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were sterner critics in accent and gesture, the Ameri can people more rigidly insist that their understandings shall be convinced, their taste consulted, and their minds enlightened.
There is doubtless some reason in the strictures which have been advanced upon the character of our legislative debates. They are, for the most part, prolix and tedious on the one hand, or tumid and extravagant on the other-in either case, they are superficial and discursive. These defects may in part be attributed to the republican principles and forms which predominate in our Constitution and laws. We have no professional legislators, and, with the exception of a single class, few
practised speakers ;
-Veniet de plebe togata Qui juris nodos, et legum ænigmata solvat." Habits of condensed thought and expression are not acquired in a day, nor are the pursuits of active life always consistent with that intellectual training which best makes men apt speakers by first making them close thinkers. So far as this and similar evils are incident to our political system, we submit to them as more than counterbalanced by the practical equality and freedom of our institutions. But a vicious style and defective method can be inherent in no form of government, since they result less from a deficiency of power than from a depressed literary standard. It is to elevate this standard, to bring the American reader into familiar and accurate acquaintance with the best examples of English eloquence, to show him with what skill and effect his language has been wielded for the various purposes of attack and defence, of argument and invective, of satire and eulogium, and thereby to raise, refine, and purify the national taste, already highly improved, that the present collection has been undertaken and will be prosecuted.
This and a succeeding volume, (to be compiled principally from the works of Fox, Pitt, and Sheridan,) will
contain, though not precisely in a chronological series, as many of the more distinguished efforts of the leaders of the British Parliament, from the commencement of the American war to the treaty of Amiens, as their limits will admit. The collection will also include some of the popular and forensic addresses of the same period, and will be followed by a selection from the speeches of Mr. Canning, Lord Brougham, and others, by which the work will be completed to the present time. In regard to the period first alluded to, we know of none in English history more capable of affording instruction to an American citizen, whether we consider the magnitude of the topics discussed or the energy of intellect and extent of erudition applied to their consideration. The assertion of those free principles, the denial of which dismembered one ancient government and dissolved another, was nowhere louder than in the British Parliament; and the defence of personal rights, political, civil, and religious, was nowhere manlier, though elsewhere perhaps more successful, than in the British courts. It is not our business here to arraign motives ; perhaps in the acrimonious contests of that day, the difference was, often, less about principles than about their application. Certain it is that we may reap benefit from a collision, in which institutions were assailed, on the one side, by genius prompted by lofty purpose and upheld by high ambition, and defended on the other by all the resources which power could enlist from learning, zeal, and patriotism. The basis of civil government, the rights of the subject, and the prerogative of the ruler, hung upon men's tongues, not as matters of fanciful and idle theory, but in direct reference to the fate of the empire and the preservation of its laws and Constitution.
Of a scarcely less important character, though of more restricted interest, were the various questions which arose during this period in relation to the affairs of India and Ireland, and the principles which characterized the financial system of Mr. Pitt. Growing out of the first of these, we must be permitted to mention the Impeachment of Hastings as unrivalled in the peculiar solemnity of its theme, the dignity with which its forms were conducted, and the labor, talent, and eloquence which distinguished its prosecution. The arguments of the more prominent managers of that Impeachment,-“conspicuæ divina Philippica famæ,”cannot but occupy a large space in a collection like the present, and, while the language lasts, will exhibit, in the highest degree, the compatibility of grace with strength, the union of the loftiest flights of the imagination with the noblest efforts of the reason.
Such are the principal sources whence the contents of these volumes have been drawn. The nature of the undertaking precludes novelty; but, while it offers little that is new, it contains, at the same time, nothing that is low, mean, or unworthy. It exhibits the works of genius on a conspicuous theatre, aiming at noble ends and laboring for immortality. If it cannot teach us better to appreciate the rights which we enjoy, there are few of us but may learn from it in what manner they may best be defended against the inroads of power or the intrusions of ambition.