« PreviousContinue »
four still preserve a precarious and trembling existence. I will not say by what compliances they must purchase its continuance. I will not insult the feebleness of states, whose unmerited fall I do most bitterly deplore.
“ These governments were in many respects one of the most interesting parts of the ancient system of Europe. Unfortunately for the repose of mankind, great states are compelled, by regard to their own safety, to consider the military spirit and martial habits of their people as one of the main objects of their policy. Frequent hostilities seem almost the necessary condition of their greatness; and, without being great, they cannot long remain safe. Smaller states, exempted from this cruel necessity- a hard condition of greatness, a bitter satire on human nature-devoted themselves to the arts of peace, to the cultivation of literature, and the improvement of reason. They became places of refuge for free and fearless discussion; they were the impartial spectators and judges of the various contests of ambition, which from time to time disturbed the quiet of the world. They thus became peculiarly qualified to be the organs of that public opinion, which converted Europe into a great republic, with laws which mitigated, though they could not extinguish ambition; and with moral tribunals, to which even the most despotic sovereigns were amenable. If wars of aggrandizement were undertaken, their authors were arraigned in the face of Europe. If acts of internal tyranny were perpetrated, they resounded from a thousand presses throughout all civilized countries. Princes, on whose will there were no legal checks, thus found a moral restraint, which the most powerful of them could not brave with absolute impunity. They acted before a vast audience, to whose applause or condemnation they could not be utterly indifferent. The very constitution of human nature, the unalterable laws of the mind of man, against which all rebellion is fruit
less, subjected the proudest tyrants to this control. No elevation of power,—no depravity, however consummate,-no innocence, however spotless, can render man wholly independent of the praise or blame of his fellow
“ These governments were, in other respects, one of the most beautiful and interesting parts of our ancient system. The perfect security of such inconsiderable and feeble states, their undisturbed tranquillity amidst the wars and conquests that surrounded them, attested, beyond any other part of the European system, the moderation, the justice, the civilization, to which Christian Europe had reached in modern times. Their weakness was protected only by the habitual reverence for justice, which, during a long series of ages, had grown up in Christendom. This was the only fortification which defended them against those mighty monarchs to whom they offered so easy a prey.
And, till the French revo. lution, this was sufficient. Consider, for instance, the situation of the republic of Geneva: think of her defenceless position, in the very jaws of France ; but think also of her undisturbed security, of her profound quiet, of the brilliant success with which she applied to industry and literature, while Louis XIV. was pouring his myriads into Italy before her gates ; call to mind, if
ages crowded into years have not effaced them from your memory, the happy period when we scarcely dreamt more of the subjugation of the feeblest republics of Europe, than of the conquest of her mightiest empire, and tell me if you can imagine a spectacle more beautiful to the moral eye, or a more striking proof of progress in the noblest principles of true civilization.
“ These feeble states, these monuments of the justice of Europe, the asylum of peace, of industry, and of literature, the organs of public reason, the refuge of oppressed innocence, and persecuted truth, have perished
with these ancient principles which were their sole guardians and protectors. They have been swallowed up by that fearful convulsion, which has shaken the uttermost corners of the earth. They are destroyed and gone for ever.
“ One asylum of free discussion is still inviolate. There is still one spot in Europe where man can freely exercise his reason on the most important concerns of society; where he can boldly publish his judgment on the acts of the proudest and most powerful tyrants. The press of England is still free. It is guarded by the free constitution of our forefathers. It is guarded by the hearts and arms of Englishmen ; and I trust I may ven. ture to say, that if it be to fall, it will fall only under the ruins of the British empire.
“ It is an awful consideration, gentlemen. Every other monument of European liberty has perished.-That ancient fabric, which has been gradually reared by the wisdom and virtue of our fathers, still stands. It stands, thanks be to God! solid and entire—but it stands alone, and it stands amidst ruins.”
“ But,” added Egeria, “ one of the ablest passages in this most able oration, is that in which the speaker, with admirable taste and dexterity, in affecting to describe the policy of Queen Elizabeth, drew the minds of his auditors to feel the full force of that character of Buonaparte, with which he wished to impress them; and that too without even seeming to allude to him. It is one of the most artful and effective pieces of modern oratory.”
“ The reign of Queen Elizabeth may be considered as the opening of the modern history of England, especially in its connexion with the modern system of Europe, which began about that time to assume the form that it preserved till the French revolution. It was a very memorable period, of which the maxims ought to be engraven on the head and heart of every Englishman. Philip II., at the head of the greatest empire then in the world, was openly aiming at universal dominion ; and his project was so far from being thought chimerical by the wisest of his contemporaries, that, in the opinion of the great Duc de Sully, he must have been successful,
if, by a most singular combination of circumstances, he had not at the same time been resisted by two such strong heads as those of Henry IV. and Queen Elizabeth. To the most extensive and opulent dominions, the most numerous and disciplined armies, the most renowned captains, the greatest revenue, he added also the most formidable power over opinion. He was the chief of a religious faction, animated by the most atrocious fanaticism, prepared to second his ambition by rebellion, anarchy, and regicide, in every Protestant state. Elizabeth was among the first objects of his hostility.That wise and magnanimous princess placed herself in the front of the battle for the liberties of Europe. Though she had to contend at home with his fanatical faction, which almost occupied Ireland, which divided Scotland, and was not of contemptible strength in England, she aided the oppressed inhabitants of the Netherlands in their just and glorious resistance to his tyranny; she aided Henry the Great in suppressing the abominable rebellion which anarchical principles had excited, and Spanish arms had supported in France, and, after a long reign of various fortune, in which she preserved her unconquered spirit through great calamities, and still greater dangers, she at length broke the strength of the enemy, and reduced his power within such limits as to be compatible with the safety of England, and of all Europe. Her only effectual ally was the spirit of her people ; and
her policy flowed from that magnanimous nature, which, in the hour of peril, teaches better lessons than those of cold reason. Her great heart inspired her with a higher and nobler wisdom--which disdained to appeal to the low and sordid passions of her people, even for the protection of their low and sordid interests; because she knew, or rather she felt, that these are effeminate, creeping, cowardly, short-sighted passions, which shrink from conflict, even in defence of their own mean objects. In a righteous cause, she roused those generous affections of her people, which alone teach boldness, constancy, and foresight, and which are therefore the only safe guardians of the lowest as well as the highest interests of a nation. In her memorable address to her army, when the invasion of the kingdom was threatened by Spain, this woman of heroic spirit disdained to speak to. them of their ease, and their commerce, and their wealth, and their safety. No! she touched another chord-she spoke of their national honour, of their dignity as Englishmen, of the foul scorn that Parma or Spain should dare to invade the borders of her realms.' She breathed into them those grand and powerful sentiments, which exalt vulgar men into heroes, which lead them into the battle of their country armed with holy and irresistible enthusiasm, which even cover with their shield all the ignoble interests that base calculation and cowardly selfishness tremble to hazard, but shrink from defending. A sort of prophetic instinct, if I may so speak, seems to have revealed to her the importance of that great instrument, for rousing and guiding the minds of men, of the effects of which she had no experience; which, since her time, has changed the condition of the world; but which few modern statesmen have thoroughly understood, or wisely employed; which is, no doubt, connected with many ridiculous and degrading details; which has produced, and may again produce, terrible