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The literary work which survives a century has uncommon merit. Time has set the seal of approval upon it. It has passed its probation and entered the ages. A century has just closed upon the work of Junius. The causes which produced it, either in act or person, have long since passed away. The foolish king, the corrupt minister, and the prostituted legislature are forgotten, or only recalled to be despised; but the work of Junius, startling in thought, daring in design, bristling with satire, a consuming fire to those he attacked, remains to be admired for its principles, and to be studied for its beauty and strength.
The times in which Junius wrote were big with events. The Seven Years' War had just closed with shining victories to Prussia and England. Frederic, with an unimpaired nation and a permanent peace, it left with a good heart and much personal glory; but George III., with India and America in his hands, with the plunder of a great conquest to distribute to a greedy and licentious court, it left pious, but simple. Great wars disturb the masses. They awaken them
from the plodding, dull routine of physical labor, and,
of revolutions. The war of ideas was waged against priestcraft, and skepticism was the result. Voltaire had struck fable from history with the pen of criticism, and a scientific method here dawned upon history. Rousseau's democracy had entered the hearts of the down-trodden in France, and, a wandering exile, he had spread the contagion in England. George Berkeley, the Irish idealist, had just died, and the Scotch Thomas Reid arose with the weapon of common sense to test the metaphysician's ideas. Common Sense
in the strictest sense, revolutionary, and, under the tyranny of king, lords, and commons, meant war. It was not a phrase without meaning, but a principle proclaimed, and it passed more readily into the understanding of the common people because conveyed in common speech. When Reid said, “I despise philosophy, and renounce its guidance; let my soul dwell in common sense,” he illuminated all Britain and America. The philosophy of common sense entered the professor's chair, invaded the pulpit, and, having passed thence into the humblest cottage, soon took a higher range—it went immediately up and knocked at the king's gate. It would be false to say it found admittance there. It was only because there had
been a new world opened as an asylum for the oppressed of every land, that it did not sweep kings and monarchs from all the high places in Europe.
At this time, too, Mr. Pitt, the great commoner, the friend of common sense and English liberty, in his old age, war-worn and sick, had compromised with his vanity for a title. In his great fall from Pitt to Chatham, from the people to a peerage, he gained nothing but lost his good name. He exchanged worth for a bauble, and a noble respect for the contempt of nobles and the sorrows of the people. Mr. Pitt had departed, Lord Chatham was passing away; and in any assault by a trafficking ministry and corrupt legislature upon the people's rights, there was no one left to bend the bow at the gates.
To tax the colonies became the settled plan of king, ministers, and parliament. The tax was easily imposed, but could not be enforced. Freedom had long before been driven to America, and, in a line of direct descent, her blood had been transmitted from mother to son. The true sons of freedom now stood shoulder to shoulder, and, looking forward to independence, claimed to have rights as men, which king and lords would not concede to subjects. The Stamp Act was passed and repealed, and a Test Act substituted. England refused to compel the colonies to give up their money without their consent, but menaced them, and consoled herself with these words: “The king in parliament hath full power to bind the colonies in all things whatsoever.” Having surrendered the fact, she indulged in declamation, and the world laughed at her folly. Like a fretful and stupid mother demanding a favor of her son grown
to manhood, and, being refused, persists in scolding and shaking the fist at him, as if he still wore a baby's frock.
At this juncture Junius wrote his LETTERS. The circumstances called him forth. He was a child of fate. He spoke to the greatest personages, assaulted the strongest power, and advocated the rights of man before the highest tribunal then acknowledged on earth. This he could not do openly, and what he said came as with the power of a hidden god. There is no evidence that Junius ever revealed himself. “I am the sole depository of my own secret, and it shall perish with me." This he said and religiously kept. But his was the age which demanded it. He also said: “Whenever Junius appears, he must encounter a host of enemies.” One hundred years have passed since he said this, but this "host" is less to be feared now than when he wrote. No one now can injure him, and there are few who would assault his grave. It is time to unmask Junius, and though still to be hated, I will reveal the enemy of kings and the friend of man. The reforms he advocated for England are partly accomplished, and the principles he taught, if not adopted there, have been established in America. He left no child to bear his name, but he was the father of a nation. The unimpaired inheritance was his thoughts and principies; these he transmitted, not alone to this nation, but to the world—for the worlu was his country.