페이지 이미지

undergo the ordeal of a six weeks' suspension. But “as persons of high rank and dignity become an honour and advantage to any Society; any peer of Great Britain or Ireland, or the eldest sons of such peers, or any of his Majesty's privy council, or judges, of either kingdom, may be propounded by a single member, and put to the ballot for election the same day!”

Thus the veriest dolt on earth, if a nobleman, is to be received into a literary society with a mark of respect which is denied to a man of the highest literary talents. My lord B- is admitted with sycophantic eagerness by a body formed for the purpose of advancing the knowledge of the history and antiquities of our country; whilst a Lingard, a Hallam, a Turner, a Southey, or a Scott, must undergo six weeks' probation. This is too degrading to literature to be discussed with calmness; but even the Royal Society is not free from a similar statute : a reform is however, we believe, meditated in its constitution, and it is impossible that so absurd and contemptible a regulation can be retained. Let this misplaced homage to rank be contrasted for a moment with the conduct of the Institute of France. There are no special clauses for the admission of nobility in its statutes, but it justly considers that a peer derives honour from his admission instead of conferring it. It is reserved for England alone—the first country in Europe in reputation for science and literature, as well as in a nominal independence of the aristocracy—to degrade itself by such dishonourable exceptions in the statutes of their scientific and literary societies in favour of the peerage and persons of elevated rank. These regulations are as preposterous as if an act of parliament were passed to cause every peer, on visiting a commoner, to be abrought in on the shoulders of his host, instead of walking up the staircase in the ordinary manner. The mode of getting out of the Society is equally simple; and, extraordinary as it may appear, the nobility have no peculiar privilege. A member either quits voluntarily or is turned out: the former by expressing his wish to retire, and the latter from one of the following causes. From the tenth chapter we learn that

“ Besides the causes of expulsion hereinbefore particularly mentioned, if any Fellow of the Society shall contemptuously or contumaciously disobey the statutes or orders of the Society; or shall, by speaking, writing, or printing, publicly defame the Society; or advisedly and maliciously do any thing to the damage and detriment thereof; he shall, in respect thereof, be liable to be expelled the Society.”

We have in vain sought for any of the “ causes of expulsion hereinbefore particularly mentioned,” but the subject is not once noticed in any former part of the statutes; hence the “ causes” expressed in the preceding extract are the only

offences for which a member can be dismissed from the Society. The reason of our being so careful to point out this part of the statutes, is the necessity that such of our readers as belong to it should know the penalty which awaits them if they, by “ speaking, writing, or printing, publicly defame the Society.” It would appear that the difficulty of obtaining admission is not great: no literary reputation, or even the affectation of it, being required; for although the “propounders” certify that the candidate is “ well versed in the history and antiquities of this kingdom, and is likely to prove a useful and valuable member,” these words mean nothing; and would be as readily applied to a man who could not read as to the most learned antiquary of the day: and that it will receive almost any body is proved by the fact, that from June 1807 to 1827, a period of twenty years, only twenty-one persons have been rejected. Thus it would seem that one per year was refused, upon the same principle that a private road is annually shut up, to prevent the privilege being claimed as a right. Of these twenty-one persons the Society have relented in favour of four, who have since been elected, though one of them had the courage or temerity to subject himself to a third ballot! But that “ learned body” is rapidly improving in good nature; for it has admitted every candidate who has offered himself for the last two years; and has, moreover, fully atoned for its previous unkindness to one of the four gentlemen alluded to, by unanimously electing him in the last session. The honorary members are, we are informed in the statutes, to consist of “ foreigners of note or learning." Rank being the chief recommendation, but in default of it mere learning may pass!

The entire management of the funds of the Society is intrusted to the council; and of the way in which it exercises the trust, it is highly necessary the Fellows should be informed. Upon the president or vice-president taking the chair, the accounts in a bundle are placed before him, who, holding them in his hand, asks, “ Is it your pleasure, gentlemen, to confirm these accounts?” The balloting box is handed round, and they are instantly passed without a single individual having opened, much less examined them; and even without a remark being made. Such at least, and we speak positively, was the way in which accounts to the extent of several hundred pounds were allowed on a recent occasion. · We shall again have cause to allude to the funds and expenditure : but it is now necessary that we should remind the Fellows that they are not even permitted to see the minutes and accounts of the Society. The senior secretary informed an applicant a few weeks since, that, as “ no request had ever been made by any member to inspect and make extracts from the records of the Society, it could not VOL. 1.-PART I.


be granted without the express order of the council.” The body at large are consequently kept in profound ignorance of their affairs, the council being the nominees of the president; whilst, of the manner in which it performs its duty of watching over the expenditure, we have adduced a memorable example; hence, in fact, the whole and uncontrolled management of the Society rests with the secretaries. There is no precedent for inquiry, we are told. We ask then, Are the Fellows to be always excluded from access to the records of the Society to which they belong? Are these records kept only for the perusal of the president and his friends? Are the eight hundred members to go on for ever paying four guineas per annum without the possibility of knowing how they are expended ? or, Are the Fellows destitute of understanding and spirit, to tolerate such conduct? That the officers have no right to prevent the members from having free access to those records we are fully prepared to argue; but we must postpone the subject until our next number, having, we hope, said enough to excite the attention of the independent members to the abuses which exist. We have, however, only had space to touch upon the subject; and in our future articles we shall lay before them a brief statement of those causes which render the Society of Antiquaries almost useless, and the title which it confers upon its members little else than a bye-word and a reproach: we shall afterwards suggest such improvements in its constitution and management as will tend to restore it to its proper character and respectability. As, however, the Society will renew its meetings before we shall be able to return to the subject, we think it necessary to inform such of its Fellows as did not attend on the night it adjourned, that no measure was then proposed for adoption at the first meeting of the next session which in any way affects the credit or dignity of the Society, or which would require house management and maneuvring to get introduced on the statutes; a fact which peculiarly distinguishes the session of 1826-7 from that of the preceding.


MENTS IN THE STATE PAPER OFFICE. The eyes of the Antiquarian world, or, we may more truly say, of every one interested in the history of his country, have long been directed to the Commission issued by the commands of his Majesty, for the publication of the most important of the archives preserved in the State Paper Office. With but few exceptions, the documents in that repository are wholly unknown; and when it is remembered that it contains the official papers of the state for several centuries, the high expectations which are entertained can scarcely be disappointed. As yet, we believe, not a line has been sent to press : hence the remarks, which we are induced to submit on the subject, will not be too late should they be deemed deserving of consideration; and though they may wear the appearance of personal hostility, and even of disrespect towards the individuals selected for the execution of the King's commands, we conscientiously deny that we are actuated by such feelings.

The Commissioners are, the Speaker, Mr. Peel, Mr. Watkins Wynne, Mr. Croker, and Mr. Hobhouse, the keeper of the State Paper Office : Mr. Lemon, the deputy-keeper, is the secretary; and the assistant or second secretary is Mr. Robert Lemon, junior, the son of that gentleman. We were desirous of giving our readers the contents of the Commission, and of commenting on the specimen which, we learn from a provincial newspaper, has been printed, of the manner in which the documents are to be published; but our efforts to see either have been fruitless. We are thus left to speculate on the intentions of the Commissioners; but as any observations we could offer on that point must be unsatisfactory, we shall merely submit some remarks on the simple facts in our possession; namely, that such a Commission exists, and that such are the names of the individuals appointed to execute it.

It is known to every one that the State Paper Office contains a collection of official papers so extensive, that to print the whole would be almost impossible, whilst, even if it were practicable, a great part are, comparatively speaking, both useless and uninteresting. All then which can be published is a selection of the most valuable; and it is to the fact that a selection is to be made that our comments refer. We are not likely'to be contradicted by those who are capable of judging, when we assert, that to select the most important historical documents from a mass, one hundredth part of the extent of that in the State Paper Office, demands a combination of qualities which we fearlessly say is not possessed by one of the members of the Commission, or by the whole body. It requires, first, a profound knowledge of the history of the extensive period which the documents embrace; not merely of the principal events, but of the agency by which they were accomplished, and of the biography, we had almost said even of the genealogy, of all the leading and inferior personages of the times : secondly, a perfect acquaintance with all similar papers which have been published, and which the Commissioners will, perhaps, be surprised to hear, are so numerous, that they not only fill upwards of two hundred volumes, but that it would be almost impossible to make a correct catalogue of them: thirdly, time, industry, and research, which

neither the Commissioners nor its Secretary, for he too has other duties to perform, can possibly devote to the subject.

To be aware of what is new to the world, a knowledge is necessary of what has already been given to it; and though we are far from thinking that any man in existence possesses all the information to which we have alluded, seven persons could not have been selected to whom literary men are more unwilling to ascribe it, than to the Commissioners and their officers. It is an anomaly confined to England to appoint persons to perform a literary undertaking who are wholly unknown to literary fame, and unaccustomed to literary labours. With the same zeal for learning which has ever distinguished his present Majesty, the moment he was aware of the existence of important historical documents, he commanded them to be published ; leaving it, of course, to others to select the persons who should carry those commands into execution : and who have been chosen for the purpose? The best historians, the most intelligent antiquaries, the most eminent biographers, men the most distinguished by their works on similar subjects, or famous for their historical researches ? No. But, a foreigner would ask, if the Commission is not wholly formed of such men-if statesmen and other official personages are included-does it not contain many literary characters? The answer again is, No. Surely, however, he would observe, the individuals actually intrusted to make the selections and to edite the work are men of high literary reputation, and more particularly celebrated for their historical investigations? The answer is again, No: there is but one person connected with the Commission who is at all known as a literary man ; and however eminent he may be as a reviewer and a poet, he is, we believe, new to historical inquiries. Nor is this all. If the Commissioners were as well qualified by their acquirements as we take the liberty of thinking they are deficient, what time have they for the performance of the task they have undertaken? At the moment the Commission was issued, every one of them had far higher duties to engage his attention ; and will any person believe that the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the President of the Board of Control, the Under Secretary of State, or the Secretary of the Admiralty, can find time, even had they the necessary information and disposition so to do, to read through piles of dusty letters, in a manuscript scarcely legible? The idea of their undergoing such drudgery is ridiculous : and to whom then are we to look for the publication of these documents, in a manner creditable to the country, and worthy of the expense which will attend it? Is it to the secretary? We speak of that gentleman with the respect which his long services, his zeal, and his merits deserve : by his indefatigable though ill

« 이전계속 »