Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Colloquies on Society by Robert Southey

Part 2 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

uniform prosperity and advancement. The morals of the country
recovered from the contagion which Charles II. imported from France,
and for which Puritanism had prepared the people. Visitations of
pestilence were suspended. Sectarians enjoyed full toleration, and
were contented. The Church proved itself worthy of the victory
which it had obtained. The Constitution, after one great but short
struggle, was well balanced and defined; and if the progress of art,
science, and literature was not brilliant, it was steady, and the
way for a brighter career was prepared.

Sir Thomas More.--The way was prepared meantime for evil as well as
for good. You were retrograde in sound policy, sound philosophy and
sound learning. Our business at present is wholly with the first.
Because your policy, defective as it was at the best, had been
retrograde, discoveries in physics, and advances in mechanical
science which would have produced nothing but good in Utopia, became
as injurious to the weal of the nation as they were instrumental to
its wealth. But such had your system imperceptibly become, and such
were your statesmen, that the wealth of nations was considered as
the sole measure of their prosperity.

Montesinos.--In feudal ages the object of those monarchs who had any
determinate object in view was either to extend their dominions by
conquest from their neighbours, or to increase their authority at
home by breaking the power of a turbulent nobility. In commercial
ages the great and sole object of government, when not engaged in
war, was to augment its revenues, for the purpose of supporting the
charges which former wars had induced, or which the apprehension of
fresh ones rendered necessary. And thus it has been, that of the
two main ends of government, which are the security of the subjects
and the improvement of the nation, the latter has never been
seriously attempted, scarcely indeed taken into consideration; and
the former imperfectly attained.

Sir Thomas More.--Fail not, however, I entreat you, to bear in mind
that this has not been the fault of your rulers at any time. It has
been their misfortune--an original sin in the constitution of the
society wherein they were born. Circumstances which they did not
make and could not control have impelled them onward in ways which
neither for themselves nor the nation were ways of pleasantness and

Montesinos.--There is one beautiful exception--Edward VI.

"That blessed Prince whose saintly name might move
The understanding heart to tears of reverent love."

He would have struck into the right course.

Sir Thomas More.--You have a Catholic feeling concerning saints,
Montesinos, though you look for them in the Protestant calendar.
Edward deserves to be remembered with that feeling. But had his
life been prolonged to the full age of man it would not have been in
his power to remedy the evil which had been done in his father's
reign and during his own minority. To have effected that would have
required a strength and obduracy of character incompatible with his
meek and innocent nature. In intellect and attainments he kept pace
with his age, a more stirring and intellectual one than any which
had gone before it: but in the wisdom of the heart he was far
beyond that age, or indeed any that has succeeded it. It cannot be
said of him as of Henry of Windsor, that he was fitter for a
cloister than a throne, but he was fitter for a heavenly crown than
a terrestrial one. This country was not worthy of him!--scarcely
this earth!

Montesinos.--There is a homely verse common in village churchyards,
the truth of which has been felt by many a heart, as some
consolation in its keenest afflictions:-

"God calls them first whom He loves best."

But surely no prince ever more sedulously employed himself to learn
his office. His views in some respects were not in accord with the
more enlarged principles of trade, which experience has taught us.
But on the other hand he judged rightly what "the medicines were by
which the sores of the commonwealth might be healed." His
prescriptions are as applicable now as they were then, and in most
points as needful: they were "good education, good example, good
laws, and the just execution of those laws: punishing the vagabond
and idle, encouraging the good, ordering well the customers, and
engendering friendship in all parts of the commonwealth." In these,
and more especially in the first of these, he hoped and purposed to
have "shown his device." But it was not permitted. Nevertheless,
he has his reward. It has been more wittily than charitably said
that Hell is paved with good intentions: they have their place in
Heaven also. Evil thoughts and desires are justly accounted to us
for sin; assuredly therefore the sincere goodwill will be accounted
for the deed, when means and opportunity have been wanting to bring
it to effect. There are feelings and purposes as well as "thoughts,

- whose very sweetness yieldeth proof
That they were born for immortality."

Sir Thomas More.--Those great legislative measures whereby the
character of a nation is changed and stamped are more practicable in
a barbarous age than in one so far advanced as that of the Tudors;
under a despotic government, than under a free one; and among an
ignorant, rather than inquiring people. Obedience is then either
yielded to a power which is too strong to be resisted, or willingly
given to the acknowledged superiority of some commanding mind,
carrying with it, as in such ages it does, an appearance of
divinity. Our incomparable Alfred was a prince in many respects
favourably circumstanced for accomplishing a great work like this,
if his victory over the Danes had been so complete as to have
secured the country against any further evils from that tremendous
enemy. And had England remained free from the scourge of their
invasion under his successors, it is more than likely that his
institutions would at this day have been the groundwork of your

Montesinos.--If you allude to that part of the Saxon law which
required that all the people should be placed under borh, I must
observe that even those writers who regard the name of Alfred with
the greatest reverence always condemn this part of his system of

Sir Thomas More.--It is a question of degree. The just medium
between too much superintendence and too little: the mystery
whereby the free will of the subject is preserved, while it is
directed by the fore purpose of the State (which is the secret of
true polity), is yet to be found out. But this is certain, that
whatever be the origin of government, its duties are patriarchal,
that is to say, parental: superintendence is one of those duties,
and is capable of being exercised to any extent by delegation and

Montesinos.--The Madras system, my excellent friend Dr. Bell would
exclaim if he were here. That which, as he says, gives in a school
to the master, the hundred eyes of Argus, and the hundred hands of
Briareus, might in a state give omnipresence to law, and omnipotence
to order. This is indeed the fair ideal of a commonwealth.

Sir Thomas More.--And it was this at which Alfred aimed. His means
were violent, because the age was barbarous. Experience would have
shown wherein they required amendment, and as manners improved the
laws would have been softened with them. But they disappeared
altogether during the years of internal warfare and turbulence which
ensued. The feudal order which was established with the Norman
conquest, or at least methodised after it, was in this part of its
scheme less complete: still it had the same bearing. When that
also went to decay, municipal police did not supply its place.
Church discipline then fell into disuse; clerical influence was
lost; and the consequence now is, that in a country where one part
of the community enjoys the highest advantages of civilisation with
which any people upon this globe have ever in any age been favoured,
there is among the lower classes a mass of ignorance, vice, and
wretchedness, which no generous heart can contemplate without grief,
and which, when the other signs of the times are considered, may
reasonably excite alarm for the fabric of society that rests upon
such a base. It resembles the tower in your own vision, its
beautiful summit elevated above all other buildings, the foundations
placed upon the sand, and mouldering.


"Rising so high, and built so insecure,
Ill may such perishable work endure!"

You will not, I hope, come to that conclusion! You will not, I
hope, say with the evil prophet -

"The fabric of her power is undermined;
The Earthquake underneath it will have way,
And all that glorious structure, as the wind
Scatters a summer cloud, be swept away!"

Sir Thomas More.--Look at the populace of London, and ask yourself
what security there is that the same blind fury which broke out in
your childhood against the Roman Catholics may not be excited
against the government, in one of those opportunities which accident
is perpetually offering to the desperate villains whom your laws
serve rather to protect than to punish!

Montesinos.--It is an observation of Mercier's, that despotism loves
large cities. The remark was made with reference to Paris only a
little while before the French Revolution! But even if he had
looked no farther than the history of his own country and of that
very metropolis, he might have found sufficient proof that
insubordination and anarchy like them quite as well.

Sir Thomas More.--London is the heart of your commercial system, but
it is also the hot-bed of corruption. It is at once the centre of
wealth and the sink of misery; the seat of intellect and empire:
and yet a wilderness wherein they, who live like wild beasts upon
their fellow-creatures, find prey and cover. Other wild beasts have
long since been extirpated: even in the wilds of Scotland, and of
barbarous, or worse than barbarous Ireland, the wolf is no longer to
be found; a degree of civilisation this to which no other country
has attained. Man, and man alone, is permitted to run wild. You
plough your fields and harrow them; you have your scarifiers to make
the ground clean; and if after all this weeds should spring up, the
careful cultivator roots them out by hand. But ignorance and misery
and vice are allowed to grow, and blossom, and seed, not on the
waste alone, but in the very garden and pleasure-ground of society
and civilisation. Old Thomas Tusser's coarse remedy is the only one
which legislators have yet thought of applying.

Montesinos.--What remedy is that?

Sir Thomas More.--'Twas the husbandman's practice in his days and

"Where plots full of nettles annoyeth the eye,
Sow hempseed among them, and nettles will die."

Montesinos.--The use of hemp indeed has not been spared. But with
so little avail has it been used, or rather to such ill effect, that
every public execution, instead of deterring villains from guilt,
serves only to afford them opportunity for it. Perhaps the very
risk of the gallows operates upon many a man among the inducements
to commit the crime whereto he is tempted; for with your true
gamester the excitement seems to be in proportion to the value of
the stake. Yet I hold as little with the humanity-mongers, who deny
the necessity and lawfulness of inflicting capital punishment in any
case, as with the shallow moralists, who exclaim against vindictive
justice, when punishment would cease to be just, if it were not

Sir Thomas More.--And yet the inefficacious punishment of guilt is
less to be deplored and less to be condemned than the total omission
of all means for preventing it. Many thousands in your metropolis
rise every morning without knowing how they are to subsist during
the day, or many of them where they are to lay their heads at night.
All men, even the vicious themselves, know that wickedness leads to
misery; but many, even among the good and the wise, have yet to
learn that misery is almost as often the cause of wickedness.

Montesinos.--There are many who know this, but believe that it is
not in the power of human institutions to prevent this misery. They
see the effect, but regard the causes as inseparable from the
condition of human nature.

Sir Thomas More.--As surely as God is good, so surely there is no
such thing as necessary evil. For by the religious mind sickness
and pain and death are not to be accounted evils. Moral evils are
of your own making, and undoubtedly the greater part of them may be
prevented; though it is only in Paraguay (the most imperfect of
Utopias) that any attempt at prevention has been carried into
effect. Deformities of mind, as of body, will sometimes occur.
Some voluntary castaways there will always be, whom no fostering
kindness and no parental care can preserve from self-destruction;
but if any are lost for want of care and culture, there is a sin of
omission in the society to which they belong.

Montesinos.--The practicability of forming such a system of
prevention may easily be allowed, where, as in Paraguay,
institutions are fore-planned, and not, as everywhere in Europe, the
slow and varying growth of circumstances. But to introduce it into
an old society, hic labor, hoc opus est! The Augean stable might
have been kept clean by ordinary labour, if from the first the filth
had been removed every day; when it had accumulated for years, it
became a task for Hercules to cleanse it. Alas, the age of heroes
and demigods is over!

Sir Thomas More.--There lies your error! As no general will ever
defeat an enemy whom he believes to be invincible, so no difficulty
can be overcome by those who fancy themselves unable to overcome it.
Statesmen in this point are, like physicians, afraid, lest their own
reputation should suffer, to try new remedies in cases where the old
routine of practice is known and proved to be ineffectual. Ask
yourself whether the wretched creatures of whom we are discoursing
are not abandoned to their fate without the highest attempt to
rescue them from it? The utmost which your laws profess is, that
under their administration no human being shall perish for want:
this is all! To effect this you draw from the wealthy, the
industrious, and the frugal, a revenue exceeding tenfold the whole
expenses of government under Charles I., and yet even with this
enormous expenditure upon the poor it is not effected. I say
nothing of those who perish for want of sufficient food and
necessary comforts, the victims of slow suffering and obscure
disease; nor of those who, having crept to some brick-kiln at night,
in hope of preserving life by its warmth, are found there dead in
the morning. Not a winter passes in which some poor wretch does not
actually die of cold and hunger in the streets of London! With all
your public and private eleemosynary establishments, with your eight
million of poor-rates, with your numerous benevolent associations,
and with a spirit of charity in individuals which keeps pace with
the wealth of the richest nation in the world, these things happen,
to the disgrace of the age and country, and to the opprobrium of
humanity, for want of police and order! You are silent!

Montesinos.--Some shocking examples occurred to me. The one of a
poor Savoyard boy with his monkey starved to death in St. James's
Park. The other, which is, if that be possible, a still more
disgraceful case, is recorded incidentally in Rees's Cyclopaedia
under the word "monster." It is only in a huge overgrown city that
such cases could possibly occur.

Sir Thomas More.--The extent of a metropolis ought to produce no
such consequences. Whatever be the size of a bee-hive or an ant-
hill, the same perfect order is observed in it.

Montesinos.--That is because bees and ants act under the guidance of
unerring instinct.

Sir Thomas More.--As if instinct were a superior faculty to reason!
But the statesman, as well as the sluggard, may be told to "go to
the ant and the bee, consider their ways and be wise!" It is for
reason to observe and profit by the examples which instinct affords

Montesinos.--A country modelled upon Apiarian laws would be a
strange Utopia! the bowstring would be used there as unmercifully as
it is in the seraglio, to say nothing of the summary mode of
bringing down the population to the means of subsistence. But this
is straying from the subject. The consequences of defective order
are indeed frightful, whether we regard the physical or the moral
evils which are produced

Sir Thomas More.--And not less frightful when the political evils
are contemplated. To the dangers of an oppressive and iniquitous
order, such, for example, as exists where negro slavery is
established, you are fully awake in England; but to those of
defective order among yourselves, though they are precisely of the
same nature, you are blind. And yet you have spirits among you who
are labouring day and night to stir up a bellum servile, an
insurrection like that of Wat Tyler, of the Jacquerie, and of the
peasants in Germany. There is no provocation for this, as there was
in all those dreadful convulsions of society: but there are misery
and ignorance and desperate wickedness to work upon, which the want
of order has produced. Think for a moment what London, nay, what
the whole kingdom would be, were your Catilines to succeed in
exciting as general an insurrection as that which was raised by one
madman in your own childhood! Imagine the infatuated and infuriated
wretches, whom not Spitalfields, St. Giles's, and Pimlico alone, but
all the lanes and alleys and cellars of the metropolis would pour
out--a frightful population, whose multitudes, when gathered
together, might almost exceed belief! The streets of London would
appear to teem with them, like the land of Egypt with its plague of
frogs: and the lava floods from a volcano would be less destructive
than the hordes whom your great cities and manufacturing districts
would vomit forth!

Montesinos.--Such an insane rebellion would speedily be crushed.

Sir Thomas More.--Perhaps so. But three days were enough for the
Fire of London. And be assured this would not pass away without
leaving in your records a memorial as durable and more dreadful.

Montesinos.--Is such an event to be apprehended?

Sir Thomas More.--Its possibility at least ought always to be borne
in mind. The French Revolution appeared much less possible when the
Assembly of Notables was convoked; and the people of France were
much less prepared for the career of horrors into which they were
presently hurried.


I was in my library, making room upon the shelves for some books
which had just arrived from New England, removing to a less
conspicuous station others which were of less value and in worse
dress, when Sir Thomas entered. You are employed, said he, to your
heart's content. Why, Montesinos, with these books, and the delight
you take in their constant society, what have you to covet or

Montesinos.--Nothing, except more books.

Sir Thomas More. -

"Crescit, indulgens sibi, dirus hydrops."

Montesinos.--Nay, nay, my ghostly monitor, this at least is no
diseased desire. If I covet more, it is for the want I feel and the
use which I should make of them. "Libraries," says my good old
friend George Dyer, a man as learned as he is benevolent, "libraries
are the wardrobes of literature, whence men, properly informed,
might bring forth something for ornament, much for curiosity, and
more for use." These books of mine, as you well know, are not drawn
up here for display, however much the pride of the eye may be
gratified in beholding them, they are on actual service. Whenever
they may be dispersed, there is not one among them that will ever be
more comfortably lodged, or more highly prized by its possessor; and
generations may pass away before some of them will again find a
reader. It is well that we do not moralise too much upon such

"For foresight is a melancholy gift,
Which bares the bald, and speeds the all-too-swift."
H. T.

But the dispersion of a library, whether in retrospect or in
anticipation, is always to me a melancholy thing.

Sir Thomas More.--How many such dispersions must have taken place to
have made it possible that these books should thus be brought
together here among the Cumberland mountains.

Montesinos.--Many, indeed; and in many instances most disastrous
ones. Not a few of these volumes have been cast up from the wreck
of the family or convent libraries during the late Revolution.
Yonder "Acta Sanctorum" belonged to the Capuchins, at Ghent. This
book of St. Bridget's Revelations, in which not only all the initial
letters are illuminated, but every capital throughout the volume was
coloured, came from the Carmelite Nunnery at Bruges. That copy of
Alain Chartier, from the Jesuits' College at Louvain; that Imago
Primi Saeculi Societatis, from their college at Ruremond. Here are
books from Colbert's library, here others from the Lamoignon one.
And here are two volumes of a work, not more rare than valuable for
its contents, divorced, unhappily, and it is to be feared for ever,
from the one which should stand between them; they were printed in a
convent at Manila, and brought from thence when that city was taken
by Sir William Draper; they have given me, perhaps, as many
pleasurable hours (passed in acquiring information which I could not
otherwise have obtained), as Sir William spent years of anxiety and
vexation in vainly soliciting the reward of his conquest.

About a score of the more out-of-the-way works in my possession
belonged to some unknown person, who seems carefully to have gleaned
the bookstalls a little before and after the year 1790. He marked
them with certain ciphers, always at the end of the volume. They
are in various languages, and I never found his mark in any book
that was not worth buying, or that I should not have bought without
that indication to induce me. All were in ragged condition, and
having been dispersed, upon the owner's death probably, as of no
value, to the stalls they had returned; and there I found this
portion of them just before my old haunts as a book-hunter in the
metropolis were disforested, to make room for the improvements
between Westminster and Oxford Road. I have endeavoured without
success to discover the name of their former possessor. He must
have been a remarkable man, and the whole of his collection, judging
of it by that part which has come into my hands, must have been
singularly curious. A book is the more valuable to me when I know
to whom it has belonged, and through what "scenes and changes" it
has passed.

Sir Thomas More.--You would have its history recorded in the fly-
leaf as carefully as the pedigree of a racehorse is preserved.

Montesinos.--I confess that I have much of that feeling in which the
superstition concerning relics has originated, and I am sorry when I
see the name of a former owner obliterated in a book, or the plate
of his arms defaced. Poor memorials though they be, yet they are
something saved for a while from oblivion, and I should be almost as
unwilling to destroy them as to efface the Hic jacet of a tombstone.
There may be sometimes a pleasure in recognising them, sometimes a
salutary sadness.

Yonder Chronicle of King D. Manoel, by Damiam de Goes, and yonder
"General History of Spain," by Esteban de Garibay, are signed by
their respective authors. The minds of these laborious and useful
scholars are in their works, but you are brought into a more
personal relation with them when you see the page upon which you
know that their eyes have rested, and the very characters which
their hands have traced. This copy of Casaubon's Epistles was sent
to me from Florence by Walter Landor. He had perused it carefully,
and to that perusal we are indebted for one of the most pleasing of
his Conversations; these letters had carried him in spirit to the
age of their writer, and shown James I. to him in the light wherein
James was regarded by contemporary scholars, and under the
impression thus produced Landor has written of him in his happiest
mood, calmly, philosophically, feelingly, and with no more of
favourable leaning than justice will always manifest when justice is
in good humour and in charity with all men. The book came from the
palace library at Milan, how or when abstracted I know not, but this
beautiful dialogue would never have been written had it remained
there in its place upon the shelf, for the worms to finish the work
which they had begun. Isaac Casaubon must be in your society, Sir
Thomas, for where Erasmus is you will be, and there also Casaubon
will have his place among the wise and the good. Tell him, I pray
you, that due honour has in these days been rendered to his name by
one who as a scholar is qualified to appreciate his merits, and
whose writings will be more durable than monuments of brass or

Sir Thomas More.--Is there no message to him from Walter Landor's

Montesinos.--Say to him, since you encourage me to such boldness,
that his letters could scarcely have been perused with deeper
interest by the persons to whom they were addressed than they have
been by one, at the foot of Skiddaw, who is never more contentedly
employed than when learning from the living minds of other ages, one
who would gladly have this expression of respect and gratitude
conveyed to him, and who trusts that when his course is finished
here he shall see him face to face.

Here is a book with which Lauderdale amused himself, when Cromwell
kept him prisoner in Windsor Castle. He has recorded his state of
mind during that imprisonment by inscribing in it, with his name,
and the dates of time and place, the Latin word Durate, and the
Greek [Greek text which cannot be reproduced]. Here is a memorial
of a different kind inscribed in this "Rule of Penance of St.
Francis, as it in ordered for religious women." "I beseech my deare
mother humbly to accept of this exposition of our holy rule, the
better to conceive what your poor child ought to be, who daly beges
your blessing. Constantia Francisco." And here in the
Apophthegmata, collected by Conrad Lycosthenes, and published after
drastic expurgation by the Jesuits as a commonplace book, some
Portuguese has entered a hearty vow that he would never part with
the book, nor lend it to any one. Very different was the
disposition of my poor old Lisbon acquaintance, the Abbe, who, after
the old humaner form, wrote in all his books (and he had a rare
collection) Ex libris Francisci Garnier, et amicorum.

Sir Thomas More.--How peaceably they stand together--Papists and
Protestants side by side.

Montesinos.--Their very dust reposes not more quietly in the
cemetery. Ancient and modern, Jew and Gentile, Mahommedan and
Crusader, French and English, Spaniards and Portuguese, Dutch and
Brazilians, fighting their own battles, silently now, upon the same
shelf: Fernam Lopez and Pedro de Ayala; John de Laet and Barlaeus,
with the historians of Joam Fernandes Vieira; Foxe's Martyrs and the
Three Conversions of Father Parsons; Cranmer and Stephen Gardiner;
Dominican and Franciscan; Jesuit and Philosophe (equally misnamed);
Churchmen and Sectarians; Round-heads and Cavaliers

"Here are God's conduits, grave divines; and here
Is Nature's secretary, the philosopher:
And wily statesmen, which teach how to tie
The sinews of a city's mystic body;
Here gathering chroniclers; and by them stand
Giddy fantastic poets of each land."--DONNE.

Here I possess these gathered treasures of time, the harvest of so
many generations, laid up in my garners: and when I go to the
window there is the lake, and the circle of the mountains, and the
illimitable sky.

Sir Thomas More.--"Felicemque voco pariter studiique locique!"

Montesinos.--"--meritoque probas artesque locumque."

The simile of the bees,

"Sic vos non vobis mellificatis apes,"

has often been applied to men who have made literature their
profession; and they among them to whom worldly wealth and worldly
honours are objects of ambition, may have reason enough to
acknowledge its applicability. But it will bear a happier
application and with equal fitness: for, for whom is the purest
honey hoarded that the bees of this world elaborate, if it be not
for the man of letters? The exploits of the kings and heroes of
old, serve now to fill story-books for his amusement and
instruction. It was to delight his leisure and call forth his
admiration that Homer sung and Alexander conquered. It is to
gratify his curiosity that adventurers have traversed deserts and
savage countries, and navigators have explored the seas from pole to
pole. The revolutions of the planet which he inhabits are but
matters for his speculation; and the deluges and conflagrations
which it has undergone, problems to exercise his philosophy, or
fancy. He is the inheritor of whatever has been discovered by
persevering labour, or created by inventive genius. The wise of all
ages have heaped up a treasure for him, which rust doth not corrupt,
and which thieves cannot break through and steal. I must leave out
the moth, for even in this climate care is required against its

Sir Thomas More.--Yet, Montesinos, how often does the worm-eaten
volume outlast the reputation of the worm-eaten author!

Montesinos.--Of the living one also; for many there are of whom it
may be said, in the words of Vida, that -

Saepe suis superant monumentis; illaudatique
Extremum ante diem faetus flevere caducos,
Viventesque suae viderunt funera famae."

Some literary reputations die in the birth; a few are nibbled to
death by critics, but they are weakly ones that perish thus, such
only as must otherwise soon have come to a natural death. Somewhat
more numerous are those which are overfed with praise, and die of
the surfeit. Brisk reputations, indeed, are like bottled twopenny,
or pop "they sparkle, are exhaled, and fly"--not to heaven, but to
the Limbo. To live among books, is in this respect like living
among the tombs; you have in them speaking remembrancers of
mortality. "Behold this also is vanity!"

Sir Thomas More.--Has it proved to you "vexation of spirit" also?

Montesinos.--Oh, no! for never can any man's life have been passed
more in accord with his own inclinations, nor more answerably to his
own desires. Excepting that peace which, through God's infinite
mercy, is derived from a higher source, it is to literature, humanly
speaking, that I am beholden, not only for the means of subsistence,
but for every blessing which I enjoy; health of mind and activity of
mind, contentment, cheerfulness, continual employment, and therewith
continual pleasure. Sua vissima vita indies, sentire se fieri
meliorem; and this as Bacon has said, and Clarendon repeated, is the
benefit that a studious man enjoys in retirement. To the studies
which I have faithfully pursued I am indebted for friends with whom,
hereafter, it will be deemed an honour to have lived in friendship;
and as for the enemies which they have procured to me in sufficient
numbers, happily I am not of the thin-skinned race: they might as
well fire small-shot at a rhinoceros, as direct their attacks upon
me. In omnibus requiem quaesivi, said Thomas a Kempis, sed non
inveni nisi in angulis et libellis. I too have found repose where
he did, in books and retirement, but it was there alone I sought it:
to these my nature, under the direction of a merciful Providence,
led me betimes, and the world can offer nothing which should tempt
me from them.

Sir Thomas More.--If wisdom were to be found in the multitude of
books, what a progress must this nation have made in it since my
head was cut off! A man in my days might offer to dispute de omni
scibile, and in accepting the challenge I, as a young man, was not
guilty of any extraordinary presumption, for all which books could
teach was, at that time, within the compass of a diligent and ardent
student. Even then we had difficulties to contend with which were
unknown to the ancients. The curse of Babel fell lightly upon them.
The Greeks despised other nations too much to think of acquiring
their languages for the love of knowledge, and the Romans contented
themselves with learning only the Greek. But tongues which, in my
lifetime, were hardly formed, have since been refined and
cultivated, and are become fertile in authors; and others, the very
names of which were then unknown in Europe, have been discovered and
mastered by European scholars, and have been found rich in
literature. The circle of knowledge has thus widened in every
generation; and you cannot now touch the circumference of what might
formerly have been clasped.

Montesinos.--We are fortunate, methinks, who live in an age when
books are accessible and numerous, and yet not so multiplied, as to
render a competent, not to say thorough, acquaintance with any one
branch of literature, impossible. He has it yet in his power to
know much, who can be contented to remain in ignorance of more, and
to say with Scaliger, non sum ex illis gloriosulis qui nihil

Sir Thomas More.--If one of the most learned men whom the world has
ever seen felt it becoming in him to say this two centuries ago, how
infinitely smaller in these days must the share of learning which
the most indefatigable student can hope to attain, be in proportion
to what he must wish to learn! The sciences are simplified as they
are improved; old rubbish and demolished fabrics serve there to make
a foundation for new scaffolding, and more enduring superstructures;
and every discoverer in physics bequeaths to those who follow him
greater advantages than he possessed at the commencement of his
labours. The reverse of this is felt in all the higher branches of
literature. You have to acquire what the learned of the last age
acquired, and in addition to it, what they themselves have added to
the stock of learning. Thus the task is greater in every succeeding
generation, and in a very few more it must become manifestly

Montesinos. Pope Ganganelli is said to have expressed a whimsical
opinion that all the books in the world might be reduced to six
thousand volumes in folio--by epitomising, expurgating, and
destroying whatever the chosen and plenipotential committee of
literature should in their wisdom think proper to condemn. It is
some consolation to know that no Pope, or Nero, or Bonaparte,
however great their power, can ever think such a scheme sufficiently
within the bounds of possibility for them to dream of attempting it;
otherwise the will would not be wanting. The evil which you
anticipate is already perceptible in its effects. Well would it be
if men were as moderate in their desire of wealth, as those who
enter the ranks of literature, and lay claim to distinction there,
are in their desire of knowledge! A slender capital suffices to
begin with, upon the strength of which they claim credit, and obtain
it as readily as their fellow adventurers in trade. If they succeed
in setting up a present reputation, their ambition extends no
further. The very vanity which finds its present food produces in
them a practical contempt for any fame beyond what they can live to
enjoy; and this sense of its insignificance to themselves is what
better minds hardly attain, even in their saddest wisdom, till this
world darkens upon them, and they feel that they are on the confines
of eternity. But every age has had its sciolists, and will continue
to have them; and in every age literature has also had, and will
continue to have its sincere and devoted followers, few in number,
but enough to trim the everlasting lamp. It is when sciolists
meddle with State affairs that they become the pests of a nation;
and this evil, for the reason which you have assigned, is more
likely to increase than to be diminished. In your days all extant
history lay within compassable bounds: it is a fearful thing to
consider now what length of time would be required to make studious
man as conversant with the history of Europe since those days, as he
ought to be, if he would be properly qualified for holding a place
in the councils of a kingdom. Men who take the course of public
life will not, nor can they be expected to, wait for this. Youth
and ardour, and ambition and impatience, are here in accord with
worldly prudence; if they would reach the goal for which they start,
they must begin the career betimes; and such among them as may be
conscious that their stock of knowledge is less than it ought to be
for such a profession, would not hesitate on that account to take an
active part in public affairs, because they have a more comfortable
consciousness that they are quite as well informed as the
contemporaries, with whom they shall have to act, or to contend.
The quantulum at which Oxenstern admired would be a large allowance
now. For any such person to suspect himself of deficiency would, in
this age of pretension, be a hopeful symptom; but should he
endeavour to supply it, he is like a mail-coach traveller, who is to
be conveyed over macadamised roads at the rate of nine miles an
hour, including stoppages, and must therefore take at his minuted
meals whatever food is readiest. He must get information for
immediate use, and with the smallest cost of time; and therefore it
is sought in abstracts and epitomes, which afford meagre food to the
intellect, though they take away the uneasy sense of inanition.
Tout abrege sur un bon livre est un sot abrege, says Montaigne; and
of all abridgments there are none by which a reader is liable, and
so likely, to be deceived as by epitomised histories.

Sir Thomas More.--Call to mind, I pray you, my foliophagous friend,
what was the extent of Michael Montaigne's library; and that if you
had passed a winter in his chateau you must, with that appetite of
yours, have but yourself upon short allowance there. Historical
knowledge is not the first thing needful for a statesman, nor the
second. And yet do not hastily conclude that I am about to
disparage its importance. A sailor might as well put to sea without
chart or compass as a minister venture to steer the ship of the
State without it. For as "the strong and strange varieties" in
human nature are repeated in every age, so "the thing which hath
been, it is that which shall be. Is there anything whereof it may
be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time which
was before us."

Montesinos.--"For things forepast are precedents to us,
Whereby we may things present now, discuss,"

as the old poet said who brought together a tragical collection of
precedents in the mirror of magistrates. This is what Lord Brooke

"the second light of government
Which stories yield, and no time can disseason:"

"the common standard of man's reason," he holds to be the first
light which the founders of a new state, or the governors of an old
one, ought to follow.

Sir Thomas More.--Rightly, for though the most sagacious author that
ever deduced maxims of policy from the experience of former ages has
said that the misgovernment of States, and the evils consequent
thereon, have arisen more from the neglect of that experience--that
is, from historical ignorance--than from any other cause, the sum
and substance of historical knowledge for practical purposes
consists in certain general principles; and he who understands those
principles, and has a due sense of their importance, has always, in
the darkest circumstances, a star in sight by which he may direct
his course surely.

Montesinos.--The British ministers who began and conducted the first
war against revolutionary France, were once reminded, in a memorable
speech, that if they had known, or knowing had borne in mind, three
maxims of Machiavelli, they would not have committed the errors
which cost this country so dearly. They would not have relied upon
bringing the war to a successful end by aid of a party among the
French: they would not have confided in the reports of emigrants;
and they would not have supposed that because the French finances
were in confusion, France was therefore incapable of carrying on war
with vigour and ability; men and not money being the sinews of war,
as Machiavelli had taught, and the revolutionary rulers and
Buonaparte after them had learnt. Each of these errors they
committed, though all were marked upon the chart!

Sir Thomas More.--Such maxims are like beacons on a dangerous shore,
not the less necessary, because the seaman may sometimes be deceived
by false lights, and sometimes mistaken in his distances; but the
possibility of being so misled will be borne in mind by the
cautious. Machiavelli is always sagacious, but the tree of
knowledge of which he had gathered grew not in Paradise; it had a
bitter root, and the fruit savours thereof, even to deadliness. He
believed men to be so malignant by nature that they always act
malevolently from choice, and never well except by compulsion, a
devilish doctrine, to be accounted for rather than excused by the
circumstances of his age and country. For he lived in a land where
intellect was highly cultivated, and morals thoroughly corrupted,
the Papal Church having by its doctrines, its practices, and its
example, made one part of the Italians heathenism and superstitious,
the other impious, and both wicked.

The rule of policy as well as of private morals is to be found in
the Gospel; and a religious sense of duty towards God and man is the
first thing needful in a statesman: herein he has an unerring guide
when knowledge fails him, and experience affords no light. This,
with a clear head and a single heart, will carry him through all
difficulties; and the just confidence which, having these, he will
then have in himself, will obtain for him the confidence of the
nation. In every nation, indeed, which is conscious of its
strength, the minister who takes the highest tone will invariably be
the most popular; let him uphold, even haughtily, the character of
his country, and the heart and voice of the people will be with him.
But haughtiness implies always something that is hollow: the tone
of a wise minister will be firm but calm. He will neither truckle
to his enemies in the vain hope of conciliating them by a specious
candour, which they at the same time flatter and despise; nor will
he stand aloof from his friends, lest he should be accused of
regarding them with partiality; and thus while he secures the
attachment of the one he will command the respect of the other. He
will not, like the Lacedemonians, think any measures honourable
which accord with his inclinations, and just if they promote his
views; but in all cases he will do that which is lawful and right,
holding this for a certain truth, that in politics the straight path
is the sure one! Such a minister will hope for the best, and expect
the best; by acting openly, steadily, and bravely, he will act
always for the best: and so acting, be the issue what it may, he
will never dishonour himself or his country, nor fall under the
"sharp judgment" of which they that are in "high places" are in

Montesinos.--I am pleased to hear you include hopefulness among the
needful qualifications.

Sir Thomas More.--It was a Jewish maxim that the spirit of prophecy
rests only upon eminent, happy, and cheerful men.

Montesinos.--A wise woman, by which I do not mean in vulgar parlance
one who pretends to prophecy, has a maxim to the same effect: Toma
este aviso, she says, guardate de aquel que no tiene esperanza de
bien! take care of him who hath no hope of good!

Sir Thomas More.--"Of whole heart cometh hope," says old Piers
Plowman. And these maxims are warranted by philosophy, divine and
human; by human wisdom, because he who hopes little will attempt
little--fear is "a betrayal of the succours which reason offereth,"
and in difficult times, pericula magna non nisi periculis depelli
solent; by religion, because the ways of providence are not so
changed under the dispensation of Grace from what they were under
the old law but that he who means well, and acts well, and is not
wanting to himself, may rightfully look for a blessing upon the
course which he pursues. The upright individual may rest his heal
in peace upon this hope; the upright minister who conducts the
affairs of a nation may trust in it; for as national sins bring
after them in sure consequence their merited punishment, so national
virtue, which is national wisdom, obtains in like manner its
temporal and visible reward.

Blessings and curses are before you, and which are to be your
portion depends upon the direction of public opinion. The march of
intellect is proceeding at quick time; and if its progress be not
accompanied by a corresponding improvement in morals and religion,
the faster it proceeds, with the more violence will you be hurried
down the road to ruin.

One of the first effects of printing was to make proud men look upon
learning as disgraced by being thus brought within reach of the
common people. Till that time learning, such as it was, had been
confined to courts and convents, the low birth of the clergy being
overlooked because they were privileged by their order. But when
laymen in humble life were enabled to procure books the pride of
aristocracy took an absurd course, insomuch that at one time it was
deemed derogatory for a nobleman if he could read or write. Even
scholars themselves complained that the reputation of learning, and
the respect due to it, and its rewards were lowered when it was
thrown open to all men; and it was seriously proposed to prohibit
the printing of any book that could be afforded for sale below the
price of three soldi. This base and invidious feeling was perhaps
never so directly avowed in other countries as in Italy, the land
where literature was first restored; and yet in this more liberal
island ignorance was for some generations considered to be a mark of
distinction, by which a man of gentle birth chose, not unfrequently,
to make it apparent that he was no more obliged to live by the toil
of his brain, than by the sweat of his brow. The same changes in
society which rendered it no longer possible for this class of men
to pass their lives in idleness have completely put an end to this
barbarous pride. It is as obsolete as the fashion of long finger-
nails, which in some parts of the East are still the distinctive
mark of those who labour not with their hands. All classes are now
brought within the reach of your current literature, that literature
which, like a moral atmosphere, is as it were the medium of
intellectual life, and on the quality of which, according as it may
be salubrious or noxious, the health of the public mind depends.
There is, if not a general desire for knowledge, a general
appearance of such a desire. Authors of all kinds have increased
and are increasing among you. Romancers -

Montesinos.--Some of whom attempt things which had hitherto been
unattempted yet in prose or rhyme, because among all the extravagant
intellects with which the world has teemed none were ever before so
utterly extravagant as to choose for themselves themes of such
revolting monstrosity.

Sir Thomas More.--Poets -

Montesinos. -

"Tanti Rome non ha preti, o dottori

Sir Thomas More.--Critics -

Montesinos.--More numerous yet; for this is a corps in which many
who are destined for better things engage, till they are ashamed of
the service; and a much greater number who endeavour to distinguish
themselves in higher walks of literature, and fail, take shelter in
it; as they cannot attain reputation themselves they endeavour to
prevent others from being more successful, and find in the
gratification of envy some recompense for disappointed vanity.

Sir Thomas More.--Philosophers -

Montesinos.--True and false; the philosophers and the philosophists;
some of the former so full, that it would require, as the rabbis say
of a certain pedigree in the Book of Chronicles, four hundred camel
loads of commentaries to expound the difficulties in their text;
others so empty, that nothing can approximate so nearly to the
notion of an infinitesimal quantity as their meaning.

Sir Thomas More.--With this multiplication of books, which in its
proportionate increase marvellously exceeds that of your growing
population, are you a wiser, a more intellectual, or more
imaginative people than when, as in my days, the man of learning,
while he sat at his desk, had his whole library within arm's-length?

Montesinos.--If we are not wiser, it must be because the means of
knowledge, which are now both abundant and accessible, are either
neglected or misused.

The sciences are not here to be considered: in these our progress
has been so great, that seeing the moral and religious improvement
of the nation has in no degree kept pace with it, you have
reasonably questioned whether we have not advanced in certain
branches, farther and faster than is conducive to, or perhaps
consistent with, the general good. But there can be no question
that great advancement has been made in many departments of
literature conducive to innocent recreation (which would be alone no
trifling good, even were it not, as it is, itself conducive to
health both of body and of mind), to sound knowledge, and to moral
and political improvement. There are now few portions of the
habitable earth which have not been explored, and with a zeal and
perseverance which had slept from the first age of maritime
discovery till it was revived under George III. in consequence of
this revival, and the awakened spirit of curiosity and enterprise,
every year adds to our ample store of books relating to the manners
of other nations, and the condition of men in states and stages of
society different to our own. And of such books we cannot have too
many; the idlest reader may find amusement in them of a more
satisfactory kind than he can gather from the novel of the day or
the criticism of the day; and there are few among them so entirely
worthless that the most studious man may not derive from them some
information for which he ought to be thankful. Some memorable
instances we have had in this generation of the absurdities and
errors, sometimes affecting seriously the public service and the
national character, which have arisen from the want of such
knowledge as by means of such books is now generally diffused.
Skates and warming-pans will not again be sent out as ventures to
Brazil. The Board of Admiralty will never again attempt to ruin an
enemy's port by sinking a stone-ship, to the great amusement of that
enemy, in a tide harbour. Nor will a cabinet minister think it
sufficient excuse for himself and his colleagues, to confess that
they were no better informed than other people, and had everything
to learn concerning the interior of a country into which they had
sent an army.

Sir Thomas More.--This is but a prospective benefit; and of a humble
kind, if it extend no further than to save you from any future
exposure of an ignorance which might deserve to be called
disgraceful. We profited more by our knowledge of other countries
in the age when

"Hops and turkeys, carp and beer,
Came into England all in one year."

Montesinos.--And yet in that age you profited slowly by the
commodities which the eastern and western parts of the world
afforded. Gold, pearls, and spices were your first imports. For
the honour of science and of humanity, medicinal plants were soon
sought for. But two centuries elapsed before tea and potatoes--the
most valuable products of the East and West--which have contributed
far more to the general good than all their spices and gems and
precious metals--came into common use; nor have they yet been
generally adopted on the Continent, while tobacco found its way to
Europe a hundred years earlier; and its filthy abuse, though here
happily less than in former times, prevails everywhere.

Sir Thomas More.--Pro pudor! There is a snuff-box on the
mantelpiece--and thou revilest tobacco!

Montesinos.--Distinguish, I pray you, gentle ghost! I condemn the
abuse of tobacco as filthy, implying in those words that it has its
allowable and proper use. To smoke, is, in certain circumstances, a
wholesome practice; it may be regarded with a moral complacency as
the poor man's luxury, and with liking by any one who follows a
lighted pipe in the open air. But whatever may be pleaded for its
soothing and intellectualising effects, the odour within doors of a
defunct pipe is such an abomination, that I join in anathematising
it with James, the best-natured of kings, and Joshua Sylvester, the
most voluble of poets.

Sir Thomas More.--Thou hast written verses praise of snuff!

Montesinos.--And if thy nose, sir Spirit, were anything more than
the ghost of an olfactor, I would offer it a propitiatory pinch,
that you might the more feelingly understand the merit of the said
verses, and admire them accordingly. But I am no more to be deemed
a snuff-taker because I carry a snuff-box when travelling, and keep
one at hand for occasional use, than I am to be reckoned a casuist
or a pupil of the Jesuits because the "Moral Philosophy" of Escobar
and the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius Loyola are on my
shelves. Thank Heaven, I bear about with me no habits which I
cannot lay aside as easily as my clothes.

The age is past in which travellers could add much to the
improvement, the comfort, or the embellishment of this country by
imparting anything which they have newly observed in foreign parts.
We have happily more to communicate now than to receive. Yet when I
tell you that since the commencement of the present century there
have been every year, upon an average, more than a hundred and fifty
plants which were previously unknown here introduced into the
nurseries and market-gardens about London, you will acknowledge that
in this branch at least, a constant desire is shown of enriching
ourselves with the produce of other hands.

Sir Thomas More.--Philosophers of old travelled to observe the
manners of men and study their institutions. I know not whether
they found more pleasure in the study, or derived more advantages
from it, than the adventurers reap who, in these latter times, have
crossed the seas and exposed themselves to dangers of every kind,
for the purpose of extending the catalogue of plants.

Montesinos.--Of all travels, those of the mere botanist are the
least instructive -

Sir Thomas More.--To any but botanists--but for them alone they are
written. Do not depreciate any pursuit which leads men to
contemplate the works of their Creator! The Linnean traveller who,
when you look over the pages of his journal, seems to you a mere
botanist, has in his pursuit, as you have in yours, an object that
occupies his time, and fills his mind, and satisfies his heart. It
is as innocent as yours, and as disinterested--perhaps more so,
because it is not so ambitious. Nor is the pleasure which he
partakes in investigating the structure of a plant less pure, or
less worthy, than what you derive from perusing the noblest
productions of human genius. You look at me as if you thought this
reprehension were undeserved!

Montesinos.--The eye, then, Sir Thomas, is proditorious, and I will
not gainsay its honest testimony: yet would I rather endeavour to
profit by the reprehension than seek to show that it was uncalled
for. If I know myself I am never prone to undervalue either the
advantages or acquirements which I do not possess. That knowledge
is said to be of all others the most difficult; whether it be the
most useful the Greeks themselves differ, for if one of their wise
men left the words [Greek text which cannot be reproduced] as his
maxim to posterity, a poet, who perhaps may have been not less
deserving of the title, has controverted it, and told us that for
the uses of the world it is more advantageous for us to understand
the character of others than to know ourselves.

Sir Thomas More.--Here lies the truth; he who best understands
himself is least likely to be deceived in others; you judge of
others by yourselves, and therefore measure them by an erroneous
standard whenever your autometry is false. This is one reason why
the empty critic is usually contumelious and flippant, the competent
one as generally equitable and humane.

Montesinos.--This justice I would render to the Linnean school, that
it produced our first devoted travellers; the race to which they
succeeded employed themselves chiefly in visiting museums and
cataloguing pictures, and now and then copying inscriptions; even in
their books notices are found for which they who follow them may be
thankful; and facts are sometimes, as if by accident, preserved, for
useful application. They went abroad to accomplish or to amuse
themselves--to improve their time, or to get rid of it; the
botanists travelled for the sake of their favourite science, and
many of them, in the prime of life, fell victims to their ardour in
the unwholesome climates to which they were led. Latterly we have
seen this ardour united with the highest genius, the most
comprehensive knowledge, and the rarest qualities of perseverance,
prudence, and enduring patience. This generation will not leave
behind it two names more entitled to the admiration of after ages
than Burckhardt and Humboldt. The former purchased this pre-
eminence at the cost of his life; the latter lives, and long may he
live to enjoy it.

Sir Thomas More.--This very important branch of literature can
scarcely be said to have existed in my time; the press was then too
much occupied in preserving such precious remains of antiquity as
could be rescued from destruction, and in matters which inflamed the
minds of men, as indeed they concerned their dearest and most
momentous interests. Moreover reviving literature took the natural
course of imitation, and the ancients had left nothing in this kind
to be imitated. Nothing therefore appeared in it, except the first
inestimable relations of the discoveries in the East and West, and
these belong rather to the department of history. As travels we had
only the chance notices which occurred in the Latin correspondence
of learned men when their letters found their way to the public.

Montesinos.--Precious remains these are, but all too few. The first
travellers whose journals or memoirs have been preserved were
ambassadors; then came the adventurer of whom you speak; and it is
remarkable that two centuries afterwards we should find men of the
same stamp among the buccaneers, who recorded in like manner with
faithful dilligence whatever they had opportunity of observing in
their wild and nefarious course of life.

Sir Thomas More.--You may deduce from thence two conclusions,
apparently contrarient, yet both warranted by the fact which you
have noticed. It may be presumed that men who, while engaged in
such an occupation, could thus meritoriously employ their leisure,
were rather compelled by disastrous circumstances to such a course
than engaged in it by inclination: that it was their misfortune
rather than their fault if they were not the benefactors and
ornaments of society, instead of being its outlaws; and that under a
wise and parental government such persons never would be lost. This
is a charitable consideration, nor will I attempt to impugn it; the
other may seem less so, but is of more practical importance. For
these examples are proof, if proof were needed, that intellectual
attainments and habits are no security for good conduct unless they
are supported by religious principles; without religion the highest
endowments of intellect can only render the possessor more dangerous
if he be ill disposed, if well disposed only more unhappy.

The conquerors, as they called themselves, were followed by

Montesinos.--Our knowledge of the remoter parts of the world, during
the first part of the seventeenth century, must chiefly be obtained
from their recitals. And there is no difficulty in separating what
may be believed from their fables, because their falsehoods being
systematically devised and circulated in pursuance of what they
regarded as part of their professional duty, they told truth when
they had no motive for deceiving the reader. Let any person compare
the relations of our Protestant missionaries with those of the
Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, or any other Romish order, and the
difference which he cannot fail to perceive between the plain truth
of the one and the audacious and elaborate mendacity of the other
may lead him to a just inference concerning the two churches.

Sir Thomas More.--Their fables were designed, by exciting
admiration, to call forth money for the support of missions, which,
notwithstanding such false pretences, were piously undertaken and
heroically pursued. They scrupled therefore as little at
interlarding their chronicles and annual letters with such miracles,
as poets at the use of machinery in their verses. Think not that I
am excusing them; but thus it was that they justified their system
of imposition to themselves, and this part of it must not be
condemned as if it proceeded from an evil intention.

Montesinos.--Yet, Sir Thomas, the best of those missionaries are not
more to be admired for their exemplary virtue, and pitied for the
superstition which debased their faith, than others of their
respective orders are to be abominated for the deliberate wickedness
with which, in pursuance of the same system, they imposed the most
blasphemous and atrocious legends upon the credulous, and persecuted
with fire and sword those who opposed their deceitful villainy. One
reason wherefore so few travels were written in the age of which we
are speaking is, that no Englishman, unless he were a Papist, could
venture into Italy, or any other country where the Romish religion
was established in full power, without the danger of being seized by
the Inquisition!

Other dangers, by sea and by land, from corsairs and banditti,
including too the chances of war and of pestilence, were so great in
that age, that it was not unusual for men when they set out upon
their travels to put out a sum upon their own lives, which if they
died upon the journey was to be the underwriter's gain, but to be
repaid if they returned, within such increase as might cover their
intervening expenses. The chances against them seem to have been
considered as nearly three to one. But danger, within a certain
degree, is more likely to provoke adventurers than to deter them.

Sir Thomas More.--There thou hast uttered a comprehensive truth. No
legislator has yet so graduated his scale of punishment as to
ascertain that degree which shall neither encourage hope nor excite
the audacity of desperate guilt. It is certain that there are
states of mind in which the consciousness that he is about to play
for life or death stimulates a gamester to the throw. This will
apply to most of those crimes which are committed for cupidity, and
not attended with violence.

Montesinos.--Well then may these hazards have acted as incentives
where there was the desire of honour, the spirit of generous
enterprise, or even the love of notoriety. By the first of these
motives Pietro della Valle (the most romantic in his adventures of
all true travellers) was led abroad, the latter spring set in motion
my comical countryman, Tom Coriat, who by the engraver's help has
represented himself at one time in full dress, making a leg to a
courtesan at Venice, and at another dropping from his rags the all-
too lively proofs of prolific poverty.

Perhaps literature has never been so directly benefited by the
spirit of trade as it was in the seventeenth century, when European
jewellers found their most liberal customers in the courts of the
East. Some of the best travels which we possess, as well as the
best materials for Persian and Indian history, have been left us by
persons engaged in that trade. From that time travelling became
less dangerous and more frequent in every generation, except during
the late years when Englishmen were excluded from the Continent by
the military tyrant whom (with God's blessing on a rightful cause)
we have beaten from his imperial throne. And now it is more
customary for females in the middle rank of life to visit Italy than
it was for them in your days to move twenty miles from home.

Sir Thomas More.--Is this a salutary or an injurious fashion?

Montesinos.--According to the subject, and to the old school maxim
quicquid recipitur, recipitur in modum recipientis. The wise come
back wiser, the well-informed with richer stores of knowledge, the
empty and the vain return as they went, and there are some who bring
home foreign vanities and vices in addition to their own.

Sir Thomas More.--And what has been imported by such travellers for
the good of their country?

Montesinos.--Coffee in the seventeenth century, inoculation in that
which followed; since which we have had now and then a new dance and
a new game at cards, curry and mullagatawny soup from the East
Indies, turtle from the West, and that earthly nectar to which the
East contributes its arrack, and the West its limes and its rum. In
the language of men it is called Punch; I know not what may be its
name in the Olympian speech. But tell not the Englishmen of George
the Second's age, lest they should be troubled for the degeneracy of
their grandchildren, that the punchbowl is now become a relic of
antiquity, and their beloved beverage almost as obsolete as
metheglin, hippocras, chary, or morat!

Sir Thomas More.--It is well for thee that thou art not a young
beagle instead of a grey-headed bookman, or that rambling vein of
thine would often bring thee under the lash of the whipper-in! Off
thou art and away in pursuit of the smallest game that rises before

Montesinos.--Good Ghost, there was once a wise Lord Chancellor, who
in a dialogue upon weighty matters thought it not unbecoming to
amuse himself with discursive merriment concerning St. Appollonia
and St. Uncumber.

Sir Thomas More.--Good Flesh and Blood, that was a nipping reply!
And happy man is his dole who retains in grave years, and even to
grey hairs, enough of green youth's redundant spirits for such
excursiveness! He who never relaxes into sportiveness is a
wearisome companion, but beware of him who jests at everything!
Such men disparage by some ludicrous association all objects which
are presented to their thoughts, and thereby render themselves
incapable of any emotion which can either elevate or soften them,
they bring upon their moral being an influence more withering than
the blast of the desert. A countenance, if it be wrinkled either
with smiles or with frowns, is to be shunned; the furrows which the
latter leave show that the soil is sour, those of the former are
symptomatic of a hollow heart.

None of your travellers have reached Utopia, and brought from thence
a fuller account of its institutions?

Montesinos.--There was one, methinks, who must have had it in view
when he walked over the world to discover the source of moral
motion. He was afflicted with a tympany of mind produced by
metaphysics, which was at that time a common complaint, though
attended in him with unusual symptoms, but his heart was healthy and
strong, and might in former ages have enabled him to acquire a
distinguished place among the saints of the Thebais or the
philosophers of Greece.

But although we have now no travellers employed in seeking
undiscoverable countries, and although Eldorado, the city of the
Cesares, and the Sabbatical River, are expunged even from the maps
of credulity and imagination, Welshmen have gone in search of
Madoc's descendants, and scarcely a year passes without adding to
the melancholy list of those who have perished in exploring the
interior of Africa.

Sir Thomas More.--Whenever there shall exist a civilised and
Christian negro state Providence will open that country to
civilisation and Christianity, meantime to risk strength and
enterprise and science against climate is contending against the
course of nature. Have these travellers yet obtained for you the
secret of the Psylli?

Montesinos.--We have learnt from savages the mode of preparing their
deadliest poisons. The more useful knowledge by which they render
the human body proof against the most venomous serpents has not been
sought with equal diligence; there are, however, scattered notices
which may perhaps afford some clue to the discovery. The writings
of travellers are not more rich in materials for the poet and the
historian than they are in useful notices, deposited there like
seeds which lie deep in the earth till some chance brings them
within reach of air, and then they germinate. These are fields in
which something may always be found by the gleaner, and therefore
those general collections in which the works are curtailed would be
to be reprobated, even if epitomisers did not seem to possess a
certain instinct of generic doltishness which leads them curiously
to omit whatever ought especially to be preserved.

Sir Thomas More.--If ever there come a time, Montesinos, when
beneficence shall be as intelligent, and wisdom as active, as the
spirit of trade, you will then draw from foreign countries other
things beside those which now pay duties at the custom-house, or are
cultivated in nurseries for the conservatories of the wealthy. Not
that I regard with dissatisfaction these latter importations of
luxury, however far they may be brought, or at whatever cost; for of
all mere pleasures those of a garden are the most salutary, and
approach nearest to a moral enjoyment. But you will then (should
that time come) seek and find in the laws, usages and experience of
other nations palliatives for some of those evils and diseases which
have hitherto been inseparable from society and human nature, and
remedies, perhaps, for others.

Montesinos.--Happy the travellers who shall be found instrumental to
such good! One advantage belongs to authors of this description;
because they contribute to the instruction of the learned, their
reputation suffers no diminution by the course of time: age rather
enhances their value. In this respect they resemble historians, to
whom, indeed, their labours are in a great degree subsidiary.

Sir Thomas More.--They have an advantage over them, my friend, in
this, that rarely can they leave evil works behind them, which
either from a mischievous persuasion, or a malignant purpose, may
heap condemnation upon their own souls as long as such works survive
them. Even if they should manifest pernicious opinions and a wicked
will, the venom is in a great degree sheathed by the vehicle in
which it is administered. And this is something; for let me tell
thee, thou consumer of goose quills, that of all the Devil's
laboratories there is none in which more poison is concocted for
mankind than in the inkstand!

Montesinos.--"My withers are unwrung!"

Sir Thomas More.--Be thankful, therefore, in life, as thou wilt in

A principle of compensation may be observed in literary pursuits as
in other things. Reputations that never flame continue to glimmer
for centuries after those which blaze highest have gone out. And
what is of more moment, the humblest occupations are morally the
safest. Rhadamanthus never puts on his black cap to pronounce
sentence upon a dictionary-maker or the compiler of a county

Montesinos. I am to understand, then, that in the archangel's
balance a little book may sink the scale toward the pit; while all
the tomes of Thomas Hearne and good old John Nichols will be weighed
among their good works!

Sir Thomas More.--Sport as thou wilt in allusions to allegory and
fable; but bear always in thy most serious mind this truth, that men
hold under an awful responsibility the talents with which they are
entrusted. Kings have not so serious an account to render as they
who exercise an intellectual influence over the minds of men!

Montesinos.--If evil works, so long as they continue to produce
evil, heap up condemnation upon the authors, it is well for some of
the wickedest writers that their works do not survive them.

Sir Thomas More.--Such men, my friend, even by the most perishable
of their wicked works, lay up sufficient condemnation for
themselves. The maxim that malitia supplet aetatem is rightfully
admitted in human laws: should there not then, by parity of
justice, be cases where, when the secrets of the heart are seen, the
intention shall be regarded rather than the act?

The greatest portion of your literature, at any given time, is
ephemeral; indeed, it has ever been so since the discovery of
printing; and this portion it is which is most influential,
consequently that by which most good or mischief is done.

Montesinos.--Ephemeral it truly may be called; it is now looked for
by the public as regularly as their food; and, like food, it affects
the recipient surely and permanently, even when its effect is slow,
according as it is wholesome or noxious. But how great is the
difference between the current literature of this and of any former

Sir Thomas More.--From that complacent tone it may be presumed that
you see in it proof both of moral and intellectual improvement.
Montesinos, I must disturb that comfortable opinion, and call upon
you to examine how much of this refinement which passes for
improvement is superficial. True it is that controversy is carried
on with more decency than it was by Martin Lutherand a certain Lord
Chancellor, to whom you just now alluded; but if more courtesy is to
be found in polemical writers, who are less sincere than either the
one or the other, there is as much acerbity of feeling and as much
bitterness of heart. You have a class of miscreants which had no
existence in those days--the panders of the press, who live by
administering to the vilest passions of the people, and encouraging
their most dangerous errors, practising upon their ignorance, and
inculcating whatever is most pernicious in principle and most
dangerous to society. This is their golden age; for though such men
would in any age have taken to some villainy or other, never could
they have found a course at once so gainful and so safe. Long
impunity has taught them to despise the laws which they defy, and
the institutions which they are labouring to subvert; any further
responsibility enters not into their creed, if that may be called a
creed, in which all the articles are negative. I? we turn from
politics to what should be humaner literature, and look at the self-
constituted censors of whatever has passed the press, there also we
shall find that they who are the most incompetent assume the most
authority, and that the public favour such pretensions; for in
quackery of every kind, whether medical, political, critical, or
hypocritical, quo quis impudentior eo doctior habetur.

Montesinos.--The pleasure which men take in acting maliciously is
properly called by Barrow a RASCALLY delight. But this is no new
form of malice. "Avant nous," says the sagacious but iron-hearted
Montluc--"avant nous ces envies ont regne, et regneront encore apres
nous, si Dieu ne nous voulait tous refondre." Its worst effect is
that which Ben Jonson remarked: "The gentle reader," says he,
"rests happy to hear the worthiest works misrepresented, the
clearest actions obscured, the innocentest life traduced; and in
such a licence of lying, a field so fruitful of slanders, how can
there be matter wanting to his laughter? Hence comes the epidemical
infection: for how can they escape the contagion of the writings
whom the virulency of the calumnies hath not staved off from

There is another mischief, arising out of ephemeral literature,
which was noticed by the same great author. "Wheresoever manners
and fashions are corrupted," says he, "language is. It imitates the
public riot. The excess of feasts and apparel are the notes of a
sick state; and the wantonness of language of a sick mind." This
was the observation of a man well versed in the history of the
ancients and in their literature. The evil prevailed in his time to
a considerable degree; but it was not permanent, because it
proceeded rather from the affectation of a few individuals than from
any general cause: the great poets were free from it; and our prose
writers then, and till the end of that century, were preserved, by
their sound studies and logical habits of mind, from any of those
faults into which men fall who write loosely because they think
loosely. The pedantry of one class and the colloquial vulgarity of
another had their day; the faults of each were strongly contrasted,
and better writers kept the mean between them. More lasting effect
was produced by translators, who in later times have corrupted our
idiom as much as, in early ones, they enriched our vocabulary; and
to this injury the Scotch have greatly contributed; for composing in
a language which is not their mother tongue, they necessarily
acquired an artificial and formal style, which, not so much through
the merit of a few as owing to the perseverance of others, who for
half a century seated themselves on the bench of criticism, has
almost superseded the vernacular English of Addison and Swift. Our
journals, indeed, have been the great corrupters of our style, and
continue to be so, and not for this reason only. Men who write in
newspapers, and magazines, and reviews, write for present effect; in
most cases this is as much their natural and proper aim as it would
be in public speaking; but when it is so they consider, like public
speakers, not so much what is accurate or just, either in matter or
manner, as what will be acceptable to those whom they address.
Writing also under the excitement of emulation and rivalry, they
seek, by all the artifices and efforts of an ambitious style, to
dazzle their readers; and they are wise in their generation,
experience having shown that common minds are taken by glittering
faults, both in prose and verse, as larks are with looking-glasses.

In this school it is that most writers are now trained; and after
such training anything like an easy and natural movement is as
little to be looked for in their compositions as in the step of a
dancing master. To the vices of style which are thus generated
there must be added the inaccuracies inevitably arising from haste,
when a certain quantity of matter is to be supplied for a daily or
weekly publication which allows of no delay--the slovenliness that
confidence, as well as fatigue and inattention, will produce--and
the barbarisms, which are the effect of ignorance, or that
smattering of knowledge which serves only to render ignorance
presumptuous. These are the causes of corruption in our current
style; and when these are considered there would be ground for
apprehending that the best writings of the last century might become
as obsolete as yours in the like process of time, if we had not in
our Liturgy and our Bible a standard from which it will not be
possible wholly to depart.

Sir Thomas More.--Will the Liturgy and the Bible keep the language
at that standard in the colonies, where little or no use is made of
the one, and not much, it may be feared, of the other?

Montesinos.--A sort of hybrid speech, a Lingua Anglica, more
debased, perhaps, than the Lingua Franca of the Levant, or the
Portuguese of Malabar, is likely enough to grow up among the South
Sea Islands; like the mixture of Spanish with some of the native
languages in South America, or the mingle-mangle which the negroes
have made with French and English, and probably with other European
tongues in the colonies of their respective states. The spirit of
mercantile adventure may produce in this part of the new world a
process analogous to what took place throughout Europe on the
breaking up of the Western Empire; and in the next millennium these
derivatives may become so many cultivated tongues, having each its
literature. These will be like varieties in a flower-garden, which
the florist raises from seed; but in the colonies, as in our
orchards, the graft takes with it, and will preserve, the true
characteristics of the stock.

Sir Thomas More.--But the same causes of deterioration will be at
work there also.

Montesinos.--Not nearly in the same degree, nor to an equal extent.
Now and then a word with the American impress comes over to us which
has not been struck in the mint of analogy. But the Americans are
more likely to be infected by the corruption of our written language
than we are to have it debased by any importations of this kind from

Sir Thomas More.--There is a more important consideration belonging
to this subject. The cause which you have noticed as the principal
one of this corruption must have a farther and more mischievous
effect. For it is not in the vices of an ambitious style that these
ephemeral writers, who live upon the breath of popular applause,
will rest. Great and lasting reputations, both in ancient and
modern times, have been raised notwithstanding that defect, when the
ambition from which it proceeded was of a worthy kind, and was
sustained by great powers and adequate acquirements. But this
ambition, which looks beyond the morrow, has no place in the writers
of a day. Present effect is their end and aim; and too many of
them, especially the ablest, who have wanted only moral worth to
make them capable of better things, are persons who can "desire no
other mercy from after ages than silence and oblivion." Even with
the better part of the public that author will always obtain the
most favourable reception, who keeps most upon a level with them in
intellectuals, and puts them to the least trouble of thinking. He
who addresses himself with the whole endeavours of a powerful mind
to the understanding faculty may find fit readers; but they will be
few. He who labours for posterity in the fields of research, must
look to posterity for his reward. Nay, even they whose business is
with the feelings and the fancy, catch most fish when they angle in
shallow waters. Is it not so, Piscator?

Montesinos.--In such honest anglers, Sir Thomas, I should look for
as many virtues, as good old happy Izaak Walton found in his
brethren of the rod and line. Nor will you, I think, disparage
them; for you were of the Rhymers' Company, and at a time when
things appear to us in their true colours and proportion (if ever
while we are yet in the body), you remembered your verses with more
satisfaction than your controversial writings, even though you had
no misgivings concerning the part which you had chosen.

Sir Thomas More.--My verses, friend, had none of the athanasia in
their composition. Though they have not yet perished, they cannot
be said to have a living existence; even you, I suspect, have sought
for them rather because of our personal acquaintance than for any
other motive. Had I been only a poet, those poems, such as they
were, would have preserved my name; but being remembered for other
grounds, better and worse, the name which I have left has been one
cause why they have passed into oblivion, sooner than their
perishable nature would have carried them thither. If in the latter
part of my mortal existence I had misgivings concerning any of my
writings, they were of the single one, which is still a living work,
and which will continue so to be. I feared that speculative
opinions, which had been intended for the possible but remote
benefit of mankind, might, by unhappy circumstances, be rendered
instrumental to great and immediate evil; an apprehension, however,
which was altogether free from self-reproach.

But my verses will continue to exist in their mummy state, long
after the worms shall have consumed many of those poetical
reputations which are at this time in the cherry-cheeked bloom of
health and youth. Old poets will always retain their value for
antiquaries and philologists, modern ones are far too numerous ever
to acquire an accidental usefulness of this kind, even if the
language were to undergo greater changes than any circumstances are
likely to produce. There will now be more poets in every generation
than in that which preceded it; they will increase faster than your
population; and as their number increases, so must the proportion of
those who will be remembered necessarily diminish. Tell the Fitz-
Muses this! It is a consideration, Sir Poet, which may serve as a
refrigerant for their ardour. Those of the tribe who may flourish
hereafter (as the flourishing phrase is) in any particular age, will
be little more remembered in the next than the Lord Mayors and
Sheriffs who were their contemporaries.

Montesinos.--Father in verse, if you had not put off flesh and blood
so long, you would not imagine that this consideration will diminish
their number. I am sure it would not have affected me forty years
ago, had I seen this truth then as clearly as I perceive and feel it
now. Though it were manifest to all men that not one poet in an
age, in a century, a millennium, could establish his claim to be for
ever known, every aspirant would persuade himself that he is the
happy person for whom the inheritance of fame is reserved. And when
the dream of immortality is dispersed, motives enough remain for
reasonable ambition.

It is related of some good man (I forget who), that upon his death-
bed he recommended his son to employ himself in cultivating a
garden, and in composing verses, thinking these to be at once the
happiest and the most harmless of all pursuits. Poetry may be, and
too often has been, wickedly perverted to evil purposes; what indeed
is there that may not, when religion itself is not safe from such
abuses! but the good which it does inestimably exceeds the evil. It
is no trifling good to provide means of innocent and intellectual
enjoyment for so many thousands in a state like ours; an enjoyment,
heightened, as in every instance it is within some little circle, by
personal considerations, raising it to a degree which may deserve to
be called happiness. It is no trifling good to win the ear of
children with verses which foster in them the seeds of humanity and
tenderness and piety, awaken their fancy, and exercise pleasurably
and wholesomely their imaginative and meditative powers. It is no
trifling benefit to provide a ready mirror for the young, in which
they may see their own best feelings reflected, and wherein
"whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely," are
presented to them in the most attractive form. It is no trifling
benefit to send abroad strains which may assist in preparing the
heart for its trials, and in supporting it under them. But there is
a greater good than this, a farther benefit. Although it is in
verse that the most consummate skill in composition is to be looked
for, and all the artifice of language displayed, yet it is in verse
only that we throw off the yoke of the world, and are as it were
privileged to utter our deepest and holiest feelings. Poetry in
this respect may be called the salt of the earth; we express in it,
and receive in it, sentiments for which, were it not for this
permitted medium, the usages of the world would neither allow
utterance nor acceptance. And who can tell in our heart-chilling
and heart-hardening society, how much more selfish, how much more
debased, how much worse we should have been, in all moral and
intellectual respects, had it not been for the unnoticed and
unsuspected influence of this preservative? Even much of that
poetry, which is in its composition worthless, or absolutely bad,
contributes to this good.

Sir Thomas More.--Such poetry, then, according to your view, is to
be regarded with indulgence.

Montesinos.--Thank Heaven, Sir Thomas, I am no farther critical than
every author must necessarily be who makes a careful study of his
own art. To understand the principles of criticism is one thing; to
be what is called critical, is another; the first is like being
versed in jurisprudence, the other like being litigious. Even those
poets who contribute to the mere amusement of their readers, while
that amusement is harmless, are to be regarded with complacency, if
not respect. They are the butterflies of literature, who during the
short season of their summer, enliven the garden and the field. It
were pity to touch them even with a tender hand, lest we should
brush the down from their wings.

Sir Thomas More.--These are they of whom I spake as angling in
shallow waters. You will not regard with the same complacency those
who trouble the stream; still less those who poison it.

Montesinos.--"Vesanum tetigisse timent, fugiuntque poetam
Qui sapiunt; agitant pueri, incautique sequuntur."

Sir Thomas More.--This brings us again to the point at which you
bolted. The desire of producing present effect, the craving for
immediate reputation, have led to another vice, analogous to and
connected with that of the vicious style, which the same causes are
producing, but of worse consequences. The corruption extends from
the manner to the matter; and they who brew for the press, like some
of those who brew for the publicans, care not, if the potion has but
its desired strength, how deleterious may be the ingredients which
they use. Horrors at which the innocent heart quails, and the
healthy stomachs heaves in loathing, are among the least hurtful of
their stimulants.

Montesinos.--This too, Sir Thomas, is no new evil. An appetite for
horrors is one of the diseased cravings of the human mind; and in
old times the tragedies which most abounded in them, were for that
reason the most popular. The dramatists of our best age, great Ben
and greater Shakespeare excepted, were guilty of a farther sin, with
which the writers whom you censure are also to be reproached; they
excited their auditors by the representation of monstrous crimes--
crimes out of the course of nature. Such fables might lawfully be
brought upon the Grecian stage, because the belief of the people
divested them of their odious and dangerous character; there they
were well known stories, regarded with a religious persuasion of
their truth; and the personages, being represented as under the
overruling influence of dreadful destiny, were regarded therefore
with solemn commiseration, not as voluntary and guilty agents.
There is nothing of this to palliate or excuse the production of
such stories in later times; the choice, and, in a still greater
degree, the invention of any such, implies in the author, not merely
a want of judgment, but a defect in moral feeling. Here, however,
the dramatists of that age stopped. They desired to excite in their
audience the pleasure of horror, and this was an abuse of the poet's
art: but they never aimed at disturbing their moral perceptions, at
presenting wickedness in an attractive form, exciting sympathy with
guilt, and admiration for villainy, thereby confounding the
distinctions between right and wrong. This has been done in our
days; and it has accorded so well with the tendency of other things,
that the moral drift of a book is no longer regarded, and the
severest censure which can be passed upon it is to say that it is in
bad taste; such is the phrase--and the phrase is not confined to
books alone. Anything may be written, said, or done, in bad feeling
and with a wicked intent; and the public are so tolerant of these,
that he who should express a displeasure on that score would be
censured for bad taste himself!

Sir Thomas More.--And yet you talked of the improvement of the age,
and of the current literature as exceeding in worth that of any
former time

Montesinos.--The portion of it which shall reach to future times
will justify me; for we have living minds who have done their duty
to their own age and to posterity.

Sir Thomas More.--Has the age in return done its duty to them?

Montesinos.--They complain not of the age, but they complain of an
anomalous injustice in the laws. They complain that authors are
deprived of a perpetual property in the produce of their own
labours, when all other persons enjoy it as an indefeasible and
acknowledged right. And they ask upon what principle, with what
equity, or under what pretence of public good they are subjected to
this injurious enactment? Is it because their labour is so light,
the endowments which are required for it so common, the attainments
so cheaply and easily acquired, and the present remuneration in all
cases so adequate, so ample, and so certain?

The act whereby authors are deprived of that property in their own
works which, upon every principle of reason, natural justice, and
common law, they ought to enjoy, is so curiously injurious in its
operation, that it bears with most hardship upon the best works.
For books of great immediate popularity have their run and come to a
dead stop: the hardship is upon those which win their way slowly
and difficultly, but keep the field at last. And it will not appear
surprising that this should generally have been the case with books
of the highest merit, if we consider what obstacles to the success
of a work may be opposed by the circumstances and obscurity of the
author, when he presents himself as a candidate for fame, by the
humour or the fashion of the times; the taste of the public, more
likely to be erroneous than right at any time; and the incompetence,
or personal malevolence of some unprincipled critic, who may take
upon himself to guide the public opinion, and who if he feels in his
own heart that the fame of the man whom he hates is invulnerable,
lays in wait for that reason the more vigilantly to wound him in his
fortunes. In such cases, when the copyright as by the existing law
departs from the author's family at his death, or at the end of
twenty-eight years from the first publication of every work, (if he
dies before the expiration of that term,) his representatives are
deprived of their property just as it would begin to prove a
valuable inheritance.

The last descendants of Milton died in poverty. The descendants of
Shakespeare are living in poverty, and in the lowest condition of
life. Is this just to these individuals? Is it grateful to the
memory of those who are the pride and boast of their country? Is it
honourable, or becoming to us as a nation, holding--the better part
of us assuredly, and the majority affecting to hold--the names of
Shakespeare and Milton in veneration?

To have placed the descendants of Shakespeare and Milton in
respectability and comfort--in that sphere of life where, with a
full provision for our natural wants and social enjoyments, free
scope is given to the growth of our intellectual and immortal part,
simple justice was all that was required, only that they should have
possessed the perpetual copyright of their ancestors' works, only
that they should not have been deprived of their proper inheritance.

The decision which time pronounces upon the reputation of authors,
and upon the permanent rank which they are to hold in the estimation
of posterity, is unerring and final. Restore to them that
perpetuity in the property of their works, of which the law has
deprived them, and the reward of literary labour will ultimately be
in just proportion to its deserts.

However slight may be the hope of obtaining any speedy redress,
there is some satisfaction in earnestly protesting against this
injustice. And believing as I do, that if society continues to
improve, no injustice will long be permitted to continue after it
has been fairly exposed, and is clearly apprehended, I cannot but
believe that a time must come when the rights of literature will be
acknowledged and its wrongs redressed; and that those authors
hereafter who shall deserve well of posterity, will have no cause to
reproach themselves for having sacrificed the interests of their
children when they disregarded the pursuit of fortune for


Montesinos.--Here Sir Thomas is the opinion which I have attempted
to maintain concerning the progress and tendency of society, placed
in a proper position, and inexpugnably entrenched here according to
the rules of art, by the ablest of all moral engineers.

Sir Thomas More.--Who may this political Achilles be whom you have
called in to your assistance?

Montesinos.--Whom Fortune rather has sent to my aid, for my reading
has never been in such authors. I have endeavoured always to drink
from the spring-head, but never ventured out to fish in deep waters.
Thor, himself, when he had hooked the Great Serpent, was unable to
draw him up from the abyss.

Sir Thomas More--The waters in which you have now been angling have
been shallow enough, if the pamphlet in your hand is, as it appears
to be, a magazine.

Montesinos.--"Ego sum is," said Scaliger, "qui ab omnibus discere
volo; neque tam malum librum esse puto, ex quo non aliquem fructum
colligere possum." I think myself repaid, in a monkish legend, for
examining a mass of inane fiction, if I discover a single passage
which elucidates the real history or manners of its age. In old
poets of the third and fourth order we are contented with a little
ore, and a great deal of dross. And so in publications of this
kind, prejudicial as they are to taste and public feeling, and the
public before deeply injurious to the real interests of literature,
something may sometimes be found to compensate for the trash and
tinsel and insolent flippancy, which are now become the staple
commodities of such journals. This number contains Kant's idea of a
Universal History on a Cosmo-Political plan; and that Kant is as
profound a philosopher as his disciples have proclaimed him to be,
this little treatise would fully convince me, if I had not already
believed it, in reliance upon one of the very few men who are
capable of forming a judgment upon such a writer.

The sum of his argument is this: that as deaths, births, and
marriages, and the oscillations of the weather, irregular as they
seem to be in themselves, are nevertheless reduceable upon the great
scale to certain rules; so there may be discovered in the course of
human history a steady and continuous, though slow development of
certain great predispositions in human nature, and that although men
neither act under the law of instinct, like brute animals, nor under
the law of a preconcerted plan, like rational cosmopolites, the
great current of human actions flows in a regular stream of tendency
toward this development; individuals and nations, while pursuing
their own peculiar and often contradictory purposes, following the
guidance of a great natural purpose, and thus promoting a process
which, even if they perceived it, they would little regard. What
that process is he states in the following series of propositions:-

1st. All tendencies of any creature, to which it is predisposed by
nature, are destined in the end to develop themselves perfectly and
agreeably to their final purpose.

2nd. In man, as the sole rational creature upon earth, those
tendencies which have the use of his reason for their object are
destined to obtain their perfect development in the species only,
and not in the individual.

3rd. It is the will of nature that man should owe to himself alone
everything which transcends the mere mechanic constitution of his
animal existence, and that he should be susceptible of no other
happiness or perfection than what he has created for himself,
instinct apart, through his own reason.

4th. The means which nature employs to bring about the development
of all the tendencies she has laid in man, is the antagonism of
those tendencies in the social state, no farther, however, than to
that point at which this antagonism becomes the cause of social
arrangements founded in law.

5th. The highest problem for the human species, to the solution of
which it is irresistibly urged by natural impulses, is the
establishment of a universal civil society, founded on the empire of
political justice.

6th. This problem is, at the same time, the most difficult of all,
and the one which is latest solved by man.

7th. The problem of the establishment of a perfect constitution of
society depends upon the problem of a system of international
relations, adjusted to law, and apart from this latter problem
cannot be solved.

8th. The history of the human race, as a whole, may be regarded as
the unravelling of a hidden plan of nature for accomplishing a
perfect state of civil constitution for society in its internal
relations (and as the condition of that, by the last proposition, in
its external relations also), as the sole state of society in which
the tendencies of human nature can be all and fully developed.

Sir Thomas More.--This is indeed a master of the sentences, upon
whose text it may be profitable to dwell. Let us look to his
propositions. From the first this conclusion must follow, that as
nature has given men all his faculties for use, any system of
society in which the moral and intellectual powers of any portion of
the people are left undeveloped for want of cultivation, or receive
a perverse direction, is plainly opposed to the system of nature, in
other words, to the will of God. Is there any government upon earth
that will bear this test?

Montesinos.--I should rather ask of you, will there ever be one?

Sir Thomas More.--Not till there be a system of government conducted
in strict conformity to the precepts of the Gospel.


"Offer these truths to Power, will she obey?
It prunes her pomp, perchance ploughs up the root."

Yet, in conformity to those principles alone, it is that subjects
can find their perfect welfare, and States their full security.
Christianity may be long in obtaining the victory over the powers of
this world, but when that consummation shall have taken place the
converse of his second proposition will hold good, for the species
having obtained its perfect development, the condition of society
must then be such that individuals will obtain it also as a
necessary consequence.

Sir Thomas More.--Here you and your philosopher part company. For
he asserts that man is left to deduce from his own unassisted reason
everything which relates not to his mere material nature.

Montesinos.--There, indeed, I must diverge from him, and what in his
language is called the hidden plan of nature, in mine will be the
revealed will of God.

Sir Thomas More.--The will is revealed; but the plan is hidden. Let
man dutifully obey that will, and the perfection of society and of
human nature will be the result of such obedience; but upon
obedience they depend. Blessings and curses are set before you--for
nations as for individuals--yea, for the human race.

Flatter not yourself with delusive expectations! The end may be
according to your hope--whether it will be so (which God grant!) is
as inscrutable for angels as for men. But to descry that great
struggles are yet to come is within reach of human foresight--that
great tribulations must needs accompany them--and that these may be-
-you know not how near at hand!

Throughout what is called the Christian world there will be a
contest between Impiety and Religion; the former everywhere is
gathering strength, and wherever it breaks loose the foundations of
human society will be shaken. Do not suppose that you are safe from
this danger because you are blest with a pure creed, a reformed
ritual, and a tolerant Church! Even here the standard of impiety
has been set up; and the drummers who beat the march of intellect
through your streets, lanes, and market-places, are enlisted under

The struggle between Popery and Protestanism is renewed. And let no
man deceive himself by a vain reliance upon the increased knowledge,
or improved humanity of the times! Wickedness is ever the same; and
you never were in so much danger from moral weakness.

Co-existent with these struggles is that between the feudal system
of society as variously modified throughout Europe, and the
levelling principle of democracy. That principle is actively and
indefatigably at work in these kingdoms, allying itself as occasion
may serve with Popery or with Dissent, with atheism or with
fanaticism, with profligacy or with hypocrisy, ready confederates,
each having its own sinister views, but all acting to one
straightforward end. Your rulers meantime seem to be trying that
experiment with the British Constitution which Mithridates is said
to have tried upon his own; they suffer poison to be administered in
daily doses, as if they expected that by such a course the public
mind would at length be rendered poison-proof!

The first of these struggles will affect all Christendom; the third
may once again shake the monarchies of Europe. The second will be
felt widely; but nowhere with more violence than in Ireland, that
unhappy country, wherein your government, after the most impolitic
measures into which weakness was ever deluded, or pusillanimity
intimidated, seems to have abdicated its functions, contenting
itself with the semblance of an authority which it has wanted either
wisdom or courage to exert.

There is a fourth danger, the growth of your manufacturing system;
and this is peculiarly your own. You have a great and increasing
population, exposed at all times by the fluctuations of trade to
suffer the severest privations in the midst of a rich and luxurious
society, under little or no restraint from religious principle, and
if not absolutely disaffected to the institutions of the country,
certainly not attached to them: a class of men aware of their
numbers and of their strength; experienced in all the details of
combination; improvident when they are in the receipt of good wages,
yet feeling themselves injured when those wages, during some failure
of demand, are so lowered as no longer to afford the means of
comfortable subsistence; and directing against the government and
the laws of the country their resentment and indignation for the
evils which have been brought upon them by competition and the
spirit of rivalry in trade. They have among them intelligent heads
and daring minds; and you have already seen how perilously they may
be wrought upon by seditious journalists and seditious orators in a
time of distress.

On what do you rely for security against these dangers? On public
opinion? You might as well calculate upon the constancy of wind and
weather in this uncertain climate. On the progress of knowledge? it
is such knowledge as serves only to facilitate the course of
delusion. On the laws? the law which should be like a sword in a
strong hand, is weak as a bulrush if it be feebly administered in
time of danger. On the people? they are divided. On the
Parliament? every faction will be fully and formidably represented
there. On the government? it suffers itself to be insulted and
defied at home, and abroad it has shown itself incapable of
maintaining the relations of peace and amity with its allies, so far
has it been divested of power by the usurpation of the press. It is
at peace with Spain, and it is at peace with Turkey; and although no
government was ever more desirous of acting with good faith, its
subjects are openly assisting the Greeks with men and money against
the one, and the Spanish Americans against the other. Athens, in
the most turbulent times of its democracy, was not more effectually
domineered over by its demagogues than you are by the press--a press
which is not only without restraint, but without responsibility; and
in the management of which those men will always have most power who
have least probity, and have most completely divested themselves of
all sense of honour and all regard for truth.

The root of all your evils is in the sinfulness of the nation. The
principle of duty is weakened among you; that of moral obligation is
loosened; that of religious obedience is destroyed. Look at the
worldliness of all classes--the greediness of the rich, the misery
of the poor, and the appalling depravity which is spreading among
the lower classes through town and country; a depravity which
proceeds unchecked because of the total want of discipline, and for
which there is no other corrective than what may be supplied by
fanaticism, which is itself an evil.

If there be nothing exaggerated in this representation, you must
acknowledge that though the human race, considered upon the great
scale, should be proceeding toward the perfectibility for which it

Book of the day: