« PreviousContinue »
stitution of the country may be such as lo require the privilege to be granted to a particular class, it is quite impossible it can ever be such as to require it should be granted to all.” Of the custom of primogeniture he is a decided advocate. His opinion is, that the wealth, freedom, and civilisation of modern Europe have been increased by its influence. He adduces the effects of the law of succession, as established in France, in support of his views. He contends, that the improvement which has taken place since the Revolution, in the condition of the agricultural classes in that country, cannot be fairly attributed to the law of equal inheritance. On this point much useful information is given, and also on the influence which the minute subdivision of landed property has had upon the population of France, and of Ireland, where the custom of equally dividing the paternal properly has long prevailed In reference to the consequences of the law of primogeniture on the political interests of the nation, he considers that aristocratical influence, if unaided by artificial privileges, “ essentially contributes to the improvement and stability of the public institutions of such densely peopled countries as France and England, and forms the best attainable check to arbitrary power on the one hand, and to popular frenzy and licentiousness on the other.” In this respect, his sentiments differ from those of many political philosophers. The question is of peculiar importance, whether considered in itself, or in its political and moral bearings. At the present period, when the law of primogeniture has become a topic of vague and heated declamation, the facts and reasonings contained in this Essay may be of much use, and may induce intelligent and reflecting persons to devole to the investigation of the question the requisite degree of labour and research. An answer to this article was published in the “ Westminster Review,” in an able but not less petulant paper.
The services of the Edinburgh Review in promoting the cause of Juridicat Reform have been already mentioned in terms of commendation. In the Essay on “ Capital Punishment for Forgery,” published in a recent number, that objectionable part of our criminal code is examined by a writer who brings to the task the requisite qualifications. His ideas of legislation are sound and enlightened. He denies the validity of the objection, that it is unlawful, under any circumstances, to take away the life of a human being for any offence, however enormous. His argument is simply this :
- If it can be proved that capital punishment has sufficient power to deter from the commission of crime, then there can be no good reason assigned for not taking away the lives of cruel and hardened offenders.' But he shows that capital punishments have utterly failed in effecting the only object which can justify their infliction; and that a penalty of a milder nature, which was certain to be enforced, would be much more likely to prevent society from being injured by notorious transgressors. The inefficiency of the ca pital penalty, then in existence, as applied to the individuals convicted of forgery, is adverted to; and a variety of considerations are urged, illustrative of the pernicious effects it has produced. In the conclusion of the article, a detail is given of the conduct of the ministry, and the proceedings of Parliament, relative to the Bill introduced into the House of Commons to abolish the punishment for the crime of forgery, but which was rejected by a small majority in the House of Lords.
The reader will derive information and pleasure from the last contribution to the law department of the work. It is entitled “ Political and Vested Rights," and branches out into so great a variety of topics, all of deep inte
rest and importance, that it would be impossible to convey an adequate idea of its merits by a mere outline of the contents. There are some admirable remarks, vindicating the English people from the charge frequently brought against them by the opponents of political improvement, of being adverse to ancient forms and institutions, and hostile to the rights of property. These misrepresentations lead the Reviewer to discuss at considerable length the subject of natural rights and duties, in the exposition of which great research and acuteness are displayed. On the delicate question of corporate privileges, and trusts given to political bodies, his observations apply with peculiar force to the fallacies propagated by the enemies of Parliamentary Reform relative to vested rights. Burke's arguments against any alteration in the system of representation are very successfully exposed; and it is shown by various references to the constitutional history of England, that both in the constitution of the Houses of Lords and Commons important and extensive changes have taken place. Several instances are quoted of the surrender of vested privileges, when it was necessary to effect some great object of political amelioration. The following censure on the conduct of the established clergy, in relation to the Reform Bill, is worth quoting, because it evinces the anxious solicitude of the Review that the Church of England should be thoroughly purified from its abuses : “ It has been a matter of surprise and pain to us, that so many pastors of a Christian Church should have deemed it decent to make common cause with the rotten boroughs. We lament that the clergy and the body of the English people seem, at least in political opinion and feeling, to be separated by such a distance—we had almost said such a chasm. Clergymen have as much right to their own sentiments as any other members of the community. But our regret is not the less that this difference in sentiment should exist ; nor are our apprehensions less serious for the consequences to which a pertinacious adherence in, and an active manifestation of, extreme opinions may ultimately lead. The sort of opposition which a people will the least forgive, is that which implies the existence of separate interests and of personal distrusts. The necessity that the Church of England must, in many points, itself submit to be reformed, is no secret. Calmly and judiciously reformed, it will remain a national blessing, and speedily regain the affections of the people. The only question is, by whom, and in what manner, and to what extent, this shall be done. A collected opposition by the leaders of the Church against a measure of pure political resormation must tend to generate most suspicious inferences, and unavoidable bitterness. Such an occurrence would, therefore, seriously endanger the present prospect of confining within its proper limits, and of peaceably accomplishing, that species of reform, which the end and popularity of the ecclesiastical institutions of England absolutely require."
After the copious account that has been given of the contents of this work, it may be expected that some explanation should be offered respecting those subjects which have been excluded. Of the articles in the Edinburgh Review worthy of being preserved, there was not room in six octavo volumes to insert more than a very limited number. It is probable, therefore, that the reader will feel disappointed when he finds that many have been omitted which he perused with delight when published, and that others have been retained apparently less calculated to excite his interest. The Editor conceives that some allowance should be made for the obstacles he has had to encounter. Considering the great diversity of topics discussed in the
Review, and the number of admirable contributions on each, it was arr undertaking of no ordinary difficulty to compress within comparatively narrow limits a judicious selection from a mass of matter comprising more than twenty-eight thousand pages, and to classify the topics, so as to please the taste of a numerous class of readers, and to assign to each its proper space. In accomplishing this object, it seemed necessary to exclude several departments which appeared not to come within the scopa and aim of the publication. As the original work contains numerous articles on the same subject, it was deemed expedient to select under each head one or two of the best, and to make references to those which could not be inserted. Persons who possess complete sets of the Edinburgh Review will find these explanatory notes of use, as affording the convenience of an index.
Extracts from books reviewed have not been given, except where they were required to illustrate the opinions of the critic. As the design of this compilation is to preserve original dissertations of real value, and not a mere collection of interesting passages from well-known authors, it was indispensable that the selections should be principally restricted to the productions of the Reviewers. In some instances, the names of contributors have been annexed in connection with their respective criticisms. Reasons have elsewhere been assigned why this plan could not be generally adopted. Under peculiar circumstances, as, for example, where the writers have acknowledged their own compositions, or where the secret has transpired since their death, or been imparted to the world through other channels, there was no impropriety in pointing out an author whose mask was already removed.
Concerning those departments from which no articles have been compiled, it may be proper to make a few remarks. It is known to the readers of the Edinburgh Review that its early numbers are enriched with a series of masterly disquisitions on the various branches of physical science. The most brilliant and profound of this class were written by Professors Playfair and Sir John Leslie, who have given a powerful impulse to scientific enquiries by their periodical lucubrations, and diffused over the path of science the radiance of genius and the graces of eloquence. It was at first intended to embody in this work some of these productions; but, on reflection, the Editor was of opinion that they were in general of too abstract and complex a nature to be generally interesting. On the same grounds, he has selt himself justified in rejecting all articles of classical criticism, though many of them were furnished by the first scholars of the age.
The reviews of Voyages and Travels were not adapted to the plan of this undertaking. They are principally made up of analyses, or quotations; and, of course, afford but limited scope for original speculation. It must be admitted, too, that this of all departments, is that in which the Edinburgh Review has been least successful.
The Edinburgh Review has been assailed in several quarters for neglecting the Theological department of English literature. It is unquestionable that only a few of the works of our most eminent divines have been honoured with its notice. This has probably arisen from a wish to avoid the discussion of jarring opinions on religion. A literary and political journal is certainly not a fit place to investigate the truth of theological tenets. Some doubts, however, may exist whether the general character of pulpit eloquence, and the spirit which pervades some of our most popular works on divinity, might not have been more frequently examined by the Edinburgh
Review, without stirring the bile of the fanatic, or wounding the feelings of the most fervent believer in Christianity. On the other hand, it must be admilted that, on the few occasions when the merits of theologians have been canvassed, the scales of critical justice have been held with a steady and impartial hand. It will be found that, without reference to doctrinal points, or the comparative excellence of particular creeds, liberal commendation has been bestowed on the intellect and profound learning of Horsley, -the taste and graceful composition of Alison—the unaffected piety of Morehead, the masculine understanding and fervent zeal of Moncreiff,—the benevolence, simplicity, and gentleness of Heber. From reviews of this class many beautiful passages might have been extracted, but there were few of sufficient length to entitle them to the appellation of essays. Wherever the writer has gone at any length into the examination of general principles, or delineated the distinguishing characteristics of illustrious divipes, his observations have been given without abridgment.
The Edinburgh Review contains a number of valuable notices of biographical works. Great pains have been taken to condense the most interesting, as the majority, though useful as a register of facts and incidents, have not furnished topics for elaborate dissertation. In conformity with the plan laid down by the Editor, he has retained only those parts in which the critic has given sketches of literary, personal, and public character.
The articles on Trade, Manufactures, Finance, Statistics, Geography, and on topics of a local nature, though replete with useful information, were not applicable to the purpose which the compiler had in view.
In arranging the poetical criticisms, he did not conceive it right to give a place to several which created no ordinary sensation when they first appeared, but which were either unnecessarily pungent, or grew out of circumstances that no longer exist.
No portion has been selected of the controversy on the logic and politics of the Utilitarians, which arose out of a eritique on “ Mill's Essays on Government,” in the 97th Number of the Review. It would not have been treating either party fairly, had the articles been presented in a mulilated form; and unless the whole had been given, with the replies of the Westminster Review, the main points of the dispute would not have been understood by the reader.
Before coneluding, the Editor feels it incumbent on him to advert to one or two points connected with the character of the Edinburgh Review, upon which, if he were silent, his motives might be liable to misrepresentation. There is no necessity for disguising the fact, that its religious principles have been impugned by a class of writers who seem to make a lucrative traffic of their piety, and to acquire a reputation for godliness by casting impulations on others. These persons first raised the cry of infidelity against the conductors of the Review, and affirmed that the tendency of their productions was hostile to Christianity. To support this charge they descended to misrepresentation, bringing forward, as proof of their calumnies, detached sentences from particular articles, which, when fairly examined, do not bear the interpretation attached to them. Many striking examples of this disingenuous ‘mode of criticism might be selected from their attacks. There is no foundation for the imputation that the Christian religion has ever been spoken of in irreverent terms by the Edinburgh Review, its fundamental principles denied, its ennobling influence questioned, or its consolations ridiculed. It may have erred in exposing
bigotry and cant, in a tone of levity and sarcasm not very suitable to the gravity of the subject. The peculiarities of sects, however ludicrous in themselves, and favourable to ihe growth of fanaticism, had better not be treated in a light jocular manner. Wit is misapplied, if it be calculated to wound the feelings of those who attach a religious importance to what other persons laugh at as revolting absurdity or extravagant zeal. If serious mischief to the cause of religious truth be apprehended from the prevalence of enthusiasm, or of a domineering asperity, the most effective weapons for arresting its progress are fair reasoning, conciliatory address, and calm appeals to the common sense of mankind. In these qualities some of the essays in the Review may be deficient; but it is utterly untrue that it has ever abetted infidelity, or denied the beneficial influence of revelation.
The charge of having propagated anti-christian doctrines rests on such futile and preposterous grounds, that no writer of honest intentions could have framed it, nor any reader of ordinary sagacity have given it the slightest credit. Who could have supposed that paying a compliment to Gibbon, not on account of his scepticism, but as the celebrated historian of the Roman Empire; that designating Hume as a “great Scottish philosopher, and a man of unrivalled sagacity ;" that eulosiging Voltaire as an "original genius and a brilliant wit;" and that characterising the society of Diderot, Grimm, and Rousseau, as the “most refined and accomplished," should have been interpreted into an approval of their principles ?
If it were deemed worth while to expose the falsehood of this aspersion, numerous passages might be pointed out in the Edinburgh Review, in which the strongest opinions are expressed of the necessity and advantages of religion. The main cause of offence is, that it has rebuked the pride, dogmatism, and intolerance of several prelates of the established church; whilst it has praised the disinterestedness and tolerant spirit of others, whom it was once the fashion to decry, because they disdained to mingle in the cabals of a court, and to participate in the corruption oftheir brethren.
There are strong reasons for suspecting that the hostility manisfested to the Edinburgh Review, for its imputed heresies in religion, is the offspring of political enmity. It is a remarkable circumstance, that liberalism in politics should be associated in the minds of so many persons with laxity in matters of faith. If a man of principle and enlightened opinions distinguish himself as a reformer, the work of detraction commences, and he is branded as a revolutionist. But if he should denounce the abuses of the church, and labour for its purification, that it may be saved from ruin, he is marked out for popular odium as a deist or an atheist !
It is partly on this account that so much ingenuity has been exercised to bring home ihe charge of irreligion against the Edinburgh Review. The probability is, that the subject would never have been mooted, had it supported the Penal Code, the Corporation and Test Acts, the disabilities of the Jews, and the various oppressive enactments devised by intolerant legislators to shackle freedom of conscience. Its attacks on the “allar and the throne” would never have been trumpeted abroad, had it been the champion of tyranny on the Continent, and defended the excesses of arbitrary power in England ;-had it apologised for the vices of the government, and shown no lenity to the faults of the people ;-had it taught passive obedience to the community, and inculcated ihe necessity of no surrender to their rulers. It may be taken for granted, that had it been