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ILLUSTRATIVE AND ORNAMENTAL WOOD ENGRAVINGS,
DIFFUSION OF USEFUL KNOWLEDGE
MORAL AND RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLES.
SIXTEEN LARGE OCTAVO PAGES, WEEKLY.
EDITED BY THEODORE DWIGHT.
AUTHOR OF A TOUR IN ITALY, THE FATHER'S BOOK, NORTHERN TRAVELLER,
SCHOOLMASTERS' FRIEND, &c.
This long range of edifices presents an imposing aspect to the stranger, as he passes up the Thames, and turns his eyes to the spot so long occupied by the old Parliament Houses, depicted and noticed in the last number of our second volume. They were accidentally destroyed by fire on the 16th of October, 1831. sent enlarged edifice soon rose from the ruins, and affords much more ample and convenient accommodations to the two Houses of Parliament, the Library, and the various minor purposes connected with ihem. The origin of the conflagration is a matter of much uncertainty ; but it was supposed to be accidental. А large quantity of old and useless papers had been burnt in the Exchequer, which, it was supposed, might have been too hastily crowded into the fire-places, and over-heated some of the chimney-flues. The mere destruction of the main build. ing itself might not have been much regretted, as it made room for the present superior structure : but numerous valua. ble documents were consumed, and the admired old Painted Chamber, the tapestries, &c., in the House of Lords, and, above all, the adjoining ancient chapel of St. Stephen, were also ruined. This last had long stood as the most per: fect specimen of the highly ornamented Gothic style of architecture in the kingdom, and was respectable and valuable also from its historical associations.
Westminster Cathedral, which stands in this vicinity, was the first of the ancient edifices which are here clustered together. The superstitions inculcated by the Romish priesthood have always filled the heads of all people, foolish enough to listen to their fictions, with ideas of the superior sanctity of the objects, buildings and places which the pretended miraculous power of themselves or others has distinguished. There, as in many other places and countries, consequence was given to the place where the ground was called holy, and a host of
images were congregated, and daily worshipped. King Canute, though a Dane, became a dupe of the priesthood, and in his later days, fixed his residence under their wing, being the first king who occupied this site. The building which he inhabited was destroyed by fire in the time of Edward the Confessor, who, a bigot of the blindest kind, built another palace near the same spot; and his successors continued to occupy Westmins ter Palace, until the reign of Henry VIII. in 1529, when another fire occurred by which it was destroyed, and Whitehall became the royal residence.
The origin of the Parliament of England is lost in the gloom of the Dark Ages, like many other important events, which would have been preserved if men had not been degraded by a system of false religion, the fertile source of a thousand evils, which nothing but the truth can ren edy. The people, in all ages, felt that desire, so natural to man, to govern themselves, and which ever will show itself just in proportion to the liberty allowed it to express itself. It is believed that the representatives of the people fomerly met with the lords in the great national hall of legislation; and that the body was first divided in the year 1377. Conflicts innumerable were waged, from the carliest days of English history, between the people, the nobles and the monarchs, often influenced, instigated or directed, more or less covert. ly by the priesthood, to whose interierence in public and private affairs, directly, or indirectly, a great part of the history of England was materially affected, in almost all ages, as every intelligent reader must plainly see. The Reforma. 3 tion put an end to the old system: but some of its evil features were retained, which have ever since exerted unhappy influences in Parliament and on the nation. Amung these are the church establishment and the civil power of eccles'astics. Under the dispensations of Di
vine Providence good often results from evil; and the dictatorial spirit of the English Bishops, proceeding to persecution, soon commissioned the Pilgrims to lay the foundation of a new republic on Plymouth rock.
Such reflections as these, and others, in an endless train, naturally crowd into the mind of an American, as he stands to contemplate the site of the British Parliament.
Many writers have laid much stress on the antiquity of the English Legislature, and on some of its forms, which they were inclined to regard with veneration on that account; while others have not pretended to trace the origin of the House of Commons farther back than the appointment of Burgesses, or near the date of the Norman conquest. To us Americans it can hardly be a point of much importance, to pursue the question far in our enquiries, amidst the degree of uncertainty which exists. It is of greater importance to us, that the rules and precedents which have been established in the course of its existence, so far as they are applicable and salutary to our legislative assemblies, should be honored by careful adherence. We have too often had reason to lament the disregard of order, propriety, and even decency, in some of our state legislatures, and still more in Congress, where some men occasionally are sent to take their seats, not properly prepared to appreciate the value and necessity of established rules. The long experience of the Parliament of Great Britain led to the adoption of a system, which is embraced in all its details in a volume familiarly known as the Red Book; and ibis we have found it not only convenient, but indispensable, to adopt, as the general guide of our forms of proceeding in deliberative assemblies, even down to the town-meetings and the sessions of literary, scientific, philanthropic and religious associations.
The general principles and most com
mon forms of what we call “parliamentary usage” thus become well known to multitudes of our people, even in early life ; and the habit of acting in submission to them is a very salutary one, as the occasional disregard of them which we witness most emphatically proves. Order is indispensable to the decent and even the possible transaction of husiness; and to secure it should be a primary object. The English failed egre . giously in two points, the oversight of which, as observation has strongly impressed upon our minds, has had many bad effects on both sides of the Atlantic. We allude to the permission of members of the House of Commons to sit with their hats on, and to "viva voce' voting. Men will not feel like gentlemen when they act unlike them; and the habit of silence in public assemblies will cherish a repugnance to noise. The House of Representstives of Massachusetts, consisting of above 400 members, is never disturbed even when taking a vote in the most contested cases: for they express their opinions by the mere raising of the hand. Total silence prevails, and yet the speaker is far better able to decide on the vote than when it is expressed by the voice.
We could not but reflect, while looking upon that impressive and gratifying scene a few years ago, that we might have been greatly the gainers, as well as the English, if the latter had originally adopted this most civilized habit. It would naturally have been copied by our stato and general legislatures; and si. lence would have been a characteristic trait of all our deliberative assemblies. It seems to be an object not unworthy of serious attention, that the young at least should be trained to respectful behaviour, especially in public and on grave occasions, that they may be prepared to avoid such scenes of disorder, which now furm one of the threatening aspects of our national affairs.