Classic Podium: The cause of a civilised Europe
Saturday 13 February 1999
in Liverpool by George Canning, the former
foreign secretary, on
Britain's mission to rid Europe of despotism
(10 January 1814)
WE BEHOLD a country inferior in population to most of her continental neighbours, but multiplying her faculties and resources by her own activity and enterprise, by the vigour of her constitution, and by the good sense of her people; we behold her, after standing up against a formidable foe throughout a contest, in the course of which every one of her allies, and at times all of them together, have fainted and failed - nay, have been driven to combine with the enemy against her - we behold her, at this moment, rallying the nations of Europe to one point, and leading them to decisive victory.
If such a picture were the bright vision of speculative philosophy, if it were presented in the page of history of ancient times, it would stir and warm the heart. But, gentlemen, this country is our own; and what must be the feelings which arise, on such a review, in the bosom of every son of that country?
One of the most delightful poets of this country, in describing the various proportions of natural blessings and advantages dispensed by Providence to the various nations of Europe, turns from the luxuriant plains and cloudless skies of Italy to the rugged mountains of Switzerland, and inquires whether there also, in those barren and stormy regions, the "patriot passion" is found equally imprinted on the heart?
He decides the question truly in the affirmative; and he says of the inhabitant of those bleak wilds:
"Dear is that shed to which his soul
And dear that hill which lifts him to
And, as a child, when scaring sounds
Clings close and closer to the
So the loud torrent and the whirl-
But bind him to his native moun-
What Goldsmith thus beautifully applied to the physical varieties of soil and climate has been found no less true with respect to political institutions. A sober desire of improvement, a rational endeavour to redress error, and to correct imperfection in the political frame of human society, are not only natural, but laudable in man.
Can any man now look back upon the trial which we have gone through, and maintain that, at any period during the last 20 years, the plan of insulated policy could have been adopted, without having in the event, at this day, prostrated this England at the foot of a conqueror? Great, indeed, has been the call upon our exertions; great, indeed, has been the drain upon our resources; long and wearisome has the struggle been; and late is the moment at which peace is finally brought within our reach.
But even though the difficulties of the contest may have been enhanced, and its duration protracted by it, yet is there any man who seriously doubts whether the having associated our destinies with the destinies of other nations be or be not that which, under the blessing of Providence, has eventually secured the safety of all?
For myself, gentlemen, while I rejoice in your returning prosperity, I rejoice also that our connection began under auspices so much less favourable; that we had an opportunity of knowing each other's minds, in times when the minds of men are brought to the proof - in times of trial and difficulty.
I had the satisfaction of avowing to you, and you the candour and magnanimity to approve, the principles and opinions by which my public conduct has uniformly been guided.
I thought, and I said, at the time of our first meeting, that the cause of England and of civilised Europe must be ultimately triumphant, if we but preserved our spirit untainted and our constancy unshaken. Such an assertion was, at that time, the object of ridicule with many persons: a single year has elapsed, and it is now the voice of the whole world.
Gentlemen, we may, therefore, confidently indulge the hope that our opinions will continue to run in unison; that our concurrence will continue to be as cordial as it has hitherto been, if unhappily any new occasion of difficulty or embarrassment should hereafter arise.
At the present moment, I am sure, we are equally desirous to bury the recollection of all our differences with others in that general feeling of exultation in which all opinions happily combine.
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