Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
By Lord Beaconsfield (18041881)
AND thus I conclude the last page of a work which, though its form be light and unpretending, would yet aspire to suggest to its readers some considerations of a very opposite character. A year ago, I presumed to offer to the public some volumes that aimed at calling their attention to the state of our political parties; their origin, their history, their present position. In an age of political infidelity, of mean passions, and petty thoughts, I would have impressed upon the rising race not to despair, but to seek in a right understanding of the history of their country, and in the energies of heroic youth, the elements of national welfare. The present work advances another step in the same emprise. From the state of parties it would now draw public thought to the state of the people whom those parties for two centuries have governed. The comprehension and the cure of this greater theme depend upon the same agencies as the first; it is the past alone that can explain the present, and it is youth that alone can mould the remedial future. The written history of our country for the last ten reigns has been a mere phantasma, giving to the origin and consequence of public transactions a character and colour in every respect dissimilar to their natural form and hue. In this mighty mystery all thoughts and things have assumed an aspect and title contrary to their real quality and style: oligarchy has been called liberty, an exclusive priesthood has been christened a national church, sovereignty has been the title of something that has had no dominion, while absolute power has been wielded by those who profess themselves the servants of the people. In the selfish strife of factions, two great existences have been blotted out of the history of England, the monarch and the multitude, as the power of the crown has diminished, the privileges of the people have disappeared, till at length the sceptre has become a pageant, and its subject has degenerated again into a serf.
It is nearly fourteen years ago, in the popular frenzy of a mean and selfish revolution which emancipated neither the crown nor the people, that I first took the occasion to intimate, and then to develop to the first assembly of my countrymen that I ever had the honour to address, these convictions. They have been misunderstood, as is ever for a season the fate of truth, and they have obtained for their promulgator much misrepresentation, as must ever be the lot of those who will not follow the beaten track of a fallacious custom. But time, that brings all things, has brought also to the mind of England some suspicion that the idols they have so long worshipped, and the oracles that have so long deluded them, are not the true ones. There is a whisper rising in this country that loyalty is not a phrase, faith not a delusion, and popular liberty something more diffusive and substantial than the profane exercise of the sacred rights of sovereignty by political classes.
That we may live to see England once more possess a free monarchy, and a privileged and prosperous people, is my prayer; that these great consequences can only be brought about by the energy and devotion of our youth is my persuasion. We live in an age when to be young and to be indifferent can be no longer synonymous. We must prepare for the coming hour. The claims of the future are represented by suffering millions; and the youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity.