as to William, ran with an inconceivable ardour
into this enterprise; captivated with the splendour of the object, which
obliterated all thoughts of the uncertainty of the event. William kept
up this fervour by promises of large territories to all his allies and
associates in the country to be reduced by their united efforts. But
after all it became equally necessary to reconcile to his enterprise the
three great powers, of whom we have just spoken, whose disposition must
have had the most influence on his affairs.

His feudal lord the king of France was bound by his most obvious
interests to oppose the further aggrandisement of one already too potent
for a vassal; but the king of France was then a minor; and Baldwin, earl
of Flanders, whose daughter William had married, was regent of the
kingdom. This circumstance rendered the remonstrance of the French
council against his design of no effect; indeed the opposition of the
council itself was faint; the idea of having a king under vassalage to
their crown might have dazzled the more superficial courtiers; whilst
those, who thought more deeply, were unwilling to discourage an
enterprise, which they believed would probably end in the ruin of the
undertaker. The emperor was in his minority, as well as the king of
France; but by what arts the duke prevailed upon the imperial council to
declare in his favour, whether or no by an idea of creating a balance to
the power of France, if we can imagine that any such idea then
subsisted, is altogether uncertain; but it is certain, that he obtained
leave for the vassals of the empire to engage in his service, and that
he made use of this permission. The pope's consent was obtained with
still less difficulty. William had shown himself in many instances a
friend to the church, and a favourer of the clergy. On this occasion he
promised to improve those happy beginnings in proportion to the means he
should acquire by the favour of the Holy See. It is said that he even
proposed to hold his new kingdom as a fief from Rome. The pope,
therefore, entered heartily into his interests; he excommunicated all
those that should oppose his enterprise, and sent him, as a means of
ensuring success, a consecrated banner.


That Britain was first peopled from Gaul, we are assured by the best
proofs: proximity of situation, and resemblance in language and
manners. Of the time in which this event happened, we must be
contented to remain in ignorance, for we have no monuments. But we
may conclude that it was a very ancient settlement, since the
Carthaginians found this island inhabited when they traded hither for
tin; as the Phoenicians, whose tracks they followed in this commerce,
are said to have done long before them. It is true, that when we
consider the short interval between the universal deluge and that
period, and compare it with the first settlement of men at such a
distance from this corner of the world, it may seem not easy to
reconcile such a claim to antiquity with the only authentic account
we have of the origin and progress of mankind; especially as in those
early ages the whole face of nature was extremely rude and
uncultivated; when the links of commerce, even in the countries first
settled, were few and weak; navigation imperfect; geography unknown;
and the hardships of travelling excessive. But the spirit of
migration, of which we have now only some faint ideas, was then
strong and universal; and it fully compensated all these
disadvantages. Many writers indeed imagine, that these migrations, so
common in the primitive times, were caused by the prodigious increase
of people beyond what their several territories could maintain. But
this opinion, far from being supported, is rather contradicted by the
general appearance of things in that early time, when in every
country vast tracts of land were suffered to lie almost useless in
morasses and forests. Nor is it, indeed, more countenanced by the
ancient modes of life, no way favourable to population. I apprehend
that these first settled countries, so far from being overstocked
with inhabitants, were rather thinly peopled; and that the same
causes, which occasioned that thinness, occasioned also those
frequent migrations, which make so large a part of the first history
of almost all nations. For in these ages men subsisted chiefly by
pasturage or hunting. These are occupations which spread the people
without multiplying them in proportion; they teach them an extensive
knowledge of the country, they carry them frequently and far from
their homes, and weaken those ties which might attach them to any
particular habitation.

It was in a great degree from this manner of life, that mankind became
scattered in the earliest times over the whole globe. But their peaceful
occupations did not contribute so much to that end, as their wars, which
were not the less frequent and violent because the people were few, and
the interests for which they contended of but small importance. Ancient
history has furnished us with many instances of whole nations, expelled
by invasion, falling in upon others, which they have entirely
overwhelmed; more irresistible in their defeat and ruin than in their
fullest prosperity. The rights of war were then exercised with great
inhumanity. A cruel death, or a servitude scarcely less cruel, was the
certain fate of all conquered people; the terror of which hurried men
from habitations to which they were but little attached, to seek
security and repose under any climate, that however in other respects
undesirable, might afford them refuge from the fury of their enemies.
Thus the bleak and barren regions of the north, not being peopled by
choice, were peopled as early, in all probability, as many of the milder
and more inviting climates of the southern world, and thus, by a
wonderful disposition of the Divine Providence, a life of hunting, which
does not contribute to increase, and war, which is the great instrument
in the destruction of men, were the two principal causes of their being
spread so early and so universally over the whole earth. From what is
very commonly known of the state of North America, it need not be said,
how often, and to what distance, several of the nations on that
continent are used to migrate; who, though thinly scattered, occupy an
immense extent of country. Nor are the causes of it less obvious--their
hunting life, and their inhuman wars.

Such migrations, sometimes by choice, more frequently from necessity,
were common in the ancient world. Frequent necessities introduced a
fashion, which subsisted after the original causes. For how could it
happen, but from some universally established public prejudice, which
always overrules and stifles the private sense of men, that a whole
nation should deliberately think it a wise measure to quit their country
in a body, that they might obtain in a foreign land a settlement, which
must wholly depend upon the chance of war? Yet this resolution was
taken, and actually pursued by the entire nation of the Helvetii, as it
is minutely related by Caesar. The method of reasoning which led them to
it, must appear to us at this day utterly inconceivable; they were far
from being compelled to this extraordinary migration by any want of
subsistence at home; for it appears that they raised without difficulty
as much corn in one year as supported them for two; they could not
complain of the barrenness of such a soil.

This spirit of migration, which grew out of the ancient manners and
necessities, and sometimes operated like a blind instinct, such as
actuates birds of passage, is very sufficient to account for the early
habitation of the remotest parts of the earth; and in some sort also
justifies that claim which has been so fondly made by almost all nations
to great antiquity. Gaul, from whence Britain was originally peopled,
consisted of three nations; the Belgae towards the north; the Celtae in
the middle countries; and the Aquitani to the south. Britain appears to
have received its people only from the two former. From the Celtae were
derived the most ancient tribes of the Britons, of which the most
considerable were called Brigantes. The Belgae, who did not even settle
in Gaul until after Britain had been peopled by colonies from the
former, forcibly drove the Brigantes into the inland countries, and
possessed the greatest part of the coast, especially to the south and
west. These latter, as they entered the island in a more improved age,
brought with them the knowledge and practice of agriculture, which
however only prevailed in their own countries; the Brigantes still
continued their ancient way of life by pasturage and hunting. In this
respect alone they differed; so that what we shall say in treating of
their manners is equally applicable to both. And though the Britons were
further divided into an innumerable multitude of lesser tribes and
nations, yet all being the branches of these two stocks, it is not to
our purpose to consider them more minutely.

Britain was in the time of Julius Caesar, what it is at this day in
climate and natural advantages, temperate, and reasonably fertile. But
destitute of all those improvements, which in a succession of ages it
has received from ingenuity, from commerce, from riches and luxury, it
then wore a very rough and savage appearance. The country, forest or
marsh; the habitations, cottages; the cities, hiding-places in woods;
the people, naked, or only covered with skins; their sole employment,
pasturage and hunting. They painted their bodies for ornament or terror,
by a custom general among all savage nations; who being passionately
fond of show and finery, and having no object but their naked bodies on
which to exercise this disposition, have in all times painted or cut
their skins, according to their ideas of ornament. They shaved the beard
on the chin; that on the upper lip was suffered to remain, and grow to
an extraordinary length, to favour the martial appearance, in which they
placed their glory. They were in their natural temper not unlike the
Gauls; impatient, fiery, inconstant, ostentatious, boastful, fond of
novelty; and like all barbarians, fierce, treacherous, and cruel. Their
arms were short javelins, small shields of a slight texture, and great
cutting swords with a blunt point, after the Gaulish fashion.

Their chiefs went to battle in chariots, not unartfully contrived, nor
unskilfully managed. I cannot help thinking it something extraordinary,
and not easily to be accounted for, that the Britons should have been so
expert in the fabric of those chariots, when they seem utterly ignorant
in all other mechanic arts: but thus it is delivered to us. They had
also horse, though of no great reputation in their armies. Their foot
was without heavy armour; it was no firm body; nor instructed to
preserve their ranks, to make their evolutions, or to obey their
commanders; but in tolerating hardships, in dexterity of forming
ambuscades (the art military of savages), they are said to have
excelled. A natural ferocity, and an impetuous onset, stood them in the
place of discipline.


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 show with what complete impunity men may
conspire against the commonwealth; with what safety assassins may
attempt its awful head. Everything is secure, except what the laws
have made sacred; everything 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. The doctor of the constitution, pretending to
underrate 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 its courts? Whence this alarming change? By a
connection easily felt, and not impossible to be traced to its 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
enterprise, 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 its malignity, though it waits the
favourable moment of a freer communication with the source of
regicide to exert and to increase its 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 ever must be,
when abandoned to our vulgar propensities, without guide, leader, or
control; 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 risk of future ruin; to follow and to bow to
fortune; to admire successful though wicked enterprise, 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.


As to me, I was always steadily of opinion, that this disorder was not
in its nature intermittent. I conceived that the contest, once begun,
could not be laid down again, to be resumed at our discretion; but that
our first struggle with this evil would also be our last. I never
thought we could make peace with the system; because it was not for the
sake of an object we pursued in rivalry with each other, but with the
system itself, that we were at war. As I understood the matter, we were
at war not with its conduct, but with its existence; convinced that its
existence and its hostility were the same.

The faction is not local or territorial. It is a general evil. Where it
least appears in action, it is still full of life. In its sleep it
recruits its strength, and prepares its exertion. Its spirit lies deep
in the corruption of our common nature. The social order which restrains
it, feeds it. It exists in every country in Europe; and among all orders
of men in every country, who look up to France as to a common head. The
centre is there. The circumference is the world of Europe wherever the
race of Europe may be settled. Everywhere else the faction is militant;
in France it is triumphant. In France is the bank of deposit, and the
bank of circulation, of all the pernicious principles that are forming
in every state. It will be a folly scarcely deserving of pity, and too
mischievous for contempt, to think of restraining it in any other
country whilst it is predominant there. War, instead of being the cause
of its force, has suspended its operation. It has given a reprieve, at
least, to the Christian world. The true nature of a Jacobin war, in the
beginning, was, by most of the Christian powers, felt, acknowledged, and
even in the most precise manner declared. In the joint manifesto,
published by the emperor and the king of Prussia, on the 4th of August,
1792, it is expressed in the clearest terms, and on principles which
could not fail, if they had adhered to them, of classing those monarchs
with the first benefactors of mankind. This manifesto was published, as
they themselves express it, "to lay open to the present generation, as
well as to posterity, their motives, their intentions, and the
DISINTERESTEDNESS of their personal views; taking up arms for the
purpose of preserving social and political order amongst all civilized
nations, and to secure to EACH state its religion, happiness,
independence, territories, and real constitution."--"On this ground,
they hoped that all empires and all states would be unanimous; and
becoming the firm guardians of the happiness of mankind, that they could
not fail to unite their efforts to rescue a numerous nation from its own
fury, to preserve Europe from the return of barbarism, and the universe
from the subversion and anarchy with which it was threatened." The whole
of that noble performance ought to be read at the first meeting of any
congress, which may assemble for the purpose of pacification. In that
peace "these powers expressly renounce all views of personal
aggrandisement," and confine themselves to objects worthy of so
generous, so heroic, and so perfectly wise and politic an enterprise. It
was to the principles of this confederation, and to no other, that we
wished our sovereign and our country to accede, as a part of the
commonwealth of Europe. To these principles, with some trifling
exceptions and limitations, they did fully accede. (See Declaration,
Whitehall, October 29, 1793.) And all our friends who took office
acceded to the ministry (whether wisely or not), as I always understood
the matter, on the faith and on the principles of that declaration.

As long as these powers flattered themselves that the menace of force
would produce the effect of force, they acted on those declarations: but
when their menaces failed of success, their efforts took a new
direction. It did not appear to them that virtue and heroism ought to be
purchased by millions of rix-dollars. It is a dreadful truth, but it is
a truth that cannot be concealed; in ability, in dexterity, in the
distinctness of their views, the Jacobins are our superiors. They saw
the thing right from the very beginning. Whatever were the first motives
to the war among politicians, they saw that in its spirit, and for its
objects, it was a CIVIL WAR; and as such they pursued it. It is a war
between the partisans of the ancient, civil, moral, and political order
of Europe, against a sect of fanatical and ambitious atheists which
means to change them all. It is not France extending a foreign empire
over other nations: it is a sect aiming at universal empire, and
beginning with the conquest of France. The leaders of that sect secured
the CENTRE OF EUROPE; and that secured, they knew, that whatever might
be the event of battles and sieges, their CAUSE was victorious. Whether
its territory had a little more or a little less peeled from its
surface, or whether an island or two was detached from its commerce, to
them was of little moment. The conquest of France was a glorious
acquisition. That once well laid as a basis of empire, opportunities
never could be wanting to regain or to replace what had been lost, and
dreadfully to avenge themselves on the faction of their adversaries.
They saw it was a CIVIL WAR. It was their business to persuade their
adversaries that it ought to be a FOREIGN war. The Jacobins everywhere
set up a cry against the new crusade; and they intrigued with effect in
the cabinet, in the field, and in every private society in Europe. Their
task was not difficult. The condition of princes, and sometimes of first
ministers too, is to be pitied. The creatures of the desk, and the
creatures of favour, had no relish for the principles of the
manifestoes. They promised no governments, no regiments, no revenues
from whence emoluments might arise by perquisite or by grant. In truth,
the tribe of vulgar politicians are the lowest of our species. There is
no trade so vile and mechanical as government in their hands. Virtue is
not their habit. They are out of themselves in any course of conduct
recommended only by conscience and glory. A large, liberal, and
prospective view of the interests of states passes with them for
romance; and the principles that recommend it, for the wanderings of a
disordered imagination. The calculators compute them out of their
senses. The jesters and buffoons shame them out of everything grand and
elevated. Littleness in object and in means, to them appears soundness
and sobriety. They think there is nothing worth pursuit, but that which
they can handle; which they can measure with a two-foot rule; which they
can tell upon ten fingers.

Without the principles of the Jacobins, perhaps without any principles
at all, they played the game of that faction. There was a beaten road
before them. The powers of Europe were armed; France had always appeared
dangerous; the war was easily diverted from France as a faction, to
France as a state. The princes were easily taught to slide back into
their old, habitual course of politics. They were easily led to consider
the flames that were consuming France, not as a warning to protect their
own buildings (which were without any party-wall, and linked by a
contignation into the edifice of France), but as a happy occasion for
pillaging the goods, and for carrying off the materials, of their
neighbour's house. Their provident fears were changed into avaricious
hopes. They carried on their new designs without seeming to abandon the
principles of their old policy. They pretended to seek, or they
flattered themselves that they sought, in the accession of new
fortresses, and new territories, a DEFENSIVE security. But the security
wanted was against a kind of power, which was not so truly dangerous in
its fortresses nor in its territories, as in its spirit and its
principles. They aimed, or pretended to aim, at DEFENDING themselves
against a danger from which there can be no security in any DEFENSIVE
plan. If armies and fortresses were a defence against jacobinism, Louis
the Sixteenth would this day reign a powerful monarch over a happy

This error obliged them, even in their offensive operations, to adopt a
plan of war, against the success of which there was something little
short of mathematical demonstration. They refused to take any step which
might strike at the heart of affairs. They seemed unwilling to wound the
enemy in any vital part. They acted through the whole, as if they really
wished the conservation of the Jacobin power, as what might be more
favourable than the lawful government to the attainment of the petty
objects they looked for. They always kept on the circumference; and the
wider and remoter the circle was, the more eagerly they chose it as
their sphere of action in this centrifugal war. The plan they pursued,
in its nature demanded great length of time. In its execution, they, who
went the nearest way to work, were obliged to cover an incredible extent
of country. It left to the enemy every means of destroying this extended
line of weakness. Ill success in any part was sure to defeat the effect
of the whole. This is true of Austria. It is still more true of England.
On this false plan, even good fortune, by further weakening the victor,
put him but the further off from his object.

As long as there was any appearance of success, the spirit of
aggrandisement, and consequently the spirit of mutual jealousy, seized
upon all the coalesced powers. Some sought an accession of territory at
the expense of France, some at the expense of each other, some at the
expense of third parties; and when the vicissitude of disaster took its
turn, they found common distress a treacherous bond of faith and
friendship. The greatest skill conducting the greatest military
apparatus has been employed; but it has been worse than uselessly
employed, through the false policy of the war. The operations of the
field suffered by the errors of the cabinet. If the same spirit
continues when peace is made, the peace will fix and perpetuate all the
errors of the war; because it will be made upon the same false
principle. What has been lost in the field, in the field may be
regained. An arrangement of peace in its nature is a permanent
settlement; it is the effect of counsel and deliberation, and not of
fortuitous events. If built upon a basis fundamentally erroneous, it can
only be retrieved by some of those unforeseen dispensations, which the
all-wise but mysterious Governor of the world sometimes interposes, to
snatch nations from ruin. It would not be pious error, but mad and
impious presumption, for any one to trust in an unknown order of
dispensations, in defiance of the rules of prudence, which are formed
upon the known march of the ordinary providence of God.


National dignity in all treaties I do admit is an important
consideration. They have given us a 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.


I reprobate no form of government merely upon abstract principles. There
may be situations in which the purely democratic form will become
necessary. There may be some (very few, and very particularly
circumstanced) where it would be clearly desirable. This I do not take
to be the case of France, or of any other great country. Until now, we
have seen no examples of considerable democracies. The ancients were
better acquainted with them. Not being wholly unread in the authors, who
had seen the most of those constitutions, and who best understood them,
I cannot help concurring with their opinion, that an absolute democracy,
no more than absolute monarchy, is to be reckoned among the legitimate
forms of government. They think it rather the corruption and degeneracy,
than the sound constitution of a republic. If I recollect rightly,
Aristotle observes, that a democracy has many striking points of
resemblance with a tyranny. (When I wrote this, I quoted from memory,
after many years had elapsed from my reading the passage. A learned
friend has found it, and it is as follows:--

To ethos to auto, kai ampho despotika ton Beltionon, kai ta psephismata,
osper ekei ta epitagmata kai o demagogos kai o kolax, oi autoi kai
analogoi kai malista ekateroi par ekaterois ischuousin, oi men kolakes
para turannois, oi de demagogoi para tois demois tois toioutois.--

"The ethical character is the same; both exercise despotism over the
better class of citizens; and decrees are in the one, what ordinances
and arrets are in the other: the demagogue too, and the court favourite,
are not unfrequently the same identical men, and always bear a close
analogy; and these have the principal power, each in their respective
forms of government, favourites with the absolute monarch, and
demagogues with a people such as I have described."--Arist. Politic.
lib. iv. cap 4.)

Of this I am certain, that in a democracy, the majority of the citizens
is capable of exercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority,
whenever strong divisions prevail in that kind of polity, as they often
must; and that oppression of the minority will extend to far greater
numbers, and will be carried on with much greater fury, than can almost
ever be apprehended from the dominion of a single sceptre. In such a
popular persecution, individual sufferers are in a much more deplorable
condition than in any other. Under a cruel prince they have the balmy
compassion of mankind to assuage the smart of their wounds; they have
the plaudits of the people to animate their generous constancy under
their sufferings: but those who are subjected to wrong under multitudes,
are deprived of all external consolation. They seem deserted by mankind,
overpowered by a conspiracy of their whole species. But admitting
democracy not to have that inevitable tendency to party tyranny, which I
suppose it to have, and admitting it to possess as much good in it when
unmixed, as I am sure it possesses when compounded with other forms;
does monarchy, on its part, contain nothing at all to recommend it? I do
not often quote Bolingbroke, nor have his works in general left any
permanent impression on my mind. He is a presumptuous and a superficial
writer. But he has one observation, which, in my opinion, is not without
depth and solidity. He says, that he prefers a monarchy to other
governments, because you can better ingraft any description of republic
on a monarchy, than anything of monarchy upon the republican forms. I
think him perfectly in the right. The fact is so historically; and it
agrees well with the speculation.

I know how easy a topic it is to dwell on the faults of departed
greatness. By a revolution in the state, the fawning sycophant of
yesterday is converted into the austere critic of the present hour. But
steady, independent minds, when they have an object of so serious a
concern to mankind as government under their contemplation, will disdain
to assume the part of satirists and declaimers. They will judge of human
institutions as they do of human characters. They will sort out the good
from the evil, which is mixed in mortal institutions, as it is in mortal


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. I could not do it 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, and still ringing
in my ears.

("In their place has succeeded a system destructive of all public 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 ignominious death."
They (the allies) have had to encounter acts of aggression without
pretext, open violation of all treaties, unprovoked declarations of war;
in a word, whatever corruption, intrigue, or violence, could effect for
the purpose, 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 expense, the risks, 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
its 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.)

This declaration was transmitted not only to 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 topics, 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 emolient cataplasms
of robbery and confiscation. I CANNOT love the republic.


To diet a man into weakness and languor, afterwards to give him the
greater strength, has more of the empiric 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 grow 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, who are more within their
reach, and who have refused conditions that are not unreasonable, from
power that they have been taught to consider as irresistible.


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 rejected the allurements of every
seduction, and had resisted the terrors of every menace. With Hannibal
at her gates, she had nobly and magnanimously refused all separate
treaty, or anything 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

"We humbly desire your majesty will be pleased NOT ONLY to made 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

"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
will protect your sacred person in so righteous a cause. And that the
unanimity, wealth, and courage, of your subjects will carry your majesty

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 recognised 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 immovable 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 a hundred adverse
factions, with a king at its 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 nearly
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 show 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 a 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.


This distemper of remedy, grown habitual, relaxes and wears out, by a
vulgar and prostituted use, the spring of that spirit which is to be
exerted on great occasions. It was in the most patient period of Roman
servitude that themes of tyrannicide made the ordinary exercise of boys
at school--cum perimit saevos classis numerosa tyrannos. In the ordinary
state of things, it produces in a country like ours the worst effects,
even on the cause of that liberty which it abuses with the dissoluteness
of an extravagant speculation. Almost all the high-bred republicans of
my time have, after a short space, become the most decided,
thorough-paced courtiers; they soon left the business of a tedious,
moderate, but practical resistance, to those of us whom, in the pride
and intoxication of their theories, they have slighted as not much
better than Tories. Hypocrisy, of course, delights in the most sublime
speculations; for, never intending to go beyond speculation, it costs
nothing to have it magnificent. But even in cases where rather levity
than fraud was to be suspected in these ranting speculations, the issue
has been much the same. These professors, finding their extreme
principles not applicable to cases which call only for a qualified, or,
as I may say, civil, and legal resistance, in such cases employ no
resistance at all. It is with them a war or a revolution, or it is
nothing. Finding their schemes of politics not adapted to the state of
the world in which they live, they often come to think lightly of all
public principle; and are ready, on their part, to abandon for a very
trivial interest what they find of very trivial value. Some indeed are
of more steady and persevering natures; but these are eager politicians
out of parliament, who have little to tempt them to abandon their
favourite projects. They have some change in the Church or State, or
both, constantly in their view. When that is the case, they are always
bad citizens, and perfectly unsure connections. For, considering their
speculative designs as of infinite value, and the actual arrangement of
the state as of no estimation, they are at best indifferent about it.
They see no merit in the good, and no fault in the vicious management of
public affairs; they rather rejoice in the latter, as more propitious to
revolution. They see no merit or demerit in any man, or any action, or
any political principle, any further than as they may forward or retard
their design of change: they therefore take up, one day, the most
violent and stretched prerogative, and another time the wildest
democratic ideas of freedom, and pass from the one to the other without
any sort of regard to cause, to person, or to party.


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 its 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. 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 prolific than the country of old called Ferax
monstrorum, shows 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 public; and it is a public
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

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 partisans. 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.


We have never put forth half the strength which we have exerted in
ordinary wars. In the fatal battles which have drenched the continent
with blood, and shaken the system of Europe to pieces, we have never
had any considerable army of a magnitude to be compared to the least
of those by which, in former times, we so gloriously asserted our
place as protectors, not oppressors, at the head of the great
commonwealth of Europe. We have never manfully met the danger in
front: and when the enemy, resigning to us our natural dominion of
the ocean, and abandoning the defence of his distant possessions to
the infernal energy of the destroying principles which he had planted
there for the subversion of the neighbouring colonies, drove forth,
by one sweeping law of unprecedented despotism, his armed multitudes
on every side, to overwhelm the countries and states which had for
centuries stood the firm barriers against the ambition of France; we
drew back the arm of our military force, which had never been more
than half raised to oppose him. From that time we have been combating
only with the other arm of our naval power; the right arm of England
I admit; but which struck almost unresisted with blows that could
never reach the heart of the hostile mischief. From that time,
without a single effort to regain those outworks, which ever till now
we so strenuously maintained, as the strong frontier of our own
dignity and safety, no less than the liberties of Europe; with but
one feeble attempt to succour those brave, faithful, and numerous
allies, whom, for the first time since the days of our Edwards and
Henrys, we now have in the bosom of France itself; we have been
intrenching, and fortifying, and garrisoning ourselves at home: we
have been redoubling security on security, to protect ourselves from
invasion, which has now become to us a serious object of alarm and
terror. Alas! the few of us who have protracted life in any measure
near to the extreme limits of our short period, have been condemned
to see strange things; new systems of policy, new principles, and not
only new men, but what might appear a new species of men. I believe
that any person who was of age to take a part in public affairs forty
years ago (if the intermediate space of time were expunged from his
memory) would hardly credit his senses, when he should hear from the
highest authority, that an army of two hundred thousand men was kept
up in this island, and that in the neighbouring island there were at
least fourscore thousand more. But when he had recovered from his
surprise on being told of this army, which has not its parallel, what
must be his astonishment to be told again, that this mighty force was
kept up for the mere purpose of an inert and passive defence, and
that in its far greater part, it was disabled by its constitution and
very essence from defending us against an enemy by any one preventive
stroke, or any one operation of active hostility? What must his
reflections be on learning further, that a fleet of five hundred men
of war, the best appointed, and to the full as ably commanded as any
this country ever had upon the sea, was for the greater part employed
in carrying on the same system of unenterprising defence? what must
be the sentiments and feelings of one who remembers the former energy
of England, when he is given to understand that these two islands,
with their extensive and everywhere vulnerable coast, should be
considered as a garrisoned sea-town; what would such a man, what
would any man think, if the garrison of so strange a fortress should
be such, and so feebly commanded, as never to make a sally; and that,
contrary to all which has hitherto been seen in war, an infinitely
inferior army, with the shattered relics of an almost annihilated
navy, ill found and ill manned, may with safety besiege this superior
garrison, and, without hazarding the life of a man, ruin the place,
merely by the menaces and false appearances of an attack? Indeed,
indeed, my dear friend, I look upon this matter of our defensive
system as much the most important of all considerations at this
moment. It has oppressed me with many anxious thoughts, which, more
than any bodily distemper, have sunk me to the condition in which you
know that I am. Should it please Providence to restore to me even the
late weak remains of my strength, I propose to make this matter the
subject of a particular discussion. I only mean here to argue, that
the mode of conducting the war on our part, be it good or bad, has
prevented even the common havoc of war in our population, and
especially among that class whose duty and privilege of superiority
it is to lead the way amidst the perils and slaughter of the field of


Mere locality does not constitute a body politic. Had Cade and his gang
got possession of London, they would not have been the lord mayor,
aldermen, and common council. The body politic of France existed in the
majesty of its throne, in the dignity of its nobility, in the honour of
its gentry, in the sanctity of its clergy, in the reverence of its
magistracy, in the weight and consideration due to its landed property
in the several bailliages, in the respect due to its moveable substance
represented by the corporations of the kingdom. All these particular
moleculae united form the great mass of what is truly the body politic
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


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 its changes. We are therefore never authorised
to abandon our country to its 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 public 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 have 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 splenetic
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 public disgrace in the epidemic nature of the
distemper; whilst, as in the Alps, goitre ["i" circumflex] kept
goitre ["i" acute] 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 gulf 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 its 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.


When I contemplate the scheme on which France is formed, and when I
compare it with these systems, with which it is, and ever must be, in
conflict, those things, which seem as defects in her polity, are the
very things which make me tremble. The states of the Christian world
have grown up to their present magnitude in a great length of time, and
by a great variety of accidents. They have been improved to what we see
them with greater or less degrees of felicity and skill. Not one of them
has been formed upon a regular plan or with any unity of design. As
their constitutions are not systematical, they have not been directed to
any PECULIAR end, eminently distinguished, and superseding every other.
The objects which they embrace are of the greatest possible variety, and
have become in a manner infinite. In all these old countries, the state
has been made to the people, and not the people conformed to the state.
Every state has pursued not only every sort of social advantage, but it
has cultivated the welfare of every individual. His wants, his wishes,
even his tastes, have been consulted. This comprehensive scheme
virtually produced a degree of personal liberty in forms the most
adverse to it. That liberty was found, under monarchies styled absolute,
in a degree unknown to the ancient commonwealths. From hence the powers
of all our modern states meet, in all their movements, with some
obstruction. It is therefore no wonder, that, when these states are to
be considered as machines to operate for some one great end, this
dissipated and balanced force is not easily concentrated, or made to
bear with the whole force of the nation upon one point.

The British state is, without question, that which pursues the greatest
variety of ends, and is the least disposed to sacrifice any one of them
to another, or to the whole. It aims at taking in the entire circle of
human desires, and securing for them their fair enjoyment. Our
legislature has been ever closely connected, in its most efficient part,
with individual feeling, and individual interest. Personal liberty, the
most lively of these feelings and the most important of these interests,
which in other European countries has rather arisen from the system of
manners and the habitudes of life, than from the laws of the state (in
which it flourished more from neglect than attention), in England, has
been a direct object of government.

On this principle England would be the weakest power in the whole
system. Fortunately, however, the great riches of this kingdom arising
from a variety of causes, and the disposition of the people, which is as
great to spend as to accumulate, has easily afforded a disposable
surplus that gives a mighty momentum to the state. This difficulty, with
these advantages to overcome it, has called forth the talents of the
English financiers, who, by the surplus of industry poured out by
prodigality, have outdone everything which has been accomplished in
other nations. The present minister has outdone his predecessors; and,
as a minister of revenue, is far above my power of praise. But still
there are cases in which England feels more than several others (though
they all feel) the perplexity of an immense body of balanced advantages,
and of individual demands, and of some irregularity in the whole mass.

France differs essentially from all those governments, which are formed
without system, which exist by habit, and which are confused with the
multitude, and with the perplexity of their pursuits. What now stands as
government in France is struck out at a heat. The design is wicked,
immoral, impious, oppressive; but it is spirited and daring; it is
systematic; it is simple in its principle; it has unity and consistency
in perfection.


It is undoubtedly the business of ministers very much to consult the
inclinations of the people, but they ought to take great care that they
do not receive that inclination from the few persons who may happen to
approach them. The petty interests of such gentlemen, the low
conceptions of things, their fears arising from the danger to which the
very arduous and critical situation of public affairs may expose their
places; their apprehensions from the hazards to which the discontents of
a few popular men at elections may expose their seats in parliament; all
these causes trouble and confuse the representations which they make to
ministers of the real temper of the nation. If ministers, instead of
following the great indications of the constitution, proceed on such
reports, they will take the whispers of a cabal for the voice of the
people, and the counsels of imprudent timidity for the wisdom of a


It is not for his Holiness we intend this consolatory declaration of
our own weakness, and of the tyrannous temper of his grand enemy.
That prince has known both the one and the other from the beginning.
The artists of the French revolution had given their very first
essays and sketches of robbery and desolation against his
territories, in a far more cruel "murdering piece" than had ever
entered into the imagination of painter or poet. Without ceremony
they tore from his cherishing arms the possessions which he held for
five hundred years, undisturbed by all the ambition of all the
ambitious monarchs who, during that period, have reigned in France.
Is it to him, in whose wrong we have in our late negotiation ceded
his now unhappy countries near the Rhone, lately amongst the most
flourishing (perhaps the most flourishing for their extent) of all
the countries upon earth, that we are to prove the sincerity of our
resolution to make peace with the republic barbarism? That venerable
potentate and pontiff is sunk deep into the vale of years; he is half
disarmed by his peaceful character; his dominions are more than half
disarmed by a peace of two hundred years, defended as they were, not
by forces, but by reverence; yet in all these straits, we see him
display, amidst the recent ruins and the new defacements of his
plundered capital, along with the mild and decorated piety of the
modern, all the spirit and magnanimity of ancient Rome! Does he, who,
though himself unable to defend them, nobly refused to receive
pecuniary compensations for the protection he owed to his people of
Avignon, Carpentras, and the Venaisin;--does he want proofs of our
good disposition to deliver over that people without any security for
them, or any compensation to their sovereign, to this cruel enemy?
Does he want to be satisfied of the sincerity of our humiliation to
France, who has seen his free, fertile, and happy city and state of
Bologna, the cradle of regenerated law, the seat of sciences and of
arts, so hideously metamorphosed, whilst he was crying to Great
Britain for aid, and offering to purchase that aid at any price? Is
it him, who sees that chosen spot of plenty and delight converted
into a Jacobin ferocious republic, dependent on the homicides of
France? Is it him, who, from the miracles of his beneficent industry,
has done a work which defied the power of the Roman emperors, though

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