Page images

Of the other paid Commissioners, I have understood that some look forward to the duties of the office as quite compatible with those of a most laborious profession; while others are supposed to regard the existence of abuses generally, in any establishment, with an unwilling, if not incredulous mind. Nay, I have reason to believe, that one very respectable member of the board has publicly professed an opinion, that a great anxiety for the welfare of the poor is symptomatic of Jacobinism. Exclusive devotion to professional vocations, is a meritorious frame of mind; but does not perhaps very naturally point a man out as fit for a second occupation. A fond disposition to find every thing right in our political system; an aversion to believe in the existence of defects; a proneness to charge with disaffection those who spy them out: a tendency to suspect all who busy themselves for the poor as influenced by sinister motives, and even as contrivers of political mischief,---these, for aught I know may be praise-worthy feelings; or amiable weaknesses; or excusable mistakes; and far be it from me to think the worse of any man who is honestly influenced by what may seem the least rational of such propensities. But then I must take leave to think that they form very indifferent qualifications for sitting at a Board, the object of which is to pry into abuses, to expose errors and malversations, and to drag forth to public view, those who have robbed the poor of their rights. Persons under the influence of such impressions will enter upon their inquisitorial functions with a disposition to find ground of justification rather than of charge; will reluctantly open their eyes to truths which thwart their favorite prejudices; and feel desirous that their inquiries should convict of exaggeration the statements now before the public.' p. 35, 36.

Then, as to the six honorary Commissioners whom the Bill, as amended by His Majesty's Ministers, appointed to form a superintending central body, the Committee had been led to hope that Lord Lansdown and the Bishop of London, (both of whom were avowedly in favour of the proposed inquiry,) would be among the number. Their places are supplied by two right reverend prelates, one of whom displayed his irreconcileable 'hostility to the Bill, by even voting against its commitment; and the other his disinclination towards it, by retiring before the division, in which the bench of bishops took so active a 'share*. These are the only peers in the Commission; those noblemen who distinguished themselves in supporting the measure in the House of Lords, being, as well as all the members of the Education Committee who originated the Bill for Inquiry, carefully and pointedly excluded, to make room for the names of individuals decidedly hostile to the proposed investigation. So much for the good faith with which the Ministers have discharged this part of their trust! After mutilating the Act itself, they have entrusted the execution of it,

The Bishops of Peterborough and St. Asaph,

in great measure, to its avowed enemies. That in so doing, 'they should favour neglect or peculation for its own sake,' says Mr. Brougham, is inconceivable :



but they may be deterred from fearlessly joining in the exposure of it by the clamours of those who are interested in its concealment, or the alarms of men easily disquieted, willing to believe that there is safety in supporting whatever exists, ready to fancy that there is danger wherever there is movement, and to forget that in the neighbourhood of mischief repose is perilous. Certain it is, that the present Ministers have at all times betrayed a reluctance to reformation of every sort; and that, whether from interest, or weak compliance, or fear of disquieting the alarmists, they have so acted as to afford abuses of all descriptions effectual shelter. Upon the present occasion they have not deviated from their accustomed course; and the interposition of Parliament will be required to force them out of it, as it has frequently done before.' p. 45, 46.

We have now gone through the history of this disgusting and corrupt attempt to defeat the labours of the Education Committee. Should it still be suggested, that the above is the exparte statement of one who is both pleader and plaintiff in the cause, the utmost reasonable deduction on that ground, from the amount of the charge, will leave matter enough for the indictment. Were it even credible, that the whole business from beginning to end, was planned, brought forward, and prosecuted by the Education Committee, or by any single individual of that Committee, in the spirit and with the views of party, what would it prove, but that the impulse of partyspirit is capable of the most honourable and useful directions; that party is in fact a good thing, inasmuch as it would appear to be the only principle which can grapple with corruption? But the Education Committee are not liable to any such charge; and that the measure which they originated was both necessary and beneficial, is clear in our view from this circumstance, that the Minister, though, as it has been betrayed by his subsequent conduct, secretly hostile to it, durst not openly oppose it. The necessity of inquiry had been established, beyond the power of denial, by incontestable facts. Abuses of the most flagrant description were acknowledged to exist, and those who were determined that they should continue to exist, shrunk from the odium of resisting the dreaded inquiry. They wished at once to appropriate the credit, and to negative the success of the investigation; and they determined to turn the officiousness of the Reformers to good account, by making the commission for detecting abuses, itself a source of ministerial patronage. This is, at least, the aspect which their conduct at present bears to the country; and that conduct is by no means so palpably at variance with the general tenour of their domestic

policy, as to force upon us the suspicion that the public in this instance do them a wrong.

A party opposition to ministers, notwithstanding all the specious eloquence by which it has been vindicated, we cannot, indeed, cease to regard as equally suspicious in its origin, indefensible in its principle, and hollow in its character. But it is impossible in the face of history to deny, that such combinations have generally proved of the greatest service to the country. Something is surely gained, if selfishness is compelled to put on the semblance of patriotism, and to support, to the extent of decided usefulness, its assumed character. The selfishness of party is generally a nobler modification of the sentiment, than that which looks no higher than private gain, But this is not all: there is an alertness, a spirit of enterprise, an unsleeping vigilance and suspiciousness of observation, which seem to be acquired and cherished only in the ranks of party. It is mortifying to witness the inefficiency of many estimable individuals, in their public character, whose private life exhibits all that would seem to qualify them for superior usefulness: men of integrity above a bribe, of motives free from the taint of party; but whose very goodness of disposition leads them to confide where they should be suspicious, to believe where they should investigate, and to hesitate where they should act. Their moderation is too apt to display itself in thinking that something may be said in favour of the vilest measures; (as indeed something may be said in favour of any thing;) in dreading alike to incur reproach or responsibility, and to give offence. They are too conscientious to do wrong, too timid to do right. The possibility of danger does not more effectually paralyze, at some times, men of this character, than, at others, the hopelessness of success. And their dislike of party, which makes them shrink back at all times from being identified with avowed oppositionists, often prevails, to so morbid an excess, as to induce them to withhold their co-operation where it would be the most usefully exerted. Thus, these men of no party, too often act the part of the most determined partisans; and the country sees them retire from their public stations without regret, because their good principles were so often to be seen fighting by the side of evil ones, and their piety and integrity were the auxilia ries of corruption and mischief.

It is not, we repeat the admission, in party men that the nation can confide, except as agents for the time being, for the transaction of its business; but then, it cannot, under the present state of things, dispense with them, inasmuch as to them almost exclusively attaches the professional character which qualifies them for its service. The public do not dream that the necessity of a watchful opposition as a check upon power and prerogative,

would be superseded by the transfer of the corrupting possessions of place and office to any other set of men, whatever might, as it is easily conceivable, be gained in other respects, by such a change. No they cannot but perceive that reform of any kind must always partake of opposition; and that in the means of successful opposition and resistance which the Constitution has provided, there is presented the only chance of obtaining the redress of existing evils. However mixed or doubtful be the motives which put this means in action, by influencing the characters of individuals, the cause is that of the public good; and that cause can be efficiently promoted only by that force of combination which, being rarely the result of a union of principle, is left to be accomplished by the strength of party.

That some beneficial measures have been made to wear the appearance of party opposition, has frequently arisen from nothing else than pique or jealousy on the part of the Minister, or, from his wantonly determining to frustrate the proposition by making it a party question. Cases similar to that of which Mr. Brougham complains, have frequently occurred, in which the whole advantage of being the originators and supporters of the most beneficial reforms, has been thrown into the hands of the Opposition by the caprice or neglect of the lords of office, notwithstanding the most sincere endeavours of the friends of the measure, to prevent its falling to the exclusive management of either side of the House. It is thus that the most independent men are often compelled to fall into the ranks of Opposition, or at least to act with them exclusively.

In investigations and discussions such as occupied the labours of the Education Committee, it were indeed to be deprecated that the spirit of party should be permitted to intrude its influence. Notwithstanding the provocation they have received, we trust that Committee will, upon its re-appointment, proceed with firmness and temper in the discharge of the duties which it will still remain to perform.

Invaluable as are the labours of such Committees for the purposes of inquiry and of collecting information, their proceedings, so soon as they enter upon the business of legislation, cannot, however, be too narrowly scrutinized. In the Bill brought in by Mr. Brougham, inquiry was the sole object; there was no attempt at legislation. Nevertheless, ultimate measures of an important nature, were avowedly in the contemplation of some of its members. The course of proceeding,' says Mr. Brougham, towards the close of his Letter, which the Legis'lature ought to pursue in dealing with the estates of the poor, is a subject of peculiar delicacy, and closely connected with the great question of the Poor Laws. It is chiefly in this 'connexion that I have from the beginning been induced to


regard both the subject of Charities and of National Education.' He accordingly announces his intention to submit certain propositions to Parliament upon the Poor Laws during the ensuing session. We anticipate those propositions not without some anxiety, judging of their probable nature, from the measures recommended by some of Mr. Brougham's friends. But this is a subject to which we shall have occasion to return in our next Number. "The point to which the attention of the country should first be directed, is,' as Mr. B. remarks, the rescue of 'charitable funds from mismanagement, and their restoration to the purposes for which they were created.' Without exciting false expectations, it may be safely affirmed, that this measure of simple justice would be attended with some almost immediate diminution in the numbers of the poor, by providing support for many who are now left to parochial relief, as well as have an ultimate tendency to raise the character of the lower classes, through the medium of the children of the poor. What further steps may be adviseable, is a question that may be reserved for a later stage of the inquiry.'

[ocr errors]

Art. VI. Memoirs of the Life of Anthony Benezet. By Robert Vaux. Philadelphia printed. York re-printed. 1817.


NEW of our readers are wholly unacquainted with the name and character of the subject of this Memoir; an individual of humble rank and condition, and innocent of those qualities and deeds which, by an extreme confusion and perversion of all genuine notions of right and wrong, mankind are accustomed to repay with honour and admiration: Anthony Benezet was not great with that kind of grandeur which the high and favoured of the world most covet; he was neither rich, nor noble, but he was the warm, pious, active, self-forgetting servant of God and friend of man; he lived in the affection of his friends, and all who knew him were his friends-in the love and gratitude of the objects of his solicitude, and in the respect and admiration of all to whom his character was known. He has left behind him a memorial the more bright and lasting, because unsought; and he now enjoys the gracious recompense of his labours, in that realm of love for which he had been fitted by faith in the Redeemer, and the work of the Divine Spirit, manifested by a pure and holy life, and by an ardent sympathy: with the temporal and spiritual miseries of his fellow men.

Benezet was descended from an ancient and respectable family. His immediate ancestry, who were natives of France, suffered much in consequence of their conscientious adherence to the Protestant faith. His father lost his estate on the revocation of the edict of Nantz, and succeeded, at much hazard,

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »