Political Essays (1819)/Whether the Friends of Freedom
WHETHER THE FRIENDS OF FREEDOM CAN ENTERTAIN ANY SANGUINE HOPES OF THE FAVOURABLE RESULTS OF THE ENSUING CONGRESS?
Oct. 23, 1814.
An excellent article appeared in the Examiner of last week, giving a general outline of the views and principles which ought to actuate the allied powers at the approaching Congress, and of the leading arrangements with respect to the different subjects to be brought under consideration, which ought to follow from those principles. Cordially as we agree with this respectable writer in the several points which he has stated, we are, we confess, far from feeling any strong assurances that even any one of these points will be amicably adjusted. They are briefly these:—1. That Poland should be restored to her independence. 2. That the other powers of Europe should no longer co-operate with Sweden in the subjugation of Norway. 3. That the Slave Trade should be immediately and generally abolished. 4. That Saxony should not share a fate similar to that of Poland. 5. That Austria should relinquish her views of unjust aggrandisement in Italy. 6. and last, That some concessions should probably be made by England as to her exclusive claims to maritime supremacy, as far as those claims are found to be rather galling to the feelings of other nations, than essential to her own security. All of the objects here recommended are, we should imagine, every way practicable as well as desirable, if there were any thing like a hearty good-will to avail themselves of the present favourable situation of the world in those who have the power to decide its fate. Armed with sovereign authority, seconded by public opinion, with every obstacle removed from their dread of the overwhelming power of France, they have all the means at their disposal to rear a splendid, lofty, and lasting monument to justice, liberty, and humanity. Are the views then of the allied sovereigns solely directed to these objects? That is the simple question; and we are afraid it would be great presumption to answer it in the affirmative. It would be supposing that the late events have purified the hearts of princes and nations; that they have been taught wisdom by experience, and the love of justice from the sense of injury; that mutual confidence and good-will have succeeded to narrow prejudices and rankling jealousy; that the race of ambitious and unprincipled monarchs, of crafty politicians, and self-interested speculators is at an end; that the destructive rivalry between states has given way to liberal and enlightened views of general safety and advantage; and that the powers of Europe will in future unite with the same zeal and magnanimity for the common good, as when they were bound in a common cause against the common enemy. All this appears to us quite as Utopian as any other scheme which supposes that the human mind can change. Happy should we be, if instead of those magnificent and beneficial projects in which some persons seem still to indulge their imaginations as the results of this meeting, the whole should not turn out to be no better than a compromise of petty interests, of shallow policy, and flagrant injustice.
We forbore for a long time from saying any thing on this ungrateful subject: but our forbearance has not hitherto, at least been rewarded. We shall therefore speak out plainly on the subject; as we should be sorry to be thought accomplices in a delusion, which can only end in disappointment. The professions of justice, moderation, and the love of liberty, made by the powers of Europe at the end of the last, and at the beginning of the present year, were certainly admirable: they were called for at the time, and were possibly sincere. But we are all of us apt to forego those good resolutions which are extorted from us by circumstances rather than from reason or habit, and to recant "vows made in pain as violent and void." Without meaning any indirect allusion to the person into whose mouth these words are put, we believe this, that princes are princes, and that men are men; and that to expect any great sacrifices of interest or passion from either in consequence of certain well-timed and well-sounding professions, drawn from them by necessity, when that necessity no longer exists, is to belie all our experience of human nature. We remember what modern courts and ministers were before the dreaded power of Bonaparte arose; and we conceive this to be the best and only ground to argue what they will be, now that that power has ceased. "Why so, being gone, they are themselves again." It appears to us, that some very romantic and extravagant expectations were entertained from the destruction of the tyranny of Bonaparte. It is true, his violence and ambition for a while suspended all other projects of the same kind. "The right divine of kings to govern wrong" was wrested from the puny hands of its legitimate possessors, and strangely monopolized by one man. The regular professors of the regal art were set aside by the superior skill and prowess of an adventurer. They became in turn the tools, or the victims of the machinations of the maker and puller-down of kings. Instead of their customary employment of annoying their neighbours, or harrassing their subjects, they had enough to do to defend their territories and their titles. The aggressions which they had securely meditated against the independence of nations, and their haughty contempt for the liberties of mankind, were retorted on their own heads. The poisoned chalice was returned to their own lips. They then first felt the sting of injustice, and the bitterness of scorn. They saw how weak and little they were in themselves. They were roused from the still life of courts, and forced to assume the rank of men. They appealed to their people to defend their thrones; they called on them to rally round the altar of their country; they invoked the name of liberty, and in that name they conquered. Plans of national aggrandisement or private revenge were forgotten in the intoxication of triumph, as they had been in the agony of despair. This sudden usurpation had so overpowered the imaginations of men, that they began to consider it as the only evil that had ever existed in the world, and that with it, all tyranny and ambition would cease. War was talked of as if it had been an invention of the modern Charlemagne, and the Golden age was to be restored with the Bourbons. But it is hard for the great and mighty to learn in the school of adversity: emperors and kings bow reluctantly to the yoke of necessity. When the panic is over, they will be glad to drink of the cup of oblivion. The false idols which had been set up to Liberty and Nature, to Genius and Fortune, are thrown down, and they have once more "all power given them upon earth." How they are likely to use it, whether for the benefit and happiness of mankind, or to gratify their own prejudices and passions, we have, in one or two instances, seen already. No one will in future look for "the milk of human kindness" in the Crown Prince of Sweden, who is a monarch of the new school; nor for examples of romantic generosity and gratitude in Ferdinand of Spain, who is one of the old. A jackall or baboon, dandled in the paws of a royal Bengal tiger, may not be very formidable; but it would be idle to suppose, if they should providentially escape, that they would become tame, useful, domestic animals.
The King of Prussia has recovered the sword of the Great Frederick, his humane, religious, moral, and unambitious predecessor, only, as it appears, to unsheath it against the King of Saxony, his old companion in arms. The Emperor of Austria seems eager to catch at the iron crown of Italy, which has just fallen from the brows of his son-in-law. The King of France, our King of France, Louis the Desired, and who by the "all hail hereafter," is to receive the addition of Louis the Wise, has improved his reflections during a twenty years' exile, into a humane and amiable sanction of the renewal of the Slave Trade for five years only. His Holiness the Pope, happy to have escaped from the clutches of the arch-tyrant and impostor, employs his leisure hours in restoring the order of the Jesuits, and persecuting the Freemasons. Ferdinand, the grateful and the enlightened, who has passed through the same discipline of humanity with the same effect, shuts up the doors of the Cortes, (as it is scandalously asserted, at the instigation of Lord Wellington), and throws open those of the Inquisition. At all this, the romantic admirers of patriot kings, who fondly imagined that the hatred of the oppressor was the same thing as the hatred of oppression, (among these we presume we may reckon the poet-laureat,) hang their heads, and live in hope of better times. To us it is all natural, and in order. From this grand goal-delivery of princes and potentates, we could expect nothing else than a recurrence to their old habits and favourite principles. These observations have not been hastily or gratuitously obtruded: they have been provoked by a succession of disgusting and profligate acts of inconsistency and treachery, unredeemed by a single effort of heroic virtue or generous enthusiasm. Almost every principle, almost every profession, almost every obligation, has been broken. If any proof is wanting, look at Norway, look at Italy, look at Spain, look at the Inquisition, look at the Slave Trade. The mask of liberty has been taken off by most of the principal performers; the whining cant of humanity is no longer heard in The Courier and The Times. What then remains for us to build a hope upon, but the Whig principles of the Prince Regent, inherited from his ancestors, and the good nature of the Emperor of Russia, the merit of which is entirely his own? Of the former of these personages, our opinion is so well known, that we need not repeat it here. Again, of the good intentions of the last-mentioned sovereign, we declare that we have as full a persuasion. We believe him to be docile to instruction, inquisitive after knowledge, and inclined to good. But it has been said by those who have better means of information than ourselves, that he is too open to the suggestions of those about him; that, like other learners, he thinks the newest opinion the best, and that his real good-nature and want of duplicity render him not sufficiently proof against the selfish or sinister designs of others. He has certainly a character for disinterestedness and magnanimity to support in history: but history is a glass in which few minds fashion themselves. If in his late conduct there was any additional impulse given to the natural simplicity of his character, it probably arose from an obvious desire to furnish a contrast to the character of Bonaparte, and also to redeem the Russian character, hitherto almost another name for barbarity and ferociousness, in the eyes of civilized Europe. In this point of view, we should not despair that something may be attempted, at least with respect to Poland, by the present autocrat of all the Russias, to blot out certain stains on the reputation of his grand-mother, the Empress Catharine.
With regard to Norway, the only hope of the suspension of its fate seems to arise out of a very natural, if not laudable jealousy and distaste, which have been conceived by some of the old-standing sovereigns of Europe against the latest occupier and most forward pretender to thrones. An adventurer who has made a fortune by gaining a prize in the lottery, or by laying qui tam informations against his accomplices, cannot expect to be admitted, on an equality, into the company of persons of regular character and family estates. The Emperor of Austria, in particular, may have additional motives of dislike to Bernadotte, connected with late events; and we agree with the Examiner, that he may, in the end, "have to regret the length to which he was hurried against a man, who was the key-stone of all the new power which had been built on the ruin of thrones."
As to any immediate adjustment of the maritime rights of this country, on general principles, satisfactory to all parties, we see no reason to expect it. We think the following paragraph justifies us in this opinion. "We are told," says the Morning Chronicle, "that on the day when the capture of the city of Washington, and the demolition of its public buildings reached Paris, the Duke of Wellington had a ball: not one public ambassador of the potentates of Europe, our good allies, presented himself to congratulate his grace on the event." We here see, on one side, the most absurd expectations of disinterested sympathy with our national feelings, and as little disposition to enter into them on the other. It is strange that the above paragraph should have found its way into a paper which makes an almost exclusive profession of liberal and comprehensive views.
Nor can we indulge in any serious expectations of "the immediate and general abolition of the Slave Trade." Africa has little to hope from "the prevailing gentle arts" of Lord Castlereagh. However sturdy he may be in asserting our maritime rights, he will, we imagine, go to sleep over those of humanity, and waking from his doux sommeil, find that the dexterous prince of political jugglers has picked his pocket of his African petitions, if, indeed, he chuses to carry the credentials of his own disgrace about with him. There are two obstacles to the success of this measure. In the first place, France has received such forcible lessons from this country on the old virtues of patriotism and loyalty, that she must feel particularly unwilling to be dictated to on the new doctrines of liberality and humanity. Secondly, the abolition of the Slave Trade, on our part, was itself the act of Mr. Fox's administration—an administration which we should suppose there is no very strong inclination to relieve from any part of the contempt or obloquy which it has been the fashion to pour upon it, by extending the benefit of its measures, or recommending the adoption of its principles.
There is another point, on which, though our doubts are by no means strong or lasting, we do not at all times feel the same absolute confidence—the continuance of the present order of things in France. The principles adhered to in the determination of some of the preceding arrangements, and the permanent views which shall appear to actuate the other powers of Europe, may have no inconsiderable influence on this great question. Whatever tends to allay the ferment in men's minds, and to take away just causes of recrimination and complaint, must, of course, lessen the pretexts for change. We should not, however, be more disposed to augur such a change from the remaining attachment of individuals, or of the army, to Bonaparte, than from the general versatility and restlessness of the French character, and their total want of settled opinion, which might oppose a check to military enthusiasm. Even their present unqualified zeal, in the cause of the Bourbons, is ominous. How long this sudden fit of gratitude, for deliverance from evils certainly brought upon them by their slowness to admit the remedy, may continue, it is impossible to say. A want of keeping is the distinguishing quality of the French character. A people of this sort cannot be depended on for a moment. They are blown about like a weathercock, with every breath of caprice or accident, and would cry vive l'empereur to-morrow, with as much vivacity and as little feeling, as they do vive le roi to-day. They have no fixed principle of action. They are alike indifferent to every thing: their self-complacency supplies the place of all other advantages—of virtue, liberty, honour, and even of outward appearances. They are the only people who are vain of being cuckolded and being conquered.—A people who, after trampling over the face of Europe so long, fell down before their assailants without striking a blow, and who boast of their submission as a fine thing, are not a nation of men, but of women. The spirit of liberty, at the Revolution, gave them an impulse common to humanity; the genius of Bonaparte gave them the spirit of military ambition. Both of these gave an energy and consistency to their character, by concentrating their natural volatility on one great object. But when both of these causes failed, the Allies found that France consisted of nothing but ladies' toilettes. The army are the muscular part of the state; mere patriotism is a pasteboard visor, which opposes no resistance to the sword. Whatever they determine will be done; an effeminate public is a non-entity. They will not relish the Bourbons long, if they remain at peace; and if they go to war, they will want a monarch who is also a general.