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HISTORY AND HISTORICAL MEMOIRS.
A History of the early Part of the Reign of James the Second ;
with an Introductory Chapter. By the Right Honourable CHARLES James Fox. To which is added an Appendix. 4to. pp. 340. Miller, London : 1808.
If it be true that high expectation is almost always followed by disappointment, it is scarcely possible that the readers of Mr. Fox's history should not be disappointed. So great a statesman certainly has not appeared as an author since the time of Lord Clarendon; and, independent of the great space which he fills in the recent history of this country, and the admitted splendour of his general talents, —his known zeal for liberty, the fame of his eloquence, and his habitual study of every thing relating to the constitution, concurred to direct an extraordinary degree of attention to the work upon which he was known to be engaged, and to fix a standard of unattainable excellence for the trial of his first acknowledged production. The very circumstance of his not having published any considerable work during his life, and of his having died before bringing this to a conclusion, served to increase the general curiosity; and to accumulate upon this single fragment the interest of his whole literary existence.
No human production, we suppose, could bear to be tried by such a test; and those who sit down to the perusal of the work before us, under the influence of such impressions, are very likely to rise disappointed. With those, however, who are at all on their guard against the delusive effect of these natural emotions, the
4 FOX'S HISTORY — A FIT MEMORIAL OF THE AUTHOR,
result, we venture to predict, will be different; and for ourselves, we are happy to say, that we have not been disappointed at all; but, on the contrary, very greatly moved and delighted with the greater part of this singular volume.
We do not think it has any great value as a history; nor is it very admirable as a piece of composition. It comprehends too short a period, and includes too few events, to add much to our knowledge of facts; and abounds too little with splendid passages to lay much hold on the imagination. The reflections which it contains, too, are generally more remarkable for their truth and simplicity, than for any great fineness or apparent profundity of thinking; and many opportunities are neglected, or rather purposely declined, of entering into large and general speculations. Notwithstanding all this, the work, we think, is invaluable; not only as a memorial of the high principles and gentle dispositions of its illustrious author, but as a record of those sentiments of true English constitutional independence, which seem to have been nearly forgotten in the bitterness and hazards of our more recent contentions. It is delightful as the picture of a character; and most instructive and opportune as a remembrancer of public duties: And we must be permitted to say a word or two upon each of these subjects.
To those who know Mr. Fox only by the great outlines of his public history,—who know merely that he passed from the dissipations of too gay a youth into the tumults and cabals of a political life,—and that his days were spent in contending about public measures, and in guiding or averting the tempests of faction, -the spirit of indulgent and tender feeling which pervades this book must appear very unaccountable. Those who live much in the world, even in a private station, commonly have their hearts a little hardened, and their moral sensibility a little impaired. But statesmen and practical politicians are, with justice, suspected of a still greater forgetfulness of mild impressions and honourable scruples. Coming necessarily into contact with great vices
AND OF HIS GENTLE AND AFFECTIONATE NATURE.
and great sufferings, they must gradually lose some of their horror for the first, and much of their compassion for the last. Constantly engaged in contention, they cease pretty generally to regard any human beings as objects of sympathy or disinterested attachment; and, mixing much with the most corrupt part of mankind, naturally come to regard the species itself with indifference, if not with contempt. All the softer feelings are apt to be worn off in the rough conflicts of factious hostility; and all the finer moralities to be effaced, by the constant contemplation of expediency, and the necessities of occasional compliance.
Such is the common conception which we form of men who have lived the life of Mr. Fox; and such, in spite of the testimony of partial friends, is the impression which most private persons would have retained of him, if this volume had not come to convey a truer and a more engaging picture to the world at large, and to posterity.
By far the most remarkable thing then, in this book, is the tone of indulgence and unfeigned philanthropy which prevails in every part of it;—a most amiable sensibility to all the kind and domestic affections, and a sort of softheartedness towards the sufferings of individuals, which seems hitherto to have been thought incompatible with the stern dignity of history. It cannot but strike us with something still more pleasing than surprise, to meet with traits of almost feminine tenderness in the sentiments of this veteran statesman; and a general character of charity towards all men, not only remote from the rancour of vulgar hostility, but purified in a great degree from the asperities of party contention. He expresses indeed, throughout, a high-minded contempt for what is base, and a thorough detestation for what is cruel : But yet is constantly led, by a sort of generous prejudice in favour of human nature, to admit all possible palliations for the conduct of the individual delinquent, and never attempts to shut him out from the benefit of those natural sympathies of which the bad as well as the good are occasionally the objects, from their
THE BEST RECENT VIEW OF ENGLISH FREEDOM.
fortune or situation. He has given a new character, we think, to history, by this soft and condescending concern for the feelings of individuals; and not only left a splendid record of the gentleness and affectionate simplicity of his own dispositions, but set an example by which we hope that men of genius may be taught hereafter to render their instructions more engaging and impressive. Nothing, we are persuaded, can be more gratifying to his friends, than the impression of his character which this work will carry down to posterity; nor is it a matter of indifference to the country, that its most illustrious statesman should be yet more distinguished for the amiableness of his private affections.
This softness of feeling is the first remarkable thing in the work before us. The second is perhaps of more general importance. It is, that it contains the only appeal to the old principles of English constitutional freedom, and the only expression of those firm and temperate sentiments of independence, which are the peculiar produce, and natural protection of our mixed government, which we recollect to have met with for very many years. The tone of the work, in this respect, recalls us to feelings which seem of late to have slumbered in the country which they used to inspire. In our indolent reliance upon the imperishable virtue of our constitution, and in our busy pursuit of wealth, we appeared to be forgetting our higher vocation of free citizens; and, in our dread of revolution or foreign invasion, to have lost sight of those intestine dangers to which our liberties are always more immediately exposed. The history of the Revolution of 1688, and of the times immediately preceding, was eminently calculated to revive those feelings, and restore those impressions, which so many causes had in our days conspired to obliterate; and, in the hands of Mr. Fox, could scarcely have failed to produce a very powerful effect. On this account, it must be matter of the deepest regret that he was not permitted to finish, or indeed to do more than begin, that inspiring narrative. Even in the little which he has done, however, we discover the spirit of the master: Even in the
CAUSES OF LATE UNCONCERN ABOUT IT.
broken prelude which he has here sounded, the true notes are struck with such force and distinctness, and are in themselves so much in unison with the natural chords of every British heart, that we think no slight vibration will be excited throughout the country; and would willingly lend our assistance to propagate it into every part of the empire. In order to explain more fully the reasons for which we set so high a value upon the work before us on this particular account, we must be allowed to enlarge a little upon the evil which we think it calculated to correct.
We do not think the present generation of our countrymen substantially degenerated from their ancestors in the days of the Revolution. In the same circumstances, we are persuaded, they would have acted with the same spirit; — nay, in consequence of the more general diffusion of education and intelligence, we believe they would have been still more zealous and more unanimous in the cause of liberty. But we have of late been exposed to the operation of various causes, which have tended to lull our vigilance, and relax our exertions; and which threaten, unless powerfully counteracted, to bring on, gradually, such a general indifference and forgetfulness of the interests of freedom, as to prepare the people for any tolerably mild form of servitude which their future rulers may be tempted to impose upon them.
The first, and the principal of these causes, however paradoxical it may seem, is the actual excellence of our laws, and the supposed inviolability of the constitution. The second is, the great increase of luxury, and the tremendous patronage of the government. The last is, the impression made and maintained by the events of the French Revolution. We shall say but a word upon each of these prolific themes of speculation.
Because our ancestors stipulated wisely for the public at the Revolution, it seemed to have become a common opinion, that nothing was left to their posterity but to pursue their private interest. The machine of Government was then completed and set agoing — and it will