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So may thy dreams be good, although
but it is not sustained. We will quote the following description.
By the shore a plot of ground
Where day and night and day go by,
Washing of the lonely seas,
Day and night and day go by
Or when, as winds and waters keep
And day and night and day go by,
The chapel-ruins lapsed again
As day and night and day go by,
Here fresh funeral tears were shed,
While day and night and day go by,
ART. II. - Political Philosophy. By HENRY, LORD BROUGHAM,
F. R. S. Published under the Superintendence of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. London. 1846. 3 vols. 8vo.
The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge was intended to effect a revolution in the moral and social condition of Great Britain. It was composed of men of spirit and ability, and we believe they might claim the originality, or at least the original application, of the idea that knowledge, if rendered easy, attractive, and general, would prove a panacea for the evils of society. That they have not succeeded entirely according to their expectations, is owing to a difficulty which they did not take sufficiently into account, but which has troubled others in the execution of the same project, and was never more pithily stated than in a criticism of their proceedings. When, in the commencement of this enterprise, with all its glories thick upon it, Lord Brougham expressed a belief that, through the agency of this Society, the day would come when every peasant in England would read and enjoy Bacon,Cobbett replied, that the time must first come when every peasant could eat bacon, and that it would be well if his Lordship should set himself toward bringing it about. Though we admit the correctness of the criticism, there are few to whom the application of it would not be more pertinent than to Lord Brougham; the good time would be far nearer, if each one of us were half as ardent and faithful a laborer in one sphere of action as he has been in many.
As political science is not only one of the most important and serviceable branches of knowledge, but also one which those who get an opportunity have always shown the greatest alacrity in dispensing, it was clearly within the Society's province to provide for its diffusion, and Lord Brougham was naturally selected to prepare the means. Of course, he was ready. The work before us is in three large volumes, and claims not only to be “the only work now in existence, in which the principles of government are systematically expounded,” but also "to comprehend a full account of all the constitutions in ancient and modern times." We are also told that “the discussion is kept quite free from all party and all national bias." These are bold words to be spoken of a book which bears on its face the evidence that the only part of it which possesses any vitality, that which treats of the modern, mixed and democratic governments, was written by an Englishman and a Whig, and could have been written by nobody else, — not to say, only by Lord Brougham. The general correctness and faithfulness of the historical portion are beyond question; and we would particularly commend the practical and business-like character of the account of the Roman constitution, which is made to appear like a system that might really go into operation at the present time, and is evidently the work of an experienced statesman.
But to be truthful and correct in regard to the structure of the Roman or Athenian commonwealth, although extremely desirable, is no surprising merit, when the means of information exist, together with the ability to use them; because, in this case, there is little temptation to be otherwise. Exactness is purchased by indifference. On the other hand, for a partisan and an actor in questions yet undecided, instantly and at will to stop the current of fifty years' feeling, and out of an eager combatant to make himself at once an impartial observer, is an undertaking so difficult that it may as well be set down as impossible. In that part of the work which relates to English affairs there are, certainly, no remarkable signs of its accomplishment. A green and vigorous old age has not yet so cooled the fire of Lord Brougham's blood; and we are not desirous that it should. We do not know that anybody would be the gainer by the change, and we are sure that something would be lost which is well worth the having. For the rest, as the work goes over all the ground, from the earliest history to the latest births of time, and from Eastern despotisms to Western republics, it certainly contains the result of a vast amount of reading and reflection, and many wholesome truths and materials valuable for reference. But they are, in general, too vague to satisfy a genuine spirit of inquiry, for which the minutiæ and practical workings of political systems are indispensable aids to their comprehension.
An eager and patient seeker of knowledge might think that the matter is prepared too exclusively with an eye to its diffusion. For, after all the explanations that can be made, there are some things which refuse to be made plain, and others to which some difficulty of access gives a peculiar zest. Books written for one purpose are not likely to be very serviceable for another. Lawyers' briefs are poor materials for Judges' decisions; and authors who are writing specially for the diffusion of knowledge are quite as much interested in making their productions attractive and pleasant, as serious and valuable.
But the germ of the work, and in many respects the best of its fruit, is the Preliminary Discourse, in which the object and design are set forth in the style of those essays for which Lord Brougham is so famous, and which he has written so well, — elegant, copious, and plausible, even when not convincing, distinguished for an easy handling of the subject, and for variety of remark and illustration. It is on the advantage of political science, and is devoted to the proof and illustration of the importance of knowledge as a political element in society, setting forth the benefit of some sort of provision for its extension among the great body of the people who are to profit by it, and exposing the evils which they are said to suffer on account of their ignorance of affairs of state. The pleasant picture which it presents of the future, when the miseries of war, the folly of bad measures, the violence of party, the injustice of prejudice, and even the narrowness of patriotism, are all to be cured by the prevalence of political knowledge and by the habit of political action, it would be impossible to exhibit so effectively as it appears in this discourse. As we hardly feel called upon to reproduce the whole essay, we will only refer to it as containing the brightest and best stored magazine of implements for those who have occasion for that line of argument. One part, however, we cannot bear to pass over, in which the common propensity to indulge in political speculation is considered, and a multitude of advantages deduced from the practice. In the first place, the science of politics is represented as capable of being one of the most certain of sciences, - which is contrary, we confess,
to the prevalent opinion, — and, as a natural consequence, the conclusions of the philosophers may be expected to be of the greatest use in the construction and working of governments. Various objections, such as that of the danger of weakening the attachment of the people for existing institutions, arising out of the contemplation of conflicting forms of polity, and of thus unsettling the foundations of government, are gently, but decidedly, put aside; and knowledge, particularly political knowledge, is exalted as the palladium of the State. An extraordinary and particular enjoyment is attributed to the pursuit of political speculations, quite sufficient to satisfy any of those practical utilitarian American skeptics, who might be inclined to push their inquiries too far as to the value of such lučubrations, even including those with which we propose to edify our readers. We only hope that the pleasure extends to the reading, as well as to the making, of such reflections; in that case, the advantage on which Lord Brougham dwells will not fail to be recognized.
In one respect, the importance of knowledge as a political element is not only not exaggerated, but not even fully appreciated; we mean that knowledge of the opinions of others, and that general and mutual action and reaction of one mind upon another, which results in and accompanies the formation of Public Opinion. The division of governments into aristocracies, monarchies, and republics was well enough once; but in modern times, the only classification of any consequence is that relating to the nature, the existence, or the possibility of a Public Opinion in communities, and its means of making itself known. Differences in this respect are those which appear to travellers and spectators as practically the most vital and important in the condition of different countries. They shape the policy of governments, and determine the means by which political action is carried on; for these means, when Public Opinion exists and is free to manifest itself, are substantially the same.
Whatever the form of the government, this is its essence. Whether it is a government of the few or the many, depends upon the extent to which a Public Opinion is established in any community, and known to exist by those who entertain it. Ideas always become more intense