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The Glory of English Prose / Letters to My Grandson By Stephen Coleridge Characters: 8766

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

My Dear Antony,

I now come to speak of one whose fame was familiar to me as a boy-the great Lord Brougham.-for he lived till 1868. I remember that he was vehemently praised and blamed as a politician, but with such matters others have dealt; in this letter, Antony, we will concern ourselves with the glory of English prose as it poured from Lord Brougham in two of his greatest speeches.

He was an orator whose voice was uplifted throughout a long and strenuous life in condemnation of all the brutalities and oppression of his time, and to whose eloquence the triumphant cause of freedom stands for ever in deep obligation.

His great speech on Law Reform in the House of Commons, in 1828, took six hours to deliver, and the concluding passage, which mounted to a plane of lofty declamation, displayed no sign of exhaustion, and was listened to with strained attention by an absorbed and crowded audience:-

"The course is clear before us; the race is glorious to run. You have the power of sending your name down through all times, illustrated by deeds of higher fame, and more useful import, than ever were done within these walls.

"You saw the greatest warrior of the age-conqueror of Italy-humbler of Germany-terror of the North-saw him account all his matchless victories poor, compared with the triumph you are now in a condition to win-saw him contemn the fickleness of fortune, while, in despite of her, he could pronounce his memorable boast, 'I shall go down to posterity with the Code in my hand!'

"You have vanquished him in the field; strive now to rival him in the sacred arts of peace! Outstrip him as a lawgiver, whom in arms you overcame! The lustre of the Regency will be eclipsed by the more solid and enduring splendour of the Reign. The praise which false courtiers feigned for our Edwards and Harrys, the Justinians of their day, will be the just tribute of the wise and the good to that monarch under whose sway so mighty an undertaking shall be accomplished. Of a truth, the holders of sceptres are most chiefly to be envied for that they bestow the power of thus conquering, and ruling thus.

"It was the boast of Augustus-it formed part of the glare in which the perfidies of his earlier years were lost,-that he found Rome of brick, and left it of marble; a praise not unworthy a great prince, and to which the present reign also has its claims. But how much nobler will be the sovereign's boast when he shall have it to say, that he found law dear, and left it cheap; found it a sealed book-left it a living letter; found it the patrimony of the rich-left it the inheritance of the poor; found it the two-edged sword of craft and oppression-left it the staff of honesty and the shield of innocence!

"To me, much reflecting on these things, it has always seemed a worthier honour to be the instrument of making you bestir yourselves in this high matter, than to enjoy all that office can bestow-office, of which the patronage would be an irksome encumbrance, the emoluments superfluous to one content with the rest of his industrious fellow-citizens that his own hands minister to his wants; and as for the power supposed to follow it-I have lived near half a century, and I have learned that power and place may be severed.

"But one power I do prize; that of being the advocate of my countrymen here, and their fellow-labourers elsewhere, in those things which concern the best interests of mankind. That power, I know full well, no government can give-no change take away!"

His speech on negro slavery made a deep impression upon the country, and rose towards its termination, gradually, but with ever-ascending periods, to a close of absolute majesty:-

"I regard the freedom of the negro as accomplished and sure. Why? Because it is his right-because he has shown himself fit for it; because a pretext, or a shadow of a pretext, can no longer be devised for withholding that right from its possessor. I know that all men at this day take a part in the question, and they will no longer bear to be imposed upon, now they are well informed. My reliance is firm and unflinching upon the great change which I have witnessed-the education of the people, unfettered by party or by sect-witnessed from the beginning of its progress, I may say from the hour of its birth! Yes! It was not for a humble man like me to assist at roy

al births with the illustrious Prince who condescended to grace the pageant of this opening session, or the great captain and statesman in whose presence I am now proud to speak. But with that illustrious Prince, and with the father of the Queen, I assisted at that other birth, more conspicuous still. With them, and with the head of the House of Russell, incomparably more illustrious in my eyes, I watched over its cradle-I marked its growth-I rejoiced in its strength-I witnessed its maturity; I have been spared to see it ascend the very height of supreme power; directing the councils of state; accelerating every great improvement; uniting itself with every good work; propping all useful institutions; extirpating abuses in all our institutions; passing the bounds of our European dominion, and in the New World, as in the Old, proclaiming that freedom is the birthright of man-that distinction of colour gives no title to oppression-that the chains now loosened must be struck off, and even the marks they have left effaced-proclaiming this by the same eternal law of our nature which makes nations the masters of their own destiny, and which in Europe has caused every tyrant's throne to quake!

"But they need feel no alarm at the progress of light who defend a limited monarchy and support popular institutions-who place their chiefest pride not in ruling over slaves, be they white or be they black, not in protecting the oppressor, but in wearing a constitutional crown, in holding the sword of justice with the hand of mercy, in being the first citizen of a country whose air is too pure for slavery to breathe, and on whose shores, if the captive's foot but touch, his fetters of themselves fall off. To the resistless progress of this great principle I look with a confidence which nothing can shake; it makes all improvement certain; it makes all change safe which it produces; for none can be brought about unless it has been prepared in a cautious and salutary spirit.

"So now the fulness of time is come for at length discharging our duty to the African captive. I have demonstrated to you that everything is ordered-every previous step taken-all safe, by experience shown to be safe, for the long-desired consummation. The time has come, the trial has been made, the hour is striking; you have no longer a pretext for hesitation, or faltering, or delay. The slave has shown, by four years' blameless behaviour, and devotion to the pursuits of peaceful industry, that he is as fit for his freedom as any English peasant, ay, or any lord whom I now address.

"I demand his rights; I demand his liberty without stint. In the name of justice and of law-in the name of reason-in the name of God, who has given you no right to work injustice; I demand that your brother be no longer trampled upon as your slave! I make my appeal to the Commons, who represent the free people of England; and I require at their hands the performance of that condition for which they paid so enormous a price-that condition which all their constituents are in breathless anxiety to see fulfilled! I appeal to this House. Hereditary judges of the first tribunal in the world-to you I appeal for justice. Patrons of all the arts that humanise mankind-under your protection I place humanity herself! To the merciful Sovereign of a free people I call aloud for mercy to the hundreds of thousands for whom half a million of her Christian sisters have cried aloud-I ask that their cry may not have risen in vain. But first I turn my eye to the throne of all justice, and devoutly humbling myself before Him who is of purer eyes than to behold such vast iniquities, I implore that the curse hovering over the head of the unjust and the oppressor be averted from us-that your hearts may be turned to mercy-and that over all the earth His will may at length be done!"

This is nobly to use noble gifts; it is difficult to think ill of a man who can carry oratory for a glorious object to such heights of splendour. It may seem a duty to some to darken his character with detraction, but his inspiring words remain supreme and unsullied and will still live when such faults as may be truly laid to his charge are long forgotten. To fight for a great cause, Antony, is rightly to use great powers, and this is what Lord Brougham did with all his might.

Your loving old


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