Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
Mr. Dundas
By Henry Peter, Lord Brougham (1778–1868)
 
From Contributions to the Edinburgh Review

IF in his official departments, and in the contests of Parliament, Mr. Dundas rendered able service, and possessed great weight, it was in Scotland, his native country, whose language he spoke, and whose whole affairs he directed, that his power and his authority chiefly prevailed. Before the reform in our representation and our municipal institutions, the undisturbed possession of patronage by a leading member of the Government was very sure to carry along with it a paramount influence both over the representatives of this ancient kingdom and over their constituents. Why the submission to men in high place, and endowed with the power of conferring many favours, should have been so much more absolute amongst us than amongst our southern neighbours, it would be needless to inquire. Whether it arose from the old feudal habits of the nation, or from its poverty, joined with a laudable ambition to rise in the world above the pristine station, or from the wary and provident character of the people—certain it is that they displayed a devotion to their political superiors, and a belief in their infallibility, which would have done no discredit to the clansmen of those chieftains who, whilom, both granted out the lands of the sept, retained the stipulated services of the vassal, and enjoyed the rights of jurisdiction and of punishment, whereby obedience was secured, and zealous attachment stimulated in its alliance with wholesome terror. That Mr. Dundas enjoyed this kind of ministerial sovereignty and homage in a more ample measure than any of his predecessors, was, no doubt, owing partly to the unhesitating and unqualified determination which regulated his conduct, of devoting his whole patronage to the support of his party, and to the extent of that patronage, from his being so long Minister for India, as well as having the whole Scottish preferment at his absolute disposal; but it was also in part owing to the engaging qualities of the man. A steady and determined friend, who only stood the faster by those that wanted him the more—nay, who even in their errors or their faults would not give up his adherents—an agreeable companion, from the joyous hilarity of his manners—void of all affectation, all pride, all pretension—a kind and affectionate man in the relations of private life—and although not always sufficiently regardful of strict decorum in certain particulars, yet never putting on the Pharisee’s garb, or affecting a more “gracious state” than he had attained—friendly, self-denying to those inferiors in his department whose comforts so much depended on him—in his demeanour hearty and good-humoured to all—it is difficult to figure any one more calculated to win over those whom his mere power and station had failed to attach; or better fitted to retain the friends whom accident or influence might originally have attached to his person. That he should for so many years have disposed of the votes in Parliament of nearly the whole Scottish Commoners, and the whole Peers, was therefore little to be wondered at; that his popularity and influence in the country at large should have been boundless during all this period is as easily to be understood. There was then no doubt ever raised of the Ministry’s stability, or of Mr. Dundas’s ample share in the dispensation of its favours. The political sky was clear and settled to the very verge of the horizon. There was nothing to disturb the hearts of anxious mortals. The wary and pensive Scot felt sure of his election, if he but kept by the true faith; and his path lay straight before him—the path of righteous devotion leading into a blessed preferment. But our countrymen were fated to be visited by some troubles. The heavens were overcast—their luminary was for a while concealed from devout eyes—in vain they sought him, but he was not. Uncouth names began to be named. More than two parties were talked of. Instead of the old, convenient, and intelligible alternative of “Pitt or Fox,” “place or poverty,” which left no doubt in any rational mind which of the two to choose, there was seen—strange sight!—hateful and perplexing omen!—a ministry without Pitt, nay without Dundas, and an Opposition leaning towards its support. Those who are old enough to remember that dark interval, may recollect how the public mind among us was subdued with awe, and how we awaited in trembling silence the uncertain event, as all living things quail during the solemn pause that precedes an earthquake.
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  It was in truth a crisis to try men’s souls. For a while all was uncertainty and consternation; all were seen fluttering about like birds in an eclipse or a thunderstorm; no man could tell whom he might trust; nay, worse still, no man could tell of whom he might ask anything. It was hard to say, not who were in office, but who were likely to remain in office. Our countrymen were in dismay and distraction. It might truly be said they knew not which way to look, or whither to turn. Perhaps it might be yet more truly said, that they knew not when to turn. But such a crisis was too sharp to last; it passed away; and then was to be seen a proof of Mr. Dundas’s power amongst us, which transcended all expectation, and almost surpassed belief, if indeed it is not rather to be viewed as an evidence of the acute foresight—the political second sight—of the Scottish nation. The trusty band in both Houses actually were found adhering to him against the existing Government; nay, he held the proxies of many Scottish Peers in open Opposition! Well might his colleague exclaim to the hapless Addington in such unheard-of troubles, “Doctor, the Thanes fly from us.” When the very Scotch Peers wavered—and when the Grampian hills might next be expected to move about—it is time to think that the end of all things was at hand; and the return of Pitt and security, and patronage and Dundas, speedily ensued to bless old Scotland, and reward her providence, or her fidelity—her attachment at once to her patron—and to herself.  2
 
 
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