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Studies in Literature by John Morley

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occupied by the uninhabitable ocean, encumbered by naked mountains,
lost under barren sands, scorched by perpetual heat or petrified by
perpetual frost, and so small a space be left for the production of
fruits, the pasture of cattle, and the accommodation of men.

When we have deducted, said Johnson, all the time that is absorbed
in sleep, or appropriated to the other demands of nature, or the
inevitable requirements of social intercourse, all that is torn from
us by violence of disease, or imperceptibly stolen from us by languor,
we may realise of how small a portion of our time we are truly
masters. And the same consideration of the ceaseless and natural
pre-occupations of men in the daily struggle will reconcile the wise
man to all the disappointments, delays, shortcomings of the world,
without shaking the firmness of his own faith, or the intrepidity of
his own purpose.


[Footnote 1: February 1886.]

"If the government of the Many," says the distinguished author of the
volume before us, "be really inevitable, one would have thought that
the possibility of discovering some other and newer means of enabling
It to fulfil the ends for which all governments exist would have been
a question exercising all the highest powers of the strongest minds,
particularly in the community which, through the success of its
popular institutions, has paved the way for modern Democracy. Yet
hardly anything worth mentioning has been produced on the subject in
England or on the Continent." To say this, by the way, Is strangely to
ignore three or four very remarkable books that have been published
within the last twenty or five-and-twenty years, that have excited
immense attention and discussion, and that are the work of minds that
even Sir Henry Maine would hardly call weak or inactive. We are no
adherents of any of Mr. Hare's proposals, but there are
important public men who think that his work on the _Election of
Representatives_ is as conspicuous a landmark in politics as the
_Principia_ was in natural philosophy. J.S. Mill's volume on
_Representative Government_, which appeared in 1861, was even a more
memorable contribution towards the solution of the very problem
defined by Sir Henry Maine, than was the older Mill's article on
Government In 1820 to the political difficulties of the eve of the
Reform Bill. Again, Lord Grey's work on Parliamentary Government
failed in making its expected mark on legislation, but it was worth
mentioning because It goes on the lines of the very electoral law in
Belgium which Sir Henry Maine (p. 109) describes as deserving our most
respectful attention--an attention, I suspect, which it is as little
likely to receive from either of our two political parties as Lord
Grey's suggestions. Nor should we neglect Sir G.C. Lewis's little
book, or Mr. Harrison's volume on _Order and Progress_, which abounds
in important criticism and suggestion for the student of the abstract
politics of modern societies. In the United States, too, and In our
own colonies, there have been attempts, not without merit, to state
and to deal with some of the drawbacks of popular government.

Nothing has been done, however, that makes the appearance in the field
of a mind of so high an order as Sir Henry Maine's either superfluous
or unwelcome. It is hardly possible that he should discuss any subject
within the publicist's range, without bringing into light some of its
less superficial aspects, and adding observations of originality and
value to the stock of political thought. To set people thinking at all
on the more general and abstract truths of that great subject which is
commonly left to be handled lightly, unsystematically, fragmentarily,
in obedience to the transitory necessities of the day, by Ministers,
members of Parliament, journalists, electors, and the whole host who
live intellectually and politically from hand to mouth, is in itself a
service of all but the first order. Service of the very first order is
not merely to propound objections, but to devise working answers, and
this is exactly what Sir Henry Maine abstains from doing.

No one will think the moment for a serious political inquiry ill
chosen. We have just effected an immense recasting of our system of
parliamentary representation. The whole consequences of the two great
Acts of 1884 and 1885 are assuredly not to be finally gauged by
anything that has happened during the recent election. Yet even this
single election has brought about a crisis of vast importance in
one part of the United Kingdom, by forcing the question of an Irish
constitution to the front. It is pretty clear, also, that the infusion
of a large popular element into the elective House has made more
difficult the maintenance of its old relations with the hereditary
House. Even if there were no others, these two questions alone, and
especially the first of them, will make the severest demands on the
best minds in the country. We shall be very fortunate if the crisis
produces statesmen as sagacious as those American publicists of whom
Sir Henry Maine rightly entertains so exalted an opinion.

Whether or not we are on the threshold of great legislative changes,
it is in any case certain that the work of government will be carried
on under new parliamentary and social conditions. In meeting this
prospect, we have the aid neither of strong and systematic political
schools, nor powerful and coherent political parties. No one can
pretend, for instance, that there is any body of theoretic opinion so
compact and so well thought out as Benthamism was in its own day
and generation. Again, in practice, there are ominous signs that
Parliament is likely to break up into groups; and the substitution of
groups for parties is certain, if continental experience is to count
for anything, to create new obstacles in the way of firm and stable
government. Weak government throws power to something which usurps
the name of public opinion, and public opinion as expressed by the
ventriloquists of the newspapers is at once more capricious and more
vociferous than it ever was. This was abundantly shown during the last
five years by a variety of unfortunate public adventures. Then,
does the excitement of democracy weaken the stability of national
temperament? By setting up what in physics would be called a highly
increased molecular activity, does it disturb not merely conservative
respect for institutions, but respect for coherence and continuity of
opinion and sentiment in the character of the individual himself? Is
there a fluidity of character in modern democratic societies which
contrasts not altogether favourably with the strong solid types
of old? Are Englishmen becoming less like Romans, and more like
disputatious Greeks? These and many other considerations of the same
kind are enough to secure a ready welcome for any thinker who can
light up the obscurities of the time.

With profound respect for Sir Henry Maine's attainments, and every
desire to profit by illumination wherever it may be discerned, we
cannot clearly see how the present volume either makes the problems
more intelligible, or points the way to feasible solutions. Though
he tries, in perfect good faith, to be the dispassionate student, he
often comes very close to the polemics of the hour. The truth is
that scientific lawyers have seldom been very favourable to popular
government; and when the scientific lawyer is doubled with the Indian
bureaucrat, we are pretty sure beforehand that in such a tribunal it
will go hard with democracy. That the author extremely dislikes and
suspects the new order, he does not hide either from himself or
us. Intellectual contempt for the idolatries of the forum and the
market-place has infected him with a touch of that chagrin which
came to men like Tacitus from disbelief In the moral government of
a degenerate world. Though he strives, like Tacitus, to take up his
parable _nec amore et sine odio_, the disgust is ill concealed. There
are passages where we almost hear the drone of a dowager in the
Faubourg Saint-Germain. It was said of Tocqueville that he was an
aristocrat who accepted his defeat. Sir Henry Maine in politics is a
bureaucrat who cannot bear to think that democracy will win. He is
dangerously near the frame of mind of Scipio Emilianus, after the
movement of the Gracchi and the opening of the Roman revolution.
Scipio came to the conclusion that with whichever party he took sides,
or whatever measures a disinterested and capable statesman might
devise, he would only aggravate the evil. Sir Henry Maine would seem
to be nearly as despondent. Hence his book is fuller of apprehension
than of guidance, more plausible in alarm than wise or useful in
direction. It is exclusively critical and negative. There Is, indeed,
an admirable account of the constitution of the United States. But on
the one great question on which the constitution of the United States
might have been expected to shed light--the modification of the House
of Lords--Sir Henry Maine explicitly admits (p. 186) that it is very
difficult to obtain from the younger institution, the Senate, any
lessons which can be of use in the reconstruction of the older. At
every turn, the end of the discussion lands us in a philosophical
_cul-de-sac_, and nothing is so depressing as a _cul-de-sac_. The tone
is that of the political valetudinarian, watching with uneasy eye the
ways of rude health. Unreflecting optimism about Popular Government is
sickening, but calculated pessimism is not much better.

Something, no doubt, may often be gained by the mere cross-examination
of catchwords and the exposure of platitudes. Popular government is
no more free from catchwords and platitudes than any other political,
religious, or social cause which interests a great many people, and is
the subject of much discussion. Even the Historical Method has its own
claptrap. But one must not make too much of these things. "In order
to love mankind," said Helvetius, "one must not expect too much from
them." And fairly to appreciate institutions you must not hold them up
against the light that blazes in Utopia; you must not expect them
to satisfy microscopic analysis, nor judge their working, which is
inevitably rough, awkward, clumsy, and second-best, by the fastidious
standards of closet logic.

Before saying more as to the substance of the hook, we may be allowed
to notice one or two matters of literary or historical interest in
which Sir Henry Maine is certainly open to criticism. There is an old
question about Burke which was discussed by the present writer a long
time ago. A great disillusion, says Sir Henry Maine, has always seemed
to him to separate the _Thoughts on the Present Discontents_ and the
_Speech on Taxation_ from the magnificent panegyric on the British
Constitution in 1790. "Not many persons in the last century could
have divined from the previous opinions of Edmund Burke the real
substructure of his political creed, or did in fact suspect it till
it was uncovered by the early and comparatively slight miscarriage of
French revolutionary institutions." This is, as a statement of fact,
not at all correct. Lord Chatham detected what he believed to be the
mischievous Conservatism in Burke's constitutional doctrines at the
very outset. So did the Constitutional Society detect it. So did Mrs.
Macaulay, Bishop Watson, and many other people. The story of Burke's
inconsistency is, of course, as old as Sheridan. Hazlitt declared
that the Burke of 1770 and the Burke of 1790 were not merely opposite
persons, but deadly enemies. Mr. Buckle, who is full of veneration for
the early writings, but who dislikes the later ones, gets over the
difficulty by insisting that Burke actually went out of his mind after
1789. We should have expected a subtler judgment from Sir Henry Maine.
Burke belonged from first to last to the great historic and positive
school, of which the founder was Montesquieu. Its whole method,
principle, and sentiment, all animated him with equal force whether he
was defending the secular pomps of Oude or the sanctity of Benares,
the absolutism of Versailles, or the free and ancient Parliament at

[Footnote 1: It is satisfactory to have the authority of Mr. Lecky on
the same side. _England in the Eighteenth Century_, vol. iii. chap.
ix. p. 209.]

Versailles reminds us of a singular overstatement by Sir Henry Maine
of the blindness of the privileged classes in France to the approach
of the Revolution. He speaks as if Lord Chesterfield's famous passage
were the only anticipation of the coming danger. There is at least one
utterance of Louis XV. himself, which shows that he did not expect
things to last much beyond his time. D'Argenson, in the very year of
Chesterfield's prophecy, pronounced that a revolution was inevitable,
and he even went so close to the mark as to hint that it would arise
on the first occasion when it should be necessary to convoke the
States General. Rousseau, in a page of the _Confessions_, not only
divined a speedy revolution, but enumerated the operative causes of it
with real precision. There Is a striking prediction In Voltaire, and
another in Mercier de la Riviere. Other names might be quoted to
the same effect, including Maria Theresa, who described the ruined
condition of the French monarchy, and only hoped that the ruin might
not overtake her daughter. The mischief was not so much that the
privileged classes were blind as that they were selfish, stubborn,
helpless, and reckless. The point is not very important in itself,
but it is characteristic of a very questionable way of reading human
history. Sir Henry Maine's readiness to treat revolutions as due to
erroneous abstract ideas naturally inclines him to take too narrow a
view both of the preparation in circumstances, and of the preparation
in the minds of observant onlookers.

In passing, by the way, we are curious to know the writer's authority
for what he calls the odd circumstance that the Jacobins generally
borrowed their phrases from the legendary history of the early Roman
Republic, while the Girondins preferred to take metaphors from the
literature of Rousseau (p. 75). There was plenty of nonsense talked
about Brutus and Scaevola by both parties, and It Is not possible
to draw the line with precision. But the received view Is that the
Girondins were Voltairean, and the Jacobins Rousseauite, while Danton
was of the school of the Encyclopaedia, and Hebert and Chaumette were
inspired by Holbach.

The author seems to us greatly to exaggerate the whole position of
Rousseau, and even in a certain sense to mistake the nature of his
influence. That Jean-Jacques was a far-reaching and important voice
the present writer is not at all likely to deny; but no estimate of
his influence in the world is correct which does not treat him rather
as moralist than publicist. _Emilius_ went deeper into men's minds in
France and in Europe at large, and did more to quicken the democratic
spirit, than the _Social Contract_ Apart from this, Sir Henry Maine
places Rousseau on an isolated eminence which does not really belong
to him. It did not fall within the limited scope of such an essay as
Sir Henry Maine's to trace the leading ideas of the _Social Contract_
to the various sources from which they had come, but his account
of these sources is, even for its scale, inadequate. Portions of
Rousseau's ideas, he says truly, may be discovered in the speculations
of older writers; and he mentions Hobbes and the French Economists.
But the most characteristic of all the elements in Rousseau's
speculation were drawn from Locke. The theoretic basis of popular
government Is to be found in more or less definite shape in various
authors from Thomas Aquinas downwards. But it was Locke's philosophic
vindication of the Revolution of 1688, in the famous essay on
Civil Government, that directly taught Rousseau the lesson of the
Sovereignty of the People. Such originality as the _Social Contract_
possesses is due to its remarkable union of the influence of the two
antagonistic English Thinkers. The differences between Hobbes and
Rousseau were striking enough. Rousseau looked on men as good, Hobbes
looked on them as bad. The one described the state of nature as a
state of peace, the other as a state of war. The first believed that
laws and institutions had depraved man, the second that they had
improved him. In spite of these differences the influence of Hobbes
was important, but only important in combination. "The total result
is," as I have said elsewhere, "a curious fusion between the premises
and the temper of Hobbes, and the conclusions of Locke. This fusion
produced that popular absolutism of which the _Social Contract_ was
the theoretical expression, and Jacobin supremacy the practical
manifestation. Rousseau borrowed from Hobbes the true conception of
sovereignty, and from Locke the true conception of the ultimate seat
and original of authority, and of the two together he made the great
image of the Sovereign People. Strike the crowned head from that
monstrous figure which is the frontispiece of the _Leviathan_, and
you have a frontispiece that will do excellently well for the _Social

[Footnote 1: _Rousseau_, chap. xii.]

One more word may be said by the way. The very slightest account of
Rousseau is too slight to be tolerable, if it omits to mention Calvin.
Rousseau's whole theory of the Legislator, which produced such
striking results in certain transitory phases of the French
Revolution, grew up in his mind from the constitution which the great
reformer had so predominant a share in framing for the little republic
where Rousseau was born.

This omission of Locke and Calvin again exemplifies the author's
characteristic tendency to look upon political ideas as if speculative
writers got them out of their own heads, or out of the heads of other
people, apart from the suggestions of events and the requirements of
circumstance, Calvin was the builder of a working government, and
Locke was the defender of a practical revolution.

Nor does the error stop at the literary sources of political theories.
A point more or less in an estimate of a writer or a book is of
trivial importance compared with what strikes us as Sir Henry
Maine's tendency to impute an unreal influence to writers and books
altogether. There is, no doubt, a vulgar and superficial opinion that
mere speculation is so remote from the real interests of men, that it
is a waste of time for practical people to concern themselves about
speculation. No view could be more foolish, save one; and that one is
the opposite view, that the real interests of men have no influence
on their speculative opinions, and no share either in moulding those
opinions or in causing their adoption. Sir Henry Maine does not push
things quite so far as this. Still he appears to us to attribute
almost exclusive influence to political theories, and almost entirely
to omit what we take to be the much more important reaction upon
theory, both of human nature, and of the experience of human life and
outward affairs. He makes no allowance among innovating agencies for
native rationalism without a formula. His brilliant success in other
applications of the Historic Method has disposed him to see survivals
where other observers will be content with simpler explanations.
The reader is sometimes tempted to recall Edie Ochiltree's rude
interruption of Mr. Oldbuck's enthusiasm over the praetorium of the
Immortal Roman camp at Monkbarns. "Praetorian here, Praetorian there!
I mind the bigging o 't!"

Sir Henry Maine believes that the air is thick with ideas about
democracy that were conceived _a priori_, and that sprung from the
teaching of Rousseau. A conviction of the advantages of legislative
change, for example, he considers to owe its origin much less to
active and original intelligence, than to "the remote effect of words
and notions derived from broken-down political theories." There are
two great fountains of political theory in our country according to
the author: Rousseau is one, and Bentham is the other. Current
thought and speech Is infested by the floating fragments of these two
systems--by loose phrases, by vague notions, by superstitions, that
enervate the human intellect and endanger social safety. This is the
constant refrain of the pages before us. We should have liked better
evidence. We do not believe that it is a Roman praetorium. Men often
pick up old phrases for new events, even when they are judging events
afresh with independent minds. When a politician of the day speaks of
natural rights, he uses a loose traditional expression for a view of
social equities which has come to him, not from a book, but from a
survey of certain existing social facts. Now the phrase, the literary
description, is the least significant part of the matter. When Mr.
Mill talks of the influence of Bentham's writings, he is careful to
tell us that he does not mean that they caused the Reform Bill or the
Appropriation Clause. "The changes which have been made," says Mill,
"and the greater changes which will be made, in our institutions are
not the work of philosophers, but of the interests and instincts
of large portions of society recently grown into strength"
_(Dissertations_, i. 332). That is the point. It is the action of
these interests and instincts which Sir Henry Maine habitually
overlooks. For is the omission a mere speculative imperfection. It has
an important bearing on the whole practical drift of the book. If he
had made more room for "the common intellect rough-hewing political
truths at the suggestion of common wants and common experience,"
he would have viewed existing circumstances with a less lively

It is easy to find an apposite illustration of what is meant by
saying that this talk of the influence of speculation is enormously
exaggerated and misleading. When Arthur Young was in France in the
autumn of 1787, he noticed a remarkable revolution in manners in two
or three important respects. One of them was a new fashion that had
just come in, of spending some weeks in the country: everybody who had
a country seat went to live there, and such as had none went to visit
those who had. This new custom, observed the admirable Young, is one
of the best that they have taken from England, and "its introduction
was effected the easier being assisted by the magic of Rousseau's
writings." The other and more generally known change was that women
of the first fashion were no longer ashamed of nursing their own
children, and that infants were no longer tightly bound round by
barbarous stays and swaddling clothes. This wholesome change, too,
was assisted by Rousseau's eloquent pleas for simplicity and the life
natural. Of these particular results of his teaching in France a
hundred years ago the evidence is ample, direct, and beyond denial.
But whenever we find gentlemen with a taste for country life, and
ladies with a fancy for nursing their own children, we surely need not
cry out that here is another proof of the extraordinary influence of
the speculations of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. We need not treat it as a
survival of a broken-down theory. "Great Nature is more wise than I,"
says the Poet. Great Nature had much more to do with moulding men and
women to these things than all the books that have ever been printed.

We are entirely sceptical as to the proposition that "men have at all
times quarrelled more fiercely about phrases and formulas than even
about material interests" (p. 124). There has been a certain amount of
fighting in the world about mere words, as idle as the faction fights
between Caravats and Shanavests, or Two-Year-Olds and Three-Year-Olds
in Ireland. But the more carefully we look into human history, the
more apparent it becomes that underneath the phrase or the formula
there is usually a material or a quasi-material, or a political, or
a national, or an ecclesiastical interest. Few quarrels now seem so
purely verbal as those which for several centuries raged about the
mysteries of the faith in the Western and the Eastern Churches. Yet
these quarrels, apparently as frivolous as they were ferocious,
about the relations of mind and matter, about the composition of
the Trinity, about the Divine nature, turned much less on futile
metaphysics than on the solid competition for ecclesiastical power, or
the conflict of rival nationalities. The most transcendental heresy or
orthodoxy generally had business at the bottom of it.

In limiting the parentage of Modern English Liberalism of a Radical or
democratic type to Rousseau and Bentham, the author has left out
of sight what is assuredly a much more important factor than any
speculative, literary, or philosophic matter whatever. "Englishmen,"
he says truly, "are wont to be content with the rough rule of success
or failure as the test of right or wrong in national undertakings."
The same habit of mind and temper marks the attitude of Englishmen
towards their national institutions. They look to success and failure,
they take the measure of things from results, they consult the
practical working of the machine, they will only go to school with
experience. We cannot find the proof that _a priori_ Radicalism ever
at any time got a real hold of any considerable mass of the people of
this country, or that any of the great innovations in domestic policy
since the end of Lord Liverpool's administration have been inspired
or guided by Rousseauite assumptions. Godwin, whose book on Political
Justice was for a long time the great literary fountain of English
Radicalism, owed quite as much to the utilitarian Helvetius as to the
sentimental Rousseau. Nor can either William Cobbett or Joseph Hume be
said to have dealt largely in _a priori_. What makes the Radical of
the street is mostly mother-wit exercising itself upon the facts of
the time. His weakness is that he does not know enough of the facts of
other times.

Sir Henry Maine himself points to what has had a far more decisive
influence on English ways of thinking about politics than his two
philosophers, put together. "The American Republic," he says (p. 11),
"has greatly influenced the favour into which popular government grew.
It disproved the once universal assumptions that no Republic could
govern a large territory, and that no strictly Republican government
could be stable." Nothing can be more true. When Burke and Chatham
and Fox persistently declared that the victory of England over the
colonists would prove fatal in the long run to the liberties of
England itself, those great men were even wiser than they knew.
The success of popular government across the Atlantic has been the
strongest incentive to the extension of popular government here.
We need go no further back than the Reform Bill of 1867 to remind
ourselves that the victory of the North over the South, and the
extraordinary clemency and good sense with which that victory
was used, had more to do with the concession of the franchise to
householders in boroughs than all the eloquence of Mr. Gladstone and
all the diplomacies of Mr. Disraeli.

To the influence of the American Union must be added that of the
British colonies. The success of popular self-government in these
thriving communities is reacting on political opinion at home with a
force that no statesman neglects, and that is every day increasing.
There is even a danger that the influence may go too far. They are
solving some of our problems, but not under our conditions, and not
in presence of the same difficulties. Still the effect of colonial
prosperity--a prosperity alike of admirable achievement and boundless
promise--is irresistible. It imparts a freedom, an elasticity, an
expansiveness, to English political notions, and gives our people a
confidence in free institutions and popular government, which
they would never have drawn from the most eloquent assumptions of
speculative system-mongers, nor from any other source whatever, save
practical experience carefully observed and rationally interpreted.
This native and independent rationality in men is what the jealous
votary of the historic method places far too low.

In coming closer to the main current of the book, our first
disappointment is that Sir Henry Maine has not been very careful to
do full justice to the views that he criticises. He is not altogether
above lending himself to the hearsay of the partisan. He allows
expressions to slip from him which show that he has not been anxious
to face the problems of popular government as popular government is
understood by those who have best right to speak for it. "The more
the difficulties of multitudinous government are probed," he says (p.
180), "the stronger grows the doubt of the infallibility of popularly
elected legislatures." We do not profess to answer for all that may
have been said by Mr. Bancroft, or Walt Whitman, or all the orators of
all the Fourths of July since American Independence. But we are not
acquainted with any English writer or politician of the very slightest
consideration or responsibility who has committed himself to the
astounding proposition, that popularly elected legislatures are
infallible. Who has ever advanced such a doctrine? Further, "It
requires some attention to facts to see how widely spread is the
misgiving as to the absolute wisdom of popularly elected chambers." We
are not surprised at the misgiving. But after reasonable attention to
facts, we cannot recall any publicist, whom it could be worth while
to spend five minutes in refuting, who has ever said that popularly
elected chambers are absolutely wise. Again, we should like the
evidence for the statement that popularly elected Houses "do not
nowadays appeal to the wise deduction from experience, as old as
Aristotle, which no student of constitutional history will deny, that
the best constitutions are those in which there is a large popular
element. It is a singular proof of the widespread influence of the
speculations of Rousseau that although very few First Chambers really
represent the entire community, nevertheless in Europe they almost
invariably claim to reflect it, and as a consequence they assume an
air of divinity, which if it rightfully belonged to them would be
fatal to all argument for a Second Chamber." That would be very
important If it were true. But is it true that First Chambers assume
an air of divinity? Or is such an expression a "burlesque of the real
argument?" A reasonable familiarity with the course of the controversy
in France, where the discussion has been abundant, and in England,
where it has been comparatively meagre, leaves me, for one, entirely
ignorant that this claim for divinity, or anything like it, is ever
heard in the debate. The most powerful modern champion of popular
government was Gambetta. Did Gambetta consider First Chambers divine?
On the contrary, some of the most strenuous pleas for the necessity of
a Second Chamber are to be found precisely in the speeches of Gambetta
(_e.g._ his speech at Grenoble, in the autumn of 1878, _Discours_
viii. 270, etc.). Abstract thinking is thinking withdrawn from the
concrete and particular facts. But the abstract thinker should not
withdraw too far.

Sir Henry Maine speaks (p. 185) of "the saner political theorist, who
holds that in secular matters it is better to walk by sight than by
faith." He allows that a theorist of this kind, as regards popularly
elected chambers, "will be satisfied that experience has shown the
best Constitutions to be those in which the popular element is large,
and he will readily admit that, as the structure of each society of
men slowly alters, it is well to alter and amend the organisation by
which this element makes itself felt." Sir Henry Maine would surely
have done better service in this grave and difficult discussion, if he
had dealt with views which he mistrusts, as they are really held and
expressed by sane theorists, and not by insane theorists out of sight.
In France, a hundred years ago, from causes that are capable of
explanation, the democracy of sentiment swept away the democracy of
utility. In spite of casual phrases in public discussion, and in spite
of the incendiary trash of Red journalists without influence, it is
the democracy of reason, experience, and utility that is now in the
ascendant, both in France and elsewhere.

The same spirit of what we must call parody is shown in such a
statement as that (p. 78) "an audience composed of roughs or clowns is
boldly told by an educated man that it has more political information
than an equal number of scholars." By "roughs" Sir Henry Maine
explains that he means the artisans of the towns. The designation is
hardly felicitous. It is not even fashionable; for the roughs and
clowns are now by common consent of Tories and Liberals alike
transformed into capable citizens. Such a phrase gives us a painful
glimpse of the accurate knowledge of their countrymen that is
possessed by eminent men who write about them from the dim and distant
seclusion of college libraries and official bureaux. If Sir Henry
Maine could spare a few evenings from dispassionate meditations on
popular government in the abstract, to the inspection of the governing
people in the concrete, he would be the first to see that to dispatch
an audience of skilled artisans as an assembly of roughs is as
unscientific, to use the mildest word, as the habit in a certain
religious world of lumping all the unconverted races of the earth
in every clime and age in the summary phrase, the heathen. A great
meeting of artisans listening to Mr. Arthur Balfour or Sir Henry
Roscoe at Manchester, to Sir Lyon Playfair at Leeds (the modern
democrat, at any rate, does not think the Republic has no need of
chemists), or to anybody else in a great industrial centre anywhere
else, is no more an assemblage of roughs than Convocation or the
House of Lords. Decidedly, an enemy of the unverified assumptions of
democracy ought to be on his guard against the unverified assumptions
of pedantocracy.

As for the particular bit of sycophancy which educated men wickedly
dangle before roughs and clowns, we should like to be sure that the
proposition is correctly reported. If the educated man tells his
roughs (if that be the right name for the most skilful, industrious,
and effective handicraftsmen in the world) that they have as much
of the information necessary for shaping a sound judgment on the
political issues submitted to them, as an equal number of average
Masters of Arts and Doctors of Laws, then we should say that the
educated man, unless he has been very unlucky with his audience, is
perfectly right. He proves that his education has not confined itself
to books, bureaux, and an exclusive society, but has been carried on
in the bracing air of common life. I will not add anything of my
own on this point, because any candidate or member of Parliament
is suspect, but I will venture to transcribe a page or so from Mr.
Frederic Harrison. Mr. Harrison's intellectual equipment is not
inferior to that of Sir Henry Maine himself; and he has long had close
and responsible contact with the class of men of whom he is speaking,
which cannot be quite a disqualification after all.

"No worse nonsense is talked than what we are told as to the
requisites for the elective franchise. To listen to some people,
it is almost as solemn a function as to be a trustee of the
British Museum. What you want in a body of electors is a rough,
shrewd eye for men of character, honesty, and purpose. Very plain
men know who wish them well, and the sort of thing which will
bring them good. Electors have not got to govern the country; they
have only to find a set of men who will see that the Government is
just and active.... All things go best by comparison, and a body
of men may be as good voters as their neighbours without basing
the type of the Christian hero.

"So far from, being the least fit for political influence of all
classes in the community, the best part of the working class forms
the most fit of all others. If any section of the people is to
be the paramount arbiter in public affairs, the only section
competent for this duty is the superior order of workmen.
Governing is one thing; but electors of any class cannot or ought
not to govern. Electing, or the giving an indirect approval
of Government, is another thing, and demands wholly different
qualities. These are moral, not intellectual; practical, not
special gifts--gifts of a very plain and almost universal order.
Such are, firstly, social sympathies and sense of justice; then
openness and plainness of character; lastly, habits of action, and
a practical knowledge of social misery. These are the qualities
which fit men to be the arbiters or ultimate source (though
certainly not the instruments) of political power. These qualities
the best working men possess in a far higher degree than any other
portion of the community; indeed, they are almost the only part of
the community which possesses them in any perceptible degree."[1]

[Footnote 1: _Order and Progress_, pp. 149-54, and again at p. 174.]

The worst of it is that, if Sir Henry Maine is right, we have no more
to hope from other classes than from roughs and clowns. He can discern
no blue sky in any quarter. "In politics," he says, "the most
powerful of all causes is the timidity, the listlessness, and the
superficiality of the generality of minds" (p. 73). This is carrying
criticism of democracy into an indictment against human nature. What
is to become of us, thus placed between the devil of mob ignorance
and corruption, and the deep sea of genteel listlessness and
superficiality? After all, Sir Henry Maine is only repeating in more
sober tones the querulous remonstrances with which we are so familiar
on the lips of Ultramontanes and Legitimists. A less timid observer of
contemporary events, certainly in the land that all of us know best
and love best, would judge that, when it comes to a pinch, Liberals
are still passably prudent, and Conservatives quite sufficiently

Another of the passages in Sir Henry Maine's book, that savours rather
of the party caricaturist than of the "dispassionate student of
politics," is the following:--

"There is some resemblance between the period of political reform
in the nineteenth century and the period of religious reformation
in the sixteenth. Now as then the multitude of followers must be
distinguished from the smaller group of leaders. Now as then
there are a certain number of zealots who desire that truth shall
prevail.... But behind these, now as then, there is a crowd which
has imbibed a delight in change for its own sake, who would reform
the Suffrage, or the House of Lords, or the Land Laws, or the
Union with Ireland, in precisely the same spirit in which the mob
behind the reformers of religion broke the nose of a saint in
stone, made a bonfire of copes and surplices, or shouted for the
government of the Church by presbyteries" (p. 130).

We should wish to look at this remarkable picture a little more
closely. That there exist Anabaptists in the varied hosts of the
English reformers is true. The feats of the Social Democrats, however,
at the recent election hardly convince us that they have very
formidable multitudes behind them. Nor is it they who concern
themselves with such innovations as those which Sir Henry Maine
specifies. The Social Democrats, even of the least red shade, go a
long way beyond and below such trifles as Suffrage or the Upper House.
To say of the crowd who do concern themselves with reform of the
Suffrage, or the Land Laws, or the House of Lords, or the Union with
Ireland, that they are animated by a delight in change for its own
sake, apart from the respectable desire to apply a practical remedy to
a practical inconvenience, is to show a rather highflying disregard
of easily ascertainable facts. The Crowd listen with interest to talk
about altering the Land Laws, because they suspect the English land
system to have something to do with the unprosperous condition of the
landlord, the farmer, and the labourer; with the depopulation of the
country and the congestion in the towns; with the bad housing of the
poor, and with various other evils which they suppose themselves to
see staring them daily in the face. They may be entirely mistaken
alike In their estimate of mischief and their hope of mitigation. But
they are not moved by delight in change for its own sake. When the
Crowd sympathises with disapproval of the House of Lords, it is
because the legislative performances of that body are believed to have
impeded useful reforms in the past, to be impeding them now, and to be
likely to impede them in the future. This may be a sad misreading
of the history of the last fifty years, and a painfully prejudiced
anticipation of the next fifty. At any rate, it is in intention a
solid and practical appeal to experience and results, and has no
affinity to a restless love of change for the sake of change. No
doubt, in the progress of the controversy, the assailants of the House
of Lords attack the principle of birth. But the principle of birth is
not attacked from the _a priori_ point of view. The whole force of
the attack lies in what is taken to be the attested fact that the
principle of a hereditary chamber supervising an elective chamber has
worked, is working, and will go on working, inconveniently, stupidly,
and dangerously. Finally, there is the question of the Irish Union. Is
it the English or Scottish Crowd that is charged with a wanton desire
to recast the Union? Nobody knows much about the matter who is not
perfectly aware that the English statesman, whoever he may be, who
undertakes the inevitable task of dealing with the demand for Home
Rule, will have to make his case very plain indeed in order to make
the cause popular here. Then is it the Irish Crowd? Sir Henry Maine,
of all men, is not likely to believe that a sentiment which the wisest
people of all parties in Ireland for a hundred years have known to lie
in the depths of the mind of the great bulk of the Irish population,
to whom we have now for the first time given the chance of declaring
their wishes, is no more than a gratuitous and superficial passion for
change for its own sake. The sentiment of Irish nationality may or may
not be able to justify itself in the eye of prudential reason, and
English statesmen may or may not have been wise in inviting it to
explode. Those are different questions. But Sir Henry Maine himself
admits in another connection (p. 83) that "vague and shadowy as are
the recommendations of what is called a Nationality, a State founded
on this principle has generally one real practical advantage, through
its obliteration of small tyrannies and local oppressions." It is not
to be denied that it is exactly the expectation of this very practical
advantage that has given its new vitality to the Irish National
movement which seems now once more, for good or for evil, to have
come to a head. When it is looked into, then, the case against the
multitudes who are as senselessly eager to change institutions as
other multitudes once were to break off the noses of saints in stone,
falls to pieces at every point.

Among other vices ascribed to democracy, we are told that it is
against science, and that "even in our day vaccination is in the
utmost danger" (p. 98). The instance is for various reasons not a
happy one. It is not even precisely stated. I have never understood
that vaccination is in much danger. Compulsory vaccination is perhaps
in danger. But compulsion, as a matter of fact, was strengthened as
the franchise went lower. It is a comparative novelty in English
legislation (1853), and as a piece of effectively enforced
administration it is more novel still (1871). I admit, however, that
it is not endured in the United States; and only two or three years
ago it was rejected by an overwhelming majority on an appeal to the
popular vote in the Swiss Confederation. Obligatory vaccination may
therefore one day disappear from our statute book, if democracy has
anything to do with it. But then the obligation to practise a medical
rite may be inexpedient, in spite of the virtues of the rite itself.
That is not all. Sir Henry Maine will admit that Mr. Herbert Spencer
is not against science, and he expresses in the present volume his
admiration for Mr. Spencer's work on _Man and the State_. Mr. Spencer
is the resolute opponent of compulsory vaccination, and a resolute
denier, moreover, of the pretension that the evidence for the
advantages of vaccination takes such account of the ulterior effects
in the system as to amount to a scientific demonstration. Therefore,
if science demands compulsory vaccination, democracy in rejecting the
demand, and even if it went further, is at least kept in countenance
by some of those who are of the very household of science. The
illustration is hardly impressive enough for the proposition that it

Another and a far more momentous illustration occurs on another page
(37). A very little consideration is enough to show that it will by
no means bear Sir Henry Maine's construction. "There is, in fact," he
says, "just enough evidence to show that even now there is a marked
antagonism between democratic opinion and scientific truth as applied
to human societies. The central seat in all Political Economy was from
the first occupied by the theory of Population. This theory ... has
become the central truth of biological science. Yet it is evidently
disliked by the multitude and those whom the multitude permits to lead

Sir Henry Maine goes on to say that it has long been intensely
unpopular in France, and this, I confess, is a surprise to me. It has
usually been supposed that a prudential limitation of families is
rooted in the minds and habits of nearly, though not quite, all
classes of the French nation. An excellent work on France, written by
a sound English observer seven or eight years ago, chances to be lying
before me at the moment, and here is a passage taken almost at random.
"The opinions of thoughtful men seem to tend towards the wish to
introduce into France some of that improvidence which allows English
people to bring large families into the world without first securing
the means of keeping them, and which has peopled the continent of
North America and the Australian colonies with an English-speaking
race" (Richardson's _Corn and Cattle Producing Districts of France_,
p. 47, etc.). Surely this is a well-established fact. It is possible
that denunciations of Malthus may occasionally be found both in
Clerical and Socialistic prints, but then there are reasons for that.
It can hardly be made much of a charge against French democracy that
it tolerates unscientific opinion, so long as it cultivates scientific

As for our own country, and those whom the multitude permits to lead
it, we cannot forget that by far the most popular and powerful man _in
faece Romuli_--as Sir Henry Maine insists on our putting it in that
polite way--was tried and condemned not many years ago for publishing
a certain pamphlet which made a limitation of population the very
starting-point of social reform. It is not necessary to pronounce an
opinion on the particular counsels of the pamphlet, but the motives
which prompted its circulation (motives admitted to be respectable by
the Chief-Justice who tried the case), and the extraordinary reception
of the pamphlet by the serious portion of the workmen of the towns,
would make a careful writer think twice before feeling sure that
popular bodies will never listen to the truth about population. No
doubt, as Sir Henry Maine says in the same place, certain classes now
resist schemes for relieving distress by emigration. But there is a
pretty obvious reason for that. That reason is not mere aversion
to face the common sense of the relations between population and
subsistence, but a growing suspicion--as to the reasonableness of
which, again, I give no opinion--that emigration is made into an easy
and slovenly substitute for a scientific reform in our system of
holding and using land. In the case of Ireland, other political
considerations must be added.

Democracy will be against science, we admit, in one contingency: if
it loses the battle with the Ultramontane Church. The worst enemy
of science is also the bitterest enemy of democracy, _c'est le
clericalisme_. The interests of science and the interests of democracy
are one. Let us take a case. Suppose that popular Government in France
were to succumb, a military or any other more popular Government would
be forced to lean on Ultramontanes. Ultramontanes would gather the
spoils of democratic defeat. Sir Henry Maine is much too well informed
to think that a clerical triumph would be good for science, whatever
else it might be good for. Then are not propositions about democracy
being against science very idle and a little untrue? "Modern
politics," said a wise man (Pattison, _Sermons_, p. 191) "resolve
themselves into the struggle between knowledge and tradition."
Democracy is hardly on the side of tradition.

We have dwelt on these secondary matters, because they show that
the author hardly brings to the study of modern democracy the ripe
preparation of detail which he gave to ancient law. In the larger
field of his speculation, the value of his thought is seriously
impaired by the absence of anything like a philosophy of society as a
whole. Nobody who has studied Burke, or Comte, or Mill--I am not sure
whether we should not add even De Maistre--can imagine any of them as
setting to work on a general political speculation without reference
to particular social conditions. They would have conducted the inquiry
in strict relation to the stage at which a community happened to be,
in matters lying outside of the direct scope of political government.
So, before all other living thinkers, should we have expected Sir
Henry Maine to do. It is obvious that systems of government, called
by the same name, bearing the same superficial marks, founded and
maintained on the same nominal principles, framed in the same verbal
forms, may yet work with infinite diversity of operation, according
to the variety of social circumstances around them. Yet it is here
inferred that democracy in England must be fragile, difficult, and
sundry other evil things, because out of fourteen Presidents of the
Bolivian Republic thirteen have died assassinated or in exile. If
England and Bolivia were at all akin in history, religion, race,
industry, the fate of Bolivian Presidents would be more instructive to
English Premiers.

One of the propositions which Sir Henry Maine is most anxious to bring
home to his readers is that Democracy, in the extreme form to which
it tends, is of all kinds of government by far the most difficult.
He even goes so far as to say (p. 87) that, while not denying to
Democracies some portion of the advantage which Bentham claimed for
them, and "putting this advantage at the highest, it is _more than
compensated_ by one great disadvantage," namely, its difficulty. This
generalisation is repeated with an emphasis that surprises us, for two
reasons. In the first place, if the proposition could be proved to be
true, we fail to see that it would be particularly effective in its
practical bearings. Everybody whose opinions are worth consideration,
and everybody who has ever come near the machinery of democratic
government, is only too well aware that whether it be far the most
difficult form of government or not, it is certainly difficult enough
to tax the powers of statesmanship to the very uttermost. Is not that
enough? Is anything gained by pressing us further than that? "Better
be a poor fisherman," said Danton as he walked in the last hours of
his life on the banks of the Aube, "better be a poor fisherman, than
meddle with the governing of men." We wonder whether there has been
a single democratic leader either in France or England who has not
incessantly felt the full force of Danton's ejaculation. There may,
indeed, be simpletons in the political world who dream that if only
the system of government were made still more popular, all would be
plain sailing. But then Sir Henry Maine is not the man to write for

The first reason, then, for surprise at the immense stress laid by the
author on the proposition about the difficulty of popular government
is that it would not be of the first order of importance if it were
true. Our second reason is that it cannot be shown to be true.
You cannot measure the relative difficulty of diverse systems of
government. Governments are things of far too great complexity for
precise quantification of this sort. Will anybody, for example, read
through the second volume of the excellent work of M. Leroy-Beaulieu
on the Empire of the Czars (1882), and then be prepared to maintain
that democracy is more difficult than autocracy? It would be
interesting, too, to know whether the Prince on whose shoulders
will one day be laid the burden of the German Empire will read the
dissertation on the unparalleled difficulties of democracy with
acquiescence. There are many questions, of which the terms are no
sooner stated than we at once see that a certain and definite answer
to them is impossible. The controversy as to the relative fragility,
or the relative difficulty, of popular government and other forms of
government, appears to be a controversy of this kind. We cannot decide
it until we have weighed, measured, sifted, and tested a great mass of
heterogeneous facts; and then, supposing the process to have been
ever so skilfully and laboriously performed, no proposition could be
established as the outcome, that would be an adequate reward for the
pains of the operation.

This, we venture to think, must be pronounced a grave drawback to the
value of the author's present speculation. He attaches an altogether
excessive and unscientific importance to form. It would be
unreasonable to deny to a writer on democracy as a form of government
the right of isolating his phenomenon. But it is much more
unreasonable to predicate fragility, difficulty, or anything else of a
particular form of government, without reference to other conditions
which happen to go along with it in a given society at a given time.
None of the properties of popular government are independent of
surrounding circumstances, social, economic, religious, and historic.
All the conditions are bound up together in a closely interdependent
connection, and are not secondary to, or derivative from, the mere
form of government. It is, if not impossible, at least highly unsafe
to draw inferences about forms of government in universals.

No writer seems to us to approach Machiavelli in the acuteness with
which he pushes behind mere political names, and passes on to the real
differences that may exist in movements and institutions that are
covered by the same designation. Nothing in its own way can be more
admirable, for instance, than his reflections on the differences
between democracy at Florence and democracy in old Rome--how the first
began in great inequality of conditions, and ended in great equality,
while the process was reversed in the second; how at Rome the people
and the nobles shared power and office, while at Florence the victors
crushed and ruined their adversaries; how at Rome the people, by
common service with the nobles, acquired some of their virtues, while
at Florence the nobles were forced down to seem, as well as to be,
like the common people (_Istorie Fiorentine_, bk. iii).

This is only an example of the distinctions and qualifications which
it is necessary to introduce before we can prudently affirm or deny
anything about political institutions in general terms. Who would
deny that both the stability and the degree of difficulty of popular
government are closely connected in the United States with the
abundance of accessible land? Who would deny that in Great Britain
they are closely connected with the greater or less prosperity of our
commerce and manufactures? To take another kind of illustration
from Mr. Dicey's brilliant and instructive volume on the Law of the
Constitution. The governments of England and of France are both of
them popular in form; but does not a fundamental difference in their
whole spirit and working result from the existence in one country of
the _droit administratif_, and the absolute predominance in the other
of regular law, applied by the ordinary courts, and extending equally
over all classes of citizens? Distinctions and differences of this
order go for nothing in the pages before us; yet they are vital to the

The same fallacious limitation, the same exclusion of the many various
causes that cooperate in the production of political results, is to be
discerned in nearly every argument. The author justly calls attention
to the extraordinary good luck which has befallen us as a nation. He
proceeds to warn us that if the desire for legislative innovation be
allowed to grow upon us at its present pace--pace assumed to be very
headlong indeed--the chances are that our luck will not last. We shall
have a disaster like Sedan, or the loss of Alsace Lorraine (p. 151).
This is a curiously narrow reading of contemporary history. Did
Austria lose Sadowa, or was the French Empire ruined at Sedan,
in consequence of the passion of either of those Governments for
legislative innovations; or must we not rather, in order to
explain these striking events, look to a large array of military,
geographical, financial, diplomatic, and dynastic considerations and
conditions? If so, what becomes of the moral? England is, no doubt,
the one great civilised power that has escaped an organic or
structural change within the last five-and-twenty years. Within that
period, the American Union, after a tremendous war, has revolutionised
the social institutions of the South, and reconstructed the
constitution. The French Empire has foundered, and a French Republic
once more bears the fortunes of a great State over troubled waters.
Germany has undergone a complete transformation; so has the Italian
peninsula. The internal and the external relations alike of the
Austrian Power are utterly different to-day from what they were twenty
years ago. Spain has passed from monarchy to republic, and back to
monarchy again, and gone from dynasty to dynasty. But what share had
legislative innovation in producing these great changes? No share at
all in any one case. What is the logic, then, of the warning that if
we persist in our taste for legislative innovation, we shall lose
our immunity from the violent changes that have overtaken other
States--changes with which legislative innovation had nothing to do?

In short, modern societies, whether autocratic or democratic, are
passing through a great transformation, social, religious, and
political. The process is full of embarrassments, difficulties, and
perils. These are the dominant marks of our era. To set them all down
to popular government is as narrow, as confused, and as unintelligent
as the imputation in a papal Encyclical of all modern ills to
Liberalism. You cannot isolate government, and judge it apart from the
other and deeper forces of the time. Western civilisation is slowly
entering on a new stage. Form of government is the smallest part of
it. It has been well said that those nations have the best chance of
escaping a catastrophe in the obscure and uncertain march before us,
who find a way of opening the most liberal career to the aspirations
of the present, without too rudely breaking with all the traditions of
the past. This is what popular government, wisely guided, is best able
to do.

But will wise guidance be endured? Sir Henry Maine seems to think that
it will not. Mill thought that it would. In a singularly luminous
passage in an essay which for some reason or another he never
republished, Mill says--

"We are the last persons to undervalue the power of moral
convictions. But the convictions of the mass of mankind run hand
in hand with their interests or their class feelings. _We have a
strong faith, stronger than either politicians or philosophers
generally have, in the influence of reason and virtue over men's
minds_; but it is in that of the reason and virtue of their own
side of the question. We expect few conversions by the mere force
of reason from one creed to the other. Men's intellects and hearts
have a large share in determining what _sort_ of Conservatives or
Liberals they will be; but it is their position (saving individual
exceptions) which makes them Conservatives or Liberals."

This double truth points to the good grounds that exist why we should
think hopefully of popular government, and why we should be slow to
believe that it has no better foundation to build upon than the unreal
assumptions of some bad philosophers, French or others.


[Footnote 1: March 1888.]

Nunquamne reponam,
Vexatus toties rauci Theseide Codri?

Historians are only too fond of insisting on the effect of the French
Revolution in checking English reform. One of the latest of them
dwells on the fatal influence of this great event in our own country,
in checking, blighting, and distorting the natural progress of things.
But for that influence, he says, the closing years of the century
would probably have seen the abolition of the English Slave Trade, the
reform of Parliament, and the repeal of the Test Act.[1] The question
of the precise degree of vitality in sectarian pride, and of tenacity
in a great material interest, a hundred years ago or at any time, is
not very easy to settle. It is quite possible that the Slave Trade
and the Test Act might have died nearly as hard, if there had been
no French Revolution. In any case, it is a curious implication that
underlies all writing in this familiar vein, that France ought to
have gone on with a bad government, in order to secure to England the
advantages of a good one.

[Footnote 1: Lecky, vi. 297.]

As to one disservice, however, there can be no doubt. The French
Revolution has furnished the enemies of each successive proposal of
reform with a boundless supply of prejudicial analogies, appalling
parallels, and ugly nicknames, which are all just as conclusive with
the unwise as if they were the aptest arguments. Sydney Smith might
well put "the awful example of a neighbouring nation" among the
standing topics of the Noodle's Oration. The abolition of rotten
boroughs brought down a thousand ominous references to noyades,
fusillades, and guillotines. When Sir Robert Peel took the duty off
corn, Croker warned him with great solemnity that he was breaking up
the old interests, dividing the great families, and beginning exactly
such a castastrophe as did the Noailles and the Montmorencis in 1789.
Cobden and Bright were promiscuously likened to Baboeuf, Chaumette,
and Anacharsis Clootz. Baboeuf, it is true, was for dividing up all
property, and Chaumette was an aggressive atheist; but these were
mere _nuances_, not material to the purposes of obloquy. Robespierre,
Danton, Marat have been mercilessly trotted forth in their sanguinary
shrouds, and treated as the counterparts and precursors of worthies so
obviously and exactly like them as Mr. Beales and Mr. Odger; while
an innocent caucus for the registration of voters recalls to some
well-known writers lurid visions of the Cordeliers and the Jacobin

A recent addition has been made to the stock of nicknames drawn from
the terrible melodrama of the last century. The Chancellor of the
Exchequer at Dublin described the present very humble writer as "the
Saint-Just of our Revolution." The description was received with
lively applause. It would be indelicate to wonder how many in a
hundred, even in that audience of the elect, had ever heard of
Saint-Just, how many in five hundred could have spelt his name, and
how many in a thousand could have told any three facts in his career.
But let us muse for a moment upon the portrait. I take down the first
picture of Saint-Just that comes to my hand, M. Taine is the artist:--

"Among these energetic nullities we see gradually rising _a young
monster_--with face handsome and tranquil--Saint-Just! A sort of
precocious Sulla, who at five-and-twenty suddenly springs from
the ranks, and _by force of atrocity wins his place!_ Six years
before, he began life by an act of domestic robbery: while on a
visit at his mother's, he ran away in the night with her plate and
jewels; for that he was locked up for six months. On his release,
he employed his leisure in the composition of an odious poem. Then
he flung himself head foremost into the revolution. Blood calcined
by study, a colossal pride, a conscience completely unhinged,
an imagination haunted by the bloody recollections of Rome and
Sparta, an intelligence falsified and twisted until it found
itself most at its ease in the practice of enormous paradox,
barefaced sophism, and murderous lying--all these perilous
ingredients, mixed in a furnace of concentrated ambition, boiled
and fermented long and silently in his breast."

It is, no doubt, hard to know ourselves. One may entertain demons
unawares, and have calcined blood without being a bit the wiser.
Still, I do not find the likeness striking. It would have done just as
well to call me Nero, Torquemada, Iago, or Bluebeard.

Whether the present writer does or does not deserve all the
compliments that history has paid to Saint-Just, is a very slight
and trivial question, with which the public will naturally not much
concern itself. But as some use is from time to time made of the
writer's imputed delinquencies to prejudice an important cause, it is
perhaps worth while to try in a page or two to give a better account
of things. It is true that he has written on revolutionists like
Robespierre, and destructive thinkers like Rousseau and Voltaire. It
is true that he believes the two latter to have been on the whole,
when all deductions are made, on the side of human progress. But what
sort of foundation in this for the inference that he "finds his models
in the heroes of the French Revolution," and "looks for his methods
in the Reign of Terror"? It would be equally logical to infer that
because I have written, not without sympathy and appreciation, of
Joseph de Maistre, I therefore find my model in a hero of the Catholic
Reaction, and look for my methods in the revived supremacy of the Holy
See over all secular and temporal authorities. It would be just
as fair to say that because I pointed out, as it was the critic's
business to do, the many admirable merits, and the important moral
influences on the society of that time, of the _New Heloisa_,
therefore I am bound to think Saint Preux a very fine fellow,
particularly fit to be a model and a hero for young Ireland. Only on
the principle that who drives fat oxen must himself be fat, can it be
held that who writes on Danton must be himself in all circumstances a

The most insignificant of literary contributions have a history and
an origin; and the history of these contributions is short and simple
enough. Carlyle with all the force of his humoristic genius had
impressed upon his generation an essentially one-sided view both of
the eighteenth century as a whole, and of the French thinkers of that
century in particular. His essay on Diderot, his lecture on Rousseau,
his chapters on Voltaire, with all their brilliance, penetration, and
incomparable satire, were the high-water mark in this country of the
literary reaction against the French school of Revolution. Everybody
knows the famous diatribes against the Bankrupt Century and all its
men and all its works. Voltaire's furies, Diderot's indigestions,
Rousseau's nauseous amours, and the odd tricks and shifts of the whole
of them and their company, offered ready material for the boisterous
horseplay of the transcendental humourist. Then the tide began to
turn. Mr. Buckle's book on the history of civilisation had something
to do with it. But it was the historical chapters in Comte's
Positive Philosophy that first opened the minds of many of us, who,
five-and-twenty years ago, were young men, to a very different
judgment of the true place of those schools in the literary and social
history of Western Europe. We learnt to perceive that though much in
the thought and the lives of the literary precursors of the Revolution
laid them fairly open to Carlyle's banter, yet banter was not all, and
even grave condemnation was not all. In essays, like mine, written
from this point of view, and with the object of trying to trim the
balance rather more correctly, it may well have been that the better
side of the thinkers concerned was sometimes unduly dwelt upon, and
their worse side unduly left in the background. It may well have been
that an impression of personal adhesion was conveyed which only very
partially existed, or even where it did not exist at all: that is a
risk of misinterpretation which it is always hard for the historical
critic to escape. There may have been a too eager tone; but to be
eager is not a very bad vice at any age under the critical forty.
There were some needlessly aggressive passages, and some sallies which
ought to have been avoided, because they gave pain to good people.
There was perhaps too much of the particular excitement of the time.
It was the date when _Essays and Reviews_ was still thought a terrible
explosive; when Bishop Colenso's arithmetical tests as to the flocks
and herds of the children of Israel were believed to be sapping not
only the inspiration of the Pentateuch but the foundations of the
Faith and the Church; and when Darwin's scientific speculations were
shaking the civilised world. Some excitement was to be pardoned in
days like those, and I am quite sure that one side needed pardon at
least as much as the other. For the substantial soundness of the
general views winch I took of the French revolutionary thinkers at
that time, I feel no apprehension; nor--some possible occasional
phrases or sentences excepted and apart--do I see the smallest reason
to shrink or to depart from any one of them. So far as one particular
reference may serve to illustrate the tenour of the whole body
of criticism, the following lines, which close my chapter on the
"Encyclopaedia," will answer the purpose as well as any others, and I
shall perhaps be excused for transcribing them:--

"An urgent social task lay before France and before Europe: it
could not be postponed until the thinkers had worked out a scheme
of philosophic completeness. The thinkers did not seriously make
any effort after this completeness. The Encyclopaedia was the most
serious attempt, and it did not wholly fail. As I replace in my
shelves this mountain of volumes, 'dusky and huge, enlarging on
the sight,' I have a presentiment that their pages will seldom
again be disturbed by me or by others. They served a great purpose
a hundred years ago. They are now a monumental ruin, clothed with
all the profuse associations of history. It is no Ozymandias of
Egypt, king of kings, whose wrecked shape of stone and sterile
memories we contemplate. We think rather of the grey and crumbling
walls of an ancient stronghold, reared by the endeavour of stout
hands and faithful, whence in its own day and generation a band
once went forth against barbarous hordes, to strike a blow for
humanity and truth."[1]

[Footnote 1: Diderot, i. 247.]

It is gratifying to find that the same view of the work of these
famous men, and of its relation to the social necessities of the time,
commends itself to Mr. Lecky, who has since gone diligently and with
a candid mind over the same ground.[1] Then where is the literary

[Footnote 1: See his vol. vi. 305 _et seq_.]

Of course, it is easy enough to fish out a sentence or a short passage
here and there which, if taken by itself, may wear a very sinister
look, and carry the most alarming impressions. Not many days ago a
writer addressed a letter to the _Times_ which furnishes a specimen of
this kind of controversy. He gave himself the ambiguous designation of
"Catholicus"; but his style bore traces of the equivocally Catholic
climate of Munich. His aim was the lofty and magnanimous one of
importing theological prejudice into the great political dispute of
the day; in the interest, strange to say, of the Irish party who have
been for ages the relentless oppressors of the Church to which he
belongs, and who even now hate and despise it with all the virulence
of a Parisian Red. This masked assailant conveys to the mind of the
reader that I applaud and sympathise with the events of the winter of
1793, and more particularly with the odious procession of the
Goddess of Reason at Notre Dame. He says, moreover, that I have "the
effrontery to imply that the horrible massacres of the Revolution ...
were 'a very mild story compared with the atrocities of the Jews or
the crimes of Catholicism.'" No really honest and competent disputant
would have hit on "effrontery" as the note of the passage referred to,
if he had had its whole spirit and drift before him. The reader shall,
if he pleases, judge for himself. After the words just quoted, I go on
to say:--

"Historical recriminations, however, are not edifying. It is
perfectly fair, when Catholics talk of the atheist Terror, to
rejoin that the retainers of Anjou and Montpensier slew more men
and women on the first day of the Saint Bartholomew, than perished
in Paris through the Years I. and II. But the retort does us no
good beyond the region of dialectic. Some of the opinions of
Chaumette were full of enlightenment and hope. But it would be
far better to share the superstitious opinions of a virtuous and
benignant priest, like the Bishop in Victor Hugo's _Miserables_,
than to hold these good opinions of Chaumette, as he held them,
with a rancorous intolerance, a reckless disregard of the rights
and feelings of others, and a shallow forgetfulness of all that
great and precious part of our nature that lies out of the domain
of the logical understanding.... In every family where a mother
sought to have her child baptised, or where sons and daughters
sought to have the dying spirit of the old consoled by the last
sacrament, there sprang up a bitter enemy to the government which
had closed the churches and proscribed the priests. How could a
society whose spiritual life had been nourished in the solemn
mysticism of the Middle Ages suddenly turn to embrace a gaudy
paganism? The common self-respect of humanity was outraged by
apostate priests ... as they filed before the Convention, led by
the Archbishop of Paris, and accompanied by rude acolytes bearing
piles of the robes and the vessels of silver and gold with which
they had once served their holy office."[1]

[Footnote 1: _Misc._ i 77-79.]

Where is the effrontery, the search for methods in the Reign of
Terror, the applause for revolutionary models? Such inexcusable
perversion of a writer's meaning for an evanescent political
object--and a very shabby object too--is enough to make one think that
George III. knew what he was talking about, when he once delivered
himself of the saying that "Politics are a trade for a rascal, not for
a gentleman."

Let me cite another more grotesque piece of irrelevancy with a similar
drift. Some months ago the present writer chanced to express an
opinion upon Welsh Disestablishment. Wales, at any rate, would seem to
be far enough away from _Emile, Candide_, the Law of Prairial, and the
Committee of Public Safety. The _Times_, however, instantly said[1]
that it would be affectation to express any surprise, because my
unfortunate "theories and principles, drawn from French sources
and framed on French models, all tend to the disintegration of
comprehensive political organisations and the encouragement of
arrangements based on the minor peculiarities of race or dialect." Was
there ever in the world such prodigious nonsense? What French sources,
what French models? If French models point in any one direction rather
than another, it is away from disintegration and straight towards
centralisation. Everybody knows that this is one of the most notorious
facts of French history from the days of Lewis XI. or Cardinal
Richelieu down to Napoleon Bonaparte. So far from French models
encouraging "arrangements based on the minor peculiarities of race and
dialect," France is the first great example in modern history, for
good or for evil, of a persevering process of national unification,
and the firm suppression of all provincial particularismus. This
is not only true of French political leaders in general: it is
particularly true of the Jacobin leaders. Rousseau himself, I admit,
did in one place point in the direction of confederation; but only in
the sense that for freedom on the one hand, and just administration
on the other, the unit should not be too large to admit of the
participation of the persons concerned in the management of their
own public affairs. If the Jacobins had not been overwhelmed by the
necessity of keeping out the invaders, they might have developed the
germ of truth in Rousseau's loose way of stating the expediency of
decentralisation. As it was, above all other French schools, the
Jacobins dealt most sternly with particularist pretensions. Of all
men, these supposed masters, teachers, and models of mine are least
to be called Separatists. To them more than to any other of the
revolutionary parties the great heresy of Federalism was most odious;
and if I were a faithful follower of the Jacobin model, I should
have least patience with nationalist sentiment whether in Ireland,
Scotland, or Wales, and should most rigorously insist on that
cast-iron incorporation which, as it happens, in the case of Ireland
I believe to be equally hopeless and undesirable. This explanation,
therefore, of my favour for Welsh Disestablishment is as absurdly
ignorant as it is far-fetched and irrelevant.

[Footnote 1: Nov. 3, 1886.]

The logical process is worth an instant's examination. The position is
no less than this,--that to attempt truly to appreciate the place and
the value in the history of thought and social movements of men who
have been a hundred years in their graves, and to sympathise with
certain sides and certain effects of their activity under the peculiar
circumstances in which French society then found itself, is the same
thing as binding yourself to apply their theories and to imitate their
activity, under an entirely heterogeneous set of circumstances, in
a different country, and in a society with wholly dissimilar
requirements. That is the argument if we straighten it out. The
childishness of any such contention is so obvious, that I should be
ashamed of reproducing it, were it not that this very contention has
made its appearance at my expense several times a month for the last
two years in all sorts of important and respectable prints.

For instance, it appears that I once said somewhere that Danton
looked on at the doings of his bloodier associates with "sombre
acquiescence." _Argal_, it was promptly pointed out--and I espy the
dark phrase constantly adorning leading articles to this day--the man
who said that Danton sombrely acquiesced in the doings of Billaud,
Collet, and the rest, must of necessity, being of a firm and logical
mind, himself sombrely acquiesce in moonlighting and cattle-houghing
in Ireland. Apart from the curious compulsion of the reasoning,
what is the actual state of the case? Acquiescence is hardly a good
description of the mood of a politician who scorns delights and lives
laborious days in actively fighting for a vigorous policy and an
effective plan which, as he believes, would found order in Ireland
on a new and more hopeful base. He may be wrong, but where is the
acquiescence, whether sombre or serene?

The equally misplaced name of Fatalism is sometimes substituted for
acquiescence, in criticisms of this stamp. In any such sense anybody
is a fatalist who believes in a relation between cause and effect.
If it is fatalism to assume that, given a certain chain of social or
political antecedents, they will inevitably be followed by a certain
chain of consequences, then every sensible observer of any series of
events is a fatalist. Catholic Emancipation, the extension of the
franchise, and secret ballot, have within the last sixty years
completely shifted the balance of political power in Ireland. Land
legislation has revolutionised the conditions of ownership. These vast
and vital changes in Ireland have been accompanied by the transfer of
decisive power from aristocracy to numbers in Great Britain, and Great
Britain is arbiter. Is it fatalism, or is it common sense, to perceive
that one new effect of new causes so potent must be the necessity
of changing the system of Irish government? To dream that you could
destroy the power of the old masters without finding new, and that
having invited the nation to speak you could continue to ignore the
national sentiment was and is the very height of political folly, and
the longer the dream is persisted in the ruder will be the awakening.
Surely the stupidest fatalism is far more truly to be ascribed to
those who insist that Ireland was eternally predestined to turmoil,
confusion, and torment; that there alone the event defies calculation;
and that, however wisely, carefully and providently you modify or
extinguish causes, in Ireland, though nowhere else, effects will still
survive with shape unaltered and force unabated.

No author has a right to assume that anybody has read all his books or
any of them, but he may reasonably claim that he shall not be publicly
classified, labelled, catalogued, and placed In the shelves, on the
strength of half of his work, and that half arbitrarily selected. If
it be permitted to me without excess of egotism to name the masters to
whom I went to school in the days of early manhood, so far from being
revolutionists and terrorists, they belonged entirely to the opposite
camp. Austin's _Jurisprudence_ and Mill's _Logic_ and _Utilitarianism_
were everything, and Rousseau's _Social Contract_ was nothing. To the
best of my knowledge and belief, I never said a word about "Natural
Rights" in any piece of practical public business in all my life;
and when that famous phrase again made its naked appearance on the
platform three or four years ago, it gave me as much surprise and
dismay as if I were this afternoon to meet a Deinotherium shambling
down Parliament Street. Mill was the chief influence for me, as he was
for most of my contemporaries in those days. Experience of life and
independent use of one's mind--which he would have been the most ready
of men to applaud--have since, as is natural, led to many important
corrections and deductions in Mill's political and philosophical
teaching. But then we were disciples, and not critics; and nobody will
suppose that the admirer of Wordsworth, the author of the Essay on
Coleridge, and of the treatise on Representative Government, the
administrator in the most bureaucratic and authoritative of public
services, was a terrorist or an unbridled democrat, or anything else
but the most careful and rationalistic of political theorisers. It
was Mill who first held up for my admiration the illustrious man whom
Austin enthusiastically called the "godlike Turgot," and it was he who
encouraged me to write a study on that great and inspiring character.
I remember the suspicion and the murmurings with which Louis Blanc,
then living in brave and honourable exile in London, and the good
friend of so many of us, and who was really a literary Jacobin to
the tips of his fingers, remonstrated against that piece of what he
thought grievously misplaced glorification. Turgot was, indeed, a very
singular hero with whom to open the career of literary Jacobin. So
was Burke,--the author of those wise sentences that still ring in
our ears: "_The question with me is, not whether you have a right to
render your people miserable, but whether it is not your interest to
make them happy. It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do, but what
humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do. Nobody shall
persuade me, where a whole people are concerned, that acts of lenity
are not means of conciliation._" Burke, Austin, Mill, Turgot,
Comte--what strange sponsors for the "theories and principles of the

What these opinions came to, roughly speaking, was something to this
effect: That the power alike of statesmen and of publicists over the
course of affairs is strictly limited; that institutions and movements
are not capable of immediate or indefinite modification by any amount
of mere will; that political truths are always relative, and never
absolute; that the test of practical, political, and social proposals
is not their conformity to abstract ideals, but to convenience,
utility, expediency, and occasion; that for the reformer,
considerations of time and place may be paramount; and finally, as
Mill himself has put it, that government is always either in the
hands, or passing into the hands, of whatever is the strongest power
in society, and that what this power is, and shall be, depends less on
institutions than institutions depend upon it. If I were pressed for
an illustration of these principles at work, inspiring the minds and
guiding the practice of responsible statesmen in great transactions of
our own day and generation, I should point to the sage, the patient,
the triumphant action of Abraham Lincoln in the emancipation of the
negro slaves. However that may be, contrast a creed of this kind with
the abstract, absolute, geometric, unhistoric, peremptory notions and
reasonings that formed the stock in trade of most, though not quite
all, of the French revolutionists, alike in action and in thought. It
is plain that they are the direct opposite and contradictory of one

To clench the matter by chapter and verse, I should like to recall
what, I have said of these theories and principles in their most
perfect and most important literary version. How have I described
Rousseau's _Social Contract_? It placed, I said, the centre of social
activity elsewhere than in careful and rational examination of social
conditions, and careful and rational effort to modify them. It
substituted a retrograde aspiration for direction, and emotion for the
discovery of law. It overlooked the crucial difficulty--namely, how to
summon new force, without destroying the sound parts of a structure
which it has taken many generations to erect. Its method was geometric
instead of being historic, and hence its "desperate absurdity." Its
whole theory was constructed with an imperfect consideration of the
qualities of human nature, and with too narrow a view of society. It
ignored the great fact that government is the art of wisely dealing
with huge groups of conflicting interests, of hostile passions, of
hardly reconcilable aims, of vehemently opposed forces. It "gives us
not the least help towards the solution of any of the problems of
actual government."

Such language as all this is hardly that of a disciple to a master, in
respect of theories and principles which he is making his own for the
use of a lifetime. "There has been no attempt" [in these pages],
I said in winding up, "to palliate either the shallowness or the
practical mischievousness of the _Social Contract_. But there is
another side to its influence. We should be false to our critical
principle, if we do not recognise the historical effect of a
speculation scientifically valueless." Any writer would have stamped
himself as both unfit for the task that I had undertaken, and entirely
below the level of the highest critical standard of the day, if he had
for a moment dreamed of taking any other point of view.

As for historical hero-worship, after Carlyle's fashion, whether
with Jacobin idols or any other, it is a mood of mind that must be
uncongenial to anybody who had ever been at all under the influence
of Mill. Without being so foolish as to disparage the part played by
great men in great crises, we could have no sympathy with the barbaric
and cynical school, who make greatness identical with violence, force,
and mere iron will. Cromwell said, in vindication of himself, that
England had need of a constable, and it was true. The constable, the
soldier, the daring counsellor at the helm, are often necessities of
the time. It is often a necessity of the time that the energy of a
nation or of a movement should gather itself up in a resolute band
or a resolute chief; as the revolutionary energy of France gathered
itself up in the greater Jacobins, or that of England in Oliver
Cromwell. Goethe says that nature bids us "_Take all, but pay_."
Revolutions and heroes may give us all, but not without price. This is
at the best, and the best is the exception. The grandiose types mostly
fail. In our own day, people talk, for example, with admiration of
Cromwell's government in Ireland,--as if it were a success, instead of
being one of the worst chapters in the whole history of Irish failure.
It was force carried to its utmost. Hundreds were put to the sword,
thousands were banished to be slaves of the planters in the West
Indies, and the remnant were driven miserably off into the desolate
wilds of Connaught. But all this only prepared the way for further
convulsions and deadlier discontent.

It is irrational to contrast Carlyle's heroes, Cromwell, Mirabeau,
Frederick, Napoleon, with men like Washington or Lincoln. The
circumstances were different. The conditions of public use and of
personal greatness were different. But if we are to talk of ideals,
heroes, and models, I, for one, should hardly look to France at all.
Jefferson was no flatterer of George Washington; but his character of
Washington comes far nearer to the right pattern of a great ruler than
can be found in any of Carlyle's splendid dithyrambs, and it is no
waste of time to recall and to transcribe it:--

"His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first
order; his penetration strong, though not so acute as that of a
Newton, Bacon, or Locke; and as far as he saw, no judgment was
ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by
invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion. Hence the common
remark of his officers, of the advantage he derived from councils
of war, where, hearing all suggestions, he selected whatever was
best; and certainly no general ever planned his battles more
judiciously. But if deranged during the course of the action, if
any member of his plan was dislocated by sudden circumstances,
he was slow in a readjustment. He was incapable of fear, meeting
personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest
feature in his character was prudence, never acting until
every circumstance, every consideration, was maturely weighed;
refraining if he saw a doubt, but when once decided, going through
with his purpose, whatever obstacles opposed. His integrity was
most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known; no
motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred,
being able to bias his decision. He was, indeed, in every sense
of the word, a wise, a good, and a great man. His temper was
naturally irritable and high toned; but reflection and resolution
had obtained a firm and habitual ascendency over it."

In conclusion, the plain truth is that all parallels, analogies, and
similitudes between the French Revolution, or any part or phase of it,
and our affairs in Ireland are moonshine. For the practical politician
his problem is always individual. For his purposes history never
repeats itself. Human nature, doubtless, has a weakness for a
precedent; it is a weakness to be respected. But there is no
such thing as an essential reproduction of social and political
combinations of circumstance. To talk about Robespierre in connection
with Ireland is just as idle as it was in Robespierre to harangue
about Lycurgus and Brutus in Paris. To compare the two is to place
Ireland under a preposterous magnifying-glass of monstrous dimension.
Nor is disparity of scale the only difference, vital as that is. In
no one of the leading characteristics of a community in a state of
ferment, save the odium that surrounds the landlords, and that not
universal, does Ireland to-day really resemble the France of a
hundred years ago. Manners, ideas, beliefs, traditions, crumbling
institutions, rising aspirations, the ordering of castes and classes,
the rivalry of creeds, the relations with the governing power--all
constitute elements of such radical divergence as to make comparison
between modern Ireland and revolutionary France for any more serious
purpose than giving a conventional and familiar point to a sentence,
entirely worthless.

It is pure dilettantism, again, to seek the moral of Irish commotions
in the insurrection of La Vendee. That, as somebody has said, was like
a rising of the ancient Gauls at the voice of the Druids, and led by
their great chiefs. It will be time enough to compare La Vendee
with Ireland when the peasantry take the field against the British
Government with Beresfords, Fitzgeralds, and Bourkes at their head. If
the Vendeans had risen to drive out the Charettes, the Bonchamps, the
Larochejacquelins, the parallel would have been nearer the mark. The
report of the Devon Commission, the green pamphlet containing an
account of the famous three days' discussion between O'Connell and
Butt in the Dublin Corporation In 1843, or half a dozen of Lord
Clare's speeches between 1793 and 1800, will give a clearer insight
into the Irish problem than a bushel of books about the Vendean or any
other episode of the Revolution.

Equally frivolous is it, for any useful purpose of practical
enlightenment, to draw parallels between the action of the Catholic
clergy in Ireland to-day and that of the French clergy on the eve of
the Revolution. There is no sort of force in the argument that because
the French clergy fared ill at the Revolution,[1] therefore the Irish
clergy will fare ill when self-government is bestowed on Ireland.
Such talk is mere ingenious guess-work at best, without any of the
foundations of a true historical analogy. The differences between the
two cases are obvious, and they go to the heart of the matter. For
instance, the men who came to the top of affairs in France were
saturated both with speculative unbelief for one thing, and with
active hatred of the Church for another. In Ireland, on the contrary,
there is no speculative unbelief, as O'Connell used so constantly to
boast; and the Church being poor, voluntary, and intensely national
and popular, has nourished none of those gross and swollen abuses
which provoked the not unreasonable animosity of revolutionary France.
In truth, it is with precisely as much or as little reason that most
of the soothsayers and prognosticators of evil take the directly
opposite line. Instead of France these persons choose, as they have an
equally good right to do, to look for precedents to Spain, Belgium, or
South America. Why not? They assure us, in their jingling phrase, that
Home Rule means Rome Rule, that the priests will be the masters, and
that Irish autonomy is only another name for the reign of bigotry,
superstition, and obscurantism. One of these two mutually destructive
predictions has just as much to say for itself as the other, and no
more. We may leave the prophets to fight it out between them while we
attend to our business, and examine facts and probabilities as
they are, without the aid of capriciously adopted precedents and
fantastical analogies.

[Footnote 1: The Church did not fare so very ill, after all. The
State, in 1790, undertook the debts of the Church to the tune of
130,000,000 livres, and assured it an annual Budget of rather more
than that amount.--Boiteau's _Etat de la France_, p. 202.]

Parallels from France, or anywhere else, may supply literary
amusement; they may furnish a weapon in the play of controversy. They
shed no light and do no service as we confront the solid facts of the
business to be done. Lewis the Fourteenth was the author of a very
useful and superior commonplace when he wrote: "No man who is badly
informed can avoid reasoning badly. I believe that whoever is rightly
instructed, and rightly persuaded of _all the facts_, would never do
anything else but what he ought." Another great French ruler, who,
even more than Lewis, had a piercing eye for men and the world
of action, said that the mind of a general ought to be like a
field-glass, and as clear; to see things exactly as they are, _et
jamais se faire des tableaux_,--never to compose the objects before
him into pictures. The same maxim is nearly as good for the man who
has to conquer difficulties in the field of government; and analogies
and parallels are one way of substituting pictures for plans and
charts. Just because the statesman's problem is individual, history
can give him little help. I am not so graceless as to depreciate
history or literature either for public or for private persons. "You
are a man," Napoleon said to Goethe; and there is no reason why
literature should prevent the reader of books from being a man; why it
should blind him to the great practical truths that the end of life
is not to think but to will; that everything in the world has its
decisive moment, which statesmen know and seize; that the genius of
politics, as a great man of letters truly wrote, has not "All or
Nothing" for its motto, but seeks on the contrary to extract the
greatest advantage from situations the most compromised, and never
flings the helve after the hatchet. Like literature the use of history
in politics is to refresh, to open, to make the mind generous and
hospitable; to enrich, to impart flexibility, to quicken and nourish
political imagination and invention, to instruct in the common
difficulties and the various experiences of government; to enable a
statesman to place himself at a general and spacious standpoint. All
this, whether it be worth much or little, and it is surely worth much,
is something wholly distinct from directly aiding a statesman in
the performance of a specific task. In such a case an analogy from
history, if he be not sharply on his guard, is actually more likely
than not to mislead him. I certainly do not mean the history of the
special problem itself. Of that he cannot possibly know too much, nor
master its past course and foregone bearings too thoroughly. Ireland
is a great standing instance. There is no more striking example of
the disastrous results of trying to overcome political difficulties
without knowing how they came into existence, and where they have
their roots. The only history that furnishes a clue in Irish questions
is the history of Ireland and the people who have lived in it or have
been driven out of it.


[Footnote 1: The annual address to the students of the London Society
for the Extension of University Teaching, delivered at the Mansion
House, February 26th, 1887.]

When my friend Mr. Goschen invited me to discharge the duty which
has fallen to me this afternoon I confess that I complied with many
misgivings. He desired me to say something on the literary side of
education. Now, it is almost impossible--and I think those who know
most of literature will be readiest to agree with me--to say anything
new in recommendation of literature in a scheme of education. I have
felt, however, that Mr. Goschen has worked with such zeal and energy
for so many years on behalf of this good cause, that anybody whom he
considered able to render him any co-operation owed it to him in its
fullest extent. The Lord Mayor has been kind enough to say that I am
especially qualified to speak on English literature. I must, however,
remind the Lord Mayor that I have strayed from literature into the
region of politics; and I am not at all sure that such a journey
conduces to the aptness of one's judgment on literary subjects, or
adds much to the force of one's arguments on behalf of literary study.
Politics are a field where action is one long second-best, and where
the choice constantly lies between two blunders. Nothing can be
more unlike in aim, in ideals, in method, and in matter, than are
literature and politics. I have, however, determined to do the best
that I can; and I feel how great an honour it is to be invited to
partake in a movement which I do not hesitate to call one of the most
important of all those now taking place in English society.

What is the object of the movement? What do the promoters aim at? I
take it that what they design is to bring the very best teaching that
the country can afford, through the hands of the most thoroughly
competent men, within the reach of every class of the community. Their
object is to give to the many that sound, systematic, and methodical
knowledge, which has hitherto been the privilege of the few who can
afford the time and money to go to Oxford and Cambridge; to diffuse
the fertilising waters of intellectual knowledge from their great and
copious fountain-heads at the Universities by a thousand irrigating
channels over the whole length and breadth of our busy, indomitable
land. Gentlemen, this is a most important point. Goethe said that
nothing is more frightful than a teacher who only knows what his
scholars are intended to know. We may depend upon it that the man
who knows his own subject most thoroughly is most likely to excite
interest about it in the minds of other people. We hear, perhaps more
often than we like, that we live in a democratic age. It is true
enough, and I can conceive nothing more democratic than such a
movement as this, nothing which is more calculated to remedy defects
that are incident to democracy, more thoroughly calculated to raise
modern democracy to heights which other forms of government and older
orderings of society have never yet attained. No movement can be more
wisely democratic than one which seeks to give to the northern miner
or the London artisan knowledge as good and as accurate, though he
may not have so much of it, as if he were a student at Oxford or
Cambridge. Something of the same kind may be said of the new frequency
with which scholars of great eminence and consummate accomplishments,
like Jowett, Lang, Myers, Leaf, and others, bring all their
scholarship to bear, in order to provide for those who are not able,
or do not care, to read old classics in the originals, brilliant and
faithful renderings of them in our own tongue. Nothing but good, I am
persuaded, can come of all these attempts to connect learning with the
living forces of society, and to make industrial England a sharer in
the classic tradition of the lettered world.

I am well aware that there is an apprehension that the present
extraordinary zeal for education in all its forms--elementary,
secondary, and higher--may bear in its train some evils of its own. It
is said that before long nobody in England will be content to practise
a handicraft, and that every one will insist on being at least a
clerk. It is said that the moment is even already at hand when a great
deal of practical distress does and must result from this tendency. I
remember years ago that in the United States I heard something of the
same kind. All I can say is, that this tendency, if it exists, is sure
to right itself. In no case can the spread of so mischievous a notion
as that knowledge and learning ought not to come within reach of
handicraftsmen be attributed to literature. There is a familiar
passage in which Pericles, the great Athenian, describing the glory of
the community of which he was so far-shining a member, says, "We at
Athens are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in our tastes; we
cultivate the mind without loss of manliness." But then remember that
after all Athenian society rested on a basis of slavery. Athenian
citizens were able to pursue their love of the beautiful, and their
simplicity, and to cultivate their minds without loss of manliness,
because the drudgery and hard work and rude service of society were
performed by those who had no share in all these good things. With us,
happily, it is very different. We are all more or less upon a level.
Our object is--and it is that which in my opinion raises us infinitely
above the Athenian level--to bring the Periclean ideas of beauty and
simplicity and cultivation of the mind within the reach of those who
do the drudgery and the service and rude work of the world. And it can
be done--do not let us be afraid--it can be done without in the least
degree impairing the skill of our handicraftsmen or the manliness of
our national life. It can be done without blunting or numbing the
practical energies of our people.

I know they say that if you meddle with literature you are less
qualified to take your part in practical affairs. You run a risk of
being labelled a dreamer and a theorist. But, after all, if we take
the very highest form of all practical energy--the governing of the
country--all this talk is ludicrously untrue. I venture to say that in
the present Government [1887], including the Prime Minister, there are
three men at least who are perfectly capable of earning their bread as
men of letters. In the late Government, besides the Prime Minister,
there were also three men of letters, and I have never heard that
those three were greater simpletons than their neighbours. There is
a Commission now at work on that very important and abstruse
subject--the Currency. I am told that no one there displays so acute
an intelligence of the difficulties that are to be met, and so ready
an apprehension of the important arguments that are brought forward,
and the practical ends to be achieved, as the chairman of the
Commission, who is not what is called a practical man, but a man
of study, literature, theoretical speculation, and university
training.[1] Oh no, gentlemen, some of the best men of business in the
country are men who have had the best collegian's equipment, and are
the most accomplished bookmen.

[Footnote 1: Mr. Arthur Balfour.]

It is true that we cannot bring to London, with this movement, the
indefinable charm that haunts the grey and venerable quadrangles of
Oxford and Cambridge. We cannot take you into the stately halls, the
silent and venerable libraries, the solemn chapels, the studious
old-world gardens. We cannot surround you with all those elevated
memorials and sanctifying associations of scholars and poets, of
saints and sages, that march in glorious procession through the ages,
and make of Oxford and Cambridge a dream of music for the inward ear,
and of delight for the contemplative eye. We cannot bring all that to
you; but I hope, and I believe, it is the object of those who are more
intimately connected with the society than I have been, that every
partaker of the benefits of this society will feel himself and herself
in living connection with those two famous centres, and feel conscious
of the links that bind the modern to the older England. One of the
most interesting facts mentioned in your report this year is that last
winter four prizes of L10 each were offered in the mining district of
Northumberland, one each to the male and female student in every term
who should take the highest place in the examination, in order to
enable them to spend a month in Cambridge in the long vacation for the
purpose of carrying on in the laboratories and museums the work in
which they had been engaged in the winter at the local centre. That is
not a step taken by our society; but the University of Cambridge has
inspired and worked out the scheme, and I am not without hope that
from London some of those who attend these classes may be able to
realise in person the attractions and the associations of these two
great historic sites. One likes to think how poor scholars three or
four hundred years ago used to flock to Oxford, regardless of cold,
privation, and hardship, so that they might satisfy their hunger and
thirst for knowledge. I like to think of them in connection with this
movement. I like to think of them in connection with students like
those miners in Northumberland, whom I know well, and who are
mentioned in the report of the Cambridge Extension Society as, after
a day's hard work in the pit, walking four or five miles through cold
and darkness and rough roads to hear a lecture, and then walking
back again the same four or five miles. You must look for the same
enthusiasm, the same hunger and thirst for knowledge, that presided
over the foundation of the Universities many centuries ago, to carry
on this work, to strengthen and stimulate men's faith in knowledge,
their hopes from it, and their zeal for it.

Speaking now of the particular kind of knowledge of which I am going
to say a few words--how does literature fare in these important
operations? Last term, out of fifty-seven courses in the Cambridge
scheme, there were ten on literature: out of thirty-one of our
courses, seven were on literature. I am bound to say I think that
such a position for literature in the scheme is very reasonably
satisfactory. I have made some inquiries, since I knew that I was
going to speak here, in the great popular centres of industry in the
North and in Scotland as to the popularity of literature as a subject
of teaching, I find very much what I should have expected. The
professors all tell very much the same story, and this is, that it
is extremely hard to interest any considerable number of people in
subjects that seem to have no direct bearing upon the practical work
of everyday life. There is a disinclination to study literature for
its own sake, or to study anything which does not seem to have a
visible and direct influence upon the daily work of life. The nearest
approach to a taste for literature is a certain demand for instruction
in history with a little flavour of contemporary politics. In short,
the demand for instruction in literature is strictly moderate. That is
what men of experience tell me, and we have to recognise it, nor ought
we to be at all surprised. Mr. Goschen, when he spoke some years ago,
said there were three motives which might induce people to seek the
higher education. First, to obtain greater knowledge for bread-winning
purposes. From that point of view science would be most likely to feed
the classes. Secondly, the improvement of one's knowledge of political
economy, and history, and facts bearing upon the actual political work
and life of the day. Thirdly, was the desire of knowledge as a luxury
to brighten life and kindle thought. I am very much afraid that, in
the ordinary temper of our people, and the ordinary mode of looking at
life, the last of these motives savours a little of self-indulgence,
and sentimentality, and other objectionable qualities. There is a
great stir in the region of physical science at this moment, and it is
likely, as any one may see, to take a chief and foremost place in the
field of intellectual activity. After the severity with which science
was for so many ages treated by literature, we cannot wonder that
science now retaliates, now mightily exalts herself, and thrusts
literature down into the lower place. I only have to say on the
relative claims of science and literature what Dr Arnold said:--"If
one might wish for impossibilities, I might then wish that my children
might be well versed in physical science, but in due subordination to
the fulness and freshness of their knowledge on moral subjects. This,
however, I believe cannot be; wherefore, rather than have it the
principal thing in my son's mind, I would gladly have him think that
the sun went round the earth, and that the stars were so many spangles
set in the bright blue firmament" (Stanley's _Life of Arnold_, ii.
31). It is satisfactory that one may know something of these matters,
and yet not believe that the sun goes round the earth. But if there
is to be exclusion, I, for one, am not prepared to accept the rather
enormous pretensions that are nowadays sometimes made for physical
science as the be-all and end-all of education.

Next to this we know that there is a great stir on behalf of technical
and commercial education. The special needs of our time and country
compel us to pay a particular attention to this subject. Here
knowledge is business, and we shall never hold our industrial
pre-eminence, with all that hangs upon that pre-eminence, unless we
push on technical and commercial education with all our might. But
there is a third kind of knowledge, and that too, in its own way, is
business. There is the cultivation of the sympathies and imagination,
the quickening of the moral sensibilities, and the enlargement of the
moral vision. The great need in modern culture, which is scientific
in method, rationalistic in spirit, and utilitarian in purpose, is to
find some effective agency for cherishing within us the ideal. That
is the business and function of literature. Literature alone will not
make a good citizen; it will not make a good man. History affords too
many proofs that scholarship and learning by no means purge men of
acrimony, of vanity, of arrogance, of a murderous tenacity about
trifles. Mere scholarship and learning and the knowledge of books do
not by any means arrest and dissolve all the travelling acids of the
human system. Nor would I pretend for a moment that literature can be
any substitute for life and action. Burke said, "What is the education
of the generality of the world? Reading a parcel of books? No!
Restraint and discipline, examples of virtue and of justice, these are
what form the education of the world." That is profoundly true; it is
life that is the great educator. But the parcel of books, if they are
well chosen, reconcile us to this discipline; they interpret this
virtue and justice; they awaken within us the diviner mind, and rouse
us to a consciousness of what is best in others and ourselves.

As a matter of rude fact, there is much to make us question whether the
spread of literature, as now understood, does awaken the diviner mind.
The numbers of the books that are taken out from public libraries are
not all that we could wish. I am not going to inflict many figures on
you, but there is one set of these figures that distresses
booklovers,--I mean the enormous place that fiction occupies in the
books that are taken out. In one great town in the North prose fiction
forms 76 per cent of all the books lent. In another great town prose
fiction is 82 per cent; in a third 84 per cent; and in a fourth 67 per
cent. I had the curiosity to see what happens in the libraries of the
United States; and there--supposing the system of cataloguing and
enumeration to be the same--they are a trifle more serious in their
taste than we are; where our average is about 70 per cent, at a place
like Chicago it is only about 60 per cent. In Scotland, too, it ought to
be said that they have a better average in respect to prose fiction.
There is a larger demand for books called serious than in England. And I
suspect, though I do not know, that one reason why there is in Scotland
a greater demand for the more serious classes of literature than
fiction, is that in the Scotch Universities there are what we have not
in England--well-attended chairs of literature, systematically and
methodically studied. Do not let it be supposed that I at all underrate
the value of fiction. On the contrary, when a man has done a hard day's
work, what can he do better than fall to and read the novels of Walter
Scott, or the Brontes, or Mrs. Gaskell, or some of our living writers. I
am rather a voracious reader of fiction myself. I do not, therefore,
point to it as a reproach or as a source of discouragement, that fiction
takes so large a place in the objects of literary interest. I only
suggest that it is much too large, and we should be better pleased if it
sank to about 40 per cent, and what is classified as general literature
rose from 13 to 25 per cent.

There are other complaints of literature as an object of interest in
this country. I was reading the other day an essay by the late head of
my old college at Oxford, that very learned and remarkable man Mark
Pattison, who was a booklover if ever there was one. He complained
that the bookseller's bill in the ordinary English middle class family
is shamefully small. It appeared to him to be monstrous that a man
who is earning L1000 a year should spend less than L1 a week on
books--that is to say, less than a shilling in the pound per annum. I
know that Chancellors of the Exchequer take from us 8d. or 6d. in the
pound, and I am not sure that they always use it as wisely as if they
left us to spend it on books. Still, a shilling in the pound to be
spent on books by a clerk who earns a couple of hundred pounds a year,
or by a workman who earns a quarter of that sum, is rather more, I
think, than can be reasonably expected. A man does not really need
to have a great many books. Pattison said that nobody who respected
himself could have less than 1000 volumes. He pointed out that you can
stack 1000 octavo volumes in a bookcase that shall be 13 feet by 10
feet, and 6 inches deep, and that everybody has that small amount of
space at disposal. Still the point is not that men should have a great
many books, but that they should have the right ones, and that they
should use those that they have. We may all agree in lamenting
that there are so many houses--even some of considerable social
pretension--where you will not find a good atlas, a good dictionary,
or a good cyclopaedia of reference. What is still more lamentable, in
a good many more houses where these books are, they are never referred
to or opened. That is a very discreditable fact, because I defy
anybody to take up a single copy of the _Times_ newspaper and not come
upon something in it, upon which, if their interest in the affairs of
the day were active, intelligent, and alert as it ought to be, they
would consult an atlas, dictionary, or cyclopaedia of reference.

No sensible person can suppose for a single moment that everybody
is born with the ability for using books, for reading and studying
literature. Certainly not everybody is born with the capacity of being
a great scholar. All people are no more born great scholars like
Gibbon and Bentley, than they are all born great musicians like Handel
and Beethoven. What is much worse than that, many come into the world
with the incapacity of reading, just as they come into it with the
incapacity of distinguishing one tune from another. To them I have
nothing to say. Even the morning paper is too much for them. They can
only skim the surface even of that. I go further, and frankly admit
that the habit and power of reading with reflection, comprehension,
and memory all alert and awake, does not come at once to the
natural man any more than many other sovereign virtues come to that
interesting creature. What I do venture to press upon you is, that
it requires no preterhuman force of will in any young man or
woman--unless household circumstances are more than usually vexatious
and unfavourable--to get at least half an hour out of a solid busy day
for good and disinterested reading. Some will say that this is too
much to expect, and the first persons to say it, I venture to predict,
will be those who waste their time most. At any rate, if I cannot get
half an hour, I will be content with a quarter. Now, in half an hour I
fancy you can read fifteen or twenty pages of Burke; or you can read
one of Wordsworth's masterpieces--say the lines on Tintern; or
say, one-third--if a scholar, in the original, and if not, in a
translation--of a book of the Iliad or the Aeneid. I do not think that
I am filling the half-hour too full. But try for yourselves what you
can read in half an hour. Then multiply the half-hour by 365, and
consider what treasures you might have laid by at the end of the year;
and what happiness, fortitude, and wisdom they would have given you
during all the days of your life.

I will not take up your time by explaining the various mechanical
contrivances and aids to successful study. They are not to be despised
by those who would extract the most from books, Many people think of
knowledge as of money. They would like knowledge, but cannot face the
perseverance and self-denial that go to the acquisition of it. The
wise student will do most of his reading with a pen or a pencil in his

He will not shrink from the useful toil of making abstracts and
summaries of what he is reading. Sir William Hamilton was a strong
advocate for underscoring books of study. "Intelligent underlining,"
he said, "gave a kind of abstract of an important work, and by the
use of different coloured inks to mark a difference of contents,
and discriminate the doctrinal from the historical or illustrative
elements of an argument or exposition, the abstract became an analysis
very serviceable for ready reference,"[1] This assumes, as Hamilton
said, that the book to be operated on is your own, and perhaps is
rather too elaborate a counsel of perfection for most of us. Again,
some great men--Gibbon was one, and Daniel Webster was another, and
the great Lord Strafford was a third--always before reading a book
made a short, rough analysis of the questions which they expected to
be answered in it, the additions to be made to their knowledge, and
whither it would take them.

[Footnote 1: Veitch's _Life of Hamilton_, pp. 314, 392.]

"After glancing my eye," says Gibbon, "over the design and order of
a new book, I suspended the perusal until I had finished the task of
self-examination; till I had revolved in a solitary walk all that I
knew or believed or had thought on the subject of the whole work or of
some particular chapter: I was then qualified to discern how much the
author added to my original stock; and if I was sometimes satisfied
by the agreement, I was sometimes armed by the opposition, of our

[Footnote 1: Dr. Smith's _Gibbon_, i. 64.]

I have sometimes tried that way of steadying and guiding attention;
and I commend it to you. I need not tell you that you will find that
most books worth reading once are worth reading twice, and--what
is most important of all--the masterpieces of literature are worth
reading a thousand times. It is a great mistake to think that because
you have read a masterpiece once or twice, or ten times, therefore you
have done with it. Because it is a masterpiece, you ought to live with
it, and make it part of your daily life. Another practice is that of
keeping a commonplace book, and transcribing into it what is striking
and interesting and suggestive. And if you keep it wisely, as Locke
has taught us, you will put every entry under a head, division, or
subdivision.[1] This Is an excellent practice for concentrating your
thought on the passage and making you alive to its real point and
significance. Here, however, the high authority of Gibbon is against
us. He refuses "strenuously to recommend." "The action of the pen," he
says, "will doubtless imprint an idea on the mind as well as on the
paper; but I much question whether the benefits of this laborious
method are adequate to the waste of time; and I must agree with Dr.
Johnson (_Idler_, No. 74) that 'what is twice read is commonly better
remembered than what is transcribed.'"[2]

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