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Franklin, Hume, Smith, and Stewart have exhibited, like the Platos and Ciceros of old, the delightful union of fine taste with philosophical acuteness and reach of mind; and the written eloquence of Burke is a phenomenon quite unrivalled in modern times.
Whether, at the present moment, the English have a just right to claim the decided superiority in literature and science over the other European nations, which they sometimes attribute to themselves, is, perhaps, rather doubtful. On this head, I certainly speak without any adverse interest, for I consider the Americans and English, in a literary view, as forming but one community. But if we except the present exhibition of poetical talent, which, as I observed just now, presents itself under a questionable form, there seems to be no clear proof of this decided preeminence. On the contrary, the activity of the English writers has, of late, taken an unfortunate direction, and pours itself out habitually in critical journals and other periodical works, which now appear in useless profusion; and instead of being a title of honour to the literature of the country, as some of their contributors seem to suppose, are really both discreditable and injurious to it. The poets, moreover, are too eager for money, or too ambitious of wild and fantastic novelty, to present any speci
mens of a finished and classical style. The moral sciences have ceased to be cultivated, except in the single department of political economy, which has received a valuable contribution in the first work of Malthus. Philosophy, properly so called, metaphysical and moral philosophy, the philosophy of man, the noblest and most interesting field of scientific research, has been formally interdicted by the self-created censors of the age; and the injunction has been attended to. The questions which have always been the favourite subjects of meditation with the greatest minds, and will continue to be to the end of time, are now answered in England with a technical jargon of positive school divinity, or a cynical cui bono? as if the value of truth could be estimated by the rules of arithmetic. Even Mr Stewart has marked out for himself a very limited space in this field of thought; and the grace and skill with which he treads it, only make one lament the more, that he has not given his excur. sions a wider range. The standard of opinion on these subjects is, accordingly, far below what it is on the continent, and is really unworthy of so highly cultivated a nation as the English. In general politics there is no work of acknowledged value, since the opening of the French revolution; and this is so true, that a late writer in the Edin
burgh Review, who has attempted to institute a most favourable comparison between the achievements of his countrymen and the French, during this period, in every branch of science and literature, being unable to adduce any great political writer, has been compelled to bring into account the British constitution itself, thus falling into a double error; for in the first place, the British constitution has not been organized since the year 1789; and if it had, it can hardly be called a literary production. In natural science, there has been more zeal and success; and though the glory of Newton has neither been eclipsed nor rivalled of late, it is better sustained than that of Bacon and Locke. The standard, in this branch of learning, is, however, not higher than it is on the continent, nor is the number of eminent men proportionally greater. In descriptions of foreign countries, the press of England has been singularly prolific, in consequence of the prodigious extent of her colonial system and commerce; but the contributions from this quarter, of positive scientific and philosophical information, have not been so great as might have been expected. It is accordingly remarked, and not without justice, by an eminent German writer (A. W. Schlegel) that the French did more, in a single campaign, for the antiquities of Egypt, than the British have done
for those of India in the half century, during which they have now held it. The labours of Humboldt, in a different field, are more valuable, perhaps, than those of all the English travellers put together. It is, indeed, a most surprising and unaccountable fact, considering the great interest of the subject, that the English, during their long abode in Hindostan, should not have entered into a thorough and philosophical investigation of the antiquities of that country; and that it should have been reserved for the Germans, who never set foot there, to discover the community between the Sanscrit and Teutonic languages. The premature death of the two greatest scholars that ever went out to India, Sir William Jones and Dr Leyden, is some apology for this deficiency, though no adequate justification of it. As to the general comparison of the state of literature and science in England and on the continent, it may, perhaps, be said with safety, that France stands at least as high in both these departments, and Germany higher. But after making all proper abatement from the exaggerated pretensions of some English writers, who are generally not those best able to support such claims by their own productions, there will still remain to England the incontestable praise of great literary and scientific activity and eminence. The country
is certainly one of the centrical points from which the light of knowledge is now distributed through the various regions of the civilized and christian world.
I reserve, for a separate chapter, a few remarks on the maritime power and pretensions of England.
The balance of power.
THE several states, of which I have now taken a very imperfect survey, though really independent of each other for the purpose of their internal administration, and nominally for all purposes, have still, from their first establishment, formed, in substance, one vast and irregular body politic. The community of their origin, languages, and political and religious institutions, but especially their contiguous geographical situation, necessarily created among them very intimate relations of various descriptions. To superintend and control, to a certain extent, the relations between individuals is the object of government; and where all the parties are confessedly subject to the same common institutions, it is ac