Reflections and Comments 1865-1895 by Edwin Lawrence Godkin

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  • 1865-1895
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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 forward.

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 less.

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 digestion.

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 service.

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 audience.

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 sympathize.

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 example.

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 family.


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’s.

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 Hume.”

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 go?

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 terror.

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,