Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

charopions of that doctrine, Hayne and Calhoun, and others in the senate of the United States, would have trampled the policy of the administration, and with it the supremacy of the constitution, into dishonourable fragments.

Mr. Webster is a patriot as well as an orator and statesman. It would be no source of satisfaction to him to obtain place or influence by succumbing to popular clamour, by fomenting prejudices, by sowing the seeds of alienation and discord among the States, or individual members of the community, by exciting the people to demolish the fabric of their own liberty, and by making the institutions odious in which it is organized and enshrined. His moral sense no less than his understanding revolts from all these despicable sophistries, as base and treacherous. Suppose he had acted otherwise than he has done in several transactions in which he has borne a conspicuous part; suppose the power which he has employed to sustain and build up had been exerted to subvert and destroy,—we may reasonably ask, would the citadel of the constitutional Union have remained safe and unhurt where it now stands ? Unquestionably, its very foundations would have been perilled, and, in all probability, eventually demolished, had he stood even a passive spectator of the scene;-if certain essentially destructive, though partially popular doctrines, had been only left by him to do their work, unexposed in their real nature and evil tendency.

Till very lately Mr. Webster has never filled any high office in the administration; and herein consists, probably, one great element of his strength. The possession of executive power is mostly enfeebling, and otherwise detrimental to the characters of even the best of public men. The influence of party-zeal, derived from and cherished by successive promotions to official station, is often fatal to a true statesmanlike generosity of spirit and endeavour. The noblest aspirations of the mind after personal excellence are liable to be subdued and crushed beneath the superincumbent weight of a cold and lifeless routine. The prodigious rapidity with which revolutions in monarchical governments proceed, is mainly caused by the collision brought on between men in place-men raised by favour and trained in the bureaux—and the self-formed characters, the men who spring fresh from the

ranks of the people, speaking out of the fullness of generous hearts, and balked by no danger or labour that may surround the post of duty. Observe the teachings of historical experience. What was the result of the contest between the veteran but feeble minions of Charles I. and the great popular spirits of the Commonwealth ? What could the accomplished courtiers who formed the cabinet of Louis XVI. effect against the Mirabeaus and the Lafayettes ? The robes of office, worn too long, give a mincing and feeble gait to the politician: and though the American constitution amply provides against the undue retention of official power, there is yet, we think, sufficient ground to justify the remark, that Mr. Webster's exemption from the trammels of authoritative station might, in all probability, be no inconsiderable cause of his bold and fearless advocacy of whatever he deemed the right through good and through evil report.

It is impossible indeed to read the works of Mr. Webster, and consider meanwhile the political position he has hitherto occupied, without being forcibly reminded of the observation, that not under a democratic, any more than under a monarchical system, is the race always to the swift, or the battle to the strong. The highest talents and the most valuable services do not always command even there their appropriate rewards. Less worthy, but more accommodating spirits, in popular as in aristocratic institutions, carry off the honours and emoluments which Providence would seem to have designed as the inheritance of the most gifted, enlightened and trustworthy. Nor is it the less noticeable, while engaged in calmly analysing the character of Mr. Webster's efforts, that, 66 brilliant as is his moral position, and unsurpassed as is his « power in the senatorial arena, his intellect is above the con“ tentious sphere of the mere partisan warfare which is often “ waged even there. It is impossible to repress the idea, that “ his largeness of view, his coolness, gravity, sagacity, power “ of investigation, and his dignified eloquence, could only act “ to their greatest advantage in a high executive sphere; in “ the conduct of arduous negotiations with foreign powers; “ in disposing of great questions of public policy; compre“ hending within one grand survey the various interests of the “ country; infusing a lofty patriotism into the people by pub“ lic addresses, conceived and executed with real ability, es6 sential force, and good sense; and exhibiting to foreign “ nations a noble specimen of the sovereignty of intellect.” His writings are calculated to do great good, not only in his own country, but also in England, and throughout Europe. They place republican institutions on their plain and undeniable principles, and set them before us in an attractive and rational light. While on the one hand they reveal their author as the sworn foe of individual aggression on constitutional freedom, they exhibit him, on the other, as the no less strenuous adversary and unflinching opponent of the tyranny of the multitude over individual liberty. The works of Mr. Webster are the offspring of a mind and heart never led astray for a moment by the illusion of mere names, zealous for the shadow of things while the substance is neglected. They are the product of a more considerate and solid temperament; in short, they are at once a splendid example of the type of character one would wish to see developed under republican institutions, and an illustrious voucher of the power of character thus developed, to preserve, to adorn and to improve those institutions.

The Poniatowski Gems.

The following letter has been addressed to us by Mr. Tyrrell, the present proprietor of the Poniatowski Gems, in reference to an article published on that subject in the last number of the British and Foreign Review. With the motives imputed to the author of that paper we can have nothing to do: as little have we to do with any repudiation of them which he may have made, or may hereafter choose to make. It lies without our competence to decide upon the allegations advanced on either side,-to determine how much is fact, and how much is merely caused to appear so by excited feeling. The article embraced two distinct points: first, a question of probabilities, to be judged of by the ordinary means adopted to settle such questions; next, a question of

art, to be settled by those whom natural qualifications and study rendered competent. With the judgment come to by the reviewer the proprietor of the gems is (not unnaturally) dissatisfied: he thinks that more may be said in defence of their authenticity than was said by the reviewer, and complains of our statement of the case as partial and unfair, Under these circumstances, it appears to us that we shall best meet the justice of the case by suffering him to speak in his own language, and lay his own argument before the public in our pages.

To the Editor of the British and Foreign Review.

SIR,--An article headed The Poniatowski Collection of Gems" in the last Number of your Review strongly attracted my attention, for two reasons : first, because the principal portion of the collection in question has, during the last three years, been in my possession; and secondly, because that article was a distorted compilation from an Essay, originally written as an introduction to a work published by me, illustrative of proof impressions from these gems, but which owing to the writer having introduced into it, without my authority, an absurd theory respecting their origin, I was compelled to lay aside. This Essay was nevertheless my property, and ought not to have been used in any shape except with my concurrence; and as Mr. Ogle, who was the author of the preliminary Essay, has also acknowledged himself to be the writer of the article in question, I shall in the few remarks I have to make confine myself mainly to the object of proving the inconsistency and contradiction observable between the opinions contained in the article in your Review and those elsewhere expressed by the same person : for you will doubtless assent to the general proposition, that opinions on matters of art, in order to carry weight and authority, should be consistent, and should proceed from one who is wholly devoid of feelings of personal rancour and revenge.

Now the writer of the critique in question stands under the suspicion of these motives, for having been compelled to disconnect myself from him, he converts, through the medium of your Review, the preliminary Essay, for which I had paid him, into a hostile attack upon the collection of art on which he had formerly lavished the highest praise.

The general tone of depreciation, marked by consummate bad taste, in which the critic speaks of this collection, his chronological blunder as to Metabus and Mezentius, whose story was not invented by Virgil, but was taken by him from records of the past, and was equally at the service of Admon to illustrate by his sculpture as of the poet to set forth in his verse, and his other erroneous conclusions, I will overlook as self-refuting absurdities, and pass on to submit to you the gross and flagrant contradiction which the writer of the critique gives to his printed opinions, in the following extract of a letter addressed by him to me during the time he was in communication with me. He thus writes on the 5th Oct. 1840:

" It is my humble opinion that a great many of the finest Gems are Antiques, though my surprise is very great that such important works have not been noticed, recorded, or engraved in publications of the virtuosi.” ...The exceptions are not numerous in proportion to 1200."...“You have now my opinion calmly given, and, unless I much mistake, no reasonable man will say I have hastily given my opinion.”

In page 40 of his cancelled Essay, which forms the basis of his critique, the following passage is contained :

"To whom they are to be attributed is a question asked by every connoisseur."..."The usual indefinite affirmation of the collection being the works of men hired by Prince Poniatowski is too puerile to deserve more notice than the remark, that it is a proof that persons know nothing of the facts, and most probably have taken no pains to carefully examine the Gems, or reflect on the matter."

I may also be permitted to quote a letter of his, dated in June 1840. previously to the period when he pronounces, as seen above, so decided an opinion as to the antiquity of the Gems.

Albion Club, June 23, 1840. My dear Sir,-In accordance with our conference I held communication with Mr. S., and have concluded the following points :

“Ist. The price of the Gems is to be sixty-five thousand pounds sterling.

“2nd. Five thousand pounds to be paid to Mr. S. as commission, on the receipt of the money by you, or your representative.

“ 3rd. That a written agreement be sent through me, stating the agree. ment for commission.

" 4th. That the casts (say 500 sets) now in progress are to be completed for your benefit.

" 5th. That as correspondence with a foreign government would ensue on your accepting the above terms, no other negotiation should be carried on at the same time.

“6th. That time must be allowed for the carrying on the correspondence, as the government is at some distance.

“These terms are so simple, and so evidently to your advantage, that I conclude you will lose no time in perfecting the preliminary agreement.

" It is right that I should say, Mr. S. participates his commission with me, so that I can claim no compensation from you as an agent.

“ If the matter is carried through, and it looks very likely, I know that I am in good hands when you are the paymaster.

“Shortly after your written agreement is sent, His Excellency will call with Mr. S.

Yours, &c. &c.

(Signed) “N. Ogle." I refrain from saying anything more upon a topic which must be so painful to you as this, and proceed to offer one or two observations with respect to the theory originally guessed at by Mr. Ogle.

« PredošláPokračovať »