Sidebilder
PDF

they are comparatively few in number, because those who have fallen into them are sincere, although misguided; but he who would endeavour to detect the folly and expose the baseness of those who advocate the cause of the catholics by sophistry and slander, would undertake a task impracticable from its extent, and utterly unprofitable from the vulgar stupidity of those whom he should vainly attempt to instruct or reform. The loudest assertor of the rights of the catholics, if he possess any share of common sense or candour, or be at all capable of estimating the merits of this great question, will confess that a protestant government and people can never be required to admit the catholics to a participation of political power, if such an innovation should threaten with danger the protestant establishments of the country. It is not necessary to prove that the danger would certainly ensue, if the conces. sions were granted; for there is no such thing as certainty in political speculations; , and if the statesman were to refuse to act till he were fully assured of the consequences of his deeds, the business of the world must either be brought to a stand, or entirely abandoned to the government of chance. Where the .# apprehended is of very great magnitude, even a slender probability of its occurrence will inspire a wise man with the utmost caution; not, indeed, with a de; terror which would strike im to the ground, but with an erect energy, which, by enabling him to extend his views, may render his decision less rapid; but will at the same time make it infinitely more valuable. The $nemies of catholic emancipation have been often described as timorous and imbecile; in our view of the matter, heir firmness and energy have been *r more conspicuous than those of their opponents. It is an easy thing

to subvert and destroy; to cast away with a careless prodigality what was never earned by our own enterprise and toil; to sail down the stream of popular violence, and to purchase an easy and vile reputation by joining in the clamour of the multitude. As the raging billows of the ocean will cast up to the surface, and bear along by their force all that is worthless and obscene in the unfathomed caves of the deep, so the waves of popular commotion have often impelled into the general view, the veriest caitisfs of the community; yet the lofty rock which restrains the violence and contemns the fury of these noisy assailants, which with awful grandeur stands forth the protector of the rich and gay luxuriance behind, has never been mistaken for the emblem of weakness and timidity. The advocates of catholic emancipation have been anxious to represent the cause of their enemies as one which has been deserted by the people, and have often declared that the tide of popular feeling runs so strong on their own side, that every obstacle must soon give way. We put it therefore to the common sense of our readers to determine, to which side the praise of courage and resolution is justly due ; whether to those who from convenience prefer the stronger party, or to their antagonists, who, in spite of insolence, reproach, and intimidation, boldly interposed themselves to stem the tide of popular violence, and preserve the ark of the constitution from the fury of the tempest by which it is assailed. These reflections have been extorted by the domineering extravagance of the assertors of the catholic claims; we are well aware that they have but little to do with the real merits of the * ; and we gladly return thereore to an enquiry into the leading points connected with this controversy. The danger of admitting the catholics to the enjoyment of political power, is the only fair ground of their exclusion; and we have already admitted with the utmost freedom, that all the subtilties which have been opposed to the catholic claims, have not the weight of a feather in the balance. We come therefore to the only question which can divide the enlightened advocates and enemies of catholic emancipation; would it be safe for the protestant establishment, and the political liberties of the country, that the claims of the catholics should be conceded ? t To denounce any class of the people as the enemies of the constitution, and to found upon this charge an argument for excluding them from the privileges enjoyed by their fellow subjects, is an invidious task; yet it may not be the less necessary to be performed. The work of adulation is easy as it is base; compliments may be heaped upon the loyalty and fidelity of the catholics with a small expence of wit and a large sacrifice of sincerity; but the memory of their past transactions, and the knowledge of their present temper, will bring down scorn on the unmerited panegyrics. Yet the charge of enmity towards the existing order of things, which has so often been brought against the professors of the catholic religion, does not affect their moral or political character so much as some persons are willing to suppose; the same antipathy would probably fill a protestant bosom against catholic ascendancy; the feeling is the natural consequence of an entire difference of opinion on the most sacred and interesting of subjects, about which no good man can well maintain a neutrality. When we speak of enmity towards the constitution, we may be justly called upon to exso what we mean by a word which as so often been prostituted, and about which no settled notions seem

to be entertained. With reference therefore to the present argument, we mean by “the constitution,” the ascendency of the protestant religion in the government of the civil affairs of the country, the security of the protestant church as established by law, and the predominance of the protestant interest in the imperial legislature. This is the constitution which we should wish to see defended against the invasions of catholic enmity and ambition ; these are the invaluable advantages which have been derived from the glorious struggles of our forefathers, of whom it has become fashionable among the witlings of the day to speak with contempt and derision. Have the catholics an interest, and do they cherish a desire, to accomplish a change in these particulars 2 and would they, if their claims were conceded, have a chance of attaining their object: These are the questions, on the solution of which the merits of the catholic claims must be decided. That the catholics would have an interest in destroying the protestant ascendancy, seems to be very obvious, if it be not supposed that they are exempted from the ordinary influence of human motives, and that their piety or generosity exalts them above the vulgar objects of human ambition. They are plainly told, even by those who ask concessions for them, that their claims can be listened to only because their sect must always continue subordinate in the imperial parliament; because, as a body professing certain religious opinions, they are to be of no weight or consequence, and are to have no influence whatever on the conduct of public affairs. Ask their present advocates why emancipation could not be safely recommended to the Irish parliament, and they will tell you it was on account of the preponderating influence which the catholics would have gained in the legis’ lature of Ireland; in other words, they will avow the most marked distrust of those whom they patronize. Why would they have the claims of the catholics now conceded ? because the catholics can never, in their view of matters, become formidable in a parliament which is composed of so vast a proportion of protestant members. The very grounds, therefore, which are now assigned for emancipation, imply that rooted jealousy of the principles of the catholics, which their advocates are on other occasions so inconsistent as to disavow ; and would the catholic members on their admission to the British parliament, could they, as men of spirit and of honour, forget the ignominious considerations on which they had been received Could they lose all recollection of the long and violent resistance which the protestants have made to their demands Could they sincerely coalesce with those who have shown towards them so much hostility, and who, even in granting their last boon, had justified it by assuming the eternal insignificance of the catholic body ? The thing is absurd and incredible, without supposing in the catholics a more abject and submissive spirit than ever disgraced any body of freemen. The influence of religious principles over the moral and political conduct of mankind, is not so slender as a few freethinkers and philosophists would endeavour to persuade the world. They feel in themselves that freezing indifference which is symptomatic of the worst diseases of the mind; they believe that the atmosphere around them is warped with the same bitter frost, and that all those who are subject to its action, are stupified and benumbed like themselves. They know not that there is a genial heat in the unsophisticated sentiments of mankind, which will for ever preserve them from

[ocr errors]

the frigidity of which a few pretenders to philosophy may become the victims, and that favourable seasons periodically recur, when the tide of religious enthusiasm will mount so high as to demand every precaution for resisting its ravages. The perseverance and attachment of men to the system of religion in which they have been educated, is too often proportioned to its rigorous formality or flagrant absurdity—whether it be that burdensome ceremonies, like objects of taste originally disagreeable, become necessary by use, or that we are most highly animated in defence of opinions, which those who differ from us treat with the most signal derision. Whatever may be the explanation, the fact, at all events, is certain, that the catholic religion exercises an influence over its votaries, which, to philosophers, seems exactly proportioned to the burden of its rites and the folly of its tenets; that it pervades the whole of their speculations and actions; and that its spirit exercises an absolute eontrol over their whole moral and political conduct. We speak of those who are sincere in professing the tenets of the catholic religion; and surely their advocates will not insult the catholic population of Ireland by insinuating that this description does not apply to the greater number of them. The protestants, it is very generally allowed, are, from causes into which it is needless to enquire, far inferior to their catholic brethren in zeal and enthusiasm, in decent regard for the ceremonies of their religion, and daring enterprise for its prosperity. It were idle to attempt a nice calculation of the j energy which an individual or a body of men may acquire in affairs either of violence or intrigue by the heat of religious zeal, which is the very spark required for the explosion of all the force with which the mind of man is endowed. The expansive and impetuous force of steam, or of gunpowder, compared with the quiescent and harmless materials out of which such energies are created, will afford but an inadequate illustration of catholic zeal and protestant apathy. Should the field be opened for a contest betwixt the subtle and persevering ambition of the catholics, animated by religious enthusiasm, and that tranquil, forbearing, and unsuspecting moderation, which are the indisputable characteristics of the protestants of the present day, it is not more difficult to see for which side victory must declare, than to anticipate the consequences to society which must result from the ultimate triumph of the popish religion. We are far from insinuating a belief that the persecutions and horrors would be renewed at the present day, which made the catholic name in former times so odious to the protestants of all denominations. These days of barbarism, it is to be hoped, have for ever passed away; yet it is impossible to answer for the violence and malignity of human passions when once fairly let loose, flushed with success, and intoxicated by power. The man who should, twenty years before the French revolution, have predicted that an enlightened people would, at the close of the eighteenth century, have acted all the enormous and disgusting tragedies which signalized the progress of that event, would, no doubt, have brought down on himself a heavy load of ridicule and insult; yet it is not the less true, that such dreadful enormities were committed in the face of all Europe. We have no wish to impeach the moral or political principles of the catholics of the present day, or to refuse our belief to the declaration of their tenets, which was so solemnly given forth by many learned bodies on

the continent; yet we have always thought that better information might have been obtained as to the sentiments of the Irish catholics, in whom alone Great Britian can feel an interest, than that which was received from the foreign universities. Many speculative opinions are entertained by the learned long before they reach the vulgar; and many such opinions never penetrate so far as to influence the great body of the people. It was quite immaterial to the English government what were the sentiments entertained by the profound doctrine of the seminaries of the continent; but it was of the utmost importance, with a view to any measure of legislation, to know what were the feelings, and what the belief, of the Irish peasantry. But we shall suppose that all is perfectly right; that the catholic religion is in many important points essentially changed; and that the antisocial doctrines, which informer times constituted part of its creed, are now exploded; yet our doubts as to the safety of the measure, denominated catholic emancipation, are by no means removed. We assume, of course, that the British constitution is worth preserving ; that the protestant establishment, and the undisputed ascendancy of protestant principles in parliament, is of the very essence of the constitution; for with persons who would dispute about these points, we should scorn to maintain any controversy. With reference to the catholics themselves, we maintain only what both the early and more recent history of their religion bears us out in asserting,that they are animated by a zeal and enthusiasm for its prosperity, which far transcends the moderation of protestantism. We affirm, that in a contest betwixt persevering zealots and lukewarm professors, the fervour of enthusiasm will supply the place of num

[ocr errors]

bers; and we must repeat, that the very pretence on which the catholics are now to be admitted into parliament, and to the higher offices of the state—the pretence of their insignificance—is such, as will naturally array them against the protestants, and give ten-fold energy to their struggle for the mastery. It will give them a powerful and a permanent interest in the overthrow of that ascendancy which dares to proclaim their eternal subordination ; and he must be a mere driveller indeed who does not, in such circumstances, discover the origin of a contest far more momentous than all the controversies maintained by all the factions which have flourished since the Revolution. Would the catholics, however, have the power of accomplishing their ambitious schemes, and of establishing themselves on the ruins of protestantism : Their numbers in parliament would be but small compared with those of the protestants; and it would be too much to say with confidence, that their zeal and intrigue must secure them an ascendency. But it cannot be necessary to prove so much as this; it is enough to indicate in what manner so melancholy a catastrophe is not improbable.—The influence of the crown has become very great in both houses of parliament; a prince might ascend the throne, not openly professing, but secretly encouraging the catholic religion, and with even the limited aid which the catholics could afford him, he might be able to execute his purposes. If he were not a madman, he would not hastily venture on any measures of open hostility towards the protestants, but with the help of his own mighty influence in the legislature, with the aid of the influence and property of the catholics, and with the assistance also of foreign alliances, we do not say that he could subdue the resistance of WOL. V. PART I,

the protestants, but he might succeed in reviving controversies, similar to those which drove the Stuarts from the throne. It would then become necessary to encounteranew the storms of revolution ; and if the minds of the people should not sink under the pressure of the moment—if they should not becomethemartyrs of tyranny and persecution—if they should still cling with fervour and energy to that constitution, of which the essence is protestant ascendency, although the honours of the triumph would be theirs, the guilt which should expose them to so fiery a trial, would not be the less an object of their just indignation and vengeance.

We can discover nothing in the precedent taken from the policy of Henry the Fourth of France, on which Mr Canning dilated so largely, that is applicable to the state of this country. Many things are possible to a vigorous despotism, which would be very unsafe under a free constitution of government; where the whole power of the state is vested in the monarch, if he have capacity for the trust, he need not fear the most bitter animosities of faction. Henry the Fourth did not, by the edict of Nantes, give any substantial or independent power to his protestant subjects; he still remained the absolute master of their destinies just as much as he was before he issued that famous ordinance. In an English House of Commons,however,the whole powers of the realm have been justly said under different forms to reside; he who is admitted to the functions of a senator, therefore, shares in the supreme powers of the state, and obtains, of course, a consequence and authority which no subject of monarchical France ever possessed. He becomes dangerous also as he becomes powerful; and in such circumstances there is no ground for supposing that the experiment made so long ago in France could be safely repeated in England.

Q

« ForrigeFortsett »