Selections from the Speeches and Writings of Edmund Burke.
by Edmund Burke
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This bill, and those connected with it, are intended to form the magna charta of Hindostan. Whatever the treaty of Westphalia is to the liberty of the princes and free cities of the empire, and to the three religions there professed; whatever the great charter, the statute of tallege, the petition of right, and the declaration of right, are to Great Britain, these bills are to the people of India. Of this benefit, I am certain, their condition is capable; and when I know that they are capable of more, my vote shall most assuredly be for our giving to the full extent of their capacity of receiving; and no charter of dominion shall stand as a bar in my way to their charter of safety and protection.

The strong admission I have made of the company's rights (I am conscious of it) binds me to do a great deal. I do not presume to condemn those who argue a priori, against the propriety of leaving such extensive political powers in the hands of a company of merchants. I know much is, and much more may be, said against such a system. But, with my particular ideas and sentiments, I cannot go that way to work. I feel an insuperable reluctance in giving my hand to destroy any established institution of government, upon a theory, however plausible it may be. My experience in life teaches me nothing clear upon the subject. I have known merchants with the sentiments and the abilities of great statesmen; and I have seen persons in the rank of statesmen, with the conceptions and characters of pedlars. Indeed, my observation has furnished me with nothing that is to be found in any habits of life or education, which tends wholly to disqualify men for the functions of government, but that by which the power of exercising those functions is very frequently obtained, I mean a spirit and habits of low cabal and intrigue; which I have never, in one instance, seen united with a capacity for sound and manly policy. To justify us in taking the administration of their affairs out of the hands of the East-India Company, on my principles, I must see several conditions. 1st. The object affected by the abuse should be great and important. 2nd. The abuse affecting this great object ought to be a great abuse. 3rd. It ought to be habitual, and not accidental. 4th. It ought to be utterly incurable in the body as it now stands constituted. All this ought to be made as visible to me as the light of the sun, before I should strike off an atom of their charter.


All are agreed, that parliaments should not be perpetual; the only question is, what is the most convenient time for their duration? On which there are three opinions. We are agreed, too, that the term ought not to be chosen most likely in its operation to spread corruption, and to augment the already overgrown influence of the Crown. On these principles I mean to debate the question. It is easy to pretend a zeal for liberty. Those, who think themselves not likely to be encumbered with the performance of their promises, either from their known inability, or total indifference about the performance, never fail to entertain the most lofty ideas. They are certainly the most specious, and they cost them neither reflection to frame, nor pains to modify, nor management to support. The task is of another nature to those, who mean to promise nothing that it is not in their intention, or may possibly be in their power, to perform; to those, who are bound and principled no more to delude the understandings than to violate the liberty of their fellow-subjects. Faithful watchmen we ought to be over the rights and privileges of the people. But our duty, if we are qualified for it as we ought, is to give them information, and not to receive it from them; we are not to go to school to them to learn the principles of law and government. In doing so, we should not dutifully serve, but we should basely and scandalously betray, the people, who are not capable of this service by nature, nor in any instance called to it by the constitution. I reverentially look up to the opinion of the people, and with an awe that is almost superstitious. I should be ashamed to show my face before them, if I changed my ground, as they cried up or cried down men, or things, or opinions; if I wavered and shifted about with every change, and joined in it, or opposed, as best answered any low interest or passion; if I held them up hopes, which I knew I never intended, or promised what I well knew I could not perform. Of all these things they are perfect sovereign judges, without appeal; but as to the detail of particular measures, or to any general schemes of policy, they have neither enough of speculation in the closet, nor of experience in business, to decide upon it. They can well see whether we are tools of a court, or their honest servants. Of that they can well judge; and I wish, that they always exercised their judgment; but of the particular merits of a measure I have other standards.**** That the frequency of elections proposed by this bill has a tendency to increase the power and consideration of the electors, not lessen corruptibility, I do most readily allow; so far it is desirable; this is what it has, I will tell you now what it has not: 1st. It has no sort of tendency to increase their integrity and public spirit, unless an increase of power has an operation upon voters in elections, that it has in no other situation in the world, and upon no other part of mankind. 2nd. This bill has no tendency to limit the quantity of influence in the Crown, to render its operation more difficult, or to counteract that operation, which it cannot prevent, in any way whatsoever. It has its full weight, its full range, and its uncontrolled operation on the electors exactly as it had before. 3rd. Nor, thirdly, does it abate the interest or inclination of ministers to apply that influence to the electors: on the contrary, it renders it much more necessary to them, if they seek to have a majority in parliament to increase the means of that influence, and redouble their diligence, and to sharpen dexterity in the application. The whole effect of the bill is therefore the removing the application of some part of the influence from the elected to the electors, and further to strengthen and extend a court interest already great and powerful in boroughs; here to fix their magazines and places of arms, and thus to make them the principal, not the secondary theatre of their manoeuvres for securing a determined majority in parliament. I believe nobody will deny, that the electors are corruptible. They are men; it is saying nothing worse of them; many of them are but ill informed in their minds, many feeble in their circumstances, easily over-reached, easily seduced. If they are many, the wages of corruption are the lower; and would to God it were not rather a contemptible and hypocritical adulation than a charitable sentiment to say, that there is already no debauchery, no corruption, no bribery, no perjury, no blind fury, and interested faction among the electors in many parts of this kingdom: nor is it surprising, or at all blamable, in that class of private men, when they see their neighbours aggrandised, and themselves poor and virtuous without that eclat or dignity, which attends men in higher situations.

But admit it were true, that the great mass of the electors were too vast an object for court influence to grasp, or extend to, and that in despair they must abandon it; he must be very ignorant of the state of every popular interest, who does not know, that in all the corporations, all the open boroughs, indeed in every district of the kingdom, there is some leading man, some agitator, some wealthy merchant, or considerable manufacturer, some active attorney, some popular preacher, some money-lender, etc. etc. who is followed by the whole flock. This is the style of all free countries.

"—Multum in Fabia valet hic, valet ille Velina; Cuilibet hic fasces dabit eripietque curule."

These spirits, each of which informs and governs his own little orb, are neither so many, nor so little powerful, nor so incorruptible, but that a minister may, as he does frequently, find means of gaining them, and through them all their followers. To establish, therefore, a very general influence among electors will no more be found an impracticable project, than to gain an undue influence over members of parliament. Therefore I am apprehensive, that this bill, though it shifts the place of the disorder, does by no means relieve the constitution. I went through almost every contested election in the beginning of this parliament, and acted as a manager in very many of them; by which, though as at a school of pretty severe and rugged discipline, I came to have some degree of instruction concerning the means, by which parliamentary interests are in general procured and supported.

Theory, I know, would suppose, that every general election is to the representative a day of judgment, in which he appears before his constituents to account for the use of the talent, with which they intrusted him, and for the improvement he has made of it for the public advantage. It would be so, if every corruptible representative were to find an enlightened and incorruptible constituent. But the practice and knowledge of the world will not suffer us to be ignorant, that the constitution on paper is one thing, and in fact and experience is another. We must know, that the candidate, instead of trusting at his election to the testimony of his behaviour in parliament, must bring the testimony of a large sum of money, the capacity of liberal expense in entertainments, the power of serving and obliging the rulers of corporations, of winning over the popular leaders of political clubs, associations, and neighbourhoods. It is ten thousand times more necessary to show himself a man of power, than a man of integrity, in almost all the elections with which I have been acquainted. Elections, therefore, become a matter of heavy expense; and if contests are frequent, to many they will become a matter of an expense totally ruinous, which no fortunes can bear; but least of all the landed fortunes, encumbered as they often, indeed as they mostly, are with debts, with portions, with jointures; and tied up in the hands of the possessor by the limitations of settlement. It is a material, it is in my opinion a lasting, consideration in all the questions concerning election. Let no one think the charges of elections a trivial matter. The charge therefore of elections ought never to be lost sight of in a question concerning their frequency; because the grand object you seek is independence. Independence of mind will ever be more or less influenced by independence of fortune; and if, every three years, the exhausting sluices of entertainments, drinkings, open houses, to say nothing of bribery, are to be periodically drawn up and renewed;—if government-favours, for which now, in some shape or other, the whole race of men are candidates, are to be called for upon every occasion, I see that private fortunes will be washed away, and every, even to the least, trace of independence borne down by the torrent. I do not seriously think this constitution, even to the wrecks of it, could survive five triennial elections. If you are to fight the battle, you must put on the armour of the ministry; you must call in the public, to the aid of private, money. The expense of the last election has been computed (and I am persuaded that it has not been over-rated) at 1,500,000 pounds;—three shillings in the pound more in the land tax. About the close of the last parliament, and the beginning of this, several agents for boroughs went about, and I remember well, that it was in every one of their mouths—"Sir, your election will cost you three thousand pounds, if you are independent; but if the ministry supports you, it may be done for two, and perhaps for less;" and, indeed, the thing spoke itself. Where a living was to be got for one, a commission in the army for another, a lift in the navy for a third, and custom-house offices scattered about without measure or number, who doubts but money may be saved? The treasury may even add money; but indeed it is superfluous. A gentleman of two thousand a year, who meets another of the same fortune, fights with equal arms; but if to one of the candidates you add a thousand a-year in places for himself, and a power of giving away as much among others, one must, or there is no truth in arithmetical demonstration, ruin his adversary, if he is to meet him and to fight with him every third year. It will be said, I do not allow for the operation of character; but I do; and I know it will have its weight in most elections; perhaps it may be decisive in some. But there are few in which it will be prevent great expenses.

The destruction of independent fortunes will be the consequence on the part of the candidate. What will be the consequence of triennial corruption, triennial drunkenness, triennial idleness, triennial law-suits, litigations, prosecutions, triennial phrensy, of society dissolved, industry interrupted, ruined; of those personal hatreds, that will never be suffered to soften; those animosities and feuds, which will be rendered immortal; those quarrels, which are never to be appeased; morals vitiated and gangrened to the vitals? I think no stable and useful advantages were ever made by the money got at elections by the voter, but all he gets is doubly lost to the public; it is money given to diminish the general stock of the community, which is in the industry of the subject. I am sure, that it is a good while before he or his family settle again to their business. Their heads will never cool; the temptations of elections will be for ever glittering before their eyes. They will all grow politicians; every one, quitting his business, will choose to enrich himself by his vote. They will all take the gauging-rod; new places will be made for them; they will run to the custom-house quay, their looms and ploughs will be deserted.

So was Rome destroyed by the disorders of continual elections, though those of Rome were sober disorders. They had nothing but faction, bribery, bread, and stage plays, to debauch them. We have the inflammation of liquor superadded, a fury hotter than any of them. There the contest was only between citizen and citizen; here you have the contest of ambitious citizens on one side, supported by the Crown, to oppose to the efforts (let it be so) of private and unsupported ambition on the other. Yet Rome was destroyed by the frequency and charge of elections, and the monstrous expense of an unremitted courtship to the people. I think, therefore, the independent candidate and elector may each be destroyed by it; the whole body of the community be an infinite sufferer; and a vitious ministry the only gainer.


In a Christian commonwealth the church and the state are one and the same thing, being different integral parts of the same whole. For the church has been always divided into two parts, the clergy and the laity; of which the laity is as much an essential integral part, and has as much its duties and privileges, as the clerical member; and in the rule, order, and government of the church has its share. Religion is so far, in my opinion, from being out of the province of the duty of a Christian magistrate, that it is, and it ought to be, not only his care, but the principal thing in his care; because it is one of the great bonds of human society; and its object the supreme good, the ultimate end and object of man himself. The magistrate, who is a man, and charged with the concerns of men, and to whom very specially nothing human is remote and indifferent, has a right and a duty to watch over it with an unceasing vigilance, to protect, to promote, to forward it by every rational, just, and prudent means. It is principally his duty to prevent the abuses, which grow out of every strong and efficient principle, that actuates the human mind. As religion is one of the bonds of society, he ought not to suffer it to be made the pretext of destroying its peace, order, liberty, and its security. Above all, he ought strictly to look to it when men begin to form new combinations, to be distinguished by new names, and especially when they mingle a political system with their religious opinions, true or false, plausible or implausible.

It is the interest, and it is the duty, and because it is the interest and the duty, it is the right of government to attend much to opinions; because, as opinions soon combine with passions, even when they do not produce them, they have much influence on actions. Factions are formed upon opinions; which factions become in effect bodies corporate in the state;—nay, factions generate opinions in order to become a centre of union, and to furnish watch-words to parties; and this may make it expedient for government to forbid things in themselves innocent and neutral. I am not fond of defining with precision what the ultimate rights of the sovereign supreme power in providing for the safety of the commonwealth may be, or may not extend to. It will signify very little what my notions, or what their own notions, on the subject may be; because, according to the exigence, they will take, in fact, the steps which seem to them necessary for the preservation of the whole; for as self-preservation in individuals is the first law of nature, the same will prevail in societies, who will, right or wrong, make that an object paramount to all other rights whatsoever.


The bottom of this theory of persecution is false. It is not permitted to us to sacrifice the temporal good of any body of men to our own ideas of the truth and falsehood of any religious opinions. By making men miserable in this life, they counteract one of the great ends of charity; which is, inasmuch as in us lies, to make men happy in every period of their existence, and most in what most depends upon us. But give to these old persecutors their mistaken principle, in their reasoning they are consistent, and in their tempers they may be even kind and good-natured. But whenever a faction would render millions of mankind miserable, some millions of the race co-existent with themselves, and many millions in their succession, without knowing, or so much as pretending to ascertain, the doctrines of their own school (in which there is much of the lash and nothing of the lesson), the errors, which the persons in such a faction fall into, are not those that are natural to human imbecility, nor is the least mixture of mistaken kindness to mankind an ingredient in the severities they inflict. The whole is nothing but pure and perfect malice. It is, indeed, a perfection in that kind belonging to beings of a higher order than man, and to them we ought to leave it. This kind of persecutors, without zeal, without charity, know well enough, that religion, to pass by all questions of the truth or falsehood of any of its particular systems (a matter I abandon to the theologians on all sides), is a source of great comfort to us mortals in this our short but tedious journey through the world. They know, that to enjoy this consolation, men must believe their religion upon some principle or other, whether of education, habit, theory, or authority. When men are driven from any of those principles, on which they have received religion, without embracing with the same assurance and cordiality some other system, a dreadful void is left in their minds, and a terrible shock is given to their morals. They lose their guide, their comfort, their hope. None but the most cruel and hard-hearted of men, who had banished all natural tenderness from their minds, such as those beings of iron, the atheists, could bring themselves to any persecution like this. Strange it is, but so it is, that men, driven by force from their habits in one mode of religion, have, by contrary habits, under the same force, often quietly settled in another. They suborn their reason to declare in favour of their necessity. Man and his conscience cannot always be at war. If the first races have not been able to make a pacification between the conscience and the convenience, their descendants come generally to submit to the violence of the laws, without violence to their minds.


The legislature of Ireland, like all legislatures, ought to frame its laws to suit the people and the circumstances of the country, and not any longer to make it their whole business to force the nature, the temper, and the inveterate habits of a nation to a conformity to speculative systems concerning any kind of laws. Ireland has an established government, and a religion legally established, which are to be preserved. It has a people, who are to be preserved too, and to be led by reason, principle, sentiment, and interest to acquiesce in that government. Ireland is a country under peculiar circumstances. The people of Ireland are a very mixed people; and the quantities of the several ingredients in the mixture are very much disproportioned to each other. Are we to govern this mixed body as if it were composed of the most simple elements, comprehending the whole in one system of benevolent legislation; or are we not rather to provide for the several parts according to the various and diversified necessities of the heterogeneous nature of the mass? Would not common reason and common honesty dictate to us the policy of regulating the people in the several descriptions of which they are composed, according to the natural ranks and classes of an orderly civil society, under a common protecting sovereign, and under a form of constitution favourable at once to authority and to freedom; such as the British constitution boasts to be, and such as it is, to those who enjoy it?


I have observed the affectation which, for many years past, has prevailed in Paris even to a degree perfectly childish, of idolizing the memory of your Henry the Fourth. If anything could put any one out of humour with that ornament to the kingly character, it would be this overdone style of insidious panegyric. The persons who have worked this engine the most busily are those who have ended their panegyrics in dethroning his successor and descendant; a man, as good natured, at the least, as Henry the Fourth; altogether as fond of his people; and who has done infinitely more to correct the ancient vices of the state than that great monarch did, or we are sure he ever meant to do. Well it is for his panegyrists that they have not him to deal with. For Henry of Navarre was a resolute, active, and politic prince. He possessed indeed great humanity and mildness; but a humanity and mildness that never stood in the way of his interests. He never sought to be loved without putting himself first in a condition to be feared. He used soft language with determined conduct. He asserted and maintained his authority in the gross, and distributed his acts of concession only in the detail. He spent the income of his prerogative nobly; but he took care not to break in upon the capital; never abandoning for a moment any of the claims which he made under the fundamental laws, nor sparing to shed the blood of those who opposed him, often in the field, sometimes upon the scaffold. Because he knew how to make his virtues respected by the ungrateful, he has merited the praises of those, whom if they had lived in his time, he would have shut up in the Bastile, and brought to punishment along with the regicides whom he hanged after he had famished Paris into a surrender.


In a discussion which took place in the year 1790, Mr. Burke declared his intention, in case the motion for repealing the Test Acts had been agreed to, of proposing to substitute the following test in the room of what was intended to be repealed. "I, A.B. do, in the presence of God, sincerely profess and believe, that a religious establishment in this state is not contrary to the law of God, or disagreeable to the law of nature, or to the true principles of the Christian religion, or that it is noxious to the community; and I do sincerely promise and engage, before God, that I never will, by any conspiracy, contrivance, or political device whatever, attempt, or abet others in any attempt, to subvert the constitution of the church of England, as the same is now by law established, and that I will not employ any power or influence, which I may derive from any office corporate, or any other office which I hold, or shall hold, under his majesty, his heirs and successors, to destroy and subvert the same; or, to cause members to be elected into any corporation, or into parliament, give my vote in the election of any member or members of parliament, or into any office, for or on account of their attachment to any other or different religious opinions or establishments, or with any hope, that they may promote the same to the prejudice of the established church; but will dutifully and peaceably content myself with my private liberty of conscience, as the same is allowed by law.

"So help me God."


If, however, you could find out these pedigrees of guilt, I do not think the difference would be essential. History records many things, which ought to make us hate evil actions; but neither history, nor morals, nor policy, can teach us to punish innocent men on that account. What lesson does the iniquity of prevalent factions read to us? It ought to lesson us into an abhorrence of the abuse of our own power in our own day; when we hate its excesses so much in other persons and in other times. To that school true statesmen ought to be satisfied to leave mankind. They ought not to call from the dead all the discussions and litigations which formerly inflamed the furious factions, which had torn their country to pieces; they ought not to rake into the hideous and abominable things, which were done in the turbulent fury of an injured, robbed, and persecuted people, and which were afterwards cruelly revenged in the execution, and as outrageously and shamefully exaggerated in the representation, in order, a hundred and fifty years after, to find some colour for justifying them in the eternal proscription and civil excommunication of a whole people.


This business appears in two points of view. 1. Whether it is a matter of grievance. 2. Whether it is within our province to redress it with propriety and prudence. Whether it comes properly before us on a petition upon matter of grievance, I would not inquire too curiously. I know, technically speaking, that nothing agreeable to law can be considered as a grievance. But an over-attention to the rules of any act does sometimes defeat the ends of it, and I think it does so in this parliamentary act, as much at least as in any other. I know many gentlemen think, that the very essence of liberty consists in being governed according to law; as if grievances had nothing real and intrinsic; but I cannot be of that opinion. Grievances may subsist by law. Nay, I do not know whether any grievance can be considered as intolerable until it is established and sanctified by law. If the act of toleration were not perfect, if there were a complaint of it, I would gladly consent to amend it. But when I heard a complaint of a pressure on religious liberty, to my astonishment, I find that there was no complaint whatsoever of the insufficiency of the act of King William, nor any attempt to make it more sufficient. The matter therefore does not concern toleration, but establishment; and it is not the rights of private conscience that are in question, but the propriety of the terms, which are proposed by law as a title to public emoluments; so that the complaint is not, that there is not toleration of diversity in opinion, but that diversity in opinion is not rewarded by bishoprics, rectories, and collegiate stalls. When gentlemen complain of the subscription as matter of grievance, the complaint arises from confounding private judgment, whose rights are anterior to law, and the qualifications, which the law creates for its own magistracies, whether civil or religious. To take away from men their lives, their liberty, or their property, those things, for the protection of which society was introduced, is great hardship and intolerable tyranny; but to annex any condition you please to benefits, artificially created, is the most just, natural, and proper thing in the world. When e novo you form an arbitrary benefit, an advantage, pre-eminence, or emolument, not by nature, but institution, you order and modify it with all the power of a creator over his creature. Such benefits of institution are royalty, nobility, priesthood; all of which you may limit to birth; you might prescribe even shape and stature. The Jewish priesthood was hereditary. Founders' kinsmen have a preference in the election of Fellows in many colleges of our universities; the qualifications at All Souls are, that they should be—optime nati, bene vestiti, mediocriter docti.

By contending for liberty in the candidate for orders, you take away the liberty of the elector, which is the people; that is, the state. If they can choose, they may assign a reason for their choice; if they can assign a reason, they may do it in writing, and prescribe it as a condition; they may transfer their authority to their representatives, and enable them to exercise the same. In all human institutions a great part, almost all regulations, are made from the mere necessity of the case, let the theoretical merits of the question be what they will. For nothing happened at the reformation, but what will happen in all such revolutions. When tyranny is extreme, and abuses of government intolerable, men resort to the rights of nature to shake it off. When they have done so, the very same principle of necessity of human affairs, to establish some other authority, which shall preserve the order of this new institution, must be obeyed, until they grow intolerable; and you shall not be suffered to plead original liberty against such an institution. See Holland, Switzerland.

If you will have religion publicly practised and publicly taught, you must have a power to say what that religion will be which you will protect and encourage; and to distinguish it by such marks and characteristics, as you in your wisdom shall think fit. As I said before, your determination may be unwise in this as in other matters, but it cannot be unjust, hard, or oppressive, or contrary to the liberty of any man, or in the least degree exceeding your province.

It is therefore as a grievance fairly none at all, nothing but what is essential not only to the order, but to the liberty, of the whole community.


In France you are now in the crisis of a revolution, and in the transit from one form of government to another—you cannot see that character of men exactly in the same situation in which we see it in this country. With us it is militant; with you it is triumphant; and you know how it can act when its power is commensurate to its will. I would not be supposed to confine those observations to any description of men, or to comprehend all men of any description within them—No! far from it. I am as incapable of that injustice, as I am of keeping terms with those who profess principles of extremes; and who, under the name of religion, teach little else than wild and dangerous politics. The worst of these politics of revolution is this: they temper and harden the breast, in order to prepare it for the desperate strokes which are sometimes used in extreme occasions. But as these occasions may never arrive, the mind receives a gratuitous taint; and the moral sentiments suffer not a little, when no political purpose is served by the depravation. This sort of people are so taken up with their theories about the rights of man, that they have totally forgotten his nature. Without opening one new avenue to the understanding, they have succeeded in stopping up those that lead to the heart. They have perverted in themselves, and in those that attend to them, all the well-placed sympathies of the human breast.

This famous sermon of the Old Jewry breathes nothing but this spirit through all the political part. Plots, massacres, assassinations, seem to some people a trivial price for obtaining a revolution. A cheap, bloodless reformation, a guiltless liberty, appear flat and vapid to their taste. There must be a great change of scene; there must be a magnificent stage effect; there must be a grand spectacle to rouse the imagination, grown torpid with the lazy enjoyment of sixty years' security, and the still unanimating repose of public prosperity. The preacher found them all in the French revolution. This inspires a juvenile warmth through his whole frame. His enthusiasm kindles as he advances; and when he arrives at his peroration it is in a full blaze. Then viewing, from the Pisgah of his pulpit, the free, moral, happy, flourishing, and glorious state of France, as in a bird-eye landscape of a promised land, he breaks out into rapture.


When any dissenters, or any body of people, come here with a petition, it is not the number of people, but the reasonableness of the request, that should weigh with the house. A body of dissenters come to this house, and say, Tolerate us—we desire neither the parochial advantage of tithes, nor dignities, nor the stalls of your cathedrals. No! let the venerable orders of the hierarchy exist with all their advantages. And shall I tell them, I reject your just and reasonable petition, not because it shakes the church, but because there are others, while you lie grovelling upon the earth, that will kick and bite you? Judge which of these descriptions of men comes with a fair request—that, which says, Sir, I desire liberty for my own, because I trespass on no man's conscience;—or the other, which says, I desire that these men should not be suffered to act according to their consciences, though I am tolerated to act according to mine. But I sign a body of articles, which is my title to toleration; I sign no more, because more are against my conscience. But I desire that you will not tolerate these men, because they will not go so far as I, though I desire to be tolerated, who will not go as far as you. No, imprison them, if they come within five miles of a corporate town, because they do not believe what I do in point of doctrines. Shall I not say to these men, "Arrangez-vous, canaille?" You, who are not the predominant power, will not give to others the relaxation, under which you are yourself suffered to live. I have as high an opinion of the doctrines of the church as you. I receive them implicitly, or I put my own explanation on them, or take that which seems to me to come best recommended by authority. There are those of the dissenters, who think more rigidly of the doctrine of the articles relative to predestination, than others do. They sign the article relative to it ex animo, and literally. Others allow a latitude of construction. These two parties are in the church, as well as among the dissenters; yet in the church we live quietly under the same roof. I do not see why, as long as Providence gives us no further light into this great mystery, we should not leave things as the Divine wisdom has left them. But suppose all these things to me to be clear (which Providence however seems to have left obscure), yet whilst dissenters claim a toleration in things which, seeming clear to me, are obscure to them, without entering into the merit of the articles, with what face can these men say, Tolerate us, but do not tolerate them? Toleration is good for all, or it is good for none.

The discussion this day is not between establishment on one hand, and toleration on the other, but between those, who being tolerated themselves, refuse toleration to others. That power should be puffed up with pride, that authority should degenerate into rigour, if not laudable, is but too natural. But this proceeding of theirs is much beyond the usual allowance to human weakness; it not only is shocking to our reason, but it provokes our indignation. Quid domini facient, audent cum talia fures? It is not the proud prelate thundering in his commission court, but a pack of manumitted slaves with the lash of the beadle flagrant on their backs, and their legs still galled with their fetters, that would drive their brethren into that prison-house from whence they have just been permitted to escape. If, instead of puzzling themselves in the depths of the Divine counsels, they would turn to the mild morality of the Gospel, they would read their own condemnation:—O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee?


In the last session, the corps called the "king's friends" made a hardy attempt, all at once, TO ALTER THE RIGHT OF ELECTION ITSELF; to put it into the power of the House of Commons to disable any person disagreeable to them from sitting in parliament, without any other rule than their own pleasure; to make incapacities, either general for descriptions of men, or particular for individuals; and to take into their body, persons who avowedly never been chosen by the majority of legal electors, nor agreeably to any known rule of law.

The arguments upon which this claim was founded and combated, are not my business here. Never has a subject been more amply and more learnedly handled, nor upon one side, in my opinion, more satisfactorily; they who are not convinced by what is already written would not receive conviction THOUGH ONE AROSE FROM THE DEAD.

I too have thought on this subject: but my purpose here, is only to consider it as a part of the favourite project of government; to observe on the motives which led to it; and to trace its political consequences.

A violent rage for the punishment of Mr. Wilkes was the pretence of the whole. This gentleman, by setting himself strongly in opposition to the court cabal, had become at once an object of their persecution, and of the popular favour. The hatred of the court party pursuing, and the countenance of the people protecting him, it very soon became not at all a question on the man, but a trial of strength between the two parties. The advantage of the victory in this particular contest was the present, but not the only, nor by any means the principal, object. Its operation upon the character of the House of Commons was the great point in view. The point to be gained by the cabal was this; that a precedent should be established, tending to show, THAT THE FAVOUR OF THE PEOPLE WAS NOT SO SURE A ROAD AS THE FAVOUR OF THE COURT EVEN TO POPULAR HONOURS AND POPULAR TRUSTS. A strenuous resistance to every appearance of lawless power; a spirit of independence carried to some degree of enthusiasm; an inquisitive character to discover, and a bold one to display, every corruption and every error of government; these are the qualities which recommend a man to a seat in the House of Commons, in open and merely popular elections. An indolent and submissive disposition; a disposition to think charitably of all the actions of men in power, and to live in a mutual intercourse of favours with them; an inclination rather to countenance a strong use of authority, than to bear any sort of licentiousness on the part of the people; these are unfavourable qualities in an open election for members of parliament. The instinct which carries the people towards the choice of the former, is justified by reason; because a man of such a character, even in its exorbitances, does not directly contradict the purposes of a trust, the end of which is a control on power. The latter character, even when it is not in its extreme, will execute this trust but very imperfectly; and, if deviating to the least excess, will certainly frustrate instead of forwarding the purposes of a control on government. But when the House of Commons was to be new modelled, is principle was not only to be changed but reversed. Whilst any errors committed in support of power were left to the law, with every advantage of favourable construction, of mitigation, and finally of pardon: all excesses on the side of liberty, or in pursuit of popular favour, or in defence of popular rights and privileges, were not only to be punished by the rigour of the known law, but by a DISCRETIONARY proceeding, which brought on THE LOSS OF THE POPULAR OBJECT ITSELF. Popularity was to be rendered, if not directly penal, at least highly dangerous. The favour of the people might lead even to a disqualification of representing them. Their odium might become, strained through the medium of two or three constructions, the means of sitting as the trustee of all that was dear to them. This is punishing the offence in the offending part. Until this time, the opinion of the people, through the power of an assembly, still in some sort popular, led to the greatest honours and emoluments in the gift of the crown. Now the principle is reversed; and the favour of the court is the only sure way of obtaining and holding those honours which ought to be in the disposal of the people.

It signifies very little how this matter may be quibbled away. Example, the only argument of effect in civil life, demonstrates the truth of my proposition. Nothing can alter my opinion concerning the pernicious tendency of this example, until I see some man for his indiscretion in the support of power, for his violent and intemperate servility, rendered incapable of sitting in parliament. For as it now stands, the fault of overstraining popular qualities, and, irregularly if you please, asserting popular privileges, has led to disqualification; the opposite fault never has produced the slightest punishment. Resistance to power has shut the door of the House of Commons to one man; obsequiousness and servility, to none.

Not that I would encourage popular disorder, or any disorder. But I would leave such offences to the law, to be punished in measure and proportion. The laws of this country are for the most part constituted, and wisely so, for the general ends of government, rather than for the preservation of our particular liberties. Whatever, therefore, is done in support of liberty, by persons not in public trust, or not acting merely in that trust, is liable to be more or less out of the ordinary course of the law; and the law itself is sufficient to animadvert upon it with great severity. Nothing indeed can hinder that severe letter from crushing us, except the temperaments it may receive from a trial by jury. But if the habit prevail OF GOING BEYOND THE LAW, and superseding this judicature, of carrying offences, real or supposed, into the legislative bodies, who shall establish themselves into COURTS OF CRIMINAL EQUITY (so THE STAR CHAMBER has been called by Lord Bacon), all the evils of the STAR CHAMBER are revived. A large and liberal construction in ascertaining offences, and a discretionary power in punishing them, is the idea of CRIMINAL EQUITY; which is in truth a monster in jurisprudence. It signifies nothing whether a court for this purpose be a committee of council, or a house of commons, or a house of lords; the liberty of the subject will be equally subverted by it. The true end and purpose of that house of parliament which entertains such a jurisdiction, will be destroyed by it. I will not believe, what no other man living believes, that Mr. Wilkes was punished for the indecency of his publications, or the impiety of his ransacked closet. If he had fallen in a common slaughter of libellers and blasphemers, I could well believe that nothing more was meant than was pretended. But when I see, that, for years together, full as impious, and perhaps more dangerous, writings to religion, and virtue, and order, have not been punished, nor their authors discountenanced; that the most audacious libels on royal majesty have passed without notice; that the most treasonable invectives against the laws, liberties, and constitution of the country, have not met with the slightest animadversion; I must consider this as a shocking and shameless pretence. Never did an envenomed scurrility against everything sacred and civil, public and private, rage through the kingdom with such a furious and unbridled licence. All this while the peace of the nation must be shaken, to ruin one libeller, and to tear from the populace a single favourite.

Nor is it that vice merely skulks in an obscure and contemptible impunity. Does not the public behold with indignation, persons not only generally scandalous in their lives, but the identical persons who, by their society, their instruction, their example, their encouragement, have drawn this man into the very faults which have furnished the cabal with a pretence for his persecution, loaded with every kind of favour, honour, and distinction, which a court can bestow? Add but the crime of servility (the foedum crimen servitutis) to every other crime, and the whole mass is immediately transmuted into virtue, and becomes the just subject of reward and honour. When therefore I reflect upon this method pursued by the cabal in distributing rewards and punishments, I must conclude that Mr. Wilkes is the object of persecution, not on account of what he has done in common with others who are the objects of reward, but for that in which he differs from many of them: that he is pursued for the spirited dispositions which are blended with his vices; for his unconquerable firmness, for his resolute, indefatigable, strenuous resistance against oppression.

In this case, therefore, it was not the man that was to be punished, nor his faults that were to be discountenanced. Opposition to acts of power was to be marked by a kind of civil proscription. The popularity which should arise from such an opposition was to be shown unable to protect it. The qualities by which court is made to the people, were to render every fault inexpiable, and every error irretrievable. The qualities by which court is made to power, were to cover and to sanctify everything. He that will have a sure and honourable seat in the House of Commons, must take care how he adventures to cultivate popular qualities; otherwise he may remember the old maxim, Breves et infaustos populi Romani amores. If, therefore, a pursuit of popularity expose a man to greater dangers than a disposition to servility, the principle which is the life and soul of popular elections will perish out of the constitution.


It is now given out for the usual purposes, by the usual emissaries, that Lord Rockingham did not consent to the repeal of this act until he was bullied into it by Lord Chatham; and the reporters have gone so far as publicly to assert, in a hundred companies, that the honourable gentleman under the gallery, who proposed the repeal in the American committee, had another set of resolutions in his pocket directly the reverse of those he moved. These artifices of a desperate cause are at this time spread abroad, with incredible care, in every part of the town, from the highest to the lowest companies; as if the industry of the circulation were to make amends for the absurdity of the report. Sir, whether the noble lord is of a complexion to be bullied by Lord Chatham, or by any man, I must submit to those who know him. I confess, when I look back to that time, I consider him as placed in one of the most trying situations in which, perhaps, any man ever stood. In the House of Peers there were very few of the ministry, out of the noble lord's own particular connection (except Lord Egmont, who acted, as far as I could discern, an honourable and manly part), that did not look to some other future arrangement, which warped his politics. There were in both houses new and menacing appearances, that might very naturally drive any other, than a most resolute minister, from his measure or from his station. The household troops openly revolted. The allies of ministry (those, I mean, who supported some of their measures, but refused responsibility for any) endeavoured to undermine their credit, and to take ground that must be fatal to the success of the very cause which they would be thought to countenance. The question of the repeal was brought on by ministry in the committee of this house, in the very instant when it was known that more than one court negotiation was carrying on with the heads of the opposition. Everything, upon every side, was full of traps and mines. Earth below shook; heaven above menaced; all the elements of ministerial safety were dissolved. It was in the midst of this chaos of plots and counterplots; it was in the midst of this complicated warfare against public opposition and private treachery, that the firmness of that noble person was put to the proof. He never stirred from his ground: no, not an inch. He remained fixed and determined, in principle, in measure, and in conduct. He practised no managements. He secured no retreat. He sought no apology.

I will likewise do justice, I ought to do it, to the honourable gentlemen who led us in this house. Far from the duplicity wickedly charged on him, he acted his part with alacrity and resolution. We all felt inspired by the example he gave us, down even to myself, the weakest in that phalanx. I declare for one, I knew well enough (it could not be concealed from anybody) the true state of things; but, in my life, I never came with so much spirits into this house. It was a time for a MAN to act in. We had powerful enemies, but we had faithful and determined friends; and a glorious cause. We had a great battle to fight, but we had the means of fighting; not as now, when our arms are tied behind us. We did fight that day, and conquer.

I remember, Sir, with a melancholy pleasure, the situation of the honourable gentleman (General Conway.) who made the motion for the repeal; in that crisis when the whole trading interest of this empire, crammed into your lobbies, with a trembling and anxious expectation, waited, almost to a winter's return of light, their fate from your resolutions. When, at length, you had determined in their favour, and your doors, thrown open, showed them the figure of their deliverer in the well-earned triumph of his important victory, from the whole of that grave multitude there arose an involuntary burst of gratitude and transport. They jumped upon him like children on a long-absent father. They clung about him as captives about their redeemer. All England, all America joined to his applause. Nor did he seem insensible to the best of all earthly rewards, the love and admiration of his fellow-citizens. HOPE ELEVATED, AND JOY BRIGHTENED HIS CREST. I stood near him; and his face, to use the expression of the scripture of the first martyr, "his face was as if it had been the face of an angel." I do not know how others feel; but if I had stood in that situation, I never would have exchanged it for all that kings in their profusion could bestow. I did hope that that day's danger and honour would have been a bond to hold us all together for ever. But, alas! that, with other pleasing visions, is long since vanished.

Sir, this act of supreme magnanimity has been represented, as if it had been a measure of an administration, that having no scheme of their own, took a middle line, pilfered a bit from one side and a bit from the other. Sir, they took NO middle lines. They differed fundamentally from the schemes of both parties; but they preserved the objects of both. They preserved the authority of Great Britain. They made the Declaratory Act; they repealed the Stamp Act. They did both FULLY; because the Declaratory Act was without QUALIFICATION; and the repeal of the Stamp Act TOTAL. This they did in the situation I have described.


It is plain that the mind of this POLITICAL preacher was at the time big with some extraordinary design; and it is very probable that the thoughts of his audience, who understood him better than I do, did all along run before him in his reflection, and in the whole train of consequences to which it led. Before I read that sermon, I really thought I had lived in a free country; and it was an error I cherished, because it gave me a greater liking to the country I lived in. I was indeed aware, that a jealous, ever-waking vigilance, to guard the treasure of our liberty, not only from invasion, but from decay and corruption, was our best wisdom, and our first duty. However, I considered that treasure rather as a possession to be secured, than as a prize to be contended for. I did not discern how the present time came to be so very favourable to all EXERTIONS in the cause of freedom. The present time differs from any other only by the circumstance of what is doing in France. If the example of that nation is to have an influence on this, I can easily conceive why some of their proceedings which have an unpleasant aspect, and are not quite reconcilable to humanity, generosity, good faith, and justice, are palliated with so much milky good-nature towards the actors, and born with so much heroic fortitude towards the sufferers. It is certainly not prudent to discredit the authority of an example we mean to follow. But allowing this, we are led to a very natural question:—What is that cause of liberty, and what are those exertions in its favour, to which the example of France is so singularly auspicious? Is our monarchy to be annihilated, with all the laws, all the tribunals, and all the ancient corporations of the kingdom? Is every land-mark of the country to be done away in favour of a geometrical and arithmetical constitution? Is the House of Lords to be voted useless? Is episcopacy to be abolished? Are the church lands to be sold to Jews and jobbers; or given to bribe new-invented municipal republics into a participation in sacrilege? Are all the taxes to be voted grievances, and the revenue reduced to a patriotic contribution, or patriotic presents? Are silver shoe-buckles to be substituted in the place of the land-tax and the malt-tax, for the support of the naval strength of this kingdom? Are all orders, ranks, and distinctions to be confounded, that out of universal anarchy, joined to national bankruptcy, three or four thousand democracies should be formed into eighty-three, and that they may all, by some sort of unknown attractive power, be organized into one? For this great end is the army to be seduced from its discipline and its fidelity, first by every kind of debauchery, and then by the terrible precedent of a donative in the increase of pay? Are the curates to be secluded from their bishops, by holding out to them the delusive hope of a dole out of the spoils of their own order? Are the citizens of London to be drawn from their allegiance by feeding them at the expense of their fellow-subjects? Is a compulsory paper currency to be substituted in the place of the legal coin of this kingdom? Is what remains of the plundered stock of public revenue to be employed in the wild project of maintaining two armies to watch over and to fight with each other? If these are the ends and means of the Revolution Society, I admit they are well assorted; and France may furnish them for both with precedents in point. I see that your example is held out to shame us. I know that we are supposed a dull, sluggish race, rendered passive by finding our situation tolerable, and prevented by a mediocrity of freedom from ever attaining to its full perfection. Your leaders in France began by affecting to admire, almost to adore, the British constitution; but, as they advanced, they came to look upon it with a sovereign contempt. The friends of your National Assembly amongst us have full as mean an opinion of what was formerly thought the glory of their country. The Revolution Society has discovered that the English nation is not free. They are convinced that the inequality in our representation is a"defect in our constitution SO GROSS AND PALPABLE, as to make it excellent chiefly in FORM and THEORY." (Discourse on the Love of our Country, 3rd edition page 39.) That a representation in the legislature of a kingdom is not only the basis of all constitutional liberty in it, but of "ALL LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT; that without it a GOVERNMENT is nothing but a USURPATION;"—that "when the representation is PARTIAL, the kingdom possesses liberty only PARTIALLY; and if extremely partial it gives only a SEMBLANCE; and if not only extremely partial, but corruptly chosen, it becomes a NUISANCE." Dr. Price considers this inadequacy of representation as our FUNDAMENTAL GRIEVANCE; and though, as to the corruption of this semblance of representation, he hopes it is not yet arrived to its full perfection of depravity, he fears that "nothing will be done towards gaining for us this ESSENTIAL BLESSING, until some GREAT ABUSE OF POWER again provokes our resentment, or some GREAT CALAMITY again alarms our fears, or perhaps till the acquisition of a PURE AND EQUAL REPRESENTATION BY OTHER COUNTRIES, whilst we are MOCKED with the SHADOW, kindles our shame." To this he subjoins a note in these words. "A representation chosen chiefly by the treasury, and a FEW thousands of the DREGS of the people, who are generally paid for their votes."

You will smile here at the consistency of those democratists, who, when they are not on their guard, treat the humbler part of the community with the greatest contempt, whilst, at the same time, they pretend to make them the depositories of all power. It would require a long discourse to point out to you the many fallacies that lurk in the generality and equivocal nature of the terms "inadequate 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 nuisance."


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 reign.


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 knowledge.


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 enterprise.

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 Christianity.


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 attachment.

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.

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