The Old Cause: Three Biographical Studies in Whiggism

The Old Cause: Three Biographical Studies in Whiggism

The Old Cause: Three Biographical Studies in Whiggism

The Old Cause: Three Biographical Studies in Whiggism

Excerpt

This book began as an attempt to trace, through the medium of biography, the development of the idea of a constitutional opposition: an idea which is as familiar to the modern western mind as it is strange for other minds and ages. The existence of such an opposition, competing for the public favour, is, indeed, often taken as the hallmark of what we are accustomed to describe as a democracy.

I soon found out that the idea of a constitutional opposition was rooted in the political era which is associated with the word 'whig', and I was compelled, while adhering to my original biographical plan, to explain what I considered that word meant in relation to the men whose careers I proposed to deal with; or rather, the transmutations of meaning it went through.

The three sides of Wharton, Dodington and Charles Fox, though self-contained, are therefore meant to be read in series. I know that broad sweeps of time are not in fashion in serious historical writing, but it is only, I think, by extension in time, that the subtle changes in temper and the significance of the same old words, the gradual accretion and alteration of habit, can be discerned. I hope also that by presenting a series of portraits against a changing background, rather than a group against the same scene, something of the seamless continuity of history will be conveyed. Centuries and epochal events, the mapping of 'periods', convenient as they are, interfere with our view of the continuum in which generations rise and fall. As men of each generation move towards fame and power they find established there men of their fathers' generation, who linger on. The new use, perhaps, the same words, but they do not always mean the same things by them, and concealed under a sameness of terminology very different views may be expressed. To help the reader with the long period through which the three generations here dealt with moved, and convey something of the way generations rise and break, I have inserted a chronological table.

I am only too well aware of the inadequacy of these three studies . . .

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