Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

ism;

and died there on the 1st of December. It was generally understood that he retired to Taganrog for the benefit of his health. Some, however, have thought differently. That plausible impostor had long since thrown aside the character in which he had deluded individuals and nations. The more intelligent and enquiring Russians, who had served or travelled in civilised Europe, carried back with them more than merely vague notions of European liberal

and Alexander was supposed to have, under the pretence of health, preferred Taganrog to St. Petersburg, where he dreaded the existence of secret societies—those foci of national spirit and conspiracy which despotism creates for its destruction. It was apprehended that his death would derange the politics of Europe, and therefore the foreign relations of England; but the event was not felt beyond the precincts of Russia. Constantine abandoned his right of inheritance — not from fidelity to his previous pledge, but from pure fear. The throne of Russia is always, and would have been especially to him, a post of danger. A conspiracy exploded, under pretence of forcing the diadem upon the brow of Constantine, but with very

different objects; and was defeated by the grand duke Nicholas, who succeeded to the empire.

The distress of 1825 continued almost unabated at the commencement of 1826. The workman was without employment; the tradesman without credit; and both commercial and bank failures perpetuated distrust. With one exception, however, the extreme pressure of distress produced no serious disturbance. In the month of April, assemblages of workmen in Lancashire, partially armed with various kinds of weapons, committed dreadful, but momentary, havoc upon power-looms. Parliament was opened by commission on the 2d of February. The speech chiefly turned upon the existing crisis of distress. “ His majesty," said the commissioners, “relies

upon your

wisdom to devise such measures as may tend to protect both public and private interests against the like sudden and violent fluctuations, by placing on

a firm foundation the currency and circulating credit of the country.” This was the most important part of the speech. It dashed the hopes of those who still clung to paper money. Lord Ķing, in the house of peers, moved an amendment, pledging ministers to a revision of the corn laws within the session. Lords Lansdowne and Grosvenor objected to this step, but only as being premature. It was negatived without a division ; and the ministerial address agreed to. In the house of commons, the address was unopposed. Mr. Brougham, reserving to himself perfect freedom on the topics in the speech, vindicated the recently adopted principles of free trade from any share in producing the existing difficulties, and rather sustained than combated the government.

On the 10th, the house of commons resolved itself into a committee on the bank charter; and a proposition for putting an end to the circulation of small notes that is, under the value of 51. — was submitted by the chancellor of the exchequer. The opponents of this proposition were agreed only in giving a vote in the negative. Their views of

the subject presented a curious, if not whimsical, variety, according to their theories or their interests. It was supported by Mr. Brougham, and opposed by Mr. Baring, who moved an adverse amendment. The ministerial proposition was adopted, by a majority of 232 to 89. This sweeping majority decided not only the particular question, but the general principle. The extinction of small notes was quickly followed by two other measures affecting the currency. The first provided that the number of partners in each country banking house might be unlimited. This security to the public was an invasion of the bank charter, which provided that the partners in each private banking concern should not exceed six. The assent of the bank was given, after some negotiation, upon obtaining, as an equivalent, the second measure, which extended the exclusive privileges of the Bank of England, like those of the Bank of Ireland, within a circle of which the diameter should be 120 miles, with the capital for its centre.

Whilst these measures were in progress, the public distress appeared but little, if at all, assuaged. There was a general expectation and demand, both in parliament and throughout the country, that ministers would afford temporary aid by an issue of exchequer bills. The government, in spite of clamour, odium, and imputations of hardheartedness, had the firmness and public spirit to withhold a short-sighted and injurious palliative; but guaranteed the Bank to the extent of two millions in the purchase of exchequer bills in the

[ocr errors]

of lending three millions upon security, director collateral; and sent commissioners into the chief provincial towns for the purpose of arranging these advances. The loans applied for fell far short of the fund disposable. In some towns no applications were made. The knowledge that such loans were attainable restored commercial confidence; much is mercantile credit a thing not even of opinion, but of mere imagination.

Mr. Ellice, one of the members for Coventry, moved a select committee to consider the petitions of the silk manufacturers. Mr. Williams, the member for Nottingham, who seconded the motion, signalised himself very unworthily by an attack upon Mr. Huskisson. He sneered at “philosophy;" and, cloaking the grossness of his personality in the language of Burke, applied as that celebrated man, with all the impetuosity of his temper, never would have applied it. Mr. Williams said “ a perfect metaphysician was a being which exceeded the devil in malignity and contempt for the welfare of mankind.” An appeal to the vulgar approbation and base passions of the rabble, by the homage of levelling ribaldries directed against the legitimate superiorities of science and intellect, came with a bad grace from Mr. Williams, who has the reputation of being one of the most accomplished scholars in the kingdom. Mr. Huskisson replied in a speech of the soundest eloquence, which was heard with profound emotion, and cheered loudly at its close. The speech of Mr. Canning is interesting, not only for its talent, and the just and generous eulogy which he pronounced upon his friend, but from his evidently

con

giving vent in it to the private disgusts and vexations which he and Mr. Huskisson were demned to endure from the enemies of philosophy and reason in the cabinet. “ Is it not,” said he, “ the same doctrine and the spirit which now animate those who persecute my right honourable friend, the same which in former times stirred up persecution against the best benefactors of mankind? Is it not the same doctrine and spirit which imbittered the life of Turgot? Is it not a doctrine and a spirit such as this which consigned Galileo to the dungeons of the Inquisition ? Is it not a doctrine and a spirit such as these which have at all times been at work to stay public advancement, and to roll back the tide of civilisation ?-A doctrine and a spirit actuating the little minds of men, who, incapable of reaching the heights from which alone extended views of human nature can be taken, console and revenge themselves by calumniating and misrepresenting those who have toiled to those heights for the advantage of mankind. Sir, I have not to learn that there is a faction in the countryI mean not a political faction-I should, perhaps, rather have said a sect, small in numbers and powerless in might, who think that all advances towards improvement are retrogradations towards jacobinism. These persons seem to imagine, that, under no possible circumstances can an honest man endeavour to keep his country upon a line with the progress of political knowledge, and to adapt its course to the varying circumstances of the world.

« ForrigeFortsæt »