« PreviousContinue »
are the property of the highest civilization, and England alone or England and her descendants-can be said to possess them at this hour. They who say that the general reasonings of the French are superior, forget that the period of abstraction is gone by with us; that, when we argue upon a particular point with a view to its application, we no more return to discuss and prove its general principles, than we repeat the letters of the alphabet when we are preparing an oration for parliament. When we contemplate the statue of Apollo, we do not descant on the chisel. But those letters and that chisel must have been known and used, or words could not have existed, and the statue would still have slumbered in its block. Well indeed might Sir James M'Intosh reply, ' In England we take all this for granted,' when M. de Staël showed him one of the strongest and profoundest of the French political pamphlets. To dwell upon such productions as these, would be to return to infancy; yet the French imagine that we proceed without any general principles, and upon the mere selfish and empirical impulse of the occasion, because we have ceased to refer, in every instance, to the elements of our actions. Thus they imagine themselves to have invented the science of political economy, and say that Adam Smith took all his ideas on the subject from Turgot, and the other French economists. · But where did Turgot himself and his followers first see the science and acquire their knowledge, but in the country where, having been put in practice, its principles had ceased to be discussed ? Political economy was in full exercise in England long before it was reasoned upon in France; and had the theoricians of that country not found it here, they never could have philosophised it at home. While we had left the
suptema ac generalissima rationalia' far behind us, they were only systematising; but, in all the concerns of real life, where the superstructure is, there too must be the foundation.
The four letters which follow are devoted to the discussion of the division of property; and are a singular specimen of ratiocination. The practice of England in this respect is to concentrate property by entails, &c. that of France (modern) is to disperse it, by an equal distribution among all the children of the testator, with the exception of one single share. The author discusses both these systems; but his own inclination is decidedly in favour of the French.
• Prejudice,' he says, ' has so blinded men upon this subject in England, that few can reason upon it,' and he adduces arguments to support his opinion, to not one of which we can subscribe. But what iş the most extraordinary of allafter reasoning thus during nearly eighty pages, he comes to this unexpected conclusion, that as he deprecates the intervențion
VOL. XXXIV. NO. LXVII.
of legislation in the direction of capital and the management of private fortune, he is much of the same opinion as the English. In these letters he refutes many of the errors current in France with regard to England, as, for instance, one reproach which we should hardly expect to find made to us by that nation under any of its forms of government: to wit, that all the wealth of this country is in the hands of a few, while the people are in a state of complete suffering. He says, however, that our writers are equally mistaken as to the effect of division in France; neither can he find, in the reasonings of Malthus and Mill on this subject, the firmness and solidity which they have displayed on other points of political economy. In our minds, the perpetual division of property is the scourge which the revolution has fastened upon France, and in less than half a century, will be the avenger of Europe for all the injuries which she has suffered. Beside the disputes which it creates in families and the ill-will which it breeds in co-heirs, it prevents exertion and leaves no disposable masses for industrious ends. It creates dependants on power; and already, says M. de Staël (its advocate and a liberal)
, public employments—that is to say, the favours of the crown-are the principal sources of wealth to the upper ranks of society.
One assertion made by M. de Staël we cannot pass in silence, • La seule relation de famille qui soit en Angleterre dans toute sa beauté, c'est le lien conjugal;' and he proceeds to descant on the merit and affection of English matrons. In this we perfectly agree with him; but we differ entirely when he says that all other family connections are defective. He particularly instances the word Sir, as used by a son to his father, and considers it as a token of constrained respect, and a want of mutual affection. • La mort d'un père, celle d'un frère aîné dont on attend l'héritage, sont, sur la scène Anglaise, l'objet de plaisanteries que l'on tolère, que l'on applaudit même, et qui, chez nous, révolteroient le public le moins délicat.' But since the stage is the source whence M. de Staël draws his conclusions, how came our wives and mothers to escape his rebuke? Has he forgotten Wycherley, Congreve, Farquhar, and the time when no female entered a theatre unmasked? To all inductions from this source we will answer by a citation of which our author will not deny the validity. It is from his own eloquent mother, who certainly was right on the present occasion; we quote from memory, but the substance is, Rien ne ressemble moins aux Anglais que leur comédie.'
M. de Staël seems further to imply that family affection is stronger in France than in England; and that, in the latter country, the sentiment which, in the former, is affection de famille,' is only esprit de famille.' We think that facts will prove exactly the
reverse. It is indeed almost impossible that, in a state of morals where conjugal relations are perfect, the other ties of family feeling should be so relaxed as the stage has led our author to suppose.
The heart cannot be warm between parents, and chilled to their common offspring; and the example of such affection must awaken congenial tenderness in children. In a country indeed where every adult belongs so much to the public as in England, youth sooner attains emancipation than in states where despotism is disguised under the name of paternal government; and a father is obliged to yield up his son to the commonwealth at an early age. But does he for this give up his affection; or is filial love less strong because the public claim the time and talents of the rising generation ? The early manliness of our youth, so completely contrasting with the long subjection in which others live, may make a foreigner suppose that their affections are as independent as their manners and their minds. The French require unbroken deference from their children; neither does any event of life-as the marriage of those children, their becoming parents in their turn--diminish filial bondage. British fathers (on the contrary) hasten to give their sons that independence which fits them for a free state ; and never are more satisfied than when they see them assert their rights as British subjects. Besides, might we not add, paternal affection and filial return are stronger in proportion to the certainty which a parent has, that he is not merely the father quem nuptiæ demonstrant, and that this chance is greater in England, M. de Staël allows, since he admits that there le lien conjugal est dans toute sa beauté.
One consequence indeed of family connexion is more powerful in France than in England; but we deny that it is founded on affection -quite the reverse. It springs entirely from the sentiment which our author rightly terms, but sadly misapplies, “esprit de famille,' and which is little more than vanity. Every person bearing the same name, particularly if that name be one of the highest of the privileged class, is more or less considered as of the same blood, and all are in duty bound to maintain the rest in that condition of society which is worthy of it. In England the chief of the Howards or of the Percys would feel no mortification at beholding his arms engraved upon the seal of a man of very inferior rank and fortune; nay, would not blush to read his name upon the signboard of some very humble trader. But what humiliation would not a Montmorency feel if a Montmorency had not the means of living in the highest circles, or were to embrace any profession but that of a courtier, a man of the sword, or a dignitary of the church? Not even the study of the law could be followed by him without a blush; no—he could not deign to be chancellor of France. D 2
Now the only proofs which we can find of the affection de famille,' which M.de. Staël supposes to exist exclusively in that country, are the subjection to their parents in which aged children live, and this vanity which makes it derogatory for any high born Frenchman to adopt an useful and honest, if it be an humble profession, and
prompts all those who call themselves alike to rescue the name, if not the man, from the shame of subsisting by industry. We should indeed have been surprized if the assertion of our author had been correct; for we cannot grant that any feeling of the heart is so strong in France as in England. Where levity is great, and reflection rare, 'the affections may be prompt and tashy, but they are not either deep or lasting.
Another opinion which we were sorry, for his sake, to find in M. de Staël's work is, that England has not been the protector of the liberties of other nations. This is the common cry of the French liberals; while that of the opposite party is that she has overthrown all the ancient institutions of the world, and protected the illegitimate emancipation of subjects. From this double reproach we should suspect that she has kept the proper medium, and done exactly what was requisite to promote freedom, and to oppose licentiousness. But, in fact, we think that if any reproach can be made upon this head, it is that England has been too officious, too sanguine in her endeavours to make other nations participate in the blessings which she enjoys; and thrat she has communicated the desire to men incapable of putting it in practice. The popular error in this country is, rather, that all men are equally fit for freedom, than that any nation can be disqualified. Hence every crude abettor of revolution expects to find assistance from this classic source of constitutional government, and many of them must of course be disappointed. But we defy M. de Staël, backed by all the liberals and all the doctrinaires of the French school, to prove her guilty, before a jury of men who really know what rational freedom is, of ever having opposed its introduction into any country upon earth; while her conduct in Sicily testifies her strong—even her rash desire to give every opportunity of establishing at least as much of it as men can bear, wherever she had any influence.
The remaining letters of this work are upon many practica. points, through which we shall not follow our author, having other matters to consider. So great is his desire to be useful to his country-and we heartily wish that he may be so--that he enters into minute particulars upon the mode of debating in our House of Commons; and gives a frontispiece, representing the place of meeting, the speaker's chair, the ministerial and the opposition benches, the gallery, &c. Upon the whole we are far from joining
in the general sentiments of our author, or of adopting the tenets of his school; yet we think that his views are benevolent; and though we cannot approve of his modes of reasoning, we give him full credit for his perceptive faculties.
Notwithstanding the evident utility of the hints contained in this work, it is not likely that many of them will be adopted by the French, who feel excessive tenderness about openly imitating any thing from England. Though their constitution is the same in all its leading features, as our own, yet they would be very much irritated if they were told that it was but a copy. Nay, so jealous are they upon this head, that, in order to have some claim to originality, they have purposely introduced deviations, and put themselves to great inconvenience, as well as run a risk of adopting less expedient forms. The shifts which they made to escape the septenniality of our parliament were quite ludicrous; and their election laws were pitiful subterfuges to avoid our mode of choosing representatives. They prefer doing worse, to doing well with us; and, though the least original or inventive of nations, they have not greatness of mind to avow that the best modes of rule have been practised by a rival, long before they thought of any thing but despotism. Such narrowness of views has already been prejudicial to them; and, until they can enlarge their minds and feelings, it ever must be so, We have often thought that the first indication of improving morality in France will be her acknowledging that we are an honester nation than she is; and the first symptom of increasing wisdom, her perceiving our superiority in that matter also-as the first dawn of her liberty was her Anglomania,
We have selected the volume of M. de Staël as a favourable specimen of the opinions entertained in France respecting our political conduct: we shall now turn to another question, and examine the estimation in which our industry is held there. This is a subject upon which doubt cannot so easily hang; for, while there is no positive general standard of liberty, there is a very accurate measure of labour: produce. As long as the quantity of things produced can be measured in length, breadth and thickness, and their value expressed in francs, pounds sterling, or any other article of barter, reasoning will be less vague upon industry than upon constitutions.
For this reason, juster notions of our superiority in the former than in the latter are current among the French; and, while they say that our elections exceed in corruption all that they could ever know-we suppose because, with them, ministers only have the means of influencing votes—they cannot deny the number of pounds of wool, cotton, or silk, which we spin and weave. Still,