Images de page

royal power, like an anchor that resists both by its weight and the depth of its hold, ensures a salutary steadiness to the vessel of the state.

The greatness of the prerogative of the king, by thus procuring a great degree of stability to the state in general, has much lessened the possibility of the evils we have above described; it has even, we may say, totally prevented them, by rendering it impossible for any cit

citizen to rise to any dangerous greatness.

And to begin with an advantage by which the people easily suffer themselves to be influenced, I mean that of birth, it is impossible for it to produce in England effects in any degree dangerous ; for though there are lords who, besides their wealth, may also boast of an illustrious descent, yet that advantage, being exposed to a continual comparison with the splendour of the throne, dwindles almost to nothing; and in the gradation universally received of dignities and titles, that of sovereign prince and king places him who is invested with it out of all degree of proportion.

The ceremonial of the court of England is even formed upon that principle. Those persons who are related to the king have the title of princes of the blood, and, in that quality, an undisputed pre-eminence over al!

other persons.* Nay, the first men in the nation think it an honourable distinction to themselves, to hold the different menial offices, or titles, in his household. If we therefore were to set aside the extensive and real

power of the king, as well as the numerous means he possesses of gratifying the ambition and hopes of individuals, and were to consider only the majesty of his title, and that kind of strength founded on public opinion, which results from it, we should find that advantage so considerable, that to attempt to enter into a competition with it, with the bare advantage of high birth, which itself has no other foundation than public opinion, and that too in a very subordinate degree, would be an attempt completely extravagant.

If this difference is so great as to be thoroughly submitted to, even by those persons whose situation might incline them to disown it, much more does it influence the minds of the people. And if, notwithstanding the value which every Englishman ought to set upon himself as a man, and a free man, there to be dazzled by the appearance and the arms of a lord, they would be totally bļinded when they came to turn them towards the royal majesty.


eyes were so very tender as * This, by stat. of the 31st of Hen. VIII. extends to the sons, grandsons, brothers, uncles, and nephews of the reigning king.

were any

The only man, therefore, who, to persons unacquainted with the constitution of England, might at first sight appear in a condition to put the government in danger, would be one who, by the greatness of his abilities and public services, might have acquired in a high degree the love of the people, and obtained a great influence in the house of commons.

But how great soever this enthusiasm of the public may be, barren applause is the only fruit which the man whom they favour can expect from it. He can hope neither for a dictatorship, nor a consulship, nor in general for

any power under the shelter of which hie may at once safely unmask that ambition with which we might suppose him to be actuated, or, if we suppose him to have been hitherto free from any, grow insensibly corrupt. The only door which the constitution leaves open to his ambition, of whatever kind it may be, is a place in the administration, during the pleasure of the king. If, by the continuance of his services, and the preservation of his influence, he becomes able to aim still higher,

the only door which again opens to him is that of the house of lords.

But this advance of the favourite of the people towards the establishment of his greatness is at the same time a great step towards the loss of that power which might render him formidable.

In the first place, the people seeing that he is become much less dependent on their favour, begin, from that very moment, to lessen their attachment to him. Seeing him moreover distinguished by privileges which are the objects of their jealousy, I mean their political jealousy, and member of a body whose interests are frequently opposite to theirs, they immediately conclude that this great and new dignity cannot have been acquired but through a secret agreement to betray them. Their favourite, thus suddenly transformed, is going, they make no doubt, to adopt a conduct entirely opposite to that which has till then been the cause of his advancement and high reputation, and, in the compass of a few hours, completely to renounce those principles which he has so long and so loudly professed. In this, certainly the people are mistaken ; but yet neither would they be wrong,' if they feared that a zeal hitherto so warm, so con:

stant, I will even add, so sincere, when it concurred with their favourite's private interest, would, by being thenceforth often in opposition to it, become gradually much abated.

Nor is this all; the favourite of the people does not even find in his new dignity all the increase of greatness and éclat that might at first be imagined.

Hitherto he was, it is true, only a private individual; but then he was the object in which the whole nation interested themselves ; his actions and words were set forth in the public prints; and he everywhere met with applause and acclamation.

All these tokens of public favour are, I know, sometimes acquired very lightly; but they never last long, whatever people may say,

unless real services are performed : now, the title of benefactor to the nation, when de. served and universally bestowed, is certainly a very handsome title, and which does no-wise require the assistance of outward pomp to set it off. Besides, though he was only a member of the inferior body of the legislature, we must observe, he was the first ; and the word first is always a word of very great moment.

But now that he is made a lord, all his great

« PrécédentContinuer »