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Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 59, No. 368, June 1846   By:

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BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.

NO. CCCLXVIII. JUNE, 1846. VOL. LIX.

THE LITERATURE OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.[1]

Lord Brougham has resumed his memoirs of the eminent writers of England; and every lover of literature will feel gratified by this employment of his active research and of his vigorous pen.

One of the most striking distinctions of English public life from that of the Continent, is in the condition of statesmen after their casual retirement from power. The Foreign statesman seems to exist only in office. The moment that sees him "out of place," sees him extinguished. He is lost as suddenly to the public eye, as if he were carried to the tomb of his ancestors. He retires to his country seat, and there subsides into the garrulous complainant against the caprices of fortune, or buries his calamities in the quiet indulgence of his appetites; smokes away his term of years, subsides into the lean and slippered pantaloon, occupies his studies with the Court Gazette , and his faculties with cards; and is finally deposited in the family vault, to continue the process of mouldering which had been begun in his arm chair, to be remembered only in an epitaph. France, at the present day, alone seems to form an exception. Her legislature affords a new element in which statesmanship in abeyance can still float: the little vessel is there at least kept in view of mankind; if it makes no progress, it at least keeps above water; and, however incapable of reaching the port by its own means, the fluctuations of the national surge, sometimes so powerful, and always so contemptuous of calculation, may at some time or other carry the craziest craft into harbour. But the general order of continental ministers, even of the highest rank, when abandoned by the monarch, are like men consigned to the dungeon. They go to their place of sentence at once. The man who to day figured in the highest robe of power, to morrow wears the prison costume. His rise was the work of the royal will his fall is equally the work of the royal will. Having no connexion with the national mind, he has no resource in the national sympathies. He has been a royal instrument: when his edge becomes dull, or the royal artificer finds a tool whose fashion he likes better, the old tool is flung by to rust, and no man asks where or why, his use is at an end, and the world and the workman, alike, "knoweth it no more."

But, in England, the condition of public life is wholly different. The statesman is the creation of the national will, and neither in office, nor in opposition, does the nation forget the product of its will. The minister is no offspring of slavery, no official negro, made to be sold, and, when sold, separated from his parentage once and for ever. If he sins in power, he is at worst but the Prodigal Son, watched in his career, and willingly welcomed when he has abjured his wanderings. Instead of being extinguished by the loss of power, he often more than compensates the change, by the revival of popularity. Disencumbered of the laced and embroidered drapery of office, he often exhibits the natural vigour and proportion of his faculties to higher advantage; cultivates his intellectual distinctions with more palpable success; refreshes his strength for nobler purposes than even those of ambition; and, if he should not exert his renewed popularity for a new conquest of power, only substitutes for place the more generous and exalted determination of deserving those tributes which men naturally offer to great abilities exerted for the good of present and future generations.

We must allude, for the national honour, to this characteristic of English feeling, in the changes of public men. On the Continent, the hour which deprived a statesman of office, at once deprived him of every thing. All the world ran away from him, as they would from a falling house. The crowded antechamber of yesterday, exhibited nothing to day but utter solitude... Continue reading book >>


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