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BRITISH AND FOREIGN
Chartism. By THOMAS CARLYLE. London: Fraser, 1840.
RECENT events have given a fearful interest to the social condition of England. Thinking men for some time past have felt and expressed great anxiety concerning it; but they have been for the most part laughed at as alarmists. Lately, however, we came to a pass when even the most sanguine and careless could hardly feel at ease. Towns set fire to, civil war and slaughter in the streets, houses plundered, pikes and swords, were a few months back spreading terror over large districts, and making every one fear that the national prosperity, and even the safety of life and property, were seriously endangered by the spirit which manifested itself in such outrages. The habit of believing that things will right themselves of their own accord, if they are but left alone, is we know a very inveterate one, but it is hardly a match for such rude assaults as these. Not only was the anxiety general at the times of the riots, but during the few months which have elapsed since that time the feeling has been rapidly growing up, that the evil is deeply seated, and that to discover the remedy will be a task requiring much thought and care. The conviction is becoming universal, that England will not be able to guarantee that security of life and property, which is the first object of society, without bringing some wiser and more powerful institutions than she
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now possesses, to act upon the lower orders of her population. For the present indeed the immediate danger is gone by, violence has been repressed and punished, and the accustomed order of society restored. But the root of the evil has not been extirpated; and the present calm offers a very favorable opportunity for dispassionately considering the causes and the remedies of this evil.
On such a subject then, so all-important to every Englishman, it was with no common interest that we took up Mr. Carlyle's work on Chartism. We were eager to learn what the discerning eye which had seen so clearly the state of things which issued in the French Revolution, had been able to perceive in the living world about it. We hoped to see much by the help of the keen insight which had distinguished the historian. We are not ashamed to profess ourselves warm admirers of Mr. Carlyle, or to think that his works are full of instruction and wisdom. Of that immediately before us we believe it may be said with truth, that it has much precisely of the same merit which so strikingly characterizes many a dramatic picture in the history of the French Revolution. There is not much novelty of matter. Indeed we do not know that we have found a single thing in it absolutely new. But the power of painting, the vividness with which each separate element is worked up into the general picture, the brilliancy of colouring, and the force with which the whole view is made to strike the imagination, are exactly such as we have been accustomed to admire in Mr. Carlyle's writings. We look upon this little book therefore, appearing at such a time as this, to be a very valuable one; not because it gives us views or information which we were absolutely without before, but because it combines the whole subject into a living form, and graphically as well as forcibly places it before our eyes. The first step towards a cure is a right perception of the symptoms of the disease,—and Mr. Carlyle’s diagnostics we think very accurate.
Mr. Carlyle's book is on Chartism. But what is Chartism? What does it mean? Whence does it come? whither will it go? To these questions all sorts of answers are every day given. Some cry out that it is all the fault of the Whigs, the natural offspring of their encouragement of political