Imágenes de páginas

learning, admirers of royalty merely for its trappings and appendages; the greater number of persons. of fashion, their dependants and imitators; in short, such as were the mere parrots of the informed and wise.

[ocr errors]

On the other hand,-of men of talents and knowledge, who, though they admired the execution, condemned the tendency of the REFLEXIONS, there were those of high speculative notions of liberty; the majority of Burke's former associates, the very ablest of them in the House of Commons, and some of the ablest in the House of Peers; the greater number of professed men of letters, who, from their habits of metaphysical disquisitions, often followed theory more than experience; men of the partial erudition which Grecian and Roman literature betows, who formed their opinions more from particular models than general principles and history; many of the legal and medical professions, a few of the clergy, a few of the nobility and gentry, a greater portion of the monied interest than of the

landed, dissenting preachers, metaphysical deists. Of those who were NOT competent judges, great numbers condemned Burke's REFLEXIONS upon trust:-retainers of Opposition, understrappers of letters, implicit believers of infidelity, school-masters, inferior, decaying, or ruined tradesmen and mechanics, debating-society orators, revolution club-men, declaimers at public meetings; in short, also, mere parrots of learning and ingenuity.

The first answer to Burke came from the able pen of Dr. Priestley. A considerable part of this publication was a vindication of Dr. Price's opinion concerning the source and tenure of monarchical power in England: the rest is on the happy effects to be expected from the glorious principles of the French revolution, from which Priestley forebodes the enlargement of liberty, the melioration of society, the increase of virtue and of happiness. As Priestley neither shewed, from history, nor from the constitution of the human mind, that these prin

ciples, in their usual operation and consequence, tended to produce all those blessings, it is the less surprizing that the event was so totally contrary to his predictions.

But the answer to Burke, which produced the most important effects in these kingdoms, was the RIGHTS OF MAN,' by the noted Thomas Paine. Perhaps there never was a writer who more completely attained the art of impressing vulgar and undistin guishing minds. The plain perspicuity of his language, the force of his expressions, the directness of his efforts, wore so much the appearance of clear and strong reasoning (to those that judge from manner more than matter) that numbers, borne down by his bold assertions, supposed themselves convinced by his arguments.

The substance of his doctrine was peculiarly pleasing to the lower ranks. When mechanics and peasants were told that they were as fit for governing the country as any man in Parliament, the notion flattered

their vanity, pride, and ambition. While he had for the ignorant these notions of equality, so agreeable to the populace,' he had additional charms, in metaphysical distinctions and definitions, to delight the half-learned with the idea, that when they were repeating his words, they were pouring forth philosophy. For them he had imprescriptible rights, organization, general will, at- . taint upon principle, and many other phrases, from which his votaries thought themselves as much instructed as the under Grave-digger in Hamlet supposed himself from the learned distinctions of the upper. This mode of procedure it would be very unjust to impute to the want of powers of evincing truth, wherever truth was his object. He had, certainly, in his 'Crisis' and Common Sense displayed most penetrating acuteness and great force of argument. It was not from weakness that he reasoned upon assumptions, nor from confusion of ideas that he

* See an instance of the same kind in Hume's History of the Reign of Richard II. speaking of John Ball.`

made unintelligible definitions: it was from dexterous art, and a versatility of genius, accommodating itself to diversity of objects and persons, but adapting itself peculiarly to those classes who would believe themselves convinced when they were only persuaded.

It would be foreign to the purpose of this work to enter into the detail of Paine's

Rights of Man. The amount of his theory is this: That no government is just, which is not actually, and has not been historically and originally, founded on what he calls the Rights of Man. He applies this general principle to existing governments, and finding that none of them is reconcileable to his notions of natural equality and the rights of man, except that of America and the new constitution of France, he proposes that all others shall be pulled down; but first, and especially, what we call the Constitution, and he the usurpation, of England. England exhibits a polity by no means conformable to the ideas of


[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »