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Reflections and Comments 1865-1895 by Edwin Lawrence Godkin

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The horrors of war are just now making a deeper impression than
ever on the popular mind, owing to the close contact with the
battle-field and the hospital into which the railroad and the
telegraph and the newspaper have brought the public of all
civilized countries. Wars are fought out now, so to speak, under
every man's and woman's eyes; and, what is perhaps of nearly as
much importance, the growth of commerce and manufactures, and the
increased complication of the social machine, render the smallest
derangement of it anywhere a concern and trouble to all nations.
The consequence is that the desire for peace was never so deep as
it is now, and the eagerness of all good people to find out some
other means of deciding international disputes than mutual
killing never so intense.

And yet the unconsciousness of the true nature and difficulties
of the problem they are trying to solve, which is displayed by
most of those who make the advocacy of peace their special work,
is very discouraging. We are far from believing that the
incessant and direct appeals to the public conscience on the
subject of war are not likely in the long run to produce some
effect; but it is very difficult to resist the conclusion that
the efforts of the special advocates of peace have thus far
helped to spread and strengthen the impression that there is no
adequate substitute for the sword as an arbiter between nations,
or, in other words, to harden the popular heart on the subject of
military slaughter. It is certain that, during the last fifty
years, the period in which peace societies have been at work,
armies have been growing steadily larger, the means of destruction
have been multiplying, and wars have been as frequent and as
bloody as ever before; and, what is worse, the popular heart goes
into war as it has never done in past ages.

The great reason why the more earnest enemies of war have not
made more progress toward doing away with it, has been that, from
the very outset of their labors down to the present moment, they
have devoted themselves mainly to depicting its horrors and to
denouncing its cruelty. In other words, they almost invariably
approach it from a side with which nations actually engaged in it
are just as familiar as anybody, but which has for the moment
assumed in their eyes a secondary importance. The peace advocates
are constantly talking of the guilt of killing, while the
combatants only think, and will only think, of the nobleness of
dying. To the peace advocates the soldier is always a man going
to slaughter his neighbors; to his countrymen he is a man going
to lose his life for their sake--that is, to perform the loftiest
act of devotion of which a human being is capable. It is not
wonderful, then, that the usual effect of appeals for peace made
by neutrals is to produce mingled exasperation and amusement
among the belligerents. To the great majority of Europeans our
civil war was a shocking spectacle, and the persistence of the
North in carrying it on a sad proof of ferocity and lust of
dominion. To the great majority of those engaged in carrying it
on the struggle was a holy one, in which it was a blessing to
perish. Probably nothing ever fell more cruelly on human ears
than the taunts and execrations which American wives and mothers
heard from the other side of the ocean, heaped on the husbands
and sons whom they had sent to the battle-field, never thinking
at all of their slaying, but thinking solely of their being
slain; and very glad indeed that, if death had to come, it should
come in such a cause. If we go either to France or Germany
to-day, we shall find a precisely similar state of feeling. If
the accounts we hear be true--and we know of no reason to doubt
them--there is no more question in the German and French mind
that French and German soldiers are doing their highest duty in
fighting, than there was in the most patriotic Northern or
Southern home during our war; and we may guess, therefore, how a
German or French mother, the light of whose life had gone out at
Gravelotte or Orleans, and who hugs her sorrow as a great gift of
God, would receive an address from New York on the general
wickedness and folly of her sacrifice.

The fact is--and it is one of the most suggestive facts we know
of--that the very growth of the public conscience has helped to
make peace somewhat more difficult, war vastly more terrible.
When war was the game of kings and soldiers, the nations went
into it in a half-hearted way, and sincerely loathed it; now that
war is literally an outburst of popular feeling, the friend of
peace finds most of his logic powerless. There is little use in
reasoning with a man who is ready to die on the folly or
wickedness of dying. When a nation has worked itself up to the
point of believing that there are objects within its reach for
which life were well surrendered, it has reached a region in
which the wise saws and modern instances of the philosopher or
lawyer cannot touch it, and in which pictures of the misery of
war only help to make the martyr's crown seem more glorious.

Therefore, we doubt whether the work of peace is well done by
those who, amidst the heat and fury of actual hostilities, dwell
upon the folly and cruelty of them, and appeal to the combatants
to stop fighting, on the ground that fighting involves suffering
and loss of life, and the destruction of property. The principal
effect of this on "the average man" has been to produce the
impression that the friends of peace are ninnies, and to make him
smile over the earnestness with which everybody looks on his own
wars as holy and inevitable, and his neighbors' wars as
unnecessary and wicked. Any practical movement to put an end to
war must begin far away from the battle-field and its horrors. It
must take up and deal with the various influences, social and
political, which create and perpetuate the state of mind which
makes people ready to fight. Preaching up peace and preaching
down war generally are very like general homilies in praise of
virtue and denunciation of vice. Everybody agrees with them, but
nobody is ever ready to admit their applicability to his
particular case. War is, in our time, essentially the people's
work. Its guilt is theirs, as its losses and sufferings are
theirs. All attempts to saddle emperors, kings, and nobles with
the responsibility of it may as well be given up from this time

Now, what are the agencies which operate in producing the frame of
mind which makes people ready to go to war on small provocation?
It is at these the friends of peace must strike, in time of peace,
and not after the cannon has begun to roar and the country has
gone mad with patriotism and rage. They are, first of all,
the preaching in the press and elsewhere of the false and
pernicious doctrine that one nation gains by another's losses,
and can be made happy by its misery; that the United States, for
instance, profits in the long run by the prostration of French,
German, or English industry. One of the first duties of a peace
society is to watch this doctrine, and hunt it down wherever they
see it, as one of the great promoters of the pride and hardness
of heart which make war seem a trifling evil. America can no more
gain by French or German ruin than New York can gain by that of
Massachusetts. Secondly, there is the mediaeval doctrine that the
less commercial intercourse nations carry on with each other the
better for both, and that markets won or kept by force are means
of gain. There has probably been no more fruitful source of war
than this. It has for three centuries desolated the world, and
all peace associations should fix on it, wherever they encounter
it, the mark of the beast. Thirdly, there is the tendency of the
press, which is now the great moulder of public opinion, to take
what we may call the pugilist's view of international controversies.
The habit of taunting foreign disputants, sneering at the cowardice
or weakness of the one who shows any sign of reluctance in drawing
the sword, and counting up the possible profit to its own country
of one or other being well thrashed, in which it so frequently
indulges, has inevitably the effect not only of goading the
disputants into hostilities, but of connecting in the popular mind
at home the idea of unreadiness or unwillingness to fight with
baseness and meanness and material disadvantage. Fourthly, there
is the practice, to which the press, orators, and poets in every
civilized country steadily adhere, of maintaining, as far as their
influence goes, the same notions about national honor which once
prevailed about individual "honor"--that is, the notion that it is
discreditable to acknowledge one's self in the wrong, and always
more becoming to fight than apologize. "The code" has been abandoned
in the Northern States and in England in the regulations of the
relations of individual men, and a duellist is looked on, if not
as a wicked, as a crack-brained person; but in some degree in
both of them, and in a great degree in all other countries, it
still regulates the mode in which international quarrels are
brought to a conclusion.

Last of all, and most important of all, it is the duty of peace
societies to cherish and exalt the idea of _law_ as the only true
controller of international relations, and discourage and denounce
their submission to _sentiment_. The history of civilization is the
history of the growth amongst human beings of the habit of
submitting their dealings with each other to the direction of rules
of universal application, and their withdrawal of them from the
domain of personal feeling. The history of "international law" is
the history of the efforts of a number of rulers and statesmen to
induce nations to submit themselves to a similar regime--that is, to
substitute precedents and rules based on general canons of morality
and on principles of municipal law, for the dictates of pride,
prejudice, and passion, in their mode of seeking redress of
injuries, of interpreting contracts, exchanging services, and
carrying on commercial dealings. Their success thus far has been
only partial. A nation, even the most highly civilized, is still, in
its relations with its fellows, in a condition somewhat analogous to
that of the individual savage. It chooses its friends from whim or
fancy, makes enemies through ignorance or caprice, avenges its
wrongs in a torrent of rage, or through a cold-blooded thirst for
plunder, and respects rules and usages only fitfully, and with small
attention to the possible effect of its disregard of them on the
general welfare. The man or the woman and, let us say, "the
mother"--since that is supposed to be, in this discussion, a term of
peculiar potency--who tries to exert a good influence on public
opinion on all these points, to teach the brotherhood of man as an
economical as well as a moral and religious truth; to spread the
belief that war between any two nations is a general calamity to the
civilized world; that it is as unchristian and inhuman to rouse
national combativeness as to rouse individual combativeness, as
absurd to associate honor with national wrong-doing as with
individual wrong-doing; and that peace among nations, as among
individuals, is, and can only be, the product of general reverence
for _law_ and general distrust of _feeling_--may rest assured that
he or she is doing far more to bring war to an end than can be done
by the most fervid accounts of the physical suffering it causes. It
will be a sorrowful day for any people when their men come to
consider death on the battle-field the greatest of evils, and the
human heart will certainly have sadly fallen off when those who stay
at home have neither gratitude nor admiration for those who shoulder
the musket, or are impressed less by the consideration that the
soldiers are going to kill others than by the consideration that
they are going to die themselves. There are things worth cherishing
even in war; and the seeds of what is worst in it are sown not in
camps, barracks, or forts, but in public meetings and newspapers and
legislatures and in literature.


The feeling of amazement with which the world is looking on at the
Prussian campaigns comes not so much from the tremendous display of
physical force they afford--though there is in this something almost
appalling--as from the consciousness which everybody begins to have
that to put such an engine of destruction as the German army into
operation there must be behind it a new kind of motive power. It is
easy enough for any government to put its whole male population
under arms, or even to lead them on an emergency to the field. But
that an army composed in the main of men suddenly taken from civil
pursuits should fight and march, as the Prussian army is doing, with
more than the efficiency of any veteran troops the world has yet
seen, and that the administrative machinery by which they are fed,
armed, transported, doctored, shrived, and buried should go like
clock-work on the enemy's soil, and that the people should submit
not only without a murmur, but with enthusiasm, to sacrifices such
as have never before been exacted of any nation except in the very
throes of despair, show that something far more serious has taken
place in Prussia than the transformation of the country into a camp.
In other words, we are not witnessing simply a levy _en masse_, nor
yet the mere maintenance of an immense force by a military monarchy,
but the application to military affairs of the whole intelligence of
a nation of great mental and moral culture. The peculiarity of the
Prussian system does not lie in the size of its armies or the
perfection of its armament, but in the character of the men who
compose it. All modern armies, except Cromwell's "New Model Army"
and that of the United States during the rebellion, have been
composed almost entirely of ignorant peasants drilled into passive
obedience to a small body of professional soldiers. The Prussian
army is the first, however, to be a perfect reproduction of the
society which sends it to the field. To form it, all Prussian men
lay down their tools or pens or books, and shoulder muskets.
Consequently, its excellences and defects are those of the community
at large, and the community at large being cultivated in a
remarkable degree, we get for the first time in history a real
example of the devotion of mind and training, on a great scale, to
the work of destruction.

Of course, the quality of the private soldier has in all wars a
good deal to do with making or marring the fortunes of commanders;
but it is safe to say that no strategists have over owed so much
to the quality of their men as the Prussian strategists. Their
perfect handling of the great masses which are now manoeuvring
in France has been made in large degree possible by the
intelligence of the privates. This has been strikingly shown on
two or three occasions by the facility with which whole regiments
or brigades have been sacrificed in carrying a single position.
With ordinary troops, only a certain amount can be deliberately
and openly exacted of any one corps. The highest heights of
devotion are often beyond their reach. But if it serves the
purposes of a Prussian commander to have all the cost of an
assault fall on one regiment, he apparently finds not the slightest
difficulty in getting it to march to certain destruction, and not
blindly as peasants march, but as men of education, who understand
the whole thing, but having made it for this occasion their
business to die, do it like any other duty of life--not hilariously
or enthusiastically or recklessly, but calmly and energetically,
as they study or manufacture or plough. They get themselves killed
not one particle more than is necessary, but also not one particle

A nation organized in this way is a new phenomenon, and is worth
attentive study. It gives one a glimpse of possibilities in the
future of modern civilization of which few people have hitherto
dreamed, and it must be confessed that the prospect is not
altogether pleasing. We have been flattering ourselves--in
Anglo-Saxondom, at least--for many years back that all social
progress was to be hereafter in the direction of greater
individualism, and among us, certainly, this view has derived
abundant support from observed facts. But it is now apparent that
there is a tendency at work, which appears to grow stronger and
stronger every day, toward combination in all the work of life.
It is specially observable in the efforts of the working classes
to better their condition; it still more observable in the
efforts of capital to fortify itself against them and against the
public at large; and there is, perhaps, nothing in which more
rapid advances have been made of late years than in the power of
organization. The working of the great railroads and hotels and
manufactories, of the trades unions, of the co-operative
associations, and of the monster armies now maintained by three
or four powers, are all illustrations of it. The growth of power
is, of course, the result of the growth of intelligence, and it
is in the ratio of the growth of intelligence.

Prussia has got the start of all other countries by combining the
whole nation in one vast organization for purposes of offence and
defence. Hitherto nations have simply subscribed toward the
maintenance of armies and concerned themselves little about their
internal economy and administration; but the Prussians have
converted themselves into an army, and have been enabled to do so
solely by subjecting themselves to a long process of elaborate
training, which has changed the national character. When reduced
to the lowest point of humiliation after the battle of Jena, they
went to work and absolutely built up the nation afresh. We may
not altogether like the result. To large numbers of people the
Prussian type of character is not a pleasing one, nor Prussian
society an object of unmixed admiration, and there is something
horrible in a whole people's passing their best years learning
how to kill. But we cannot get over the fact that the Prussian
man is likely to furnish, consciously or unconsciously, the model
to other civilized countries, until such time as some other
nation has so successfully imitated him as to produce his like.

Let those who believe, as Mr. Wendell Phillips says that he
believes, that "the best education a man can get is what he gets
in picking up a living," and that universities are humbugs, and
that from the newspapers and lyceum lecture the citizen can
always get as much information on all subjects, human and divine,
as is good for him or the State, take a look at the Prussian
soldier as he marches past in his ill-fitting uniform and his
leather helmet. First of all, we observe that he smokes a great
deal. According to some of us, the "tobacco demon" ought by this
time to have left him a thin, puny, hollow-eyed fellow, with
trembling knees and palpitating heart and listless gait, with
shaking hands and an intense craving for ardent spirits. You
perceive, however, that a burlier, broader-shouldered, ruddier,
brighter-eyed, and heartier-looking man you never set eyes on;
and as he swings along in column, with his rifle, knapsack,
seventy rounds of ammunition, blanket, and saucepan, you must
confess you cannot help acknowledging that you feel sorry for any
equal body of men in the world with which that column may get
into "a difficulty." He drinks, too, and drinks a great deal,
both of strong beer and strong wine, and has always done so, and
all his family friends do it, and have only heard of teetotalism
through the newspapers, and, if you asked him to confine himself
to water, would look on you as an amiable idiot. Nevertheless, you
never see him drunk, nor does his beer produce on him that
utterly bemuddling or brain-paralyzing effect which is so
powerfully described by our friend Mr. James Parton as produced
on him by lager-bier, in that inquiry into the position of "The
Coming Man" toward wine, some copies of which, we see, he is
trying to distribute among the field-officers. On the contrary,
he is, on the whole, a very sober man, and very powerful thinker,
and very remarkable scholar. There is no field of human knowledge
which he has not been among the first to explore; no heights of
speculation which he has not scaled; no problem of the world over
which he is not fruitfully toiling. Moreover, his thoroughness is
the envy of the students of all other countries, and his hatred
of sham scholarship and slipshod generalization is intense.

But what with the tobacco and the beer, and the scholarship and
his university education, you might naturally infer that he must
be a kid-glove soldier, and a little too nice and dreamy and
speculative for the actual work of life. But you never were more
mistaken. He is leaving behind him some of the finest manufactories
and best-tilled fields in the world. Moreover, he is an admirable
painter and, as all the world knows, an almost unequalled musician;
or if you want proof of his genius for business, look at the speed
and regularity with which he and his comrades have transported
themselves to the Rhine, and see the perfection of all the
arrangements of his regiment. And now, if you think his "bad habits,"
his daily violations of your notions of propriety, have diminished
his power of meeting death calmly--that noblest of products of
culture--you have only to follow him up as far as Sedan and see
whether he ever flinches; whether you have ever read or heard of
a soldier out of whom more marching and fighting and dying,
and not flighty, boisterous dying either, could be got.

Now, we can very well understand why people should be unwilling
to see the Prussian military system spread into other countries,
or even be preserved where it is. It is a pitiful thing to have
the men of a whole civilized nation spending so much time out of
the flower of their years learning to kill other men; and the
lesson to be drawn from the recent Prussian successes is
assuredly not that every country ought to have an army like the
Prussian army, though we confess that, if great armies must be
kept up, there is no better model than the Prussian. The lesson
is that, whether you want him for war or peace, there is no way
in which you can get so much out of a man as by training him, and
training him not in pieces but the whole of him; and that the
trained men, other things being equal, are pretty sure in the
long run to be the masters of the world.


We had, four or five weeks ago, a few words of controversy with the
_Christian Union_ as to the comparative morality of the Prussians
and Americans, or, rather, their comparative religiousness--meaning
by religiousness a disposition "to serve others and live as in God's
sight;" in other words, unselfishness and spirituality. We let it
drop, from the feeling that the question whether the Americans or
Prussians were the better men was only a part, and a very small
part, of the larger question. How do we discover which of any two
nations is the purer in its life or in its aims? and, is not any
judgment we form about it likely to be very defective, owing to the
inevitable incompleteness of our premises? We are not now going to
try to fix the place of either Prussia or the United States in the
scale of morality, but to point out some reasons why all comparisons
between them should be made by Americans with exceeding care and
humility. There is hardly any field of inquiry in which even the
best-informed man is likely to fall into so many errors; first,
because there is no field in which the vision is so much affected by
prejudices of education and custom; and, secondly, because there is
none in which the things we see are so likely to create erroneous
impressions about the things we do not see. But we may add that it
is a field which no intelligent and sensible man ever explores
without finding his charity greatly stimulated.

Let us give some illustrations of the errors into which people
are apt to fall in it. Count Gasparin, a French Protestant, and
as spiritually minded a man as breathed, once talking with an
American friend expressed in strong terms his sense of the pain
it caused him that Mr. Lincoln should have been at the theatre
when he was killed, not, the friend found, because he objected in
the least to theatre-going, but because it was the evening of
Good Friday--a day which the Continental Calvinists "keep" with
great solemnity, but to which American non-episcopal Protestants
pay no attention whatever. Count Gasparin, on the other hand,
would have no hesitation in taking a ride on Sunday, or going to
a public promenade after church hours, and, from seeing him
there, his American friend would draw deductions just as
unfavorable to the Count's religious character as the Count
himself drew with regard to Mr. Lincoln's.

Take, again, the question of drinking beer and wine. There is a
large body of very excellent men in America who, from a long
contemplation of the evils wrought by excessive indulgence in
intoxicating drinks, have worked themselves up to a state of mind
about all use of such drinks which is really discreditable to
reasonable beings, leads to the most serious platform excesses,
and is perfectly incomprehensible to Continental Europeans. To
the former, the drinking even of lager beer connotes, as the
logicians say, ever so many other vices--grossness and sensuality
of nature, extravagance, indifference to home pleasures,
repugnance to steady industry, and a disregard of the precepts of
religion and morality. To many of them a German workman, and his
wife and children, sitting in a beer-garden on a summer's
evening, which to European moralists and economists is one of the
most pleasing sights in the world, is a revolting spectacle,
which calls for the interference of the police. Now, if you go to
a beer-garden in Berlin you may, any Sunday afternoon, see
doctors of divinity--none of your rationalists--but doctors of
real divinity, to whom American theologians go to be taught,
doing this very thing, and, what is worse, smoking pipes. An
American who applied to this the same course of reasoning which
he would apply to a similar scene in America, would simply be
guilty of outrageous folly. If he argued from it that the German
doctor was selfish, or did not "live as in the sight of God," the
whole process would be a model of absurdity.

Foreigners have drawn, on the other hand, from the American
"diligence in business," conclusions with regard to American
character far more uncomplimentary than those the _Christian Union_
has expressed with regard to the Prussians. There are not a few
religious and moral and cultivated circles in Europe in which the
suggestion that Americans, as a nation, were characterized by
thoughtfulness for others and a sense of God's presence would be
received with derisive laughter, owing to the application to the
phenomena of American society of the process of reasoning on which,
we fear, the _Union_ relies. Down to the war, so candid and
perspicacious a man as John Stuart Mill might have been included in
this class. The earlier editions of his "Elements of Political
Economy" contained a contemptuous statement that one sex in America
was entirely given up to "dollar-hunting" and the other to "breeding
dollar-hunters." In other words, he held that the American people
were plunged in the grossest materialism, and he doubtless based
this opinion on that intense application of the men to commercial
and industrial pursuits which we see all around us, which no church
finds fault with, but which, we know, bad as its effects are on art
and literature, really coexists with great generosity, sympathy,
public spirit, and ideality.

Take, again, the matter of chastity, on which the _Union_
touched. We grant at the outset that wherever you have classes,
the women of the lower class suffer more or less from the men of
the upper class, and anybody who says that seductions, accomplished
through the effect on female vanity of the addresses of "superiors
in station," while almost unknown here, are very numerous in Europe,
would find plenty of facts to support him. But, on the other hand,
an attempt made to persuade a Frenchman that the familiar
intercourse which the young people of both sexes in this country
enjoy was generally pure, would fail in ninety-nine cases out of
a hundred. That it should be pure is opposed to all his experience
of human nature, both male and female; and the result of your
argument with him would be that he would conclude either that you
were an extraordinarily simple person, or took him for one.

On the other hand, we believe the German, who thinks nothing of
drinking as much wine or beer as he cares for, draws from the
conduct of the American young woman whom he sees abroad, and from
what he reads in our papers about "free love," Indiana divorces,
abortion, and what not, conclusions with regard to American chastity
very different from those of the _Union_; and, if you sought to meet
him in discussion, he would overwhelm you with facts and cases
which, looked at apart from the general tenor of American life and
manners, it would be very hard to dispose of. He would say, for
instance, that we are not, perhaps, guilty of as many violations of
the marriage vows as Europeans; but that we make it so light a vow
that, instead of violating it, we get it abrogated, and then follow
our will; and then he would come down on us with boarding-house and
hotel life, and other things of the same kind, which might make us
despise him, but would make it a little difficult to get rid of him.

There is probably no minor point of manners which does more to
create unfavorable impressions of Europeans among the best class
of Americans--morally the best, we mean--than the importance
attached by the former to their eating and drinking; while there
is nothing which does more to spread in Europe impressions
unfavorable to American civilization than the indifference of
Americans, and, we may add, as regards the progressive portion of
American society--cultivated indifference--to the quality of
their meals and the time of eating them. In no European country
is moderate enjoyment of the pleasures of the table considered
incompatible with high moral aims, or even a sincerely religious
character; but a man to whom his dinner was of serious importance
would find his position in an assembly of American reformers very
precarious. The German or Frenchman or Englishman, indeed, treats
a man's views of food, and his disposition or indisposition to
eat it in company with his fellows as an indication of his place
in civilization. Savages love to eat alone, and it has been
observed in partially civilized communities relapsing into
barbarism, that one of the first indications of their decline was
the abandonment of regular meals on tables, and a tendency on the
part of the individuals to retire to secret places with their
victuals. This is probably a remnant of the old aboriginal
instinct which we still see in domesticated dogs, and was,
doubtless, implanted for the protection of the species in times
when everybody looked on his neighbor's bone with a hungry eye,
and the man with the strong hand was apt to have the fullest
stomach. Accordingly, there is in Europe, and indeed everywhere,
a tendency to regard the growth of a delicacy in eating, and
close attention to the time and manner of serving meals and their
cookery, and the use of them as promoters of social intercourse,
as an indication of moral as well as material progress. To a
large number of people here, on the other hand, the bolting of
food--ten-minute dinners, for instance--and general unconsciousness
of "what is on the table," is a sign of preoccupation with serious
things. It may be; but the German love of food is not necessarily a
sign of grossness, and that "overfed" appearance, of which the
_Union_ spoke, is not necessarily a sign of inefficiency, any more
than leanness or cadaverousness is a sign of efficiency. There is
certainly some power of hard work in King William's army, and,
indeed, we could hardly point to a better illustration of the truth,
that all the affairs of men, whether political, social, or
religious, depend for their condition largely on the state of the

Honesty, by which we mean that class of virtues which Cicero
includes in the term _bona fides_, has, to a considerable extent,
owing, we think, to the peculiar humanitarian character which the
circumstances of the country have given to the work of reform, been
subordinated in the United States to brotherly kindness. Now, this
right to arrange the virtues according to a scale of its own, is
something which not only every age, but every nation, has claimed,
and, accordingly, we find that each community, in forming its
judgment of a man's character, gives a different degree of weight to
different features of it. Keeping a mistress would probably,
anywhere in the United States, damage a man's reputation far more
seriously than fraudulent bankruptcy; while horse-stealing, which in
New England would be a comparatively trifling offence, out in
Montana is a far fouler thing than murder. But in the European
scale, honesty still occupies the first place. Bearing this in mind,
it is worth any man's while who proposes to pass judgment on the
morality of any foreign country, to consider what is the impression
produced on foreign opinion about American morality by the story of
the Erie Railroad, by the career of Fisk, by the condition of the
judicial bench in the commercial capital of the country, by the
charges of corruption brought against such men as Trumbull and
Fessenden at the time of the impeachment trial; by the comically
prominent and beloved position which Butler has held for some years
in our best moral circles, and by the condition of the civil

The truth is that it is almost impossible for anybody to compare
one nation with another fairly, unless he possesses complete
familiarity with the national life of both, and therefore can
distinguish isolated facts from symptomatic facts.

The reason why some of the phenomena of American society which
shock foreigners greatly, do not shock even the best Americans so
much, is not that the latter have become hardened to them--though
this counts for something--but that they know of various
counteracting and compensating phenomena which prevent, or are
sure to prevent, them in the long run from doing the mischief
which they seem to threaten. In other words, they understand the
checks and balances of their society as well as its tendencies.
Anybody who considers these things will be careful how he
denounces people whose manners differ from his own for want of
spirituality or morality, and we may add that any historical
student engaged in comparing the morality of the age in which he
lives with that of any other age which he knows only through
chronicles, will do well to exercise the same caution for the
same reasons.


It is recorded of a patriotic member of the Committee of Ways and
Means, that after hearing from the Special Commissioner of the
Revenue an elaborate and strongly fortified argument which made a
deep impression on the committee in favor of a reduction of the
whiskey tax, on the ground that the then rate, two dollars a
gallon, could not be collected--he closed the debate, and carried
the majority with him, by declaring that, for his part, he never
would admit that a government which had just suppressed the
greatest rebellion the world ever saw, could not collect two
dollars a gallon on whiskey. A large portion of the public
approaches the comic-paper problem in much the same spirit in
which this gentleman approached the whiskey tax. The country has
plenty of humor, and plenty of humorists. It fills whole pages of
numerous magazines and whole columns of numerous newspapers with
really good jokes every month. It supplies great numbers of
orators and lecturers and diners-out with "little stories,"
which, of their kind, cannot be surpassed. There is probably no
country in the world, too, in which there is so much constantly
going on of the fun which does not need local knowledge or
coloring to be enjoyed, but will bear exportation, and be
recognized as the genuine article in any English-speaking part of
the world. Moreover, there is in the real American stories an
amount of suggestiveness, a power of "connotation," which cannot
be affirmed of those of any other country. A very large number of
them are real contributions to sociology, and of considerable
value too. Besides all this, the United States possesses, what no
other nation does, several professed jesters--that is, men who
are not only humorous in the ordinary sense of the term, but make
a business of cracking jokes, and are recognized as persons whose
duty it is to take a jocose view of things. Artemus Ward, Josh
Billings, and Mark Twain, and the Rev. P. V. Nasby, and one or
two others of less note, are a kind of personages which no other
society has produced, and could in no other society attain equal
celebrity. In fact, when one examines the total annual production
of jokes in the United States, one who knows nothing of the past
history of the comic-paper question can hardly avoid the
conclusion that such periodicals would run serious risk of being
overwhelmed with "good things" and dying of plethora. Yet the
melancholy fact is that several--indeed, all that have been
started--have died of inanition; that is, of the absence of
jokes. The last one says it offered all the great humorists in
the country plenty of work, and their own terms as to pay, and
failed to enlist them, and the chance jokes apparently were
neither numerous enough nor good enough to keep it afloat.

Now what is the cause of this disheartening state of things? Why can
the United States not have a comic paper of their own? The answers
to this question vary, though of course not greatly. They are mostly
given in the shape of a history, with appropriate comments, of the
unsuccessful attempts made to establish comic papers; one went down
because it did not sympathize with the liberal and humane movements
of the day, and laughed in the pro-slavery interest; another,
because it never succeeded in getting hold of a good draughtsman for
its engravings; and another venture failed, among other mistakes, we
are told, because it made fun of the New York _Tribune_. The
explanation which finds most general favor with the public is, that
while in England, France, and Germany "the great dailies" confine
themselves to the serious treatment of the topics of the day, and
thus leave room for the labors of _Punch_, or _Kladderadatsch_, or
_Charivari_, in America all papers do their own joking; and, if it
seems desirable to take a comic view of anything or anybody, take it
on the spot in their own columns.

Hence any paper which starts on a comic basis alone meets with
rivals in all its sober-minded contemporaries, and comes to
grief. The difficulty it has to contend with is, in short, very
like that which the professional laundress or baker has to
contend with, owing to the fact that families are accustomed to
do their own washing and bake their own bread. And, indeed, it is
not unlike that with which professional writers of all kinds have
to contend, owing to the readiness of clergymen, lawyers, and
professors to write, while doing something else. An ordinary
daily paper supplies, besides its serious disquisitions, fun
enough for one average household--sometimes in single jokes, and
sometimes in the shape of "sparkle" or "spiciness" in grave
articles. Often enough it is very poor stuff, but it amuses
people, without turning their attention away from the sober work
of life, which is the only way in which the vast body of
Americans are willing to be amused. Newspaper comedians have
here, what they would not have in London, a chance of letting off
a joke once a day, and six or seven jokes a week is more than any
comic paper is willing or able to take from any one contributor,
partly owing to the need of variety in a paper given wholly to
humor, and partly owing to want of space. Anybody, therefore, who
has humor for sale finds a readier market among the dailies or
magazines, and a far wider circle of readers, than he would in
any comic paper.

The charge that our comic papers have generally opposed the friends
of liberty and progress--that is the most intelligent and
appreciative portion of the public--is quite true, but it does not
go far to account for their failure. _Punch_ has done this steadily
ever since its establishment, without serious injury. No good cause
has ever received much backing from it till it became the cause of
the majority, or indeed has escaped being made the butt of its
ridicule; and we confess we doubt whether "the friends of progress,"
using the term in what we may call its technical sense, were ever a
sufficiently large body, or had ever sufficient love of fun, to make
their disfavor of any great consequence. Most people in the United
States who are very earnestly enlisted in the service of "a cause"
look on all ridicule as "wicked," and regard with great suspicion
anybody who indulges in it, whether he makes them the object of it
or not. They bore with it, when turned against slavery, from one or
two distinguished humorists, because its effectiveness was plain;
but we doubt whether any man who had the knack of seeing the
ludicrous side of things ever really won their confidence, partly
owing to their own natural want of humor, and partly to their
careful cultivation of a habit of solemnity of mind as the only
thing that can make an "advanced" position really tenable, to say
nothing of comfortable. The causes of all successes, as of all
failures, in the literary world are of course various, and no doubt
there is a good deal of truth in all that has been said in solution
of the comic-paper problem. American humorists of the best class can
find something better or more lucrative to do than writing for a
comic paper; while the poor American humorists, like the poor
humorists of all countries, are coarse and vulgar, even where they
are not stupid.

But there is one striking difference between American society and
those societies in which comic papers have succeeded which not
only goes a good way to explain their failure here, but puts a
better face on some of their efforts--such as their onslaughts on
the friends of progress--than they seem to wear at first sight.
To furnish sufficient food for fun to keep a comic paper afloat,
a country must supply a good many strong social contrasts for the
professional joker to play upon, and must have a large amount of
reverence for social distinctions and dignities for him to shock.
Two-thirds of the zest with which foreign comic papers are read
is due to the fact that they caricature persons or social circles
with which the mass of their readers are not thoroughly familiar,
and whose habits and ways of looking at things they do not share
or only partly share. A good deal of the fun in _Punch_, for
instance, consists in making costermongers or cabmen quarrel with
the upper classes, in ridicule of Jeames's attempts to imitate
his master, of Brown's efforts to scrape acquaintance with a
peer, of the absurd figure cut by the "cad" in the hunting-field,
and of the folly of the city clerk in trying to dress and behave
like a guardsman. In short, the point of a great number of its
best jokes is made by bringing different social strata into sharp
comparison. The peculiarities of Irishmen and Scotchmen also
furnish rich materials to the caricaturist. He never tires of
illustrating the blunders and impudence of the one and the hot
patriotism and niggardliness of the other. The Irish Highlander,
who denies, in a rich brogue, that any Irish are ever admitted
into his regiment, and the cannie burgher from Aberdeen, who, on
his return home from a visit to London, says it's an "awfu' dear
place; that he hadna' been twa oors in the toon when bang went
saxpence," are types which raise a laugh all over the United
Kingdom, and all because, again, they furnish materials for
ludicrous contrast which everybody is capable of appreciating.

Neither the Irishman, Scotchman, nor Englishman, as such, can be
made to yield much fun, if sketched alone. It is when ranged
alongside of each other, and measured by the English middle-class
standard of propriety, that they become entertaining.

In a homogeneous society, like that of the United States, none of
this material is to be found. The New Englander, to be sure,
furnishes a type which differs from the Middle-States man or the
Southerner or Westerner, but none of them differs enough to make him
worth caricaturing. His speech, his dress, his modes of acting and
thinking so nearly resemble those of his neighbors in other parts of
the country that after the comic writer or draughtsman had done his
best or his worst upon him, it would remain still a little doubtful
where the joke came in. The Irishman, and especially the New York
Irish voter, and his sister Bridget, the cook, have during the past
ten years rendered more or less service as butts for caricaturists,
but they are rapidly wearing out. They are not many-sided persons at
best, and their characteristics have become associated in the
American mind with so much that is uncomfortable and repulsive in
domestic and political life, that it becomes increasingly difficult
to get a native to laugh at them. It must be confessed, too, that
the Irish in America have signally belied the poet's assertion,
"_Coelum non animam mutant qui trans mare currunt_." There is
nothing more striking in their condition than the almost complete
disappearance from their character, at least in its outward
manifestations, of the vivacity, politeness, kindliness, comical
blundering impetuosity, and double-sightedness, out of which the
Irishman of the stage and Jo Miller's Irishman who made all the
bulls were manufactured in the last century. Of the other
nationalities we need hardly speak, as the English-speaking public
knows little of them, although the German Jew is perhaps the most
durable material the comic writer has ever worked on.

The absence of class distinctions here, too, and the complete
democratization of institutions during the last forty years, have
destroyed the reverence and sense of mystery by shocking which
the European comic paper produces some of its most tickling
effects. Gladstone and Disraeli figuring as pugilists in the
ring, for instance, diverts the English public, because it gives
a very smart blow to the public sense of fitness, and makes a
strong impression of absurdity, these two men being to the
English public real dignitaries, in the strict sense of the word,
and under the strongest obligations to behave properly. But a
representation of Grant and Sumner as pugilists would hardly make
Americans laugh, because, though absurd, it would not be nearly
so absurd, or run counter to any so sharply defined standard of
official demeanor. The Lord Chief-Justice playing croquet with a
pretty girl owes nearly all its point, as a joke, to the popular
awe of him and the mystery which surrounds his mode of life in
popular eyes; a picture of Chief-Justice Chase doing the same
thing would hardly excite a smile, because everybody knows him,
and has known him all his life, and can have access to him at any
hour of the night or day. And then it must be borne in mind that
Paris and London contain all the famous men of France and
England, and anybody who jokes about them is sure of having the
whole public for an audience; while the best New York joke falls
flat in Boston or Philadelphia, and flatter still in Cincinnati
or Chicago, owing to want of acquaintance with the materials of
which it is composed.

We might multiply these illustrations indefinitely, but we have
probably said enough to show anyone that the field open to our
comic writer is very much more restricted than that in which his
European rival labors. He has, in short, to seek his jokes in
character, while the European may draw largely upon manners, and
it is doubtful whether character will ever supply materials for a
really brilliant weekly comedian. Its points are not sufficiently
salient. The American comic papers have evidently perceived the
value of reverence and of violent contrast for the purposes of
their profession, and this it is which leads them so constantly
to select reformers and reform movements as their butts. The
earnest man, intensely occupied with "a cause," comes nearer to
standing in the relation to the popular mind occupied in England
by the aristocrat or statesman than anybody else in America. The
politician is notorious for his familiarity with all comers, and
"the gentleman" has become too insignificant a person to furnish
materials for a contrast; but the progressive man is sufficiently
well known, and sufficiently stiff in his moral composition, to
make it funny to see him in a humorous tableau.


Mr. Froude announced that his object in coming to America was to
enlighten the American public as to the true nature of Irish
discontent, in such manner that American opinion, acting on Irish
opinion, would reconcile the Irish to the English connection, and
turn their attention to practical remedies for whatever was wrong
in their condition--American opinion being now, in Irish eyes,
the court of last resort in all political controversies. It is
casting no reflection on the historical or literary value of his
lectures to say that Mr. Froude, in proposing to himself any such
undertaking, fell into error as to the kind of audience he was
likely to command, and as to the nature of the impression he was
likely to make. The class of persons who listen to him is one of
great intelligence and respectability, but it is a class to which
the Irish are not in the habit of listening, and which has
already formed as unfavorable opinions about the political
character of the Irish as Mr. Froude could wish. He will be
surrounded during his whole tour by a public to whose utterances
the Irish pay no more attention than to the preachings of Mr.
Newdegate or Mr. Whalley, and who have long ago reached, from
their observation of the influence of the Irish immigration on
American politics, the very conclusions for which Mr. Froude
proposes to furnish historical justification. In short, he is
addressing people who have either already made up their minds, or
whose minds have no value for the purpose of his mission.

On the other hand, he will not reach at all the political class
which panders to Irish hatred of England, and, if he does reach
it, he will produce no effect on it. Not one speech the less will
be uttered, or article the less written, in encouragement of
Fenianism in consequence of anything he may say. Indeed, the idea
that the Bankses will be more careful in their Congressional
reports, or the Coxes or Mortons in their political harangues,
either after or before election, in consequence of Mr. Froude's
demonstration of the groundlessness of Fenian complaints, is one
which to "the men inside politics" must be very amusing.

We think, however, we can safely go a little further than this,
and say that however much light he may throw on the troubled
waters of Irish history, his deductions will not find a ready
acceptance among thinking Americans. The men who will heartily
agree with him in believing that the Irish have, on the whole,
only received their due, are not, as a rule, fair exponents of
the national temper or of the tendencies of the national mind.
Those who listened on Friday night last to his picturesque
account of the Elizabethan and Cromwellian attempts to pacify
Ireland, must have felt in their bones that--in spite of the
cheers which greeted some of his own more eloquent and some of
his bolder passages, and in particular his dauntless way of
dealing with the Drogheda Massacre--his political philosophy was
not one which the average American could be got to carry home
with him and ponder and embrace. Mr. Froude, it must in justice
to him be said, by no means throws all the responsibility of
Irish misery on Ireland. He deals out a considerable share of
this responsibility to England, but then his mode of apportioning
it is one which is completely opposed to most of the fundamental
notions of American politics. For instance, his whole treatment
of Irish history is permeated by an idea which, whatever marks it
may have left on American practice in dealing with the Indians,
has no place now in American political philosophy--we mean what
is called in English politics "the imperial idea"--the idea, that
is, that a strong, bold, and courageous race has a sort of
"natural right" to invade the territory of weak, semi-civilized,
and distracted races, and undertake the task of governing them by
such methods as seem best, and at such cost of life as may be
necessary. This idea is a necessary product of English history;
it is not likely to disappear in England as long as she possesses
such a school for soldiers and statesmen as is furnished by
India. Indeed, she could not stay in India without some such
theory to support her troops, but it is not one which will find a
ready acceptance here. American opinion has, within the last
twenty years, run into the very opposite extreme, and now
maintains with some tenacity the right even of barbarous
communities to be let alone and allowed to work out their own
salvation or damnation in their own way. There is little or no
faith left in this country in the value of superimposed
civilization, or of "superior minds," or of higher organization,
while there is a deep suspicion of, or we might say there is deep
hostility toward, all claims to rule based on alleged superiority
of race or creed or class. We doubt if Mr. Froude could have hit
on a more unpalatable mode, or a mode more likely to clash with
the prevailing tendencies of American opinion, of defending
English rule in Ireland than the argument that, Englishmen being
stronger and wiser than Irishmen, Irishmen ought to submit to
have themselves governed on English ideas whether they like it or
not. He has produced this argument already in England, and it has
elicited there a considerable amount of indignant protest. We are
forced to say of it here that it is likely to do great mischief,
over and above the total defeat of Mr. Froude's object in coming
to this country. The Irish in America are more likely to be
exasperated by it than the Irish at home, and we feel sure that
no native American will ever venture to use it to an Irish

There is one other point to which Mr. Froude's attention ought to
be called, as likely seriously to diminish the political weight
of his exposition of the causes of Irish discontent. The sole
justification of a conquest, even of a conquest achieved over
barbarians by a civilized people, is that it supplies good
government--that is, protection for life and property. Unless it
does this, no picture, however dark, of the discords and disorder
and savagery of the conquered can set the conqueror right at the
bar of civilized opinion. Therefore, the shocking and carefully
darkened pictures of the social and political degradation of the
native Irish in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth
centuries with which Mr. Froude is furnishing us, are available
for English vindication only on the supposition that the
invasion, even if it destroyed liberty, brought with it law and
order. But according to Mr. Froude's eloquent confession, it
brought nothing of the kind.

Queen Elizabeth made the first serious attempt to subjugate
Ireland, but she did it, Mr. Froude tells us, with only a handful
of English soldiers--who acted as auxiliaries to Irish clans
engaged on the queen's instigation in mutual massacre. After
three years of this sort of thing, the whole southern portion of
the island was reduced, to use Mr. Froude's words, "to a smoking
wilderness," men, women, and children having been remorselessly
slaughtered; but no attempt whatever was then made to establish
either courts or police, or any civil rule of any kind. Society
was left in a worse condition than before. Why was this? Because,
says Mr. Froude, the English Constitution made no provision for
the maintenance of a standing army for any such purpose.

The second attempt was made by Cromwell. He slaughtered the
garrisons of Drogheda and Wexford, and scattered the armies of
the various Irish factions, but he made no more attempt to police
the island than Elizabeth. The only mode of establishing order
resorted to by the Commonwealth was the wholesale confiscation of
the land, and its distribution among the officers and soldiers of
the army, the natives of all ages and sexes being driven into
Connaught. The "policing" was then left to be done by the new
settlers, each man with the strong hand, on his own account. The
third attempt was made by William III., who also followed the
Cromwellian plan, and left the island to be governed during the
following century by the military adventurers who had entered
into possession of the soil.

The excuse for not endeavoring to set up an honest and efficient
government remained the same in all three cases; the absence of
an army, or occupation elsewhere. In other words, the conquest
from first to last wanted the only justification which any
conquest can have. England found the Irish much in the same stage
of social and political progress in which Caesar found the Gauls,
destitute of nearly all the elements of political organization;
but instead of founding a political system, and maintaining it,
she interfered for century after century only to subjugate and
lay waste, and set the natives by the ears. Mr. Froude's answer
to this is, that if the Irish had been better men they could
easily have driven the English out, which is perhaps a good
reason for not bestowing much pity on the Irish, but it is not a
good reason for telling the Irish they ought not to hate England.
No pity can be made welcome which is ostentatiously mingled with
contempt. It is quite true, to our minds, that during the last
fifty years England has supplied the Irish with a better
government than the Irish could provide for themselves within the
next century at least.

There is no doubt of the substantial value of the English connection
to Ireland _now_; but there is just as little that in the past
history of this connection there is reason enough for Irish
suspicion and dislike. The tenacity of the Irish memory, too, is one
of the great political defects and misfortunes of the race.
Inability to forget past "wrongs" in the light of present
prosperity, is a sure sign of the absence of the political sense;
and that the Irish are wanting in the political sense no candid man
can deny. That they are really still, to a considerable extent, in
the tribal stage of progress, there is little doubt. But they are
surrounded by ideas, and institutions, and influences which make it
useless to try to raise them out of that stage by the "imperial"
method of government, or, in other words, by trying to persuade them
that they have richly deserved all their misfortunes, and that the
best thing they can do is to let a superior race mould their
destinies. If it were possible for Englishmen to be a little more
patient with their weaknesses, to yield a little more to the
childish vanities and aspirations which form the nearest approach
they have yet made to a feeling of nationality, and take upon
themselves in word as well as in deed their share of the horrible
burdens of Irish history, it would do more toward winning them Irish
confidence than anything Americans are ever likely to say.


There has been something almost tragic about the close of Mr.
Greeley's career. After a life of, on the whole, remarkable success
and prosperity, he fell finally under the weight of accumulated
misfortunes. Nobody who heard him declare that "he accepted the
Cincinnati Convention and its consequences," but must be struck by
the illustration of what is called "the irony of fate," which nearly
everything that occurred afterwards affords. His nomination, from
whatever point of view we look at it, was undoubtedly a high honor.
The manner in which it was received down to the Baltimore Convention
was very flattering. Whether it was a proper thing to "beat Grant"
or not, that so large and so shrewd a body of his countrymen should
have thought Mr. Greeley the man to do it was a great compliment. It
found him, too, in possession of all the influence which the
successful pursuit of his own calling could give a man--the most
powerful editor in the Union, surrounded by friends and admirers,
feared or courted by nearly everybody in public life, and in the
full enjoyment of widespread popular confidence in his integrity. In
six short months he was well-nigh undone. He had endured a
humiliating defeat, which seemed to him to indicate the loss of what
was his dearest possession, the affection of the American people; he
had lost the weight in public affairs which he had built up by
thirty years of labor; he saw his property and, as he thought, that
of his friends diminished by the attempt to give him a prize which
he had in his own estimation fairly earned, and, though last not
least, he found his home invaded by death, and one of the strongest
of the ties which bind a man to this earth broken. It would not be
wonderful if, under these circumstances, the coldest and toughest of
men should lie down and die. But Mr. Greeley was neither cold nor
tough. He was keenly sensitive both to praise and blame. The
applause of even paltry men gladdened him, and their censure stung
him. Moreover, he had that intense longing for reputation as a man
of action by which men of the closet are so often torn. In spite of
all that his writing brought him in reputation, he writhed under the
popular belief that he could do nothing but write, and he spent the
flower of his years trying to convince the public that it was
mistaken about him. It was to this we owed whatever was ostentatious
in his devotion to farming, and in his interest in the manufacturing
industry of the country. It was to this, too, that he owed his keen
and lifelong desire for office, and, in part at least, his activity
in getting offices for other people.

Office-seekers have become in the United States so ridiculous and so
contemptible a class, that a man can hardly seek a place in the
public service without incurring a certain amount of odium; and
perhaps nothing did more damage to Mr. Greeley's reputation than his
anxiety to be put in places of trust or dignity. And yet it is
doubtful if many men seek office with more respectable motives than
his. For pecuniary emolument he cared nothing; but he did pine all
his life long for some conspicuous recognition of his capacity for
the conduct of affairs, and he never got it. The men who have
nominations to bestow either never had confidence enough in his
judgment or ability to offer him anything which he would have
thought worthy of his expectations when there was the least chance
of their choice receiving a popular ratification. They disliked him,
as politicians are apt to dislike an editor in the political arena,
as a man who, in having a newspaper at his back, is sure not to play
their game fairly. The consequence was that he was constantly
irritated by finding how purely professional his influence was, or,
in other words, what a mortifying disproportion existed between his
editorial and his personal power. The first revelation the public
had of the bitterness of his disappointment on this score was caused
by the publication of the famous Seward letter, and the surprise it
caused was perhaps the highest compliment Mr. Greeley ever received.
It showed with what success he had prevented his private griefs from
affecting his public action, and people are always ready to forgive
ambition as an "infirmity of noble minds," even when they do not
feel disposed to reward it.

Unfortunately for Mr. Greeley, however, he never could persuade
himself that the public was of the same mind as the politicians
regarding his personal capacity. He persisted to the last in
believing himself the victim of their envy, hatred, and malice, and
looking with unabated hope to some opportunity of obtaining a
verdict on his merits as a man of action, in which his widespread
popularity and his long and laborious teachings would fairly tell.
The result of the Cincinnati Convention, which his friends and
emissaries from this city went out to prepare, but which perhaps
neither he nor they in the beginning ventured to hope for, seemed to
promise him at last the crown and consummation of a life's longings,
and he received it with almost childlike joy. The election was,
therefore, a crushing blow. It was not, perhaps, the failure to get
the presidency that was hardest to bear--for this might have been
accompanied by such a declaration of his fitness for the presidency
as would have sweetened the remainder of his years--it was the
contemptuous greatness of his opponent's majority which was killing.
It dissipated the illusion of half a lifetime on the one point on
which illusions are dearest--a man's exact place in the estimation
of his countrymen. Very few--even of those whose fame rests on the
most solid foundation of achievement--ever ask to have this
ascertained by a positive test without dread or misgiving, or face
the test without a strain, which the nerves of old men are often ill
fitted to bear. That Mr. Greeley's nerves were unequal to the shock
of failure we now know. But it needed no intimate acquaintance with
him to see that the card in which he announced, two days after the
election, that he would thereafter be a simple editor, would seek
office no more, and would confine himself to the production of a
candid and judicial-minded paper, must have been written in
bitterness of spirit for which this world had no balm.

In addition to the deceptions caused by his editorial influence, Mr.
Greeley had others to contend with, more subtle, but not less
potent. The position of the editor of a leading daily paper is
one which, in our time, is hardly possible for the calmest and
most candid man to fill without having his judgment of himself
perverted by flattery. Our age is intensely commercial; it is not
the dry-goods man or the grain merchant only who has goods for sale,
but the poet, the orator, the scholar, the philosopher, and the
politician. We are all, in a measure, seeking a market for our
wares. What we desire, therefore, above all things, is a good
advertising medium, or, in other words, a good means of making known
to all the world where our store is and what we have to sell. This
means the editor of a daily paper can furnish to anybody he pleases.
He is consequently the object of unceasing adulation from a crowd of
those who shrink from fighting the slow and doubtful battle of life
in the open field, and crave the kindly shelter of editorial
plaudits, "puffs," and "mentions." He finds this adulation offered
freely, and by all classes and conditions, without the least
reference to his character or talents or antecedents. What wonder if
it turns the heads of unworthy men, and begets in them some of the
vices of despots--their unscrupulousness, their cruelty, and their
impudence. What wonder, too, if it should have thrown off his
balance a man like Mr. Greeley, whose head was not strong, whose
education was imperfect, and whose self-confidence had been
fortified by a brave and successful struggle with adversity.

Of his many private virtues, of his kind-heartedness, his
generosity, his sympathy with all forms of suffering and anxiety, we
do not need to speak. His career, too, has little in it to point any
moral that is not already trite and familiar. The only lesson we can
gather from it with any clearness is the uncertainty of this world,
and all that it contains, and the folly of seeking the presidency.
Nobody can hope to follow in his footsteps. He began life as a kind
of editor of which he was one of the last specimens, and which will
shortly be totally extinct--the editor who fought as the man-at-arms
of the party. This kind of work Mr. Greeley did with extraordinary
earnestness and vehemence and success--so much success that a modern
newspaper finally grew up around him, in spite of him, almost to his
surprise, and often to his embarrassment. The changed condition of
journalism, the substitution of the critical for the party views of
things, he never wholly accepted, and his frequent personal
appearance in his columns, under the signature of "H. G." hurling
defiance at his enemies or exposing their baseness, showed how
stifling he found the changed atmosphere. He was fast falling behind
his age when he died. New men, and new issues, and new processes,
which he either did not understand at all or only understood
imperfectly, crowded upon him. If the dazzling prize of the
presidency had not been held before his eyes, we should probably
have witnessed his gradual but certain retirement into well-won
repose. Those who opposed him most earnestly must now regret
sincerely that in his last hours he should have known the bitterness
of believing, what was really not true, that the labors of his life,
which were largely devoted to good causes, had not met the
appreciation they merited at the hands of his countrymen. It is for
his own sake, as well as that of the public, greatly to be regretted
that he should not have lived until the smoke of the late conflict
had cleared away.


Mr. Froude's attempt to secure from the American public a
favorable judgment on the dealings of England with Ireland has
had one good result--though we fear only one--in leading to a
little closer examination of the real state of American opinion
about Irish grievances than it has yet received. He will go back
to England with the knowledge--which he evidently did not possess
when he came here--that the great body of intelligent Americans
care very little about the history of "the six hundred years of
wrong," and know even less than they care, and could not be
induced, except by a land-grant, or a bounty, or a drawback, to
acquaint themselves with it; that those of them who have ever
tried to form an opinion on the Anglo-Irish controversy have
hardly ever got farther than a loose notion that England had most
likely behaved like a bully all through, but that her victim was
beyond all question an obstreperous and irreclaimable ruffian,
whose ill-treatment must be severely condemned by the moralist,
but over whom no sensible man can be expected to weep or

The agencies which have helped to form the popular idea of the
English political character are well known; those which have helped
to deprive the Irish of American sympathy--and which, if Mr. Froude
had judiciously confined himself to describing the efforts made by
England to promote Irish well-being _now_, would probably have made
his lectures very successful--are more obscure. We ourselves pointed
out one of the most prominent, and probably most powerful--the
conduct of the Irish servant-girl in the American kitchen. To this
must of course be added the specimen of "home rule" to which the
country has been treated in this city; but we doubt if this latter
has really exercised as much influence on American opinion as some
writers try to make out. A community which has produced Butler,
Banks, Parker, Bullock, Tweed, Tom Fields, Oakey Hall, Fernando
Wood, Barnard, and scores of others whom we might name, as the
results of good Protestant and Anglo-Saxon breeding, cannot really
be greatly shocked by the bad workings of Celtic blood and Catholic
theology in the persons of Peter B. Sweeny, Billy McMullen, Jimmy
O'Brien, Reddy the Blacksmith, or Judge McCunn. It is in the kitchen
that the Irish iron has entered into the American soul; and it is in
the kitchen that a great triumph was prepared for Mr. Froude, had he
been a judicious man. The memory of burned steaks, of hard-boiled
potatoes, of smoked milk, would have done for him what no state
papers, or records, or correspondence of the illustrious dead can
ever do; it had prepared the American mind to believe the very worst
he could say of Irish turbulence and disorder. Not one of his
auditors but could find in his own experience of Irish cooking
circumstances which would probably have led him to accept without
question the execution of Silken Thomas, the massacre of Drogheda,
or even the Penal Laws, as perfectly justifiable exercises of
authority, and would certainly have made it easy for him to believe
that English rule in Ireland at the present day is beneficent beyond

Nevertheless, we are constrained to say that in our opinion a
great deal of the odium which surrounds Bridget, and which has
excited so much prejudice, not only against her countrymen, but
against her ancestors, in American eyes, has a very insufficient
foundation in reason. There are three characters in which she is
the object of public suspicion and dislike--(1) as a cook; (2) as a
party to a contract; (3) as a member of a household. The charges
made against her in all of these have been summed up in a recent
attack on her in the _Atlantic Monthly_, as "a lack of every quality
which makes service endurable to the employer, or a wholesome life
for the servant."

And the same article charges her with "proving herself, in
obedience, fidelity, care, and accuracy, the inferior of every
kind of servant known to modern society." Of course, there is
hardly a family in the country which has not had, in its own
experience, illustrations of the extravagance of these charges.
There is probably nobody who has long kept servants, who has not
had Irish servants who were obedient, faithful, careful, and even
accurate in a remarkable degree. But then it must be admitted that
this indictment is a tolerably fair rendering, if not of the actual
facts of the case, at least of the impression the facts have left
on the mind of the average employer. This impression, however, needs
correction, as a few not very recondite considerations will show.

As a cook, Bridget is an admitted failure. But cooking is, it is
now generally acknowledged, very much an affair of instinct, and
this instinct seems to be very strong in some races and very weak
in others, though why the French should have it highly developed,
and the Irish be almost altogether deprived of it, is a question
which would require an essay to itself. No amount of teaching
will make a person a good cook who is not himself fond of good
food and has not a delicate palate, for it is the palate which
must test the value of rules. We may deduce from this the
conclusion, which experience justifies, that women are not
naturally good cooks. They have had the cookery of the world in
their hands for several thousand years, but all the marked
advances in the art, and indeed all that can be called the
cultivation of it, have been the work of men. Whatever zeal women
have displayed in it, and whatever excellence they have achieved
in it, have been the result of influences in no way gastronomic,
and which we might perhaps call emotional, such as devotion to
male relatives, or a desire to minister to the pleasure of men in
general. Few or no women cook a dinner in an artistic spirit, and
their success in doing it is nearly always the result of
affection or loyalty--which is of course tantamount to saying
that female cookery as a whole is, and always has been,
comparatively poor.

As a proof of this, we may mention the fact--for fact we think it
is--that the art of cooking among women has declined at any given
time or place--in the Northern States of the Union, for
instance--_pari passu_, with the growth of female independence. That
is, as the habit or love of ministering to men's tastes has become
weaker, the interest in cookery has fallen off. There are no such
cooks among native American women now as there were fifty years ago;
and passages in foreign cookery books which assume the existence
among women of strong interest in their husbands' and brothers'
likings, and strong desire to gratify them, furnish food for
merriment in American households. Bridget, therefore, can plead,
first of all, the general incapacity of women as cooks; and,
secondly, the general falling off in the art under the influence of
the new ideas. It may be that she _ought_ to cultivate assiduously
or with enthusiasm a calling which all the other women of the
country ostentatiously despise, but she would be more than human if
she did so. She imitates American women as closely as she can, and
cannot live on the same soil without imbibing their ideas; and
unhappily, as in all cases of imitation, vices are more easily and
earlier caught than virtues.

She can make, too, an economical defence of the most powerful
kind, to the attacks on her in this line, and it is this: that
whether her cooking be bad or good, she offers it without
deception or subterfuge, at a fair rate, and without compulsion;
that nobody who does not like her dishes need eat them; and that
her defects of taste or training can only be fairly made a cause
of hatred and abuse when she does work badly, which somebody else
is waiting to do better, if she would get out of the way. She has
undertaken the task of cooking for the American nation, not of
her own motion, but simply and solely because the American nation
could find nobody else to do it. She does not, therefore, occupy
the position of a broken-down or incompetent artist, but of a
volunteer at a fire, or a passer-by when you are lying in the
ditch with your leg broken.

The plain truth of the matter is, that the whole native population
of the United States has almost suddenly, and with one accord,
refused to perform for hire any of the services usually called
"menial" or indoor. The men have found other more productive fields
of industry, and the women, under the influence of the prevailing
theory of life, have resolved to accept any employment at any wages
sooner than do other people's housework. The result has been a
demand for trained servants which the whole European continent could
not supply if it would, and which has proved so intense that it has
drawn the peasantry out of the fields _en masse_ from the one
European country in which the peasantry was sufficiently poor to be
tempted, and spoke or understood the American language. No such
phenomenon has ever been witnessed before. No country before has
ever refused to do its own "chores," and called in an army of
foreigners for the purpose. To complain bitterly of their want of
skill is therefore, under the circumstances, almost puerile, from an
economical point of view; while, to anyone who looks at the matter
as a moralist, it is hard to see why Bridget, doing the work badly
in the kitchen, is any more a contemptible object than the American
sewing-girl killing herself in a garret at three dollars a week, out
of devotion to "the principle of equality."

As a party to a contract, Bridget's defects are very strongly
marked. Her sense of the obligation of contracts is feeble. The
reason why this particular vice excites so much odium in her case
is, that the inconveniences of her breaches of contract are
greater than those of almost any other member of the community.
They touch us in our most intimate social relations, and cause us
an amount of mental anguish out of all proportion to their real
importance. But her spirit about contracts is really that of the
entire community in which she lives. Her way of looking at her
employer is, we sincerely believe, about the way of looking at
him common among all employees. The only real restraint on
laborers of any class among us nowadays is the difficulty of
finding another place. Whenever it becomes as easy for clerks,
draughtsmen, mechanics, and the like to "suit themselves" as it
is for cooks or housemaids, we find them as faithless. Native
mechanics and seamstresses are just as perfidious as Bridget, but
incur less obloquy, because their faithlessness causes less
annoyance; but they have no more regard in making their plans for
the interest or wishes of their employer than she has, and they
all take the "modern view" of the matter. What makes her so fond
of change is that she lives in a singularly restless society, in
which everybody is engaged in a continual struggle to "better
himself"--her master, in nine cases out of ten, setting her an
example of dislike to steady industry and slow gains. Moreover,
domestic service is a kind of employment which, if not sweetened
by personal affection, is extraordinarily full of wear and tear.
In it there is no real end to the day, and in small households,
the pursuit and oversight, and often the "nagging," of the
employer, or, in other words, the presence of an exacting,
semi-hostile, and slightly contemptuous person is constant. This
and confinement in a half-dark kitchen produce that nervous
crisis which sends male mechanics and other male laborers,
engaged in monotonous callings, off "on a spree." In Bridget's
case it works itself off by a change of place, with a few days of
squalid repose among "her own people" in a tenement-house.

As regards her general bearing as a member of a household, she
has to contend with three great difficulties--ignorance of
civilized domestic life, for which she is no more to blame than
Russian moujiks; difference of race and creed on the part of her
employer (and this is one which the servants of no other country
have to contend with); and lastly, the strong contempt for
domestic service felt and manifested by all that portion of the
American population with which she comes in contact, and to which
it is her great ambition to assimilate herself. Those who have
ever tried the experiment of late years of employing a native
American as a servant, have, we believe, before it was over,
generally come to look on Bridget as the personification of
repose, if not of comfort; and those who have to call on native
Americans, even occasionally, for services of a quasi-personal
character, such as those of expressmen, hotel clerks, plumbers,
we believe are anxious to make their intercourse with these
gentlemen as brief as possible. Most expressmen are natives, and
are freemen of intelligence and capacity, but they carry your
trunk into your hall with the air of convicts doing forced labor
for a tyrannical jailer. If the spirit in which they discharge
their duties--and they are specimens of a large class--were to
make its way into our kitchens, society would go to pieces.

In short, Bridget is the legitimate product of our economical,
political, and moral condition. We have called her, in our
extremity, to do duties for which she is not trained, and having
got her here have surrounded her with influences and ideas which
American society has busied itself for fifty years in fostering
and spreading, and which, taking hold of persons in her stage of
development, work mental and moral ruin. The things which
American life and manners preach to her are not patience,
sober-mindedness, faithfulness, diligence, and honesty, and
eagerness for physical enjoyment. Whenever the sound of the new
gospel which is to win the natives back to the ancient and noble
ways is heard in the land, it is fair to expect that it will not
find her ears wholly closed, and that when the altar of duty is
again set up by her employers, she will lay on it attractive
beefsteaks, potatoes done to a turn, make libations of delicious
soup, and will display remarkable fertility in "sweets," and an
extreme fondness for washing, and learn to grow old in one


Mr. Mill was, in many respects, one of the most singular men ever
produced by English society. His father was a prominent member of
the small sect or coterie of Benthamites, whose attempts to
reform the world, during the whole of the earlier part of the
present century, furnished abundant matter for ridicule to the
common run of politicians and social philosophers; and this
ridicule was heightened, as the years rolled on, by the
extraordinary jargon which their master adopted for the
communication of his discoveries to the world. The author of the
"Defence of Usury," of the "Fragment on Government," and of the
"Book of Fallacies," had, however, secured a reputation very
early in his career which his subsequent eccentricities could not
shake, but the first attempts of his disciples to catch the
public ear were not fortunate. Macaulay's smart review of James
Mill's book on "Government" gives a very fair expression to the
common feeling about them in English literary and political
circles during John Stuart's boyhood. About the value of the
father's labors as a mental philosopher there are of course a
variety of opinions, but he gave two proofs of capacity for the
practical work of life which there was no gainsaying. He came to
London an obscure man of humble origin, but managed, without ever
having been in India, and at a period when authors were held in
much less esteem by politicians than they were at a later period,
to produce such an impression of his knowledge of Indian affairs,
by his elaborate history of that country, on the minds of the
Directors of the Company, that they gave him an important office
in the India House, and this, too, in spite of the fact that he
lived in a circle generally considered visionary--answering, in
fact, in some degree to what we call the "long-haired people."
Besides this, he himself personally gave his son an education
which made him, perhaps, all things considered, the most
accomplished man of his age, and without help from the universities
or any other institution of learning. The son grew up with a
profound reverence for his father as a scholar and thinker,
and rarely lost an opportunity of expressing it, though, curiously
enough, he began very early to look on Bentham, the head of the
school, with a critical eye. The young man's course was, however,
still more remarkable than the father's.

Although brought up in a narrow coterie holding peculiar and
somewhat unpopular opinions, and displaying, from his first entrance
in life, as intense hostility as it was in his nature to feel
against anything, against the English universities as then organized
and conducted, though they were the centre of English culture and
indeed one might say of intellectual activity, he saw himself,
before he reached middle life, the most potent influence known to
educated Englishmen, and perhaps that which has most contributed to
the late grave changes in English public opinion on several of the
leading social and political problems. Indeed, it is not too much to
say that his writings produced a veritable _debacle_ in the English
mind. The younger generation were a good deal stirred by Carlyle;
but Carlyle, after all, only woke people up, and made them look out
of the window to see what was the matter, after which most of them
went to bed again and slept comfortably. His cries were rather too
inarticulate to furnish anything like a new gospel, and he never
took hold of the intellectual class. But Mill did. The "Logic" and
"Political Economy," as reinforced and expounded by his earlier
essays, were generally accepted by the younger men as the teachings
of a real master, and even those who fully accepted neither his
mental philosophy nor his social economy, acknowledged that the day
of old things was passing away under his preaching. His method,
however, as applied to politics, was not original--in fact, it was

Bentham, who was perhaps, in the field of jurisprudence, the most
destructive critic that ever appeared, had the merit which in his
day was somewhat novel among reformers, and marked him out as
something very different from Continental radicals--of being also
highly constructive. Indeed, his labors in providing substitutes
for what he sought to overthrow are among the most curious, and,
we might add, valuable monuments of human industry and ingenuity.
His proposed reforms were based, too, on a theory of human nature
which differed from that in use among a large number of radicals
in our day in being perfectly sound, that is, in perfect
accordance with observed facts, as far as it went. But it did not
go nearly far enough. It did not embrace the whole of human
nature, or even the greater part of it, and for the simple
reason, which Mr. Mill himself has pointed out in his analysis of
Bentham's character, that its author was almost entirely wanting
in sympathy and imagination. A very large proportion of the
springs of human action were unknown or incomprehensible to him.

The result was that, although he exerted a powerful influence on
English law reform by his exposure of specific abuses, he made
little impression on English sociology, properly so called. This
was in part due to his narrowness of view, and in part to the
absence of an interpreter, none of his followers having attempted
to put his wisdom into readable shape, except Dumont, and he only
partially and in French. The application of his method to the
work of general reform was indeed left to Mr. Mill, who brought
to the task an amount of culture to which Bentham could make no
claim, and a large share of the sympathy of which there was also
so little in Bentham's composition, and a style which, for
expository and didactic purposes, has perhaps never been surpassed.
Moreover, Mr. Mill lost no time, as most men do, in maturing.
He was a full-blown philosopher at twenty-five, and discourses in
his earliest essays with almost the same measure, circumspection,
and gravity exhibited in the latest of his works, and with all the
Benthamite precision and attention to limitations.

He was, however, wanting, as his master was, in imagination, and
wanting, too, in what we may call, though not in any bad sense,
the animal side of man's nature. He suffered in his treatment of
all the questions of the day from excess of culture and
deficiency of blood. He understood and allowed for men's errors
of judgment and for their ignorance, and for their sloth and
indifference; but of appreciation of the force of their passions
his speculations contain little sign. For instance, he was the
first to point out the fact that the principle of competition,
the eager desire to sell, which furnishes the motive power of the
English and American social organization, is almost unknown and
unfelt among the greater part of mankind, but his remedy for
redundancy of population, and his lamentations over "the
subjection of women," are those of a recluse or a valetudinarian.

His influence as a political philosopher may be said to have
stood highest after the appearance of the "Political Economy." He
had, then, perhaps the most remarkable following of hard-headed
men which any English philosopher was ever able to show. But the
reverence of his disciples waned somewhat rapidly after he began
to take a more active part in the treatment of the questions of
the day. His "representative government," valuable as it was as a
philosophical discussion, offered no solution of the problem then
pressing on the public minds in England, which bitter Radicals or
Conservatives could consider comforting. The plan of having the
number of a man's votes regulated by his calling and intelligence
was thoroughly Benthamite. It was as complete and logical as a
proposition in Euclid, and in 1825 would have looked attractive;
but in 1855 the power of doing this nice work had completely
passed out of everybody's hands--indeed, the desire of political
perfection had greatly abated. His lofty and eloquent plaints on
the decline of social freedom helped to strengthen the charge of
want of practicalness, which in our day is so injurious to a
man's political influence, and when he entered Parliament,
although he disappointed none of those who best understood him,
the outside multitude, who had begun to look on him as a prophet,
were somewhat chagrined that he was not readier in parrying the
thrusts of the trained gladiators of the House of Commons. It was
the book on the "Subjection of Women," however, which most shook
the allegiance of his more educated followers, because it was
marked by the widest departures from his own rules of thinking.
It would be impossible to find any justification in his other
works for the doctrine that women are inferior to men for the
same reason that male serfs are inferior to their masters. His
refusal to consider difference of sex as even one probable cause
of women's inferiority to men in mental and moral characteristics,
was something for which few of his disciples were prepared, or
which they ever got over; and indeed his whole treatment of the
question of sex showed, in the opinion of many, a constitutional
incapacity to deal with the gravest problems of social economy.

The standing of Mr. Mill as a mental philosopher appears to be
very differently estimated by late critics and opponents and by
himself, whether we consider the extent of his influence, or the
relations of his doctrines to his nation and time; and there is a
most singular inversion in these estimates of what we should
naturally expect from friend and foe--an estimate of Mill's
position and influence by his opponents, which, compared to his
own, seems greatly exaggerated. For example, Dr. McCosh, a
thorough-going opponent, regards Mill's influence as the most
active and effective philosophical force now alive in Great
Britain, the strongest current of philosophic thought even at
Oxford; and M. Taine, who some years ago discovered at Oxford
that the British nation was not wanting in "general ideas" or
principles in its modes of thought above the requirements of the
accountant and assayer, found these principles in a really living
English philosophy, which has brought forth one of M. Taine's
most elaborate critical studies in his work on "Intelligence." In
contrast with these estimates, we have from Mr. Mill himself the
opinion, in a letter to M. Taine, that his views are not
especially English, and that they have not been so since the
philosophical reaction in Scotland, Germany, and later in England,
against Hume; that when his "System of Logic" was written he "stood
almost alone in his opinions; and though they have met with a degree
of sympathy which he by no means expected, we may still count in
England twenty _a priori_ and spiritualist philosophers for every
partisan of the doctrine of Experience."

This estimate of his own influence and of the importance to
metaphysical discussion at the present time of the philosophy he
"adopted" is entitled to much more consideration than ought in
general to be allowed for an opinion inspired by the ambition,
the enthusiasm, the disappointments, or even the modesty of a
philosophical thinker. Nevertheless, the far different opinion of
his standing as a metaphysician which his critics entertain is
undoubtedly more correct, though in a sense which was not so
clearly apparent to him. They see clearly that a philosophy of
which he was not the founder, and never pretended to be, has
gained through his writings a hold, not only on English
speculation, but on that of the civilized world, which it did not
acquire even in England when it was an especially English
philosophy, as it was "in the first half of the eighteenth
century, from the time of Locke to that of the reaction against

What, then, is it in Mill's philosophical writings that has given
him this eminence as a thinker? Two qualities, we think, very
rarely combined: a philosophical style which for clearness and
cogency has, perhaps, never been surpassed, and a conscientious
painstaking, with a seriousness of conviction, and an earnestness
of purpose which did not in general characterize the thinkers
whose views he adopted. It was by bringing to the support of
doctrines previously regarded as irreligious a truly religious
spirit that Mill acquired in part the influence and respect which
have given him his eminence as a thinker. He thus redeemed the
word "utility" and the utilitarian doctrine of morals from the
ill repute they had, for "the greatest happiness principle" was
with him a religious principle. An equally important part of
his influence is doubtless due to the thoroughness of his
early training--the education received from his father's
instruction--which, as we have said, has made him truly regarded
as the most accomplished of modern dialecticians.

To these grounds of influence may be added, so far as his influence
on English thought is concerned, the fact that he was not a
metaphysician in a positive fashion, though he dealt largely with
metaphysical topics. He represented the almost instinctive aversion
to metaphysics, as such, which has characterized the English since
the time of Newton and Locke, we might also say since the time of
Bacon. Metaphysics, to pass current in England, has now to be
baptized and become part of the authoritative religious instruction,
else it is foreign and barbarous to the English matter-of-fact ways
of thinking. Mill's "System of Logic" was not intended as a system
of _philosophy_ in the German, French, or even Scotch sense of the
term. It is not through the _a priori_ establishment or refutation
of highest principles that experiential, inductive, fact-proven
principles of science are regarded or tested by the unmetaphysical
English mind. Metaphysical doctrines prevail, it is true, in
England, to the extent, probably, that Mr. Mill estimates--twenty to
one of its thinkers holding to some such views. Yet it would be a
misconception to suppose these to be products of modern English
_thought_. They are rather preserves, tabooed, interdicted to
discussion, not the representatives of its living thought.

Mr. Mill estimated the worth of contemporary thinkers in accordance
with this almost instinctive distrust of rational "illumination;"
setting Archbishop Whately, for example, as a thinker, above Sir W.
Hamilton, for his services to philosophy, on account of "the number
of true and valuable thoughts" which he originated and put into
circulation, not as parts of a system, but as independent truths of
sagacious or painstaking observation and reflection. It is by such a
standard that Mr. Mill would doubtless wish to be judged, and by it
he would be justly placed above all, or nearly all, of his
contemporaries. Nevertheless, as a conscientious student of
metaphysics he held in far higher esteem than is shown in general by
English thinkers the powers peculiar to the metaphysician--the
ability and disposition to follow out into their consequences, and
to concatenate in a system the assumption of _a priori_ principles.
Descartes, Leibnitz, Comte, and, as an exceptional English thinker,
even Mr. Spencer, receive commendation from him on this account. It
is clear, however, that his respect for this talent was of the sort
which does not aspire to imitate what is admired.


It is impossible to see, much less experience, a financial panic
without an almost appalling consciousness that a new and terrible
form of danger and distress has been added in comparatively recent
times to the list of those by which human life is menaced or
perplexed. Any one who stood on Wall Street, or in the gallery of
the Stock Exchange last Thursday and Friday and Saturday (1873), and
saw the mad terror, we might almost say the brute terror like that
by which a horse is devoured who has a pair of broken shafts hanging
to his heels, or a dog flying from a tin saucepan attached to his
tail, with which great crowds of men rushed to and fro, trying to
get rid of their property, almost begging people to take it from
them at any price, could hardly avoid feeling that a new plague had
been sent among men; that there was an impalpable, invisible force
in the air, robbing them of their wits, of which philosophy had not
as yet dreamt. No dog was ever so much alarmed by the clatter of the
saucepan as hundreds seemed to be by the possession of really
valuable and dividend-paying securities; and no horse was ever more
reckless in extricating himself from the _debris_ of a broken
carriage than these swarms of acute and shrewd traders in divesting
themselves of their possessions. Hundreds must really, to judge by
their conduct, have been so confused by terror and anxiety as to be
unable to decide whether they desired to have or not to have, to be
poor or rich. If a Roman or a man of the Middle Ages had been
suddenly brought into view of the scene, he would have concluded
without hesitation that a ruthless invader was coming down the
island; that his advanced guard was momentarily expected; and that
anybody found by his forces in possession of Western Union, or
Harlem, or Lake Shore, or any other paying stock or bond, would be
subjected to cruel tortures, if not put to death. For neither the
Roman nor the Mediaeval could understand a rich man's being
terrified by anything but armed violence. Seneca enumerates as the
three great sources of anxiety in life the fear of want, of disease,
and of oppression by the powerful, and he pronounces the last the
greatest. If he had seen Wall-Street brokers and bankers last week
trying to get rid of stocks and bonds, he could not of course have
supposed that they were poor or feared poverty; he would have judged
from their physical activity that they were in perfect health, so
that he would have been driven to the conclusion that some barbarian
host, commanded by Sitting Bull or Red Cloud, was entering the city,
and was breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the owners
of personal property. If you had tried to explain to him that there
was no conqueror at the gates, that the fear of violence was almost
unknown in our lives, that each man in that struggling crowd enjoyed
an amount of security against force in all its forms which no Roman
Senator could ever count upon, and that the terror he witnessed was
caused by precisely the same agency as the flight of an army before
it has been beaten, or, in other words, by "panic," he would have
gazed at you in incredulous amazement. He would have said that panic
in an army was caused by the sudden dissolution of the bonds of
discipline, by each soldier's losing his confidence that his
comrades and his officers would stand their ground; but these
traders, he would have added, are not subject to discipline; they do
not belong to an organization of any kind; each buys and sells for
himself; he has his property there in that tin box, and if nobody is
going to rob him what is frightening him? Why is he pale and
trembling? Why does he run and shout and weep, and ask people to
give him a trifle, only a trifle, for all he possesses and let him

If you were then to set about explaining to Seneca that the way the
god Pan worked confusion in our day in the commercial world was by
destroying "credit," you would find yourself brought suddenly face
to face with one of the most striking differences between ancient
and modern, or, even as we have said, mediaeval society. The most
prominent and necessary accompaniment or incident of property in the
ancient world was possession. What a man owned he held. His wealth
was in his farm, or his house, or his granary, or his ships. He
could hardly separate the idea of property from that of possession,
and the state of society strengthened the association. The frugal
man hoarded, and when he was terrified he buried his money, a
practice to which we owe the preservation of the greater portion of
the old coins now in our collections. The influence of this sense of
insecurity, of the constant fear of invasion or violence, lasted
long enough in all Continental countries, as Mr. Bagehot has
recently pointed out, to prevent the establishment of banks of issue
until very lately. The prospect of war was so constantly in men's
minds that no bank could make arrangements for the run which would
surely follow the outbreak of hostilities, and, in view of this
contingency, nobody would be willing to hold paper promises to pay
in lieu of gold and silver.

It is therefore in England and America, the two countries possessing
not only most commercial enterprise, but most security against
invasion, that the paper money has come into earliest and widest
use. To the paper of the banks have been added the checks and bills
of exchange of private individuals, until money proper plays a
greatly diminishing part in the operations of commerce. Goods are
exchanged and debts paid by a system of balancing claims against
claims, which really has almost ceased to rest on money at all. So
that a man may be a very rich man in our day, and have really
nothing to show for his wealth whatever. You go to his house, and
you find nothing but a lot of shabby furniture. The only thing there
which Seneca would have called wealth is perhaps his wife's jewels,
which would not bring a few thousand dollars. You think his money
must be in the bank, but you go there with him and find that all he
has there is a page on the ledger bearing his name, with a few
figures on it. The bank bills which you see lying about, and which
look a little like money, are not only not money in the sense Seneca
understood the term, but they do not represent over a third of what
the bank owes to various people. You go to some safe-deposit vaults,
thinking that it is perhaps there he keeps his valuables, but all
you find is a mass of papers signed by Thomas Smith or John Jones,
declaring that he is entitled to so many shares of some far-off
bank, or that some railroad will pay him a certain sum some thirty
years hence. In fact, looked at with Roman eyes, our millionaire
seems to be possessed of little or nothing, and likely to be puzzled
about his daily bread.

Now, this wonderful change in the character and incidents of
property may be said to be the work of the last century, and it may
be said to consist in the substitution of an agency wholly moral for
an agency wholly material in the work of exchange and distribution.
For the giving and receiving of gold and silver we have substituted
neither more nor less than faith in the honesty and industry and
capacity of our fellow-men. There is hardly one of us who does not
literally live by faith. We lay up fortunes, marry, eat, drink,
travel, and bequeath, almost without ever handling a cent; and the
best reason which ninety-nine out of every hundred of us can give
for feeling secure against want, or having the means of enjoyment or
of charity, is not the possession of anything of real value, but his
confidence that certain thousands of his fellow-creatures, whom he
has never seen and never expects to see, scattered, it may be, over
the civilized world, will keep their promises, and do their daily
work with fidelity and efficiency. This faith is every year being
made to carry a greater and greater load. The transactions which
rest on it increase every year in magnitude and complexity. It has
to extend itself every year over a larger portion of the earth's
surface, and to include a greater variety of race and creed and
custom. London and Paris and Berlin and Vienna now tremble when New
York is alarmed. We have, in short, to believe every year in a
greater and greater number of people, and to depend for our daily
bread on the successful working of vast combinations, in which human
character is, after all, the main element.

The consequence is that, when for any reason a shade of doubt comes
over men's minds that the combination is not working, that the
machine is at some point going to give way, that somebody is not
playing his part fairly, the solid ground seems to shake under their
feet, and we have some of the phenomena resulting from an
earthquake, and among others blind terror. But to anyone who
understands what this new social force, Credit, is, and the part it
plays in human affairs, the wonder is, not that it gives way so
seldom, but that it stands so firm; that these hundreds of millions
of laborers, artisans, shopkeepers, merchants, bankers, and
manufacturers hold so firmly from day to day the countless
engagements into which they enter, and that each recurring year the
result of the prodigious effort which is now put forth in the
civilized world in the work of production should be distributed with
so much accuracy and honesty, and, on the whole, with so much wise
adjustment to the value of each man's contributions to civilization.

There is one fact, however, which throws around credit, as around so
many others of the influences by which our lives are shaped, a
frightful mystery. Its very strength helps to work ruin. The more we
believe in our fellow-toilers, and the more they do to warrant our
belief, the more we encourage them to work, the more we excite their
hopefulness; and out of this hopefulness come "panics" and
"crashes." Prosperity breeds credit, and credit stimulates
enterprise, and enterprise embarks in labors which, about every ten
years in England, and every twenty years in this country, it is
found that the world is not ready to pay for. Panics have occurred
in England in 1797, 1807, 1817, 1826, 1837, 1847, 1857, and there
was very near being a very severe one in 1866. In this country we
have had them in 1815, 1836, 1857, and 1877, and by panics we do
not mean such local whirlwinds as have desolated Wall Street, but
wide-spread commercial crises, affecting all branches of business.
This periodicity is ascribed, and with much plausibility, to the
fact that inasmuch as panics are the result of certain mental
conditions, they recur as soon as the experience of the previous one
has lost its influence, or, in other words, as often as a new
generation comes into the management of affairs, which is about
every ten years in the commercial world both in England and here.
The fact that this country seems to be only half as liable to them
as England, is perhaps due to the fact that the extent of our
resources, and the greater ratio of increase of population make it
much harder to overdo in the work of production here than in
England, and to this must be added the greater strength of nerves
produced by greater hopefulness. In spite of the enormous abundance
of British capital and the rashness of the owners in making
investments, there hangs over the London money market a timidity and
doubtfulness about the future which is unknown on this side of the
water, and which very slight accidents develop into distrust and

Outside those who are actually engaged in a financial panic--such as
brokers, bankers, merchants and manufacturers, who have loans to pay
or receive, or acceptances falling due, and who are therefore too
busy and too sorely beset to moralize on it or look at it
objectively, as the philosophers say--there is a large body
of persons who are not immediately affected by it, such as
professional men, owners of secure investments, persons in receipt
of well-assured salaries, ministers, newspaper writers, speculative
economists, financiers, and farmers, to whom it is a source of
secret enjoyment. They are obliged, out of sympathy with their
neighbors, to look blue, and probably few of them are entirely
exempt from the general anxiety about the future, but, nevertheless,
they are on the whole rather gratified than otherwise by the thing's
having happened. In the first place, all those persons who give
their attention to the currency question are divided into two great
schools--the paper men and the hard-money men; and every panic
affords each of them what it considers a legitimate ground of
triumph. The paper men say that the crisis is due to failure to
issue more paper at the proper moment, and the hard-money men
ascribe it to the irredeemability of what is already issued; and
each side chuckles over the convulsion as a startling confirmation
of its views, and goes about calling attention to it almost
gleefully. There is a similar division on the banking question.
Indeed the feud between the friends of free banking and restricted
banking is fiercer than that between the two currency schools, and
has raged longer, and every monetary crisis feeds the flame. It is
maintained, on the one hand, that if banks were let alone by the
state their issues would be proportioned to the exact wants of
business; and, on the other, that if the state would only restrict
them more rigidly business would be kept within proper limits, and
all would go well. Each disputant draws from a panic about the same
amount of support for his views, because in the great variety of
circumstances which surround it there are always some which favor
any theory of its origin. In one thing, however, both sets of
observers are apt to agree thoroughly, and that is in believing the
"thing will not blow over," and that "we are going to feel it for a
long time." They have long foreseen it, and have only been surprised
that it did not come sooner; and they lower their voices to a hoarse
whisper while telling you this.

But there is no class of observers which extracts so much solid
comfort from a panic as that large body of social philosophers who
are hostile to luxury, and believe that the world is going to the
dogs through self-indulgence. It may even be said that two-thirds of
the community, or indeed all except the very few, hold this opinion
with a greater or less degree of strength. The farmers hold it
strongly with regard to the city people, the artisans with regard to
merchants, bankers, brokers, and manufacturers, and among the latter
nearly every man is inclined to it with regard to persons of more
means than himself. Moreover, it would probably astonish us if we
knew how large was the number of those who fancy that their more
well-to-do neighbors, if they do not belong to the category of
millionaires, are living beyond their means. Every man whose own
means are small, or even moderate, finds himself rather hard put to
it to make both ends meet, and is constantly harassed by desires
which he is unable to gratify. When he sees others gratifying them,
his self-love drives him often unconsciously into ascribing it to
recklessness and improvidence. Very close people, too, who have a
constitutional repugnance to spending money freely for any purpose,

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