Imágenes de páginas

dued the influence of favouritism; infomuch, that it is become no uncommon spectacle in this country, to see men promoted by the king to the highest offices, and richest preferments, which he has in power to bestow, who have been diftinguished by their opposition to his personal inclinations.

By the balance of interest, which accompanies and gives efficacy to the balance of power, is meant this, that the respective interests of the three estates of the empire are fo disposed and adjusted, that whichever of the three fhall attempt any encroachment, the other two will unite in refisting it. If the king should endeavour to extend his authority, by contracting the power and privileges of the commons, the house of lords would see their own dignity endangered by every advance which the crown made to independency upon the resolutions of parliament. The admission of arbitrary power is no less formidable to the grandeur of the aristocracy, than it is fatal to the liberty of the republic; that is, it would reduce the nobility from the hereditary share they possess in the national councils, in which their real greatness consists, to the being made a part of the empty pageantry of a despotic court. On the other hand, if the P 2


[ocr errors]

IT (

house of commons should intrench upon the diftinct province, or usurp the established prerogative of the crown, the house of lords would receive an instant alarm from every new stretch of popular power. In every contest in which the king may be engaged with the representative body, in defence of his established share of authority, he will find a sure ally in the collective power of the nobility. An attachment to the monarchy, from which they derive their own distinction; the allurements of a court, in the habits and with the sentiments of which they have been brought up; their hatred of equality, and of all levelling pretensions, which may ultimately affect the privileges, oř even the existence of their order; in short, every principle and every prejudice which are wont to actuate human conduct, will determine their choice, to the side and support of the crown. Lastly, if the nobles themselves should attempt to revive the superiorities, which their ancestors exercised under the feudal constitution, the king and the people would alike remember, how the one had been insulted, and the other enslaved, by that barbarous tyranny. They would forget the natural opposition of their views and inclinations, when: they faw themselves threatened with the return


of a domination, which was odious and intolerable to both.

The reader will have observed, that in describing the British conftitution little notice has been taken of the house of lords. The proper use and design of this part of the constitution, are the following: First, to enable the king, by his right of bestowing the peerage, to reward the fervants of the public, in a manner most grateful to them, and at a small expence to the nation; fecondly, to fortify the power and to secure the stability of regal government, by an order of men naturally allied to its interests; and, thirdly, to answer a purpose, which though of superior importance to the other two, does not occur so readily to our obfervation; namely, to stem the progress of popular fury. Large bodies of men are subject to sudden phrenzies. Opinions are, sometimes circulated amongst a multitude without proof or examination, acquiring confidence and reputation merely by being repeated from one to another; and passions founded upon these opinions, diffusing themselves with a rapidity which can neither be accounted for nor reafted; P. 3


may agitate a country with the most violent commotions. Now the only way to stop the fermentation, is to divide the mass; that is, to erect different orders in the community, with separate prejudices and interests. And this may occasionally become the use of an hereditary nobility, invested with a share of legislation. Averse to those prejudices which actuate the minds of the vulgar; accustomed to condemn the clamour of the populace ; disdaining to receive laws and opinions from their inferiors in rank, they will oppose resolutions, which are founded in the folly and violence of the lower part of the community. Was the voice of the people always dictated by reflection ; did every man, or even one man in an hundred think for himself, or actually consider the measure he was about to approve or censure; or even were the common people tolerably steadfast in the judgment which they formed, I should hold the interference of a superior order, not only superfluous, but wrong: for, when every thing is allowed to difference of rank and education, which the actual state of these advantages deserves, that, after all, is most likely to be right and expedient, which appears to be fo to the separate judgment and decision of a great majority of the nation; at least, that,

in general, is right for them, which is agreeable to their fixed opinions and desires. But when we observe what is urged as the public opinion, to be, in truth, the opinion only, or perhaps the feigned professions of a few crafty leaders ; that the numbers who join in the cry, serve only to swell and multiply the sound, without any accession of judgment, or exercise of understanding; and that oftentimes the wisest counsels have been thus overborne by tumult and uproar,

we may conceive occasions to arise, in which the commonwealth may be saved by the reluctance of the nobility to adopt the caprices, or to yield to the vehemence of the common people. In expecting this advantage from an order of nobles, we do not suppose the nobility to be more unprejudiced than others; we only suppose that their prejudices will be different from, and may occasionally counteract those of others.

If the personal privileges of the peerage, which are usually so many injuries to the rest of the community, be restrained, I see little inconveniency in the increase of its number; for it is only dividing the same quantity of power amongst more hands, which is rather favourable to public freedom, than otherwise, The admission of a small number of ecclesiastics


P 4

« AnteriorContinuar »