THE ANCIEN REGIME
The rulesof the Royal Institution forbid (and wisely) religious orpoliticalcontroversy. It was therefore impossible for me in theseLecturesto say much which had to be saidin drawing a just andcompletepicture of the Ancien Regime in France. The passagesinsertedbetween bracketswhich bear on religious matterswereaccordinglynot spoken at the Royal Institution.
But more. It was impossible for me in these Lecturesto bringforward asfully as I could have wishedthe contrast between thecontinentalnations and Englandwhether nowor during theeighteenthcentury. But that contrast cannot be too carefullystudied atthe present moment. In proportion as it is seen andunderstoodwill the fear of revolution (if such exists) die outamong thewealthier classes; and the wish for it (if such exists)among thepoorer; and a large extension of the suffrage will belooked onas--what it actually is--a safe and harmless concession tothewishes--andas I holdto the just rights--of large portion oftheBritish nation.
Thereexists in Britain nowas far as I can seeno one of thoseevilswhich brought about the French Revolution. There is nowidespreadmiseryand therefore no widespread discontentamong theclasseswho live by hand-labour. The legislation of the lastgenerationhas been steadily in favour of the pooras against therich; andit is even more true now than it was in 1789that--asArthurYoung told the French mob which stopped his carriage--therich paymany taxes (over and above the poor-ratesa direct tax onthecapitalist in favour of the labourer) more than are paid by thepoor. "In England" (says M. de Tocqueville of even the eighteenthcentury)"the poor man enjoyed the privilege of exemption fromtaxation;in Francethe rich." Equality before the law is as well-nighcomplete as it can bewhere some are rich and others poor; andthe onlyprivileged classit sometimes seems to meis the pauperwho hasneither the responsibility of self-governmentnor the toilofself-support.
A minorityof malcontentssome justlysome unjustlyangry withthepresent state of thingswill always exist in this world. But amajorityof malcontents we shall never haveas long as the workmenareallowed to keep untouched and unthreatened their rights of freespeechfree public meetingfree combination for all purposes whichdo notprovoke a breach of the peace. There may be (and probablyare) to befound in London and the large townssome of thoserevolutionarypropagandists who have terrified and tormentedcontinentalstatesmen since the year 1815. But they are far fewerin numberthan in 1848; far fewer still (I believe) than in 1831;and theirhabitsnotionstemperwhole mental organisationis soutterlyalien to that of the average Englishmanthat it is only thesense ofwrong which can make him take counsel with themor makecommoncause with them. Meanwhileevery man who is admitted to avoteisone more person withdrawn from the temptation todisloyaltyand enlisted in maintaining the powers that be--whenthey arein the wrongas well as when they are in the right. ForeveryEnglishman is by his nature conservative; slow to form anopinion;cautious in putting it into effect; patient under evilswhich seemirremediable; persevering in abolishing such as seemremediable;and then only too ready to acquiesce in the earliestpracticalresult; to "rest and be thankful." His faultsaswell ashisvirtuesmake him anti-revolutionary. He is generally too dullto take ina great idea; and if he does take it inoften tooselfish toapply it to any interest save his own. But now and thenwhen thesense of actual injury forces upon him a great idealikethat ofFree-trade or of Parliamentary Reformhe is indomitablehoweverslow and patientin translating his thought into fact: andthey willnot be wise statesmen who resist his dogged determination.If at thismoment he demands an extension of the suffrage eagerlyand evenviolentlythe wise statesman will give at oncegracefullyandgenerouslywhat the Englishman will certainly obtain one dayif he hasset his mind upon it. Ifon the other handhe asks forit calmlythen the wise statesman (instead of mistaking Englishreticencefor apathy) will listen to his wishes all the morereadily;seeing in the moderation of the demandthe best possibleguaranteefor moderation in the use of the thing demanded.
Andbe italways rememberedthat in introducing these men into the"balanceof the Constitution" we introduce no unknown quantity.Statesmenought to know themif they know themselves; to judge whattheworking man would do by what they do themselves. He who imputesvirtues tohis own class imputes them also to the labouring class.He whoimputes vices to the labouring classimputes them to his ownclass. For both are not only of the same flesh and bloodbutwhatisinfinitely more importantof the same spirit; of the same race;ininnumerable casesof the same ancestors. For centuries pastthemost ableof these men have been working upwards into the middleclassandthrough itoftento the highest dignitiesand thehighestfamily connections; and the whole nation knows how they havecomportedthemselves therein. Andby a reverse process (of whichthephysiognomist and genealogist can give abundant proof)theweakermembers of that class which was dominant during the MiddleAge havebeen sinking downwardoften to the rank of mere day-labourersand carrying downward with them--sometimes in a verytragicaland pathetic fashion--somewhat of the dignity and therefinementwhich they had learnt from their ancestors.
Thus hasthe English nation (and as far as I can seethe Scotchlikewise)become more homogeneous than any nation of the Continentif weexcept France since the extermination of the Frankishnobility. And for that very reasonas it seems to meit is morefittedthan any other European nation for the exercise of equalpoliticalrights; and not to be debarred of them by arguments drawnfromcountries which have been governed--as England has not been--bya caste.
Thecivilisationnot of mere book-learningbut of the heart; allthat wasonce meant by "manners"--good breedinghigh feelingrespectfor self and respect for others--are just as common (as faras I haveseen) among the hand-workers of England and Scotlandasamong anyother class; the only difference isthat these qualitiesdevelopmore early in the richer classesowing to that severedisciplineof our public schoolswhich makes mere lads often fit togovernbecause they have learnt to obey: while they develop later--generallynot till middle age--in the classes who have not gonethrough intheir youth that Spartan trainingand who indeed (from amistakenconception of liberty) would not endure it for a day. Thisand othersocial drawbacks which are but too patentretard themanhood ofthe working classes. That it should be sois a wrong.For if acitizen have one right above all others to demand anythingof hiscountryit is that he should be educated; that whatevercapabilitieshe may have in himhowever smallshould have theirfair andfull chance of development. But the cause of the wrong isnot theexistence of a casteor a privileged classor of anythingsave theplain factthat some men will be always able to pay morefor theirchildren's education than others; and that those childrenwillinevitablywin in the struggle of life.
Meanwhilein this fact is to be found the most weightyif not theonlyargument against manhood suffragewhich would admit many--buttoo manyalas!--who are still mere boys in mind. To a reasonablehouseholdsuffrage it cannot apply. The man who (being almostcertainlymarriedand having children) can afford to rent a 5 poundtenementin a townor in the country eitherhas seen quite enoughof lifeand learnt quite enough of itto form a very fair judgmentof the manwho offers to represent him in Parliament; because he haslearntnot merely something of his own interestor that of hisclassbut--what is infinitely more important--the differencebetweenthe pretender and the honest man.
The causesof this state of societywhich is peculiar to Britainmust besought far back in the ages. It would seem that thedistinctionbetween "earl and churl" (the noble and the non-noblefreeman)was crushed out in this island by the two Norman conquests--that ofthe Anglo-Saxon nobility by Sweyn and Canute; and that oftheAnglo-Danish nobility by William and his Frenchmen. Those twoterriblecalamitiesfollowing each other in the short space offiftyyearsseem to have welded togetherby a community ofsufferingall ranks and racesat least south of the Tweed; andwhen theEnglish rose after the stormthey rose as one homogeneouspeoplenever to be governed again by an originally alien race. TheEnglishnobility werefrom the time of Magna Chartarather anofficialnobilitythanas in most continental countriesaseparatecaste; and whatever caste tendencies had developedthemselvesbefore the Wars of the Roses (as such are certain to doduringcenturies of continued wealth and power)were crushed out bythe greatrevolutionary events of the next hundred years.Especiallydid the discovery of the New Worldthe maritime strugglewithSpainthe outburst of commerce and colonisation during thereigns ofElizabeth and Jameshelp toward this good result. It wasin vainfor the Lord Oxford of the daysneering at Raleigh's suddenelevationto complain that as on the virginalsso in the State"Jackswent upand heads went down." The proudest noblemen werenotashamed to have their ventures on the high seasand to sendtheiryounger sons tradingor buccaneeringunder the conduct oflow-bornmen like Drakewho "would like to see the gentleman thatwould notset his hand to a ropeand hale and draw with themariners." Thus sprang up that respect foreven fondness forseverebodily labourwhich the educated class of no nation save ourown hasever felt; and which has stood them in such good steadwhether athome or abroad. Thustoosprang up the system ofsociety bywhich (as the ballad sets forth) the squire's son mightbe a"'prentice good" and marry
"Thebailiff's daughter dearThat dweltat Islington"
withouttarnishingas he would have done on the Continentthescutcheonof his ancestors. That which has saved England from acentraldespotismsuch as crushedduring the eighteenth centuryeverynation on the Continentis the very same peculiarity whichmakes theadvent of the masses to a share in political power safeandharmless; namelythe absence of casteor rather (for there issure to bea moral fact underlying and causing every political fact)theabsence of that wicked pride which perpetuates caste; forbiddingthose tointermarry whom nature and fact pronounce to be fit matesbefore Godand man.
Theseviews are not mine only. They have been already set forth somuch moreforcibly by M. de Tocquevillethat I should have thoughtitunnecessary to talk about themwere not the rhetorical phrases"Caste""Privileged Classes" "Aristocratic Exclusiveness"andsuch-likebandied about again just nowas if they representedfacts. If there remain in this kingdom any facts which correspondto thosewordslet them be abolished as speedily as possible: butthat suchdo remain was not the opinion of the master of modernpoliticalphilosophyM. de Tocqueville.
Heexpresses his surprise "that the fact which distinguishesEnglandfrom allother modern nationsand which alone can throw light onherpeculiarities. . . has not attracted more attention. . . andthat habithas rendered itas it wereimperceptible to the Englishthemselves--thatEngland was the only country in which the system ofcaste hadbeen not only modifiedbut effectually destroyed. Thenobilityand the middle classes followed the same businessembracedthe sameprofessionsandwhat is far more significantintermarriedwith each other. The daughter of the greatestnobleman"(and thisif true of the eighteenth centuryhas becomefar moretrue of the nineteenth) "could alreadywithout disgracemarry aman of yesterday." . . .
"Ithas often been remarked that the English nobility has been moreprudentmore ableand less exclusive than any other. It wouldhave beenmuch nearer the truth to saythat in Englandfor a verylong timepastno nobilityproperly so calledhave existedif wetake theword in the ancient and limited sense it has everywhereelseretained." . . .
"Forseveral centuries the word 'gentleman'" (he might have added"burgess")"has altogether changed its meaning in England; and theword'roturier' has ceased to exist. In each succeeding century itis appliedto persons placed somewhat lower in the social scale" (asthe"bagman" of Pickwick has becomeand has deserved tobecomethe"commercialgentleman" of our day). "At length it travelled withtheEnglish to Americawhere it is used to designate every citizenindiscriminately. Its history is that of democracy itself." . . .
"Ifthe middle classes of Englandinstead of making war upon thearistocracyhave remained so intimately connected with itit isnotespecially because the aristocracy is open to allbut ratherbecauseits outline was indistinctand its limit unknown: not somuchbecause any man might be admitted into itas because it wasimpossibleto say with certainty when he took rank there: so thatall whoapproached it might look on themselves as belonging to it;might takepart in its ruleand derive either lustre or profit fromitsinfluence."
Just so;and therefore the middle classes of Britainof whatevertheirspecial political partyare conservative in the best sense ofthat word.
For thereare not threebut only twoclasses in England; namelyrich andpoor: those who live by capital (from the wealthiestlandlordto the smallest village shopkeeper); and those who live byhand-labour. Whether the division between those two classes isincreasingor notis a very serious question. Continuedlegislationin favour of the hand-labourerand a beneficencetowardshimwhen in needsuch as no other nation on earth has evershownhave done much to abolish the moral division. But the socialdivisionhas surely been increased during the last half centurybytheinevitable tendencyboth in commerce and agricultureto employone largecapitalwhere several small ones would have been employeda centuryago. The large manufactorythe large shopthe largeestatethe large farmswallows up the small ones. The yeomanthethriftysquatter who could work at two or three trades as well astill hispatch of moorthe hand-loom weaverthe skilled villagecraftsmanhave all but disappeared. The handworkerfinding itmore andmore difficult to invest his savingshas been more andmoretempted to squander them. To rise to the dignity of acapitalisthowever smallwas growing impossible to himtill therise ofthat co-operative movementwhich will do more than anysocial orpolitical impulse in our day for the safety of Englishsocietyand the loyalty of the English working classes. Andmeanwhile--erethat movement shall have spread throughout the lengthandbreadth of the landand have been appliedas it surely will besome daynot only to distributionnot only to manufacturebut toagriculturelikewise--till thenthe best judges of the workingmen'sworth must be their employers; and especially the employers ofthenorthern manufacturing population. What their judgment isissufficientlynotorious. Those who depend most on the working menwho havethe best opportunities of knowing themtrust them mostthoroughly. As long as great manufacturers stand forward as thepoliticalsponsors of their own workmenit behoves those who cannothave hadtheir experienceto consider their opinion as conclusive.As forthat "influence of the higher classes" which is said to beendangeredjust now; it will existjust as much as it deserves toexist. Any man who is superior to the manywhether in talentseducationrefinementwealthor anything elsewill always be abletoinfluence a number of men--and if he thinks it worth his whileofvotes--by just and lawful means. And as for unjust and unlawfulmeansletthose who prefer them keep up heart. The world will goon much asit did before; and be always quite bad enough to allowbriberyand corruptionjobbery and nepotismquackery andarrogancetheir full influence over our home and foreign policy.Anextension of the suffragehowever widewill not bring about themillennium. It will merely make a large number of Englishmencontentedand loyalinstead of discontented and disloyal. It maymaketoothe educated and wealthy classes wiser by awakening awholesomefear--perhapsit may beby awakening a chivalrousemulation. It may put the younger men of the present aristocracyupon theirmettleand stir them up to prove that they are not inthe sameeffete condition as was the French noblesse in 1789. Itmay leadthem to take the warnings which have been addressed tothemforthe last thirty yearsby their truest friends--often bykinsmen oftheir own. It may lead them to ask themselves whyin aworldwhich is governed by a just Godsuch great power as ispalpablytheirs at present is entrusted to themsave that they maydo moreworkand not lessthan other menunder the penaltiespronouncedagainst those to whom much is givenand of whom much isrequired. It may lead them to discover that they are in a worldwhere itis not safe to sit under the treeand let the ripe fruitdrop intoyour mouth; where the "competition of species" works withruthlessenergy among all ranks of beingfrom kings upon theirthrones tothe weeds upon the waste; where "he that is not hammeris sure tobe anvil;" and he who will not workneither shall heeat. It may lead them to devote that energy (in which they surpassso far thecontinental aristocracies) to something better thanoutdooramusements or indoor dilettantisms. There are those amongthem wholike one section of the old French noblessecontentthemselveswith mere complaints of "the revolutionary tendencies ofthe age." Let them beware in time; for when the many are on themarchthefew who stand still are certain to be walked over. Thereare thoseamong them wholike another section of the Frenchnoblesseare readymore generously than wiselyto throw awaytheir ownsocial and political advantagesand play (for it willnever bereally more than playing) at democracy. Let themtoobeware. The penknife and the axe should respect each other; forthey werewrought from the same steel: but the penknife will not bewise intrying to fell trees. Let them accept their own positionnot inconceit and arrogancebut in fear and trembling; and see iftheycannot play the man thereinand save their own class; and withitmuchwhich it has needed many centuries to accumulate and toorganiseand without which no nation has yet existed for a singlecentury. They are no more like the old French noblessethan arethecommercial class like the old French bourgeoisieor thelabouringlike the old French peasantry. Let them prove that factby theirdeeds during the next generation; or sink into theconditionof mere rich menexcitingby their luxury and lazinessnothingbut envy and contempt.
Meanwhilebehind all classes and social forces--I had almost saidabove themall--stands a fourth estatewhich willultimatelydecide theform which English society is to take: a Press asdifferentfrom the literary class of the Ancien Regime as iseverythingelse English; and different in this--that it is free.
The FrenchRevolutionlike every revolution (it seems to me) whichhasconvulsed the nations of Europe for the last eighty yearswascausedimmediately--whatever may have been its more remote causes--by thesuppression of thought; orat leastby a sense of wrongamongthose who thought. A country where every manbe he fool orwiseisfree to speak that which is in himcan never suffer arevolution. The folly blows itself off like steamin harmlessnoise; thewisdom becomes part of the general intellectual stock ofthenationand prepares men for gradualand therefore forharmlesschange.
As long asthe press is freea nation is guaranteed against suddenandcapricious follyeither from above or from below. As long asthe pressis freea nation is guaranteed against the worse evil ofpersistentand obstinate follycloaking itself under the venerableshapes oftradition and authority. For under a free pressa nationmustultimately be guided not by a castenot by a classnot bymerewealthnot by the passions of a mob: but by mind; by the netresult ofall the common-sense of its members; and in the presentdefault ofgeniuswhich is un-common sensecommon-sense seems tobe theonlyif not the bestsafeguard for poor humanity.
[Deliveredat the Royal InstitutionLondon1867.]
TheseLectures are meant to be comments on the state of Francebefore theFrench Revolution. To English societypast or presentI do notrefer. For reasons which I have set forth at length in anintroductorydiscoursethere never was any Ancien Regime inEngland.
Thereforewhen the Stuarts tried to establish in England a systemwhichmight have led to a political condition like that of theContinentall classes combined and exterminated them; while thecourse ofEnglish society went on as before.
On thecontraryEngland was the mother of every movement whichunderminedand at last destroyedthe Ancien Regime.
FromEngland went forth those political theories whichtransmittedfromAmerica to Francebecame the principles of the FrenchRevolution. From England went forth the philosophy of Lockewithall itsimmense results. It is noteworthythat when Voltaire triestopersuade peoplein a certain famous passagethat philosophersdo notcare to trouble the world--of the ten names to whom he doeshonourseven names are English. "It is" he says"neitherMontaignenor Lockenor Boylenor Spinozanor Hobbesnor LordShaftesburynor Mr. Collinsnor Mr. Tolandnor Fluddnor Bakerwho havecarried the torch of discord into their countries." It isworthnoticethat not only are the majority of these names Englishbut thatthey belong not to the latter but to the former half of theeighteenthcentury; and indeedto the latter half of theseventeenth.
So it waswith that Inductive Physical Sciencewhich helped morethan allto break up the superstitions of the Ancien Regimeand toset manface to face with the facts of the universe. From Englandtowardsthe end of the seventeenth centuryit was promulgated bysuch menas NewtonBoyleSydenhamRayand the first founders ofour RoyalSociety.
InEnglandtooarose the great religious movements of theseventeenthand eighteenth centuries--and especially that of a bodywhich Ican never mention without most deep respect--the Society ofFriends. At a time when the greater part of the Continent was sunkinspiritual sleepthese men were reasserting doctrines concerningmanandhis relation to his Creatorwhichwhether or not allbelievethem (as I believe them) to be founded on eternal factallmustconfess to have been of incalculable benefit to the cause ofhumanityand civilisation.
FromEnglandfinallyabout the middle of the eighteenth centurywentforth--promulgated by English noblemen--that freemasonry whichseems tohave been the true parent of all the secret societies ofEurope. Of this curious questionmore hereafter. But enough hasbeen saidto show that Englandinstead of fallingat any periodinto thestagnation of the Ancien Regimewasfrom the middle oftheseventeenth centuryin a state of intellectual growth andfermentwhich communicated itself finally to the continentalnations. This is the special honour of England; universallyconfessedat the time. It was to England that the slowly-awakeningnationslookedas the source of all which was nobletrueandfreeinthe dawning future.
It will beseenfrom what I have saidthat I consider the AncienRegime tobegin in the seventeenth century. I should date itscommencement--asfar as that of anything so vagueunsystematicindeedanarchiccan be defined--from the end of the Thirty Years'Warandthe peace of Westphalia in 1648.
For bythat time the mighty spiritual struggles and fierce religiousanimositiesof the preceding century had worn themselves out. Andas alwayshappensto a period of earnest excitement had succeededone ofwearinessdisgusthalf-unbelief in the many questions forwhich somuch blood had been shed. No man had come out of thebattlewith altogether clean hands; some not without changing sidesmore thanonce. The war had ended as onenot of nationsnot evenofzealotsbut of mercenaries. The body of Europe had been pulledin piecesbetween them all; and the poor soul thereof--as was to beexpected--hadfled out through the gaping wounds. Lifemereexistencewas the most pressing need. If men could--in the oldprophet'swords--find the life of their handthey were content.High andlow only asked to be let live. The poor asked it--slaughteredon a hundred battle-fieldsburnt out of house and home:vasttracts of the centre of Europe were lying desert; thepopulationwas diminished for several generations. The tradingclassesruined by the long waronly asked to be let liveand makea littlemoney. The nobilitytooonly asked to be let live. Theyhad lostin the long strugglenot only often lands and powerbuttheirablest and bravest men; and a weaker and meaner generation wasleftbehindto do the governing of the world. Let them liveandkeep whatthey had. If signs of vigour still appeared in Franceinthe warsof Louis XIV. they were feverishfactitioustemporary--soonasthe event provedto droop into the general exhaustion. Ifwars werestill to be waged they were to be wars of successionwarsofdiplomacy; not wars of principlewaged for the mightiestinvisibleinterests of man. The exhaustion was general; and to itwe mustattribute alike the changes and the conservatism of theAncienRegime. To it is owing that growth of a centralisingdespotismand of arbitrary regal powerwhich M. de Tocqueville hasset forthin a book which I shall have occasion often to quote. Toit isowingtoothat longingwhich seems to us childishafterancientformsetiquettesdignitiescourt costumesformalitiesdiplomaticlegalecclesiastical. Men clung to them as tokeepsakesof the past--revered relics of more intelligible andbetter-orderedtimes. If the spirit had been beaten out of them ina centuryof battlethat was all the more reason for keeping up theletter. They had had a meaning oncea life once; perhaps there wasa littlelife left in them still; perhaps the dry bones would clothethemselveswith flesh once moreand stand upon their feet. Atleast itwas useful that the common people should so believe. Therewas goodhope that the simple massesseeing the old dignities andformalitiesstill parading the streetsshould suppose that theystillcontained menand were not mere wooden figuresdressedartisticallyin official costume. Andon the wholethat hope wasnotdeceived. More than a century of bitter experience was neededere themasses discovered that their ancient rulers were like thesuits ofarmour in the Tower of London--empty iron astride of woodensteedsand armed with lances which every ploughboy could wrest outof theirhandsand use in his own behalf.
Themistake of the masses was pardonable. For those suits of armourhad onceheld living men; strongbravewise; men of an admirabletemper;doing their work according to their lightnot altogetherwell--whatman does that on earth?--but well enough to makethemselvesnecessary toand loyally followed bythe masses whomtheyruled. No one can read fairly the "Gesta Dei per FrancosinOriente"or the deeds of the French Nobility in their wars withEnglandor those tales--however legendary--of the mediaevalknightswhich form so noble an element in German literaturewithoutseeingthat however black were these men's occasionalcrimesthey were a truly noble racethe old Nobility of theContinent;a race which ruled simply becausewithout themtherewould havebeen naught but anarchy and barbarism. To theirchivalrousideal they were too oftenperhaps for the most partuntrue: butpartial and defective as it isit is an ideal such asneverentered into the mind of Celt or GaulHun or Sclav; one whichseemscontinuous with the spread of the Teutonic conquerors. Theyruledbecause they did practically raise the ideal of humanity inthecountries which they conquereda whole stage higher. Theyceased torule when they werethrough their own sinscaught up andsurpassedin the race of progress by the classes below them.
Butevenwhen at its besttheir system of government had in it--like allhuman invention--original sin; an unnatural and unrighteouselementwhich was certainsooner or laterto produce decay andruin. The old Nobility of Europe was not a mere aristocracy. Itwas acaste: a race not intermarrying with the races below it. Itwas not amere aristocracy. For thatfor the supremacy of the bestmenallsocieties striveor profess to strive. And such a truearistocracymay exist independent of casteor the hereditaryprincipleat all. We may conceive an Utopiagoverned by anaristocracywhich should be really democratic; which should useunderdeveloped formsthat method which made the mediaevalpriesthoodthe one great democratic institution of old Christendom;bringingto the surface and utilising the talents and virtues of allclasseseven to the lowest. We may conceive an aristocracychoosingoutand gladly receiving into its own ranks as equalseveryyouthevery maidenwho was distinguished by intellectvirtuevalourbeautywithout respect to rank or birth; andrejectingin turnfrom its own rankseach of its own children whofell belowsome lofty standardand showed by weaklinessdulnessorbasenessincapacity for the post of guiding and elevating theirfellow-citizens. Thus would arise a true aristocracy; a governingbody ofthe really most worthy--the most highly organised in bodyand inmind--perpetually recruited from below: from whichor fromany otheridealwe are yet a few thousand years distant.
But theold Ancien Regime would have shuddereddid shudderat sucha notion. The supreme class was to keep itself pureand avoid alltaint ofdarker bloodshutting its eyes to the fact that some ofits mostfamous heroes had been born of such left-handed marriagesas that ofRobert of Normandy with the tanner's daughter of Falaise."Someare so curious in this behalf" says quaint old Burtonwritingabout 1650"as these old Romansour modern VenetiansDutchandFrenchthat if two parties dearly lovethe one noblethe otherignoblethey may notby their lawsmatchthough equalotherwisein yearsfortuneseducationand all good affection. InGermanyexcept they can prove their gentility by three descentsthey scornto match with them. A nobleman must marry a noblewoman;a baronabaron's daughter; a knighta knight's. As slaters sorttheirslatesdo they degrees and families."
Anddoubtless this theory--like all which have held their ground formanycenturies--at first represented a fact. These castes wereatfirstactually superior to the peoples over whom they ruled. Icannotaslong as my eyes are openyield to the modern theory oftheequality--indeed of the non-existence--of races. Holdingas Idotheprimaeval unity of the human raceI see in that race thesameinclination to sport into fresh varietiesthe same competitionof speciesbetween those varietieswhich Mr. Darwin has pointed outamongplants and mere animals. A distinguished man arises; from himadistinguished family; from it a distinguished tribestrongercunningerthan those around. It asserts its supremacy over itsneighboursat first exactly as a plant or animal would dobydestroyingandwhere possibleeating them; nexthaving grownmoreprudentby enslaving them; nexthaving gained a littlemoralityin addition to its prudenceby civilising themraisingthem moreor less toward its own standard. And thusin every landcivilisationand national life has arisen out of the patriarchalstate; andthe Eastern scheikwith his wivesfree and slaveandhishundreds of fighting men born in his houseis the type of allprimaevalrulers. He is the best man of his horde--in every senseof theword best; and whether he have a right to rule them or nottheyconsider that he hasand are the better men for his guidance.
Whetherthis ought to have been the history of primaevalcivilisationis a question not to be determined here. That it isthehistory thereofis surely patent to anyone who will imagine tohimselfwhat must have been. In the first placethe strongest andcunningestsavage must have had the chance of producing childrenmorestrong and cunning than the average; he would have--thestrongestsavage has still--the power of obtaining a wifeor wivessuperiorin beauty and in household skillwhich involvessuperiorityof intellect; and therefore his children would--some ofthem atleast--be superior to the averageboth from the father'sand themother's capacities. They again would marry select wives;and theirchildren again would do the same; tillin a very fewgenerationsa family would have established itselfconsiderablysuperiorto the rest of the tribe in body and mindand becomeassuredlyits ruling race.
Againifone of that race invented a new weapona new mode oftillageor aught else which gave him powerthat would add to thesuperiorityof his whole family. For the invention would bejealouslykept among them as a mysterya hereditary secret. Tothissimple causesurelyis to be referred the system ofhereditarycaste occupationswhether in Egypt or Hindoostan. Tothistoothe fact that alike in Greek and in Teutonic legend thechief sooften appearsnot merely as the best warrior and bestminstrelbut as the best smitharmourerand handicraftsman of histribe. Ifhoweverthe inventor happened to be a low-born geniusitsadvantages would still accrue to the ruling race. For nothingcould bemore natural or more easy--as more than one legendintimates--thanthat the king should extort the new secret from hissubjectand then put him to death to prevent any further publicity.
Two greatinventive geniuses we may see dimly through the abysses ofthe pastboth of whom must have become in their time great chiefsfoundersof mighty aristocracies--it may beworshipped after theirdeath asgods.
The firstwho seems to have existed after the age in which theblack racecolonised Australiamust have been surely a man worthyto holdrank with our BrindleysWattsand Stephensons. For heinvented(and mindone man must have invented the thing firstandby thevery nature of itinvented it all at once) an instrument sosingularunexpectedunlike anything to be seen in naturethat Iwonder ithas not been calledlike the ploughthe oliveor thevineagift of the immortal gods: and yet an instrument so simpleso easyand so perfectthat it spread over all races in Europe andAmericaand no substitute could be found for it till the latterpart ofthe fifteenth century. Yesa great genius was heand theconsequentfounder of a great aristocracy and conquering racewhofirstinvented for himself and his children after him a--bow andarrow.
Thenext--whether before or after the first in timeit suits me tospeak ofhim in second place--was the man who was the potentialancestorof the whole RitterschaftChivalryand knightly caste ofEurope;the man who firstfinding a foal upon the steppedesertedby itsdambrought it homeand reared it; and then bethought himof thehappy notion of making it draw--presumably by its tail--afashionwhich endured long in Irelandand had to be forbidden bylawIthink as late as the sixteenth century. A great aristocratmust thatman have become. A greater still he who first substitutedthe bitfor the halter. A greater still he who first thought ofwheels. A greater still he who conceived the yoke and pole forbearing uphis chariot; for that same yokeand poleand chariotbecame thepeculiar instrument of conquerors like him who mightilyoppressedthe children of Israelfor he had nine hundred chariotsof iron. EgyptiansSyriansAssyriansGreeksRomans--none ofthemimproved on the form of the conquering bigatill it was givenup by arace who preferred a pair of shafts to their cartsand whohad learntto ride instead of drive. A great aristocratagainmust hehave been among those latter races who first conceived thenotion ofgetting on his horse's backaccommodating his motions tothebeast'sand becoming a centaurhalf-manhalf-horse. Thatinventionmust have tendedin the first instanceas surely towarddemocracyas did the invention of firearms. A tribe of riders musthave beenalwaysmore or lessequal and free. Equal because a manon a horsewould feel himself a man indeed; because the art ofridingcalled out an independencea self-helpa skillaconsciousnessof powera personal pride and vanitywhich woulddefyslavery. Freebecause a tribe of riders might be defeatedexterminatedbut never enchained. They could never become gleboeadscriptibound to the soilas long as they could take horse andsaddleand away. History gives us more than one glimpse of suchtribes--thescourge and terror of the non-riding races with whomthey camein contact. Somedoubtlessremember how in the warsbetweenAlfred and the Danes"the army" (the Scandinavianinvaders)again andagain horse themselvessteal away by night from the Saxoninfantryand ride over the land (whether in England or in France)"doingunspeakable evil." To that special instinct ofhorsemanshipwhichstill distinguishes their descendantswe may attribute mainlytheScandinavian settlement of the north and east of England. Sometoomayrecollect the sketch of the primeval Hunas he firstappearedto the astonished and disgusted old Roman soldier AmmianusMarcellinus;the visages "more like cakes than faces;" the "figureslike thosewhich are hewn out with an axe on the poles at bridge-ends;"the rat-skin coatswhich they wore till they rotted offtheirlimbs; their steaks of meat cooked between the saddle and thethigh; thelittle horses on which "they eat and drinkbuy and selland sleeplying forward along his narrow neckand indulging ineveryvariety of dream." And over and aboveand more importantpoliticallythe common councils "held on horsebackunder theauthorityof no kingbut content with the irregular government ofnoblesunder whose leading they force their way through allobstacles." A race--like those Cossacks who are probably theirlinealdescendants--to be fearedto be hiredto be pettedbut notto beconquered.
Instancesnearer home of free equestrian races we have in our ownEnglishborderersamong whom (as Mr. Froude says) the farmers andtheirfarm-servants had but to snatch their arms and spring intotheirsaddles and they became at once the Northern Horsefamed asthe finestlight cavalry in the world. And equal to them--superiorevenifwe recollect that they preserved their country's freedomforcenturies against the superior force of England--were thosetroops ofScots whocentury after centuryswept across the borderon theirlittle garronstheir bag of oatmeal hanging by the saddlewith theiron griddle whereon to bake it; careless of weather and ofdanger;men too swift to be exterminatedtoo independent to beenslaved.
But ifhorsemanship hadin these casesa levelling tendency itwould havethe very opposite when a riding tribe conquered a non-ridingone. The conquerors wouldas much as possiblekeep the artandmystery of horsemanship hereditary among themselvesand becomeaRitterschaft or chivalrous caste. And they would be able to doso: because the conquered race would not care or dare to learn thenew anddangerous art. There are personseven in Englandwho canneverlearn to ride. There are whole populations in Europeevennowwhenraces have become almost indistinguishably mixedwho seemunable tolearn. And this must have been still more the case whenthe raceswere more strongly separated in blood and habits. So theTeutonicchiefwith his gesithacomitesor select band ofknightswho had received from himas Tacitus has itthe war-horseand thelanceestablished himself as the natural ruler--andoppressor--ofthe non-riding populations; first over the aboriginesof Germanypropertribes who seem to have been enslavedand theirnameslostbefore the time of Tacitus; and then over the non-ridingRomans andGauls to the South and Westand the Wendish andSclavonictribes to the East. Very few in numbersbut mighty intheirunequalled capacity of body and mindand in their terriblehorsemanshipthe Teutonic Ritterschaft literally rode roughshodover theold world; never checkedbut when they came in contactwith thefree-riding hordes of the Eastern steppes; and soestablishedan equestrian casteof which the [Greek text] of Athensand theEquites of Rome had been only hints ending in failure andabsorption.
Of thatequestrian caste the symbol was the horse. The favouriteandtherefore the chosen sacrifice of Odintheir ancestor and Godthehorse's flesh was eaten at the sacrificial meal; the horse'sheadhungon the ash in Odin's woodgave forth oracular responses.AsChristianity came inand the eating of horse-flesh was forbiddenas impietyby the Churchwhile his oracles dwindled down to such asthat whichFalada's dead head gives to the goose-girl in the Germantalethemagic power of the horse figured only in ballads andlegends: but his real power remained.
The art ofriding became an hereditary and exclusive science--atlast apedantryhampered by absurd etiquettesand worse thanuselesstraditions; but the power and right to ride remained on thewhole themark of the dominant caste. Terribly did they often abusethatspecial power. The faculty of making a horse carry him no moremakes aman a good manthan the faculties of making moneymakingspeechesmaking booksor making a noise about public abuses. Andof allruffiansthe worstif history is to be trustedis theruffian ona horse; to whose brutality of mind is superadded thebrutepower of his beast. A ruffian on a horse--what is there thathe willnot ride overand ride oncareless and proud of his ownshame? When the ancient chivalry of France descended to that levelor ratherdelegated their functions to mercenaries of that level--when theknightly hosts who fought before Jerusalem allowedthemselvesto be superseded by the dragoons and dragonnades of LouisXIV.--thenthe end of the French chivalry was at handand came.Butcenturies before that shameful fall there had come in withChristianitythe new thoughtthat domination meant responsibility;thatresponsibility demanded virtue. The words which denoted rankcame todenote likewise high moral excellencies. The nobilisorman whowas knownand therefore subject to public opinionwasbound tobehave nobly. The gentleman--gentile-man--who respectedhis owngensor family and pedigreewas bound to be gentle. Thecourtierwho had picked up at court some touch of Romancivilisationfrom Roman ecclesiasticswas bound to be courteous.He whoheld an "honour" or "edel" of land was bound tobehonourable;and he who held a "weorthig" or worthythereofwasboundhimself to be worthy. In like wisehe who had the right toride ahorsewas expected to be chivalrous in all matters befittingthehereditary rulerwho owed a sacred debt to a long line offorefathersas well as to the state in which he dwelt; all dignitycourtesypurityself-restraintdevotion--such as they wereunderstoodin those rough days--centred themselves round the idea ofthe rideras the attributes of the man whose supposed dutyas wellas hissupposed rightwas to govern his fellow-menby exampleaswell as bylaw and force;--attributes which gathered themselves upinto thatone word--Chivalry: an ideawhichperfect or imperfectGod forbidthat mankind should ever forgettill it has become thepossession--asit is the God-given right--of the poorest slave thatevertrudged on foot; and every collier-lad shall have become--assome ofthose Barnsley men proved but the other day they had becomealready:
A verygentle perfect knight
Veryunfaithful was chivalry to its ideal--as all men are to allideals. But bear in mindthat if the horse was the symbol of therulingcasteit was not at first its only strength. Unless thatcaste hadhad at first spiritualas well as physical force on itssideitwould have been soon destroyed--nayit would havedestroyeditself--by internecine civil war. And we must believethat thoseFranksGothsLombardsand Burgundswho in the earlyMiddle Ageleaped on the backs (to use Mr. Carlyle's expression) ofthe Romannationswere actuallyin all senses of the wordbettermen thanthose whom they conquered. We must believe it from reason;for ifnothow could theynumerically fewhave held for a yearmuch morefor centuriesagainst millionstheir dangerouselevation? We must believe itunless we take Tacitus's "Germania"which Iabsolutely refuse to dofor a romance. We must believethat theywere better than the Romanised nations whom theyconqueredbecause the writers of those nationsAugustineSalvianandSidonius Apollinarisfor examplesay that they were suchandgive proofthereof. Not good men according to our higher standard--far fromit; though Sidonius's picture of Theodoricthe East Gothin hispalace of Narbonneis the picture of an eminently good andwiseruler. But not goodI sayas a rule--the Franksalas! oftenvery badmen: but still betterwiserablerthan those whom theyruled. We must believe toothat they were betterin every senseof thewordthan those tribes on their eastern frontierwhom theyconqueredin after centuriesunless we discredit (which we have noreason todo) the accounts which the Roman and Greek writers give ofthehorrible savagery of those tribes.
So it wasin later centuries. One cannot read fairly the history ofthe MiddleAges without seeing that the robber knight of Germany orof Francewho figures so much in modern novelsmust have been theexceptionand not the rule: that an aristocracy which lived by thesaddlewould have as little chance of perpetuating itselfas apriesthoodcomposed of hypocrites and profligates; that themediaevalNobility has been as much slandered as the mediaevalChurch;and the exceptions taken--as more salient and exciting--fortheaverage: that side by side with ruffians like Gaston de Foixhundredsof honest gentlemen were trying to do their duty to thebest oftheir lightand were raisingand not depressingthemassesbelow them--one very important item in that duty beingthedoing thewhole fighting of the country at their own expenseinstead ofleaving it to a standing army of mercenariesat the beckand callof a despot; and thatas M. de Tocqueville says: "Infeudaltimesthe Nobility were regarded pretty much as thegovernmentis regarded in our own; the burdens they imposed wereendured inconsequence of the security they afforded. The nobleshad manyirksome privileges; they possessed many onerous rights:but theymaintained public orderthey administered justicetheycaused thelaw to be executedthey came to the relief of the weaktheyconducted the business of the community. In proportion as theyceased todo these thingsthe burden of their privileges appearedmoreoppressiveand their existence became an anomaly in proportionas theyceased to do these things." And the Ancien Regime may bedefined asthe period in which they ceased to do these things--inwhich theybegan to play the idlersand expected to take their oldwageswithout doing their old work.
But in anycasegovernment by a ruling castewhether of thepatriarchalor of the feudal kindis no ideal or permanent state ofsociety. So far from itit is but the first or second step out ofprimevalsavagery. For the more a ruling race becomes conscious ofits owndutyand not merely of its own power--the more it learns toregard itspeculiar gifts as entrusted to it for the good of men--somuch themore earnestly will it labour to raise the masses below toits ownlevelby imparting to them its own light; and so will itcontinuallytend to abolish itselfby producing a general equalitymoral andintellectual; and fulfil that law of self-sacrifice whichis thebeginning and the end of all virtue.
A race ofnoblest men and womentrying to make all below them asnoble asthemselves--that is at least a fair idealtending towardthough ithas not reachedthe highest ideal of all.
Butsuppose that the very opposite tendency--inherent in the heartof everychild of man--should conquer. Suppose the ruling caste nolonger thephysicalintellectualand moral superiors of the massbut theirequals. Suppose them--shamefulbut not without example--actuallysunk to be their inferiors. And that such a fall did come--naythatit must have come--is matter of history. And its causelike allsocial causeswas not a political nor a physicalbut amoralcause. The profligacy of the French and Italianaristocraciesin the sixteenth centuryavenged itself on them by acurse(derived from the newly-discovered America) from which theyneverrecovered. The Spanish aristocracy sufferedI doubt not veryseverely. The English and Germanowing to the superior homelinessand purityof ruling their liveshardly at all. But thecontinentalcasteinstead of recruiting their tainted blood byhealthyblood from belowdid allunder pretence of keeping itpuretokeep it tainted by continual intermarriage; and paidinincreasingweakness of body and mindthe penalty of their exclusivepride. It is impossible for anyone who reads the French memoirs ofthesixteenth and seventeenth centuriesnot to perceiveif he bewisethatthe aristocracy therein depicted was ripe for ruin--yeaalreadyruined--under any form of government whatsoeverindependentof allpolitical changes. Indeedmany of the political changeswere notthe causes but the effects of the demoralisation of thenoblesse. Historians will tell you howas early as the beginningof theseventeenth centuryHenry IV. complained that the nobleswerequitting their country districts; how succeeding kings andstatesmennotably Richelieu and Louis XIV.tempted the noblesse upto Paristhat they might become mere courtiersinstead of powerfulcountrygentlemen; how those who remained behind were only the poorhobereauxlittle hobby-hawks among the gentrywho considered itdegradationto help in governing the parishas their forefathershadgoverned itand lived shabbily in their chateauxgrinding thelastfarthing out of their tenantsthat they might spend it in townduring thewinter. No wonder that with such an aristocracywho hadrenouncedthat very duty of governing the countryfor which alonethey andtheir forefathers had existedthere arose government byintendantsand sub-delegatesand all the other evils ofadministrativecentralisationwhich M. de Tocqueville anatomisesanddeplores. But what was the cause of the curse? Theirmoraldegradation. What drew them up to Paris save vanity and profligacy?What keptthem from intermarrying with the middle class save pride?What madethem give up the office of governors save idleness? Andif vanityprofligacyprideand idleness be not injustices andmoralviceswhat are?
The raceof heroic knights and nobles who fought under the walls ofJerusalem--whowrestledand not in vainfor centuries with theequallyheroic Englishin defence of their native soil--who had setto allEurope the example of all knightly virtueshad rotted downto this;their only virtue leftas Mr. Carlyle saysbeing--aperfectreadiness to fight duels.
EveryIntendantchosen by the Comptroller-General out of the lower-bornmembers of the Council of State; a needy young plebeian withhisfortune to makeand a stranger to the provincewasin spiteof hisgreedambitionchicanearbitrary tyrannya better man--ablermore energeticand oftento judge from the pages of DeTocquevillewith far more sympathy and mercy for the wretchedpeasantry--thanwas the count or marquis in the chateau abovewholookeddown on him as a roturier; and let him nevertheless becomefirst hisdeputyand then his master.
Understandme--I am not speaking against the hereditary principle ofthe AncienRegimebut against its caste principle--two widelydifferentelementscontinually confounded nowadays.
Thehereditary principle is goodbecause it is founded on fact andnature. If men's minds come into the world blank sheets of paper--which Imuch doubt--every other part and faculty of them comes instampedwith hereditary tendencies and peculiarities. There aresuchthings as transmitted capabilities for good and for evil; andas surelyas the offspring of a good horse or dog is likely to begoodsois the offspring of a good manand still more of a goodwoman. If the parents have any special abilitytheir children willprobablyinherit itat least in part; and over and abovewill haveitdeveloped in them by an education worthy of their parents andthemselves. If man were--what he is not--a healthy and normalspeciesapermanent hereditary caste might go on intermarryingandsoperpetuate itself. But the same moral reason which would makesuch acaste dangerous--indeedfatal to the liberty and developmentofmankindmakes it happily impossible. Crimes and follies arecertainafter a few generationsto weaken the powers of any humancaste; andunless it supplements its own weakness by mingling againwith thecommon stock of humanityit must sink under that weaknessas theancient noblesse sank by its own vice. Of course there wereexceptions. The French Revolution brought those exceptions out intostronglight; and like every day of judgmentdivided between thegood andthe evil. But it lies not in exceptions to save a casteor aninstitution; and a few RichelieusLiancourtsRochefoucauldsNoaillesLafayettes were but the storks among the cranes involvedin thewholesale doom due not to each individualbut to a systemand aclass.
Profligacyprideidleness--these are the vices which we have tolay to thecharge of the Teutonic Nobility of the Ancien Regime inFranceespecially; and (though in a less degree perhaps) over thewholecontinent of Europe. But below themand perhaps the cause ofthem alllay another and deeper vice--godlessness--atheism.
I do notmean merely want of religiondoctrinal unbelief. I meanwant ofbelief in dutyin responsibility. Want of belief thatthere wasa living God governing the universewho had set themtheirworkand would judge them according to their work. Andthereforewant of beliefyeautter unconsciousnessthat theywere setin their places to make the masses below them better men;to impartto them their own civilisationto raise them to their ownlevel. They would have shrunk from that which I just now defined asthe trueduty of an aristocracyjust because it would have seemedto themmadness to abolish themselves. But the process of abolitionwent onneverthelessonly now from without instead of from within.So it mustalways bein such a case. If a ruling class will nottry toraise the masses to their own levelthe masses will try todrag themdown to theirs. That sense of justice which allowedprivilegeswhen they were as strictly official privileges as thesalary ofa judgeor the immunity of a member of the House ofCommons;when they were earnedas in the Middle Ageby severeeducationearnest labourand life and death responsibility inpeace andwarwill demand the abolition of those privilegeswhenno work isdone in return for themwith a voice which must beheardforit is the voice of truth and justice.
But withthat righteous voice will mingle anothermost wickedandyetalas!most flattering to poor humanity--the voice of envysimple andundisguised; of envywhich moralists hold to be one ofthe basestof human passions; which can never be justifiedhoweverhateful orunworthy be the envied man. And when a whole peopleoreven amajority thereofshall be possessed by thatwhat is therethat theywill not do?
Some aresurprised and puzzled when they findin the FrenchRevolutionof 1793the noblest and the foulest characters labouringinconcertand side by side--oftentooparadoxical as it mayseemunited in the same personage. The explanation is simple.Justiceinspired the one; the other was the child of simple envy.But thispassion of envyif it becomes permanent and popularmayavengeitselflike all other sins. A nation may say to itself"Providedwe have no superiors to fall our pridewe are content.Liberty isa slight matterprovided we have equality. Let us beslavesprovided we are all slaves alike." It may destroy everystandardof humanity above its own mean average; it may forget thatthe oldruling classin spite of all its defects and crimesdid atleastpretend to represent something higher than man's necessarywantsplus the greed of amassing money; never meeting (at least inthecountry districts) any one wiser or more refined than anofficialor a priest drawn from the peasant classit may lose thebeliefthat any standard higher than that is needed; andall butforgettingthe very existence of civilisationsink contented into adead levelof intellectual mediocrity and moral barbarismcrying"Letus eat and drinkfor to-morrow we die."
A nationin such a temper will surely be taken at its word. Wherethecarcase isthere the eagles will be gathered together; andthere willnot be wanting to such nations--as there were not wantingin oldGreece and Rome--despots who will give them all they wantand moreand say to them: "Yesyou shall eat and drink; and yetyou shallnot die. For Iwhile I take care of your mortal bodieswill seethat care is taken of your immortal souls."
For thereare those who have discoveredwith the kings of the HolyAlliancethat infidelity and scepticism are political mistakesnotso muchbecause they promote viceas because they promote (or aresupposedto promote) free thought; who see that religion (no matterof whatquality) is a most valuable assistant to the duties of aministerof police. They will quote in their own behalfMontesquieu'sopinion that religion is a column necessary to sustainthe socialedifice; they will quotetoothat sound and true sayingof DeTocqueville's: "If the first American who might be meteither inhis own countryor abroadwere to be stopped and askedwhether heconsidered religion useful to the stability of the lawsand thegood order of societyhe would answerwithout hesitationthat nocivilised societybut more especially none in a state offreedomcan exist without religion. Respect for religion isinhis eyesthe greatest guarantee of the stability of the Stateandof thesafety of the community. Those who are ignorant of thescience ofgovernmentknow that fact at least."
M. deTocquevillewhen he wrote these wordswas lamenting that inFrance"freedom was forsaken;" "a thing for which it is saidthatno one anylonger cares in France." He did notit seems to meperceivethatas in America the best guarantee of freedom is thereverencefor a religion or religionswhich are free themselvesand whichteach men to be free; so in other countries the bestguaranteeof slavery isreverence for religions which are not freeand whichteach men to be slaves.
But whatM. de Tocqueville did not seethere are others who willsee; whowill say: "If religion be the pillar of political andsocialorderthere is an order which is best supported by areligionwhich is adverse to free thoughtfree speechfreeconsciencefree communion between man and God. The more enervatingthesuperstitionthe more exacting and tyrannous its priesthoodthe moreit will do our workif we help it to do its own. If itpermit usto enslave the bodywe will permit it to enslave thesoul."
And so maybe inaugurated a period of that organised anarchy ofwhich thepoet says:
It is notlifebut deathwhen nothing stirs.
Thedegradation of the European nobility causedof coursetheincreaseof the kingly powerand opened the way to centraldespotisms. The bourgeoisiethe commercial middle classwhateverwere itsvirtuesits valueits real couragewere never able tostandalone against the kings. Their capitalbeing invested intradewasnecessarily subject to such sudden dangers from warpoliticalchangebad seasonsand so forththat its holdershoweverindividually bravewere timid as a class. They could neverhold outon strike against the governmentsand had to submit to thepowersthat werewhatever they wereunder penalty of ruin.
But on theContinentand especially in France and Germanyunabletostrengthen itself by intermarriage with the noblessetheyretainedthat timidity which is the fruit of the insecurity oftrade; andhad to submit to a more and more centralised despotismand growup as they couldin the face of exasperating hindrances towealthtoeducationto the possessionin many parts of Franceoflargelanded estates; leaving the noblesse to decay in isolateduselessnessand weaknessand in many cases debt and poverty.
Thesystem--or rather anarchy--according to which France wasgovernedduring this transitional periodmay be read in that workof M. deTocqueville's which I have already quotedand which isaccessibleto all classesthrough Mr. H. Reeve's excellenttranslation. Every student of history isof coursewellacquaintedwith that book. But as there is reason to fearfromlanguagewhich is becoming once more too commonboth in speech andwritingthat the general public either do not know itor have notunderstooditI shall take the liberty of quoting from it somewhatlargely. I am justified in so doing by the fact that M. deTocqueville'sbook is founded on researches into the FrenchArchiveswhich have been made (as far as I am aware) only by him;andcontains innumerable significant factswhich are to be found(as far asI am aware) in no other accessible work.
The Frenchpeople--says M. de Tocqueville--madein 1789thegreatesteffort which was ever made by any nation to cutso tospeaktheir destiny in halvesand to separate by an abyss thatwhich theyhad heretofore beenfrom that which they sought tobecomehereafter. But he had long thought that they had succeededin thissingular attempt much less than was supposed abroad; andless thanthey had at first supposed themselves. He was convincedthat theyhad unconsciously retainedfrom the former state ofsocietymost of the sentimentsthe habitsand even the opinionsby meansof which they had effected the destruction of that state ofthings;and thatwithout intending itthey had used its remains torebuildthe edifice of modern society. This is his thesisand thishe provesit seems to meincontestably by documentary evidence.Not onlydoes he find habits which we suppose--or supposed tilllately--tohave died with the eighteenth centurystill living andworkingat least in Francein the nineteenthbut the new opinionswhich welook on usually as the special children of the nineteenthcenturyhe shows to have been born in the eighteenth. Franceheconsidersis still at heart what the Ancien Regime made her.
He showsthat the hatred of the ruling castethe intensedeterminationto gain and keep equalityeven at the expense oflibertyhad been long growing upunder those influences of which Ispoke inmy first lecture.
He showsmoreoverthat the acquiescence in a centralisedadministration;the expectation that the government should doeverythingfor the peopleand nothing for themselves; theconsequentloss of local libertieslocal peculiarities; thehelplessnessof the towns and the parishes: and all which issued inmakingParis Franceand subjecting the whole of a vast country tothearbitrary dictates of a knot of despots in the capitalwas notthe fruitof the Revolutionbut of the Ancien Regime which precededit; andthat Robespierre and his "Comite de Salut Public" andcommissionerssent forth to the four winds of heaven in bonnet rougeandcarmagnole completeto build up and pull downaccording totheirwicked willwere only handlingsomewhat more roughlythesame wireswhich had been handled for several generations by theComptroller-Generaland Council of Statewith their provincialintendants.
"Doyou know" said Law to the Marquis d'Argenson"that thiskingdom ofFrance is governed by thirty intendants? You haveneitherparliamentnor estatesnor governors. It is upon thirtymasters ofrequestdespatched into the provincesthat their evilor theirgoodtheir fertility or their sterilityentirely depend."
To doeverything for the peopleand let them do nothing forthemselves--thiswas the Ancien Regime. To be more wise and morelovingthan Almighty Godwho certainly does not do everything forthe sonsof menbut forces them to labour for themselves by bitterneedandafter a most Spartan mode of education; who allows them toburn theirhands as often as they are foolish enough to put theminto thefire; and to be filled with the fruits of their own follyeventhough the folly be one of necessary ignorance; treating themwith thatseeming neglect which is after all the most providentcarebecause by it alone can men be trained to experienceself-helpsciencetrue humanity; and so become not tolerably harmlessdollsbutmen and women worthy of the name; with
The reasonfirmthe temperate willEnduranceforesightstrengthand skill;Theperfect spiritnobly plannedTo cheerto counseland command.
Such seemsto be the education and government appointed for man bythevoluntatem Dei in rebus revelatumand the educationthereforewhich theman of science will accept and carry out. But the men ofthe AncienRegime--in as far as it was a Regime at all--tried to bewiser thanthe Almighty. Why not? They were not the firstnorwill bethe lastby many who have made the same attempt. So thisCouncil ofState settled arbitrarilynot only taxesand militiaand roadsbut anything and everything. Its members meddledwiththeirwhole hearts and minds. They tried to teach agriculture byschoolsand pamphlets and prizes; they sent out plans for everypublicwork. A town could not establish an octroilevy a ratemortgagesellsuefarmor administer their propertywithout anorder incouncil. The Government ordered public rejoicingssaw tothe firingof salutesand illuminating of houses--in one casementionedby M. de Tocquevillethey fined a member of the burgherguard forabsenting himself from a Te Deum. All self-government wasgone. A country parish wassays Turgotnothing but "an assemblageof cabinsand of inhabitants as passive as the cabins they dweltin." Without an order of councilthe parish could not mend thesteepleafter a stormor repair the parsonage gable. If theygrumbledat the intendanthe threw some of the chief persons intoprisonand made the parish pay the expenses of the horse patrolwhichformed the arbitrary police of France. Everywhere wasmeddling. There were reports on statistics--circumstantialinaccurateand useless--as statistics are too often wont to be.Sometimeswhen the people were starvingthe Government sent downcharitabledonations to certain parisheson condition that theinhabitantsshould raise a sum on their part. When the sum offeredwassufficientthe Comptroller-General wrote on the marginwhen hereturnedthe report to the intendant"Good--express satisfaction."If it wasmore than sufficienthe wrote"Good--expresssatisfactionand sensibility." There is nothing new under the sun.In 1761the Governmentjealous enough of newspapersdetermined tostart onefor itselfand for that purpose took under its tutelagetheGazette de France. So the public newsmongers were of course tobe theprovincial intendantsand their sub-newsmongersof coursethesub-delegates.
But alas!the poor sub-delegates seem to have found either verylittlenewsor very little which it was politic to publish. Onereportsthat a smuggler of salt has been hungand has displayedgreatcourage; another that a woman in his district has had threegirls at abirth; another that a dreadful storm has happenedbut--has doneno mischief; a fourth--living in some specially favouredUtopia--declaresthat in spite of all his efforts he has foundnothingworth recordingbut that he himself will subscribe to souseful ajournaland will exhort all respectable persons to followhisexample: in spite of which loyal endeavoursthe journal seemsto haveproved a failureto the great disgust of the king and hisministerwho had of course expected to secure fine weather bynailinglike the schoolboy before a holidaythe hand of theweather-glass.
Well hadit beenif the intermeddling of this bureaucracy hadstoppedthere. Butby a process of evocation (as it was called)more andmore causescriminal as well as civilwere withdrawn fromtheregular tribunalsto those of the intendants and the Council.Before theintendant all the lower order of people were generallysent fortrial. Bread-riots were a common cause of such trialsandM. deTocqueville asserts that he has found sentencesdelivered bytheintendantand a local council chosen by himselfby which menwerecondemned to the galleysand even to death. Under such asystemunder which an intendant must have felt it his interest topretend atall risksthat all was going rightand to regard anydisturbanceas a dangerous exposure of himself and his chiefs--onecanunderstand easily enough that scene which Mr. Carlyle hasdramatisedfrom Lacretelleconcerning the canaillethe massesaswe used tocall them a generation since:
"Adumb generation--their voice only an inarticulate cry.Spokesmanin the king's councilin the world's forumthey havenone thatfinds credence. At rare intervals (as nowin 1775) theywill flingdown their hoesand hammers; andto the astonishment ofmankindflock hither and thitherdangerousaimlessget thelengtheven of Versailles. Turgot is altering the corn tradeabrogatingthe absurdest corn laws; there is dearthrealor wereit evenfactitiousan indubitable scarcity of broad. And soonthe 2ndday of May1775these waste multitudes do hereatVersailleschateauin widespread wretchednessin sallow facessqualorwinged raggednesspresent as in legible hieroglyphicwritingtheir petition of grievances. The chateau-gates must beshut; butthe king will appear on the balcony and speak to them.They haveseen the king's face; their petition of grievances hasbeenifnot readlooked at. In answertwo of them are hangedona newgallows forty feet highand the rest driven back to theirdens for atime."
Ofcourse. What more exasperating and inexpiable insult to therulingpowers was possible than this? To persist in being needy andwretchedwhen a whole bureaucracy is toiling day and night to makethemprosperous and happy? An insult only to be avenged in blood.Remarkmeanwhilethat this centralised bureaucracy was a failure;that afterall the trouble taken to govern these massesthey werenotgovernedin the sense of being made betterand not worse. Thetruth isthat no centralised bureaucracyor so-called "paternalgovernment"yet invented on earthhas been anything but a failureor is itlike to be anything else: because it is founded on anerror;because it regards and treats men as that which they are notas things;and not as that which they areas persons. If thebureaucracywere a mere Briareus giantwith a hundred handshelpingthe weak throughout the length and breadth of the empirethe systemmight be at least tolerable. But what if the Governmentwere not aBriareus with a hundred handsbut a Hydra with a hundredheads andmouthseach far more intent on helping itself than onhelpingthe people? What if sub-delegates and other officialsholdingoffice at the will of the intendanthad to liveand evenprovideagainst a rainy day? What if intendantsholding office atthe willof the Comptroller-Generalhad to do more than liveandfound itprudent to realise as large a fortune as possiblenot onlyagainstdisgracebut against successand the dignity fit for a newmember ofthe Noblesse de la Robe? Would not the systemthensoonbecomeintolerable? Would there not be evil times for the massestill theybecame something more than masses?
It is anugly namethat of "The Masses" for the great majority ofhumanbeings in a nation. He who uses it speaks of them not ashumanbeingsbut as things; and as things not bound together in onelivingbodybut lying in a fortuitous heap. A swarm of ants is nota mass. It has a polity and a unity. Not the ants but the fir-needlesand sticksof which the ants have piled their nestare amass.
The termI believewas invented during the Ancien Regime. Whetherit was ornotit expresses very accurately the life of the many inthosedays. No one would speakif he wished to speak exactlyofthe massesof the United States; for there every man isor ispresumedto bea personage; with his own independencehis ownactivitieshis own rights and duties. No oneI believewouldhavetalked of the masses in the old feudal times; for then eachindividualwas someone's manbound to his master by ties of mutualservicejust or unjusthonourable or basebut still giving him apersonalityof duties and rightsand dividing him from his class.
DividingI say. The poor of the Middle Age had little sense of acommonhumanity. Those who owned allegiance to the lord in the nextvalleywere not their brothers; and at their own lord's biddingtheybuckled on sword and slew the next lord's menwith joyfulheart andgood conscience. Only now and then misery compressed themintomasses; and they ran togetheras sheep run together to face adog. Some wholesale wrong made them aware that they were brothersat leastin the power of starving; and they joined in the cry whichwas heardI believein Mecklenburg as late as 1790: "Den Edelmanwille widodschlagen." Thenin Wat Tyler's insurrectionsinMunsterAnabaptismsin Jacqueriesthey proved themselves to bemassesifnothing betterstriking for awhileby the mere weightofnumbersblows terriblethough aimless--soon to be dispersed andslain intheir turn by a disciplined and compact aristocracy. Yetnot alwaysdispersedif they could find a leader; as the Polishnoblesdiscovered to their cost in the middle of the seventeenthcentury. Then Bogdan the Cossacka wild warriornot without hissinsbuthaving deserved well of James Sobieski and the Polesfound thatthe neighbouring noble's steward had taken a fancy to hiswindmilland his farm upon the Dnieper. He was thrown into prisonon afrivolous chargeand escaped to the Tatarsleaving his wifedishonouredhis house burnthis infant lost in the flameshiseldest sonscourged for protesting against the wrong. And hereturnedat the head of an army of TatarsSociniansGreeksorwhat notto set free the serfsand exterminate JesuitsJewsandnoblesthroughout PodoliaVolhyniaRed Russia; to desecrate thealtars ofGodand slay his servants; to destroy the nobles bylingeringtortures; to strip noble ladies and maidensand hunt themto deathwith the whips of his Cossacks; and after defeating thenobles inbattle after battleto inaugurate an era of misery andanarchyfrom which Poland never recovered.
Thus didthe masses of Southern Poland discoverfor one generationat leastthat they were not many thingsbut one thing; a classcapable ofbrotherhood and unitythoughalas! only of such asbelongs toa pack of wolves. But such outbursts as this were rareexceptions. In generalfeudalism kept the people dividedandthereforehelpless. And as feudalism died outand with it thepersonalself-respect and loyalty which were engendered by the oldrelationsof master and servantthe division still remained; andthepeoplein France especiallybecame merely massesa swarm ofincoherentand disorganised things intent on the necessaries ofdailybreadlike mites crawling over each other in a cheese.
Out ofthis mass were struggling upwards perpetuallyall who had alittleambitiona little scholarshipor a little moneyendeavouringto become members of the middle class by obtaining aGovernmentappointment. "A man" says M. de Tocqueville"endowedwith someeducation and small meansthought it not decorous to diewithouthaving been a Government officer." "Every manaccording tohiscondition" says a contemporary writer"wants to besomethingby commandof the king."
It was notmerely the "natural vanity" of which M. de Tocquevilleaccuseshis countrymenwhich stirred up in them this eagernessafterplace; for we see the same eagerness in other nations of theContinentwho cannot be accused (as wholes) of that weakness. Thefact isaGovernment placeor a Government decorationcrossribbonorwhat notisin a country where self-government isunknown ordeadthe only methodsave literary famewhich is leftto men inorder to assert themselves either to themselves or theirfellow-men.
A Britishor American shopkeeper or farmer asks nothing of hisGovernment. He canif he choosesbe elected to some local office(generallyunsalaried) by the votes of his fellow-citizens. Butthat ishis rightand adds nothing to his respectability. The testof thatlatterin a country where all honest callings are equallyhonourableis the amount of money he can make; and a very soundpracticaltest that isin a country where intellect and capital arefree. Beyond thathe is what he isand wishes to be no moresavewhat hecan make himself. He has his rightsguaranteed by law andpublicopinion; and as long as he stands within themand (as hewellphrases it) behaves like a gentlemanhe considers himself asgood asany man; and so he is. But under the bureaucratic Regime oftheContinentif a man had not "something by command of the king"he wasnothing; and something he naturally wished to beeven bymeans of aGovernment which he disliked and despised. So in Francewhereinnumerable petty posts were regular articles of saleanyoneit seemswho had saved a little moneyfound it most profitable toinvest itin a beadledom of some kind--to the great detriment of thecountryfor he thus withdrew his capital from trade; but to his owncleargainfor he thereby purchased some immunity from publicburdensandas it werecompounded once and for all for his taxes.The pettyGerman princesit seemsfollowed the example of Franceand soldtheir little beadledoms likewise; but even where officeswere notsoldthey must be obtained by any and every meansbyeveryonewho desired not to be as other men wereand to becomeNotablesas they were called in France; so he migrated from thecountryinto the nearest townand became a member of some smallbody-guildtown councilor what notbodies which were infinite innumber. In one small town M. de Tocqueville discovers thirty-sixsuchbodies"separated from each other by diminutive privilegesthe leasthonourable of which was still a mark of honour."Quarrellingperpetually with each other for precedencedespisingandoppressing the very menu peuple from whom they had for the mostpartsprungthese innumerable small bodiesinstead of unitingtheirclassonly served to split it up more and more; and when theRevolutionbroke them uponce and for allwith all otherprivilegeswhatsoeverno bond of union was left; and each man stoodaloneproud of his "individuality"--his complete socialisolation;till hediscovered thatin ridding himself of superiorshe had ridhimselfalso of fellows; fulfillingevery man in his own personthe oldfable of the bundle of sticks; and had to submitunder theConsulateand the Empireto a tyranny to which the Ancien Regimewasfreedom itself.
ForinFrance at leastthe Ancien Regime was no tyranny. Themiddle andupper classes had individual liberty--it may beonly toomuch; theliberty of disobeying a Government which they did notrespect. "However submissive the French may have been before theRevolutionto the will of the kingone sort of obedience wasaltogetherunknown to them. They knew not what it was to bow beforeanillegitimate and contested power--a power but little honouredfrequentlydespisedbut willingly endured because it may beserviceableor because it may hurt. To that degrading form ofservitudethey were ever strangers. The king inspired them withfeelings .. . which have become incomprehensible to this generation. . . Theyloved him with the affection due to a father; theyreveredhim with the respect due to God. In submitting to the mostarbitraryof his commandsthey yielded less to compulsion than toloyalty;and thus they frequently preserved great freedom of mindeven inthe most complete dependence. This libertyirregularintermittent"says M. de Tocqueville"helped to form thosevigorouscharactersthose proud and daring spiritswhich were tomake theFrench Revolution at once the object of the admiration andthe terrorof succeeding generations."
Thisliberty--too much akin to anarchyin which indeed it issuedforawhile--seems to have asserted itself in continual pettyresistanceto officials whom they did not respectand whoin theirturnweremore than a little afraid of the very men out of whoseranks theyhad sprung.
The FrenchGovernment--one may sayevery Government on theContinentin those days--had the special weakness of allbureaucracies;namelythat want of moral force which compels themto fallback at last on physical forceand transforms the rulerinto abullyand the soldier into a policeman and a gaoler. AGovernmentof parvenusuncertain of its own positionwill becontinuallytrying to assert itself to itselfby vexatiousintermeddlingand intruding pretensions; and thenwhen it meetswith theresistance of free and rational spiritswill either recoilin awkwardcowardiceor fly into a passionand appeal to thehalter andthe sword. Such a Government can never take itself forgrantedbecause it knows that it is not taken for granted by thepeople. It never can possess the quiet assurancethe courteousdignitywithout swaggeryet without hesitationwhich belongs tohereditarylegislators; by which term is to be understoodnotmerelykingsnot merely noblemenbut every citizen of a freenationhowever democraticwho has received from his forefathersthe rightthe dutyand the example of self-government.
Such wasthe political and social state of the Ancien Regimenotonly inFrancebut if we are to trust (as we must trust) M. deTocquevillein almost every nation in Europeexcept Britain.
And as forits moral state. We must look for that--if we have needwhichhappily all have not--in its lighter literature.
I shallnot trouble you with criticisms on French memoirs--of whichthose ofMadame de Sevigne are on the wholethe most painful (aswitnessher comments on the Marquise de Brinvilliers's execution)becausewritten by a woman better and more human than ordinary. Norwith"Menagiana" or other 'ana's--as vain and artificial astheyare oftenfoul; nor with novels and poemslong since deservedlyforgotten. On the first perusal of this lighter literatureyouwill becharmed with the easegracelightness with whicheverythingis said. On the secondyou will be somewhat cured ofyouradmirationas you perceive how little there is to say. Theheadproves to be nothing but a cunning maskwith no brains inside.Especiallyis this true of a bookwhich I must beg those who haveread italreadyto recollect. To read it I recommend no humanbeing. We may consider itas it was considered in its timethetypicalnovel of the Ancien Regime. A picture of Spanish societywritten bya Frenchmanit was held to be--and doubtless withreason--apicture of the whole European world. Its French editor(of 1836)calls it a grande epopee; "one of the most prodigiousefforts ofintelligenceexhausting all forms of humanity"--in facta secondShakespeareaccording to the lights of the year 1715. Imeanofcourse"Gil Blas." So picturesque is the bookthatithasfurnished inexhaustible motifs to the draughtsman. So excellentis itsworkmanshipthat the enthusiastic editor of 1836 tells us--anddoubtless he knows best--that it is the classic model of theFrenchtongue; and thatas Le Sage "had embraced all that belongedto man inhis compositionhe dared to prescribe to himself toembracethe whole French language in his work." It has been theparent ofa whole school of literature--the Bible of tens ofthousandswith admiring commentators in plenty; on whose souls mayGod havemercy!
And nowonder. The book has a solid valueand will always havenot merelyfrom its perfect art (according to its own measure andintention)but from its perfect truthfulness. It is the AncienRegimeitself. It set forth to the men thereofthemselveswithoutveil orcowardly reticence of any kind; and inasmuch as every manloveshimselfthe Ancien Regime loved "Gil Blas" and said"Theproblem ofhumanity is solved at last." Butye long-sufferingpowers ofheavenwhat a solution! It is beside the matter to callthe bookungodlyimmoralbase. Le Sage would have answered: "Ofcourse itis; for so is the world of which it is a picture." No;the mostnotable thing about the book is its intense stupidity; itsdrearinessbarrennessshallownessignorance of the human heartwant ofany human interest. If it be an eposthe actors in it arenot menand womenbut ferrets--with here and thereof courseastrayrabbiton whose brains they may feed. It is the inhumanmirror ofan inhuman agein which the healthy human heart can findno moreinterest than in a pathological museum.
That lastindeed"Gil Blas" is; a collection of diseasedspecimens. No man or woman in the booklay or clericalgentle orsimpleasfar as I can rememberdo their duty in any wiseeven iftheyrecollect that they have any duty to do. Greedchicanehypocrisyuselessness are the ruling laws of human society. A newbook ofEcclesiastescrying"Vanity of vanityall is vanity;"the"conclusionof the whole matter" being left outand the newEcclesiastesrendered thereby diabolicinstead of like that oldonedivine. Forinstead of "Fear God and keep hiscommandmentsfor thatis the whole duty of main" Le Sage sends forth the newconclusion"Take care of thyselfand feed on thy neighboursforthat isthe whole duty of man." And very faithfully was his advice(easyenough to obey at all times) obeyed for nearly a century after"GilBlas" appeared.
About thesame time there appearedby a remarkable coincidenceanotherworklike it the child of the Ancien Regimeand yet asoppositeto it as light to darkness. If Le Sage drew men as theywereFenelon tried at least to draw them as they might have beenand stillmight bewere they governed by sages and by saintsaccordingto the laws of God. "Telemaque" is anideal--imperfectdoubtlessas all ideals must be in a world in which God's ways andthoughtsare for ever higher than man's; but an ideal nevertheless.If itsconstruction is less complete than that of "Gil Blas" itisbecauseits aim is infinitely higher; because the form has to besubordinatedhere and thereto the matter. If its politicaleconomy beimperfectoften chimericalit is because the mind ofone manmust needs have been too weak to bring into shape and orderthe chaossocial and economicwhich he saw around him. M. deLamartinein his brilliant little life of Fenelondoes nothesitateto trace to the influence of "Telemaque" the Utopias whichproducedthe revolutions of 1793 and 1848. "The saintly poet was"he says"without knowing itthe first Radical and the firstcommunistof his century." But it is something to have preached toprincesdoctrines till then unknownor at least forgotten for manyageneration--free tradepeaceinternational arbitrationand the"carriereouverte aux talents" for all ranks. It is something tohavewarned his generation of the dangerous overgrowth of themetropolis;to have prophesiedas an old Hebrew might have donethat thedespotism which he saw around him would end in a violentrevolution. It is something to have combined the highest Christianmoralitywith a hearty appreciation of old Greek life; of itsreverencefor bodily health and prowess; its joyous and simplecountrysociety; its sacrificial feastsdancesgames; its respectfor thegods; its belief that they helpedguidedinspired the sonsof men. It is something to have himself believed in God; in alivingGodwhoboth in this life and in all lives to comerewardedthe good and punished the evil by inevitable laws. It issomethingto have warned a young princein an age of doctrinalbigotryand practical atheismthat a living God still existedandthat hislaws were still in force; to have shown him Tartaruscrowdedwith the souls of wicked monarchswhile a few of kinglyracerested in Elysiumand among them old pagans--InachusCecropsErichthonTriptolemusand Sesostris--rewarded for ever for havingdone theirdutyeach according to his lightto the flocks whichthe godshad committed to their care. It is something to havespoken toa princein such an agewithout servilityand withoutetiquetteof the frailties and the dangers which beset arbitraryrulers; tohave told him that royalty"when assumed to contentoneselfis a monstrous tyranny; when assumed to fulfil its dutiesand toconduct an innumerable people as a father conducts hischildrena crushing slaverywhich demands an heroic courage andpatience."
Let ushonour the courtier who dared speak such truths; and stillmore thesaintly celibate who had sufficient catholicity of mind toenvelopthem in old Grecian dressandwithout playing false for amoment tohis own Christianityseek in the writings of heathensages awider and a healthier view of humanity than was afforded byan asceticcreed.
No wonderthat the appearance of "Telemaque" published in Hollandwithoutthe permission of Fenelondelighted throughout Europe thatpublicwhich is always delighted with new truthsas long as it isnotrequired to practise them. To read "Telemaque" wasthe rightand theenjoyment of everyone. To obey itthe duty only ofprinces. No wonder thaton the other handthis "Vengeance depeupleslecon des rois" as M. de Lamartine calls itwas taken forthebitterest satire by Louis XIV.and completed the disgrace ofone whohad dared to teach the future king of France that he mustshowhimselfin all thingsthe opposite of his grandfather. Nowonder ifMadame de Maintenon and the court looked on its portraitsof wickedministers and courtiers as caricatures of themselves;portraitstoowhich"composed thus in the palace of Versaillesunder theauspices of that confidence which the king had placed inthepreceptor of his heirseemed a domestic treason." Nowonderalsoifthe foolish and envious world outside was of the sameopinion;and after enjoying for awhile this exposure of the greatones ofthe earthleft "Telemaque" as an Utopia with which privatefolks hadno concern; and betook themselves to the easier and morepracticalmodel of "Gil Blas."
But thereare solid defects in "Telemaque"--indicating correspondingdefects inthe author's mind--which would havein any casepreventedits doing the good work which Fenelon desired; defectswhich arenaturalas it seems to meto his position as a RomanCatholicpriesthowever saintly and purehowever humane andliberal. The kingwith himis to be always the father of hispeople;which is tantamount to sayingthat the people are to bealwayschildrenand in a condition of tutelage; voluntaryifpossible: if notof tutelage still. Of self-governmentandeducationof human beings into free manhood by the exercise of self-governmentfree willfree thought--of this Fenelon had surely notaglimpse. A generation or two passed byand then the peoples ofEuropebegan to suspect that they were no longer childrenbut cometomanhood; and determined (after the example of Britain andAmerica)to assume the rights and duties of manhoodat whateverrisk ofexcesses or mistakes: and then "Telemaque" wasrelegated--halfunjustly--as the slavish and childish dream of a past ageintotheschoolroomwhere it still remains.
But thereis a defect in "Telemaque" which is perhaps deeper still.No womanin it exercises influence over manexcept for evil.Minervathe guiding and inspiring spiritassumes of courseasMentoramale form; but her speech and thought is essentiallymasculineand not feminine. Antiope is a mere lay-figureintroducedat the end of the book because Telemachus must needs beallowed tohave hope of marrying someone or other. Venus plays butthe samepart as she does in the Tannenhauser legends of the MiddleAge. Her hatred against Telemachus is an integral element of theplot. Shewith the other women or nymphs of the romancein spiteof allFenelon's mercy and courtesy towards human frailtiesreallyrise nohigher than the witches of the Malleus Maleficanum. Woman--as the oldmonk held who derived femina from fefaithand minuslessbecause women have less faith than men--isin "Telemaque"whenevershe thinks or actsthe temptressthe enchantress; thevictim(according to a very ancient calumny) of passions moreviolentoften more lawlessthan man's.
Such aconception of women must make "Telemaque" to the end oftimeuseless as a wholesome book of education. It must havecrippledits influenceespecially in Francein its own time. Forthereforgood and for evilwoman was asserting more and more herpowerandher right to powerover the mind and heart of man.Risingfrom the long degradation of the Middle Ageswhich hadreallyrespected her only when unsexed and celibatethe Frenchwoman hadassumedoften lawlesslyalways triumphantlyher justfreedom;her true place as the equalthe coadjutorthe counsellorof man. Of all problems connected with the education of a youngprincethat of the influence of woman wasin the France of theAncienRegimethe most important. And it was just that whichFenelondid notperhaps dared nottry to touch; and which he mostcertainlycould not have solved. Meanwhilenot only Madame deMaintenonbut women whose names it were a shame to couple withhersmusthave smiled atwhile they hatedthe saint who attemptedtodispense not only with thembut with the ideal queen who shouldhave beenthe helpmeet of the ideal king.
To thosewho believe that the world is governed by a living Goditmay seemstrangeat first sightthat this moral anarchy wasallowed toendure; that the avengingand yet most purifying stormof theFrench Revolutioninevitable from Louis XIV.'s latter yearswas notallowed to burst two generations sooner than it did. Is nottheanswer--that the question always is not of destroying the worldbut ofamending it? And that amendment must always come fromwithinand not from without? That men must be taught to becomemenandmend their world themselves? To educate men into self-government--thatis the purpose of the government of God; and someof the menof the eighteenth century did not learn that lesson. Asthecentury rolled onthe human mind arose out of the slough inwhich LeSage found itinto manifold and beautiful activityincreasinghatred of shams and liesincreasing hunger after truthandusefulness. With mistakes and confusions innumerable theyworked: but still they worked; planting good seed; and when thefire ofthe French Revolution swept over the landit burned up therotten andthe witheredonly to let the fresh herbage spring upfromunderneath.
But thatpurifying fire was needed. If we inquire why the manyattemptsto reform the Ancien Regimewhich the eighteenth centurywitnessedwere failures one and all; why Pombal failed in PortugalAranda inSpainJoseph II. in AustriaFerdinand and Caroline inNaples--forthese lastbe it always rememberedbegan as humane andenlightenedsovereignspatronising liberal opinionsand labouringtoameliorate the condition of the poortill they were driven bythe murderof Marie Antoinette into a paroxysm of rage and terror--whyaboveallLouis XVI.who attempted deeper and wiser reformsthan anyother sovereignfailed more disastrously than any--is notthe answerthisthat all these reforms would but have cleansed theoutside ofthe cup and the platterwhile they left the inside fullofextortion and excess? It was not merely institutions whichrequiredto be reformedbut men and women. The spirit of "GilBlas"had to be cast out. The deadnessselfishnessisolation ofmen'ssouls; their unbelief in great dutiesgreat common causesgreatself-sacrifices--in a wordtheir unbelief in Godandthemselvesand mankind--all that had to be reformed; and till thatwas doneall outward reform would but have left themat bestinbrute easeand peaceto that soulless degradationwhich (as in theByzantineempire of oldand seeming in the Chinese empire of to-day) hidesthe reality of barbarism under a varnish of civilisation.Men had tobe awakened; to be taught to think for themselvesactforthemselvesto dare and suffer side by side for their countryand fortheir children; in a wordto arise and become men oncemore.
Andwhatis moremen had to punish--to avenge. Those are fearfulwords. But there isin this God-guided universea law ofretributionwhich will find men outwhether men choose to find itout ornot; a law of retribution; of vengeance inflicted justlythough notnecessarily by just men. The public executioner wasseldom avery estimable personageat least under the old Regime;and thosewho have been the scourges of God have beenin generalmerescourgesand nothing better; smiting blindlyrashlyconfusedly;confounding too often the innocent with the guiltytillthey haveseemed only to punish crime by crimeand replace old sinsby new. Buthowever insolublehowever saddening that puzzle beImustbelieve--as long as I believe in any God at all--that such menasRobespierre were His instrumentseven in their crimes.
In thecase of the French Revolutionindeedthe wickedness ofcertain ofits leaders was part of the retribution itself. For thenoblesseexisted surely to make men better. It didby certainclassesthe very opposite. Therefore it was destroyed by wickedmenwhomit itself had made wicked. For over and above allpoliticaleconomicsocial wrongsthere were wrongs personalhumandramatic; which stirred not merely the springs ofcovetousnessor envyor even of a just demand for the freedom oflabour andenterprise: but the very deepest springs of ragecontemptand hate; wrongs which causedas I believethe horrorsof theRevolution.
It isnotorious how many of the men most deeply implicated in thosehorrorswere of the artist class--by which I signify not merelypaintersand sculptors--as the word artist has now gotsomewhatstrangelyto signifyat least in England--but what the Frenchmeant byARTISTES--producers of luxuries and amusementsplay-actorsmusiciansand suchlikedown to that "distracted peruke-maker withtwo fiery torches" whoat the storm of the Bastile"wasfor burning the saltpetres of the Arsenalhad not a woman runscreaming;had not a patriotwith some tincture of naturalphilosophyinstantly struck the wind out of himwith butt ofmusket onpit of stomachoverturned the barrelsand stayed thedevouringelement." The distracted peruke-maker may have had hiswrongs--perhapssuch a one as that of poor Triboulet the foolin"LeRoi s'amuse"--and his own sound reasons for blowing down theBastileand the system which kept it up.
For thesevery ministers of luxury--then miscalled art--from theperiwig-makerto the play-actor--who like them had seen thefrivolitythe basenessthe profligacyof the rulers to whosevices theypanderedwhom they despised while they adored! Figarohimselfmay have looked up to his master the Marquis as a superiorbeing aslong as the law enabled the Marquis to send him to theBastile bya lettre de cachet; yet Figaro may have known and seenenough toexcuse himwhen lettres de cachet were abolishedforhandingthe Marquis over to a Comite de Salut Public. Disappointedplay-actorslike Collet d'Herbois; disappointed poetslike Fabred'Olivetwerethey sayespecially ferocious. Why not?Ingenioussensitive spiritsused as lap-dogs and singing-birds bymen andwomen whom they felt to be their own flesh and bloodtheyhaditmay bea juster appreciation of the actual worth of theirpatronsthan had our own Pitt and Burke. They had played the valet:and no manwas a hero to them. They had seen the nobleman exposehimselfbefore his own helots: they would try if the helot was notas good asthe nobleman. The nobleman had played the mountebank:why shouldnot the mountebankfor onceplay the nobleman? Thenobleman'sGod had been his five senseswith (to use Mr. Carlyle'sphrase)the sixth sense of vanity: why should not the mountebankworshipthe same Godlike Carriere at Nantesand see what graceand giftshe too might obtain at that altar?
But why socruel? Becausewith many of these menI more thansuspectthere were wrongs to be avenged deeper than any wrongs doneto thesixth sense of vanity. Wrongs common to themand to a greatportion ofthe respectable middle classand much of the lowerclass: but wrongs to which they and their familiesbeing most incontactwith the noblessewould be especially exposed; namelywrongs towomen.
Everyonewho knows the literature of that timemust know what Imean: what had gone on for more than a centuryit may be more thantwoinFrancein Italyand--I am sorry to have to say it--Germanylikewise. All historians know what I meanand how enormous was theevil. I only wonder that they have so much overlooked that item inthe causesof the Revolution. It seems to me to have been morepatent andpotent in the sight of menas it surely was in the sightofAlmighty Godthan all the political and economic wrongs puttogether. They might have issued in a change of dynasty or of laws.Thatissued in the blood of the offenders. Not a girl was enticedinto LouisXV.'s Petit Trianonor other den of aristocraticiniquitybut left behind herparents nursing shame and sullenindignationeven while they fingered the ill-gotten price of theirdaughter'shonour; and left behind alsoperhapssome unhappy boyof her ownclassin whom disappointment and jealousy weretransformed--andwho will blame him?--into righteous indignationand a verysword of God; all the more indignantand all the morerighteousif education helped him to seethat the maiden'sacquiescenceher pride in her own shamewas the ugliest feature inthe wholecrimeand the most potent reason for putting an endhoweverfearfulto a state of things in which such a fate wasthought anhonour and a gainand not a disgrace and a ruin; inwhich themost gifted daughters of the lower classes had learnt tothink itmore noble to become--that which they became--than thewives ofhonest men.
If youwill read fairly the literature of the Ancien Regimewhetherin Franceor elsewhereyou will see that my facts are true. If youhave humanhearts in youyou will see in themit seems to meanexplanationof many a guillotinade and fusilladeas yet explainedonly onthe ground of madness--an hypothesis which (as we do not yetin theleast understand what madness is) is no explanation at all.
An age ofdecayincoherenceand makeshiftvarnish and gildinguponworm-eaten furnitureand mouldering wainscotwas that sameAncienRegime. And for that very reason a picturesque age; like oneof its ownlandscapes. A picturesque bit of uncultivated mountainswarmingwith the prince's game; a picturesque old robber schlossabovenowin ruins; and belowperhapsthe picturesque newschlosswith its French fountains and gardensFrench nymphs ofmarbleand of flesh and blood likewisewhich the prince haspartiallypaid forby selling a few hundred young men to theEnglish tofight the Yankees. The rivertoois picturesqueforthe oldbridge has not been repaired since it was blown up in theSevenYears' War; and there is but a single lazy barge floating downthestreamowing to the tolls and tariffs of his Serene Highness;thevillage is picturesquefor the flower of the young men are atthe warsand the place is tumbling down; and the two old peasantsin theforegroundwith the single goat and the hamper of vine-twigsarevery picturesque likewisefor they are all in rags.
How sad tosee the picturesque element eliminatedand the quietartisticbeauty of the scene destroyed;--to have steamers puffing upand downthe riverand a railroad hurrying along its banks thewealth ofthe Old Worldin exchange for the wealth of the New--orhurryingit may bewhole regiments of free and educated citizen-soldierswho fightthey know for what. How sad to see the altoschlossdesecrated by touristsand the neue schloss converted intoacold-water cure. How sad to see the villagechurch and allbuilt upagain brand-newand whitewashed to the very steeple-top;--a newschool at the town-end--a new crucifix by the wayside. Howsad to seethe old folk well clothed in the fabrics of England orBelgiumdoing an easy trade in milk and fruitbecause the landthey tillhas become their ownand not the prince's; while theirsons arethriving farmers on the prairies of the far West. Veryunpicturesqueno doubtis wealth and progresspeace and safetycleanlinessand comfort. But they possess advantages unknown to theAncienRegimewhich wasif nothing elsepicturesque. Men couldpaintamusing and often pretty pictures of its people and itsplaces.
Considerthat word"picturesque." Itand the notion of artwhichitexpressesare the children of the Ancien Regime--of the era ofdecay. The healthyvigorousearnestprogressive Middle Age neverdreamed ofadmiringmuch less of paintingfor their own sakeragsand ruins;the fashion sprang up at the end of the seventeenthcentury;it lingered on during the first quarter of our centurykept aliveby the reaction from 1815-25. It is all but dead nowbefore thereturn of vigorous and progressive thought. An admirerof theMiddle Ages now does not build a sham ruin in his grounds; herestores achurchblazing with colourlike a medievalillumination. He has learnt to look on that which went by the nameofpicturesque in his great-grandfather's timeas an old Greek or aMiddle Agemonk would have done--as something squaliduglya signofneglectdiseasedeath; and therefore to be hated and abolishedif itcannot be restored. At CarcassonenowM. Viollet-le-Ducunder theauspices of the Emperor of the Frenchis spending hisvastlearningand much moneysimply in abolishing the picturesque;inrestoring stone for stoneeach member of that wonderful museumof MiddleAge architecture: RomanVisigothicMoslemRomaineEarlyEnglishlater Frenchall is being reproduced exactly as itmust haveexisted centuries since. No doubt that is not the highestfunctionof art: but it is a preparation for the highesta steptowardsome future creative school. As the early Italian artistsby carefulimitationabsorbed into their minds the beauty andmeaning ofold Greek and Roman art; so must the artists of our daysby the artof the Middle Age and the Renaissance. They must learnto copybefore they can learn to surpass; andmeanwhilethey mustlearn--indeedthey have learnt--that decay is uglinessand theimitationof decaya making money out of the public shame.
Thepicturesque sprang upas far as I can discoversuddenlyduring thetime of exhaustion and recklessness which followed thegreatstruggles of the sixteenth century. Salvator Rosa and Callottwo of theearliest professors of picturesque arthave never beensincesurpassed. For indeedthey drew from life. The rags andtheruinsmaterialand alas! spiritualwere all around them; thelands andthe creeds alike lay waste. There was ruffianism andmiseryamong the masses of Europe; unbelief and artificiality amongthe upperclasses; churches and monasteries defiledcities sackedfarmsteadsplundered and ruinateand all the wretchedness whichCallot hasimmortalised--for a warning to evil rulers--in hisMiseres dela Guerre. The world was all gone wrong: but as forsetting itright again--who could do that? And so men fell into asentimentalregret for the pastand its beautiesall exaggeratedby theforeshortening of time; while they wanted strength or faithtoreproduce it. At last they became so accustomed to the rags andruinsthat they looked on them as the normal condition of humanityas thenormal field for painters.
Only nowand thenand especially toward the latter half of theeighteenthcenturywhen thought began to reviveand men dreamed ofputtingthe world to rights once morethere rose before themglimpsesof an Arcadian ideal. Country life--the primaeval callingofmen--how graceful and pure it might be! How graceful--if notpure--itonce had been! The boors of Teniers and the beggars ofMurillomight be true to present fact; but there was a fairer idealwhich oncehad been factin the Eclogues of Theocritusand theLoves ofDaphnis and Chloe. And so men took to dreaming ofshepherdsand shepherdessesand painting them on canvasandmodellingthem in chinaaccording to their cockney notions of whatthey hadbeen onceand always ought to be. We smile now at SevresandDresden shepherdesses; but the wise man will surely see in thema certainpathos. They indicated a craving after something betterthanboorishness; and the many men and women may have become thegentlerand purer by looking even at themand have said sadly tothemselves: "Such might have been the peasantry of half Europehadit notbeen for devastations of the Palatinatewars of successionand thewicked wills of emperors and kings."
LECTUREIII--THE EXPLOSIVE FORCES
In aformer lecture in this InstitutionI said that the human raceowed moreto the eighteenth century than to any century since theChristianera. It may seem a bold assertion to those who value dulythecentury which followed the revival of Greek literatureandconsiderthat the eighteenth century was but the childor rathergrandchildthereof. But I must persist in my opinioneven thoughit seem tobe inconsistent with my description of the very same eraas one ofdecay and death. For side by side with the deaththerewasmanifold fresh birth; side by side with the decay there wasactivegrowth;--side by side with themfostered by themthoughgenerallyin strong opposition to themwhether conscious orunconscious. We must bewarehoweverof trying to find betweenthat decayand that growth a bond of cause and effect where there isreallynone. The general decay may have determined the course ofmany men'sthoughts; but it no more set them thinking than (as Ihave heardsaid) the decay of the Ancien Regime produced the newRegime--aloose metaphorwhichlike all metaphorswill not holdwaterandmust not be taken for a philosophic truth. That would beto confessman--what I shall never confess him to be--the creatureofcircumstances; it would be to fall into the same fallacy ofspontaneousgeneration as did the ancientswhen they believed thatbees werebred from the carcass of a dead ox. In the first placethe beeswere no beesbut flies--unless when some true swarm ofhoney beesmay have taken up their abode within the empty ribsasSamson'sbees did in that of the lion. But bees or flieseachsprangfrom an eggindependent of the carcasshaving a vitality ofits own: it was fostered by the carcass it fed on duringdevelopment;but bred from it it was notany more than Marat wasbred fromthe decay of the Ancien Regime. There are flies whichbyfeeding onputriditybecome poisonous themselvesas did Marat:but eventhey owe their vitality and organisation to somethinghigherthan that on which they feed; and each of themhoweverdefacedand debasedwas at first a "thought of God." Alltruemanhoodconsists in the defiance of circumstances; and if any man bethecreature of circumstancesit is because he has become solikethedrunkard; because he has ceased to be a manand sunk downwardtoward thebrute.
Accordinglywe shall findthroughout the 18th centurya stirringofthoughtan originalitya resistance to circumstancesanindignantdefiance of circumstanceswhich would have beenimpossiblehad circumstances been the true lords and shapers ofmankind. Had that latter been the casethe downward progress ofthe AncienRegime would have been irremediable. Each generationconformedmore and more to the element in which it livedwould havesunkdeeper in dull acquiescence to evilin ignorance of allcravingssave those of the senses; and if at any time intolerablewrong orwant had driven it to revoltit would have issuednot intheproclamation of new and vast ideasbut in an anarchic struggleforrevenge and bread.
There areracesalas! which seemfor the present at leastmasteredby circumstances. Somelike the Chinesehave sunk backinto thatstate; somelike the negro in Africaseem not yet tohaveemerged from it; but in Europeduring the eighteenth centurywereworking not merely new forces and vitalities (abstractionswhichmislead rather than explain)but living persons in plentymen andwomenwith independent and original hearts and brainsinstinctin spite of all circumstanceswith power which we shallmostwisely ascribe directly to Him who is the Lord and Giver ofLife.
Suchpersons seemed--I only say seemed--most numerous in England andinGermany. But there were enough of them in France to change thedestiny ofthat great nation for awhile--perhaps for ever.
M. deTocqueville has a whole chapterand a very remarkable onewhichappears at first sight to militate against my belief--achapter"showing that France was the country in which men had becomemostalike."
"Themen" he says"of that timeespecially those belonging totheupper andmiddle ranks of societywho alone were at allconspicuouswere all exactly alike."
And itmust be allowedthat if this were true of the upper andmiddleclassesit must have been still more true of the mass of thelowestpopulationwhobeing most animalare always most moulded--or rathercrushed--by their own circumstancesby public opinionand by thewants of five sensescommon to all alike.
But whenM. de Tocqueville attributes this curious fact to thecircumstancesof their political state--to that "government of oneman whichin the end has the inevitable effect of rendering all menalikeandall mutually indifferent to their common fate"--we mustdiffereven from him: for facts prove the impotence of thator ofany othercircumstancein altering the hearts and souls of meninproducingin them anything but a mere superficial and temporaryresemblance.
For allthe while there wasamong these very Frenchhere and therea varietyof character and purposesufficient to burst through thatverydespotismand to develop the nation into manifoldnewandquiteoriginal shapes. Thus it was proved that the uniformity hadbeen onlyin their outside crust and shell. What tore the nation topiecesduring the Reign of Terrorbut the boundless variety andoriginalityof the characters which found themselves suddenly infreerivalry? What else gave to the undisciplined leviesthebankruptgovernmentsthe parvenu heroes of the Republica manifoldforceaself-dependent audacitywhich made them the conquerorsand theteachers (for good and evil) of the civilised world? Ifthere wasone doctrine which the French Revolution speciallyproclaimed--whichit caricatured till it brought it into temporarydisrepute--itwas this: that no man is like another; that in eachis aGod-given "individuality" an independent soulwhich nogovernmentor man has a right to crushor can crush in the longrun: but which ought to haveand must havea "carriere ouverteauxtalents" freely to do the best for itself in the battle oflife. The French Revolutionmore than any event since twelve poormen setforth to convert the world some eighteen hundred years agoprovesthat man ought not to beand need not bethe creature ofcircumstancesthe puppet of institutions; butif he willtheirconquerorand their lord.
Of theseoriginal spirits who helped to bring life out of deathandthe modernworld out of the decay of the mediaeval worldthe FrenchPHILOSOPHESand encyclopaedists areof coursethe most notorious.Theyconfessedfor the most partthat their original inspirationhad comefrom England. They wereor considered themselvesthedisciplesof Locke; whose philosophyit seems to metheir own actsdisproved.
And firsta few words on these same philosophes. One may bethoroughlyaware of their deficienciesof their sinsmoral as wellasintellectual; and yet one may demand that everyone should judgethemfairly--which can only be done by putting himself in theirplace; andany fair judgment of them willI thinklead to theconclusionthat they were not mere destroyersinflamed with hate ofeverythingwhich mankind had as yet held sacred. Whatever sacredthingsthey despisedone sacred thing they reverencedwhich menhadforgotten more and more since the seventeenth century--commonjusticeand common humanity. It was thisI believewhich gavethem theirmoral force. It was this which drew towards them theheartsnot merely of educated bourgeois and nobles (on the menupeuplethey had no influenceand did not care to have any)but ofeverycontinental sovereign who felt in himself higher aspirationsthan thoseof a mere selfish tyrant--Frederick the GreatChristinaof SwedenJoseph of Austriaand even that fallen JunoCatharineof Russiawith all her sins. To take the most extreme instance--Voltaire. We may question his being a philosopher at all. We maydeny thathe had even a tincture of formal philosophy. We may doubtmuchwhether he had any of that human and humorous common sensewhich isoften a good substitute for the philosophy of the schools.We mayfeel against him a just and honest indignation when werememberthat he dared to travestie into a foul satire the tale ofhiscountry's purest and noblest heroine; but we must recollectatthe sametimethat he did a public service to the morality of hisowncountryand of all Europeby his indignation--quite as justand honestas any which we may feel--at the legal murder of Calas.We mustrecollect thatif he exposes baseness and foulness with toocynical alicense of speech (in whichindeedhe sinned no morethan hadthe average of French writers since the days of Montaigne)he atleast never advocates themas did Le Sage. We must recollectthatscattered throughout his writingsare words in favour of thatwhich isjustmercifulmagnanimousand evenat timesin favourof thatwhich is pure; which proves that in Voltaireas in mostmentherewas a double self--the one sickened to cynicism by theiniquityand folly which he saw around him--the otherhungeringafter anobler lifeand possibly exciting that hunger in one andanotherhere and therewho admired him for other reasons than theeducatedmobwhich cried after him "Vive la Pucelle."
Rousseautoo. Easy it is to feel disgustcontemptfor the"Confessions"and the "Nouvelle Heloise"--for muchtoo muchin theman's ownlife and character. One would think the worse of theyoungEnglishman who did not so feeland express his feelingsroundlyand roughly. But all young Englishmen should recollectthat toRousseau's "Emile" they owe their deliverance from theuselesspedantriesthe degrading brutalitiesof the medievalsystem ofschool education; that "Emile" awakened throughoutcivilisedEurope a conception of education justhumanerationaltrulyscientificbecause founded upon facts; that if it had notbeenwritten by one writhing under the bitter consequences of mis-educationand feeling their sting and their brand day by day on hisownspiritMiss Edgeworth might never have reformed our nurseriesor Dr.Arnold our public schools.
And sowith the rest of the philosophes. That there were charlatansamongthemvain menpretentious menprofligate menselfishself-seekingand hypocritical menwho doubts? Among what class ofmen werethere not such in those evil days? In what class of menare therenot such nowin spite of all social and moralimprovement? But nothing but the convictionamong the averagethat theywere in the right--that they were fighting a battle forwhich itwas worth while to dareand if need be to suffercouldhaveenabled them to defy what was then public opinionbacked byoverwhelmingphysical force.
Theirintellectual defects are patent. No one can deny that theirinductionswere hasty and partial: but then they were inductions asopposed tothe dull pedantry of the schoolswhich rested ontraditiononly half believedor pretended to be believed. No onecan denythat their theories were too general and abstract; but thenthey weretheories as opposed to the no-theory of the Ancien Regimewhich was"Let us eat and drinkfor to-morrow we die."
Theories--principles--bythem if men do not liveby them men areat leaststirred into lifeat the sight of something more noblethanthemselves. Only by great ideasright or wrongcould such aworld asthat which Le Sage paintedbe roused out of its slough offoulself-satisfactionand equally foul self-discontent.
Formankind is ruled and guidedin the long runnot by practicalconsiderationsnot by self-interestnot by compromises; but bytheoriesand principlesand those of the most abstrusedelicatesupernaturaland literally unspeakable kind; whichwhether they beaccordingto reason or notare so little according to logic--thatistospeakable reason--that they cannot be put into speech. Menactwhether singly or in massesby impulses and instincts forwhich theygive reasons quite incompetentoften quite irrelevant;but whichthey have caught from each otheras they catch fever orsmall-pox;as unconsciouslyand yet as practically and potently;just asthe nineteenth century has caught from the philosophers oftheeighteenth most practical rules of conductwithout even (inmostcases) having read a word of their works.
And whathas this century caught from these philosophers? One ruleit haslearntand that a most practical one--to appeal in allcasesasmuch as possibleto "Reason and the Laws of Nature."Thatatleastthe philosophers tried to do. Often they failed.Theirconceptions of reason and of the laws of nature being oftenincorrectthey appealed to unreason and to laws which were notthose ofnature. "The fixed idea of them all was" says M. deTocqueville"to substitute simple and elementary rulesdeducedfromreason and natural lawfor the complicated traditional customswhichgoverned the society of their time." They were often rashhastyinthe application of their method. They ignored wholeclasses offactswhichthough spiritual and not physicalare justas muchfactsand facts for scienceas those which concern a stoneor afungus. They mistook for merely complicated traditionalcustomsmany most sacred institutions which were just as muchfounded onreason and natural lawas any theories of their own.But whoshall say that their method was not correct? That it wasnot theonly method? They appealed to reason. Would you have hadthemappeal to unreason? They appealed to natural law. Wouldyouhave hadthem appeal to unnatural law?--law according to which Goddid notmake this world? Alas! that had been done too oftenalready. Solomon saw it done in his timeand called it follytowhich heprophesied no good end. Rabelais saw it done in his time;and wrotehis chapters on the "Children of Physis and the ChildrenofAntiphysis." Butborn in an evil generationwhich wasalreadyeven in1500ripening for the revolution of 1789he was sensualandIfearcowardly enough to hide his lightnot under a bushelbut undera dunghill; till men took him for a jester of jests; andhis greatwisdom was lost to the worse and more foolish generationswhichfollowed himand thought they understood him.
But as forappealing to natural law for that which is good for menand toreason for the power of discerning that same good--if mancannotfind truth by that methodby what method shall he find it?
And thusit happened thatthough these philosophers andencyclopaedistswere not men of sciencethey were at least theheraldsand the coadjutors of science.
We maycall themand justlydreamerstheoristsfanatics. But wemustrecollect that one thing they meant to doand did. Theyrecalledmen to facts; they bid them ask of everything they saw--What arethe facts of the case? Till we know the factsargument isworse thanuseless.
Now thehabit of asking for the facts of the case must deliver menmore orless from that evil spirit which the old Romans called"Fama;"from her whom Virgil described in the AEneid as the ugliestthefalsestand the cruellest of monsters.
From"Fama;" from rumourshearsaysexaggerationsscandalssuperstitionspublic opinions--whether from the ancient publicopinionthat the sun went round the earthor the equally publicopinionthat those who dared to differ from public opinion werehateful tothe deityand therefore worthy of death--from all theseblasts ofFame's lying trumpet they helped to deliver men; and theythereforehelped to insure something like peace and personalsecurityfor those quietmodestand generally virtuous menwhoasstudents of physical sciencedevoted their livesduring theeighteenthcenturyto asking of nature--What are the facts of thecase?
It was nocoincidencebut a connection of cause and effectthatduring thecentury of philosopher sound physical science throveasshe hadnever thriven before; that in zoology and botanychemistryandmedicinegeology and astronomyman after manboth of themiddle andthe noble classeslaid down on more and more soundbecausemore and more extended foundationsthat physical sciencewhich willendure as an everlasting heritage to mankind; endureeventhough a second Byzantine period should reduce it to a timidandtraditional pedantryor a second irruption of barbarians sweepit awayfor awhileto revive again (as classic philosophy revivedin thefifteenth century) among new and more energetic races; whenthekingdom of God shall have been taken away from usand given toa nationbringing forth the fruits thereof.
An eternalheritageI sayfor the human race; which once gainedcan neverbe lost; which standsand will stand; marchesand willmarchproving its growthits healthits progressive forceitscertaintyof final victoryby those very changesdisputesmistakeswhich the ignorant and the bigoted hold up to scornasproofs ofits uncertainty and its rottenness; because they neverhave daredor cared to ask boldly--What are the facts of the case?--and havenever discovered either the acutenessthe patiencethecalmjusticenecessary for ascertaining the factsor their awfuland divinecertainty when once ascertained.
[But thesephilosophers (it will be said) hated all religion.
Beforethat question can be fairly discussedit is surely right toconsiderwhat form of religion that was which they found workinground themin Franceand on the greater part of the Continent. Thequalitythereof may have surely had something to do (as theythemselvesasserted) with that "sort of rage" with which (to use M.deTocqueville's words) "the Christian religion was attacked inFrance."
M. deTocqueville is of opinion (and his opinion is likely to bejust) that"the Church was not more open to attack in France thanelsewhere;that the corruptions and abuses which had been allowed tocreep intoit were lesson the contrarythere than in mostCatholiccountries. The Church of France was infinitely moretolerantthan it ever had been previouslyand than it still wasamongother nations. Consequentlythe peculiar causes of thisphenomenon"(the hatred which it aroused) "must be looked for lessin thecondition of religion than in that of society."
"Weno longer" he saysshortly after"ask in what the Churchofthat dayerred as a religious institutionbut how far it stoodopposed tothe political revolution which was at hand." And he goeson to showhow the principles of her ecclesiastical governmentandherpolitical positionwere such that the philosophes must needshave beenher enemies. But he mentions another fact which seems tome tobelong neither to the category of religion nor to that ofpolitics;a fact whichif he had done us the honour to enlarge uponitmighthave led him and his readers to a more true understandingof thedisrepute into which Christianity had fallen in France.
"Theecclesiastical authority had been specially employed in keepingwatch overthe progress of thought; and the censorship of books wasa dailyannoyance to the philosophes. By defending the commonlibertiesof the human mind against the Churchthey were combatingin theirown cause: and they began by breaking the shackles whichpressedmost closely on themselves."
Just so. And they are not to be blamed if they pressed first andmostearnestly reforms which they knew by painful experience to benecessary. All reformers are wont thus to begin at home. It is totheirhonour ifnot content with shaking off their own fettersthey beginto see that others are fettered likewise; andreasoningfrom theparticular to the universalto learn that their own causeis thecause of mankind.
There isthereforeno reason to doubt that these men were honestwhen theysaid that they were combatingnot in their own causemerelybut in that of humanity; and that the Church was combatingin her owncauseand that of her power and privilege. The Churchrepliedthat shetoowas combating for humanity; for its moral andeternalwell-being. But that is just what the philosophes denied.They said(and it is but fair to take a statement which appears onthe faceof all their writings; which is the one key-note on whichthey ringperpetual changes)that the cause of the Church in Francewas notthat of humanitybut of inhumanity; not that of naturebutofunnature; not even that of gracebut of disgrace. Truely orfalselythey complained that the French clergy had not onlyidentifiedthemselves with the repression of free thoughtand ofphysicalscienceespecially that of the Newtonian astronomybutthat theyhad proved themselves utterly unfitfor centuries pasttoexercise any censorship whatsoever over the thoughts of men:that theyhad identified themselves with the cause of darknessnotof light;with persecution and torturewith the dragonnades ofLouisXIV.with the murder of Calas and of Urban Grandier; withcelibacyhysteriademonologywitchcraftand the shameful publicscandalslike those of GauffrediGrandierand Pere Giraudwhichhad arisenout of mental disease; with forms of worship which seemedto them(rightly or wrongly) idolatryand miracles which seemed tothem(rightly or wrongly) impostures; that the clergy interferedperpetuallywith the sanctity of family lifeas well as with thewelfare ofthe state; that their evil counselsand specially thoseof theJesuitshad been patent and potent causes of much of themisruleand misery of Louis XIV.'s and XV.'s reigns; and that withall theseheavy counts against themtheir morality was not such asto makeother men more moral; and was not--at least among thehierarchy--improvingor likely to improve. To a Mazarina DeRetzaRichelieu (questionable men enough) had succeeded a Duboisa RohanaLomenie de Briennea Maurya Talleyrand; and at therevolutionof 1789 thoughtful Frenchmen askedonce and for allwhat wasto be done with a Church of which these were thehierophants?
Whetherthese complaints affected the French Church as a "religious"institutionmust depend entirely on the meaning which is attachedto theword "religion": that they affected her onscientificrationaland moral groundsindependent of any merely politicaloneis aspatent as that the attack based on them was one-sidedvirulentand often somewhat hypocriticalconsidering the privatemorals ofmany of the assailants. We know--or ought to know--thatwithinthat religion which seemed to the philosophes (so distortedanddefaced had it become) a nightmare dreamcrushing the life outofmankindthere lie elements divineeternal; necessary for man inthis lifeand the life to come. But we are bound to ask--Had they afairchance of knowing what we know? Have we proof that theirhatred wasagainst all religionor only against that which they sawaroundthem? Have we proof that they would have equally hatedhadthey beenin permanent contact with themcreeds more free fromcertainfaults which seemed to themin the case of the FrenchChurchineradicable and inexpiable? Till then we must havecharity--whichis justice--even for the philosophes of theeighteenthcentury.
This viewof the case had been surely overlooked by M. deTocquevillewhen he tried to explain by the fear of revolutionsthe factthat both in America and in England"while the boldestpoliticaldoctrines of the eighteenth-century philosophers have beenadoptedtheir anti-religious doctrines have made no way."
Heconfesses that"Among the EnglishFrench irreligiousphilosophyhad beenpreachedeven before the greater part of the Frenchphilosopherswere born. It was Bolingbroke who set up Voltaire.Throughoutthe eighteenth century infidelity had celebratedchampionsin England. Able writers and profound thinkers espousedthatcausebut they were never able to render it triumphant as inFrance." Of these facts there can be no doubt: but the cause whichhe givesfor the failure of infidelity will surely sound new andstrange tothose who know the English literature and history of thatcentury. It washe says"inasmuch as all those who had anythingto fearfrom revolutionseagerly came to the rescue of theestablishedfaith." Surely there was no talk of revolutions; nowishexpressed or concealedto overthrow either government orsocietyin the aristocratic clique to whom English infidelity wasconfined. Such wasat leastthe opinion of Voltairewho boastedthat "Allthe works of the modern philosophers together would nevermake asmuch noise in the world as was made in former days by thedisputesof the Cordeliers about the shape of their sleeves andhoods." If (as M. de Tocqueville says) Bolingbroke set up Voltaireneithermaster nor pupil had any more leaning than Hobbes had towardademocracy which was not dreaded in those days because it had neverbeen heardof. And if (as M. de Tocqueville heartily allows) theEnglishapologists of Christianity triumphedat least for the timebeingthecause of their triumph must be sought in the plain factthat suchmen as BerkeleyButlerand Paleyeach according to hislightfought the battle fairlyon the common ground of reason andphilosophyinstead of on that of tradition and authority; and thatthe formsof Christianity current in England--whether QuakerPuritanor Anglican--offendedless than that current in Francethecommon-sense and the human instincts of the manyor of thescepticsthemselves.]
But theeighteenth century saw another movementall the morepowerfulperhapsbecause it was continually changing its shapeeven itspurpose; and gaining fresh life and fresh adherents witheverychange. Propagated at first by men of the school of Lockeitbecame atlast a protest against the materialism of that schoolonbehalf ofall that isor calls itselfsupernatural and mysterious.Abjuringand honestlyall politicsit found itself sucked intothepolitical whirlpool in spite of itselfas all human interestswhich haveany life in them must be at last. It became an activepromoterof the Revolution; then it helped to destroy theRevolutionwhen that hadunder Napoleonbecome a levellingdespotism;then it helpedas activelyto keep revolutionaryprinciplesaliveafter the reaction of 1815:--a Proteaninstitutionwhose power we in England are as apt to undervalue asthegovernments of the Continent were aptduring the eighteenthcenturyto exaggerate it. I meanof courseFreemasonryand thesecretsocieties whichhonestly and honourably disowned byFreemasonryyet have either copied itor actually sprung out ofit. In EnglandFreemasonry never wasit seemsmore than aliberaland respectable benefit-club; for secret societies areneedlessfor any further purposesamid free institutions and a freepress. But on the Continent during the eighteenth centuryFreemasonryexcited profound suspicion and fear on the part ofstatesmenwho knew perfectly well their friends from their foes; andwhoseprecautions werefrom their point of viewjustified by theresults.
I shallnot enter into the deep question of the origin ofFreemasonry. One uninitiateas I amhas no right to give anopinion onthe great questions of the mediaeval lodge of Kilwinningand itsScotch degrees; on the seven Templarswhoafter poorJacquesMolay was burnt at Paristook refuge on the Isle of MullinScotlandfound there another Templar and brother Masonominouslynamed Harris; took to the trowel in earnestand revivedtheOrder;--on the Masons who built Magdeburg Cathedral in 876; ontheEnglish Masons assembled in Pagan times by "St. Albonethatworthyknight;" on the revival of English Masonry by Edwinson ofAthelstan;on Magnus Grecuswho had been at the building ofSolomon'sTempleand taught Masonry to Charles Martel; on thepillarsJachin and Boaz; on the masonry of Hiram of Tyreand indeedof Adamhimselfof whose first fig-leaf the masonic apron may be atype--onall these matters I dare no more decide than on the makingof theTrojan Horsethe birth of Romulus and Remusor theincarnationof Vishnoo.
All I daresay isthat Freemasonry emerges in its present form intohistoryand factseemingly about the beginning of George I.'sreignamong Englishmen and noblemennotably in four lodges in thecity ofLondon: (1) at The Goose and Gridiron alehouse in St.Paul'sChurchyard; (2) at The Crown alehouse near Drury Lane; (3) atThe AppleTree tavern near Covent Garden; (4) at The Rummer andGrapestavernin Charnel RowWestminster. That its principleswerebrotherly love and good fellowshipwhich included in thosedays portsherryclaretand punch; that it was founded on theground ofmere humanityin every sense of the word; being (as wasto beexpected from the temper of the times) both aristocratic andliberaladmitting to its ranks virtuous gentlemen "obliged" saysan oldcharge"only to that religion wherein all men agreeleavingtheirparticular opinions to themselves: that isto be good menand trueor men of honour and honestyby whatever denominations orpersuasionsthey may be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes thecentre ofunion and means of conciliating true friendship amongpersonsthat otherwise must have remained at a distance."
Little didthe honest gentlemen who established or re-establishedtheirsociety on these groundsand fenced it with quaintceremoniesold or newconceive the importance of their own act;welooking at it from a distancemay see all that such a societyinvolvedwhich was quite new to the world just then; and seethatit was thevery child of the Ancien Regime--of a time when men weregrowingweary of the violent factionspolitical and spiritualwhich hadtorn Europe in pieces for more than a centuryand longedto say: "After allwe are all alike in one thing--for we are atleastmen."
Its spreadthrough England and Scotlandand the seceding bodieswhicharose from itas well as the supposed Jacobite tendency ofcertainScotch lodgesdo not concern us here. The pointinterestingto us just now isthat Freemasonry was imported to theContinentexclusively by English and Scotch gentlemen and noblemen.LordDerwentwater is said by some to have founded the "LogeAnglaise"in Paris in 1725; the Duke of Richmond one in his owncastle ofAubigny shortly after. It was through Hanoverianinfluencethat the movement seems to have spread into Germany. In1733forinstancethe English Grand MasterLord Strathmorepermittedeleven German gentlemen and good brethren to form a lodgeinHamburg. Into this English Society was Frederick the GreatwhenCrownPrinceinitiatedin spite of strict old Frederick William'sobjectionswho had heard of it as an English invention ofirreligioustendency. Francis I. of Austria was made a Freemason atthe HagueLord Chesterfield being in the chairand then became aMaster inLondon under the name of "Brother Lothringen" to thediscontentof Maria Theresawhose woman's wit saw farther than herhusband. Englishmen and Scotchmen introduced the new society intoRussia andinto Geneva. Sweden and Poland seem to have received itfromFrance; whilein the Southit seems to have been exclusivelyan Englishplant. SackvilleDuke of Middlesexis said to havefoundedthe first lodge at Florence in 1733Lord Coleraine atGibraltarand Madridone Gordon in Portugal; and everywhereat thecommencementof the movementwe find either London or Scotland themother-lodgesintroducing on the Continent those liberal and humaneideas ofwhich England was then consideredto her gloryas theonly homeleft on earth.
Butalas!the seed sown grew up into strange shapesaccording tothe soilin which it rooted. False doctrineheresyand schismaccordingto Herr Findelthe learned and rational historian whom Ihavechiefly followeddefiled the new Church from its infancy. "InFrance"so he bemoans himself"first of all there shot up thatbanefulseed of lies and fraudsof vanity and presumptionofhatred anddiscordthe mischievous high degrees; the misstatementthat ourorder was allied to the Templarsand existed at the timeof theCrusades; the removal of old chargesthe bringing insurreptitiouslyof a multitude of symbols and forms which awoke thelove ofsecrecy; knighthood; andin factall which tended topoisonFreemasonry." Herr Findel seems to attribute these evilsprincipallyto the "high degrees." It would have been more simpleto haveattributed them to the morals of the French noblesse in thedays ofLouis Quinze. What could a corrupt tree bring forthbutcorruptfruit? If some of the early lodgeslike those of "LaFelicite"and "L'Ancre" to which women were admittedresembled nota littlethe Bacchic mysteries of old Romeand like them called fortheinterference of the policestill no great reform was to beexpectedwhen those Sovereign Masonic Princesthe "Emperors of theEast andWest" quarrelled--knights of the East against knights oftheWest--till they were absorbed or crushed by the Lodge "GrandOrient"with Philippe EgaliteDuc de Chartresas their grandmasterand as his representativethe hero of the diamond necklaceanddisciple of Count Cagliostro--LouisPrince de Rohan.
But ifFreemasonryamong the frivolous and sensual French noblessebecameutterly frivolous and sensual itselfit took a deeperthough aquestionably fantastic formamong the more serious andearnestGerman nobility. Forgetful as they too often were of theirduty totheir peoples--tyrannicalextravagantdebauched by FrenchopinionsFrench fashionsFrench luxuriestill they had begun todespisetheir native speechtheir native literaturealmost theirnativelandand to hide their native homeliness under a clumsyvarnish ofFrench outside civilisationwhich the years 1807-13rubbed offthem again with a brush of iron--they were yet Germans atheart; andthat German instinct for the unseen--call it enthusiasmmysticismwhat you willyou cannot make it anything but a humanfactanda most powerfuland (as I hold) most blessed fact--thatinstinctfor the unseenI saywhich gives peculiar value to Germanphilosophypoetryartreligionand above all to German familylifeandwhich is just the complement needed to prevent our Englishcommon-sensematter-of-fact Lockism from degenerating intomaterialism--thatwas only lying hiddenbut not deadin the Germanspirit.
With theGermansthereforeFreemasonry assumed a nobler and moreearnestshape. Droppingvery soonthat Lockite and Philosophetone whichhad perhaps recommended it to Frederick the Great in hisyouthitbecame mediaevalist and mystic. It craved after aresuscitationof old chivalrous spiritand the virtues of theknightlyidealand the old German biederkeit und tapferkeitwhichwere alldefiled and overlaid by French fopperies. And not in vain;as nostruggle after a noble aimhowever confused or fantasticisever invain. Freemasonry was the direct parent of the Tugenbundand ofthose secret societies which freed Germany from Napoleon.Whateverfollies young members of them may have committed; whateverJahn andhis Turnerei; whatever the iron youthswith their irondecorationsand iron boot-heels; whateverin a wordmay have beensaid ordone amissin that childishness which (as their own wisestwritersoften lament) so often defaces the noble childlikeness ofthe Germanspiritlet it be always remembered that under theimpulsefirst given by Freemasonryas much as that given by suchheroes asStein and ScharnhorstGermany shook off the chains whichhad fallenon her in her sleep; and stood once more at Leipsicwereit but fora momenta free people alike in body and in soul.
Rememberingthisand the solid benefits which Germany owed toMasonicinfluencesone shrinks from saying much of theextravagancesin which its Masonry indulged before the FrenchRevolution. Yet they are so characteristic of the agesosignificantto the student of human naturethat they must be hintedatthoughnot detailed.
It isclear that Masonry was at first a movement confined to thearistocracyor at least to the most educated classes; and cleartoothatit fell in with a temper of mind unsatisfied with the drydogmatisminto which the popular creeds had then been frozen--unsatisfiedwith their own Frenchified foppery and pseudo-philosophy--unsatisfiedwith want of all dutypurposenoblethoughtor noble work. With such a temper of mind it fell in: butthat verytemper was open (as it always is) to those dreams of aroyal roadto wisdom and to virtuewhich have hauntedin all agestheluxurious and the idle.
Those whowillmay read enoughand too muchof the wonderfulsecrets innature and science and theosophywhich men expected tofind anddid not find in the higher degrees of Masonrytill oldVoss--thetranslator of Homer--had to confessthat after "tryingfor elevenyears to attain a perfect knowledge of the inmostpenetraliawhere the secret is said to beand of its invisibleguardians"all he knew was that "the documents which he had to makeknown tothe initiated were nothing more than a well got-up farce."
But themania was general. The high-born and the virtuous expectedtodiscover some panacea for their own consciences in what Vosscalls"Amultitude of symbolswhich are ever increasing thefartheryou penetrateand are made to have a moral applicationthroughsome arbitrary twisting of their meaningas if I were toattemptexpounding the chaos on my writing-desk."
A richharvest-field was an aristocracy in such a humourfor quacksof everykind; richer even than that of Francein that the Germanswere atonce more honest and more earnestand therefore to berobbedmore easily. The carcass was there: and the birds of preyweregathered together.
Of Rosawith his lodge of the Three Hammersand his Potsdam gold-making;--ofJohnsonalias Leuchtewho passed himself off as aGrandPrior sent from Scotland to resuscitate the order of KnightsTemplars;who informed his disciples that the Grand Master Von Hundcommanded26000 men; that round the convent (what conventdoes notappear) ahigh wall was erectedwhich was guarded day and night;that theEnglish navy was in the hands of the Order; that they hadMSS.written by Hugo de Paganis (a mythic hero who often figures inthesefables); that their treasure was in only three places in theworldinBallenstadtin the icy mountains of Savoyand in China;thatwhosoever drew on himself the displeasure of the Orderperishedboth body and soul; who degraded his rival Rosa to thesound ofmilitary musicand after having hadlike every doghisdaydiedin prison in the Wartburg;--of the Rosicrucianswho wereaccused ofwanting to support and advance the Catholic religion--onewouldthink the accusation was very unnecessaryseeing that theiractualdealings were with the philosopher's stoneand the exorcismofspirits: and that the first apostle of the new goldenRosicrucianorderone Schropfergetting into debtand fearingexposurefinished his life in an altogether un-catholic manner atLeipsic in1774by shooting himself;--of Keller and his Urim andThummim;--ofWollner (who caught the Crown Prince Frederick William)with histhree names of ChrysophironHeliconusand Ophironandhis fourthname of Ormesus Magnusunder which all the brethren wereto offerup for him solemn prayers and intercessions;--of BaronHeinrichvon Ekker and Eckenhofengentleman of the bed-chamber andcounsellorof the Duke of Coburg Saalfeldand his Jewish colleagueHirschmannwith their Asiatic brethren and order named Ben BiccaCabalisticand Talmudic; of the Illuminatiand poor AdamWeisshauptProfessor of Canon and National Law at Ingoldstadt inBavariawho set up what he considered an Anti-Jesuitical order on aJesuitmodelwith some vague hopeaccording to his own showingof"perfectingthe reasoning powers interesting to mankindspreadingtheknowledge of sentiments both humane and socialchecking wickedinclinationsstanding up for oppressed and suffering virtue againstall wrongpromoting the advancement of men of meritand in everywayfacilitating the acquirement of knowledge and science;"--of thishonestsilly manand his attempts to carry out all his fineprojectsby calling himself SpartacusBavaria AchaiaAustriaEgyptVienna Romeand so forth;--of Kniggewho picked his honestbrainsquarrelled with himand then made money and fame out of hisplansforas long as they lasted;--of Bodethe knight of thelilies ofthe valleywhohaving caught Duke Ernest of Saxe Gothawashimself caught by Kniggeand his eightnineor more ascendingorders ofunwisdom;--and finally of the Jesuits whoreally withconsiderableexcuses for their severityfell upon these poorfoolishIlluminati in 1784 throughout Bavariaand had them exiledorimprisoned;--of all this you may read in the pages of Dr. Findeland inmany another book. Forforgotten as they are nowthey madenoiseenough in their time.
And so itbefellthat this eighteenth centurywhich is usuallyheld to bethe most "materialistic" of epochswasin facta most"spiritualistic"one; in which ghostsdemonsquacksphilosophers'stonesenchanters' wandsmysteries and mummerieswere asfashionable--asthey will probably be again some day.
You haveall heard of Cagliostro--"pupil of the sage Althotasfoster-childof the Scheriff of Meccaprobable son of the last kingofTrebizond; named also Acharatand 'Unfortunate child of Nature;'byprofession healer of diseasesabolisher of wrinklesfriend ofthe poorand impotent; grand-master of the Egyptian Mason-lodge ofHighSciencespirit-summonergold-cookGrand-CophtaprophetpriestThaumaturgic moralistand swindler"--born Giuseppe BalsamoofPalermo;--of himand of his lovely Countess Seraphina--neeLorenzaFeliciani? You have read what Goethe--and still moreimportantwhat Mr. Carlyle has written on himas on one of themostsignificant personages of the age? RememberthenthatCagliostrowas no isolated phenomenon; that his success--nayhishavingeven conceived the possibility of success in the brain thatlay withinthat "brass-facedbull-neckedthick-lipped" head--wasmadepossible by public opinion. Had Cagliostro lived in our timepublicopinion would have pointed out to him other roads to honour--on whichhe would doubtless have fared as well. For when the sillydace tryto be caught and hope to be caughthe is a foolish pikewho cannotgorge them. But the method most easy for a pike-naturelikeCagliostro'swas in the eighteenth centuryas it may be inthe latterhalf of the nineteenthto tradein a materialist ageon theunsatisfied spiritual cravings of mankind. For what do allthesephantasms betokenbut a generation ashamed of its ownmaterialismsensualityinsincerityignoranceand striving toescapetherefrom by any and every mad superstition which seemedlikely togive an answer to the awful questions--What are weandwhere? andto lay to rest those instincts of the unseen and infinitearound itwhich tormented it like ghosts by day and night: a sightludicrousor patheticaccording as it is looked on by a cynical ora humanspirit.
It is easyto call such a phenomenon absurdimprobable. It isratherrationalprobablesay certain to happen. RationalI say;for thereason of man tells himand has always told himthat he isasupernatural beingif by nature is meant that which is cognisableby hisfive senses: that his coming into this worldhis relationto ithisexit from it--which are the three most important factsabouthim--are supernaturalnot to be explained by any deductionsfrom theimpressions of his senses. And I make bold to saythatthe recentdiscoveries of physical science--notably those ofembryology--goonly to justify that old and general belief of man.If man betold that the microscope and scalpel show no differencein thefirst stage of visible existencebetween him and the lowermammalsthen he has a right to answer--as he will answer--So muchthe worsefor the microscope and scalpel: so much the better for myoldbeliefthat there is beneath my birthlifedeathasubstratumof supernatural causesimponderableinvisibleunknowableby any physical science whatsoever. If you cannot renderme areason how I came hitherand what I amI must go to those whowillrender me one. And if that craving be not satisfied by arationaltheory of lifeit will demand satisfaction from somemagicaltheory; as did the mind of the eighteenth century whenrevoltingfrom materialismit fled to magicto explain the ever-astoundingmiracle of life.
The oldRegime. Will our agein its turnever be spoken of as anoldRegime? Will it ever be spoken of as a Regime at all; as anorganisedorderly system of society and polity; and not merely as achaosananarchya transitory struggleof which the money-lenderhas beenthe real guide and lord?
But atleast it will be spoken of as an age of progressof rapiddevelopmentsof astonishing discoveries.
Are you sosure of that? There was an age of progress once. Butwhat isour age--what is all which has befallen since 1815--saveafter-swellsof that great stormwhich are weakening and lullinginto heavycalm? Are we on the eve of stagnation? Of a long checkto thehuman intellect? Of a new Byzantine erain which little menwilldiscussand apethe deeds which great men did in theirforefathers'days?
Whatprogress--it is a question which some will receive with almostangrysurprise--what progress has the human mind made since 1815?
If thethought be startlingdo me the great honour of taking ithomeandverifying for yourselves its truth or its falsehood. I donot saythat it is altogether true. No proposition concerning humanthingsstated so broadlycan be. But see for yourselveswhetherit is notat least more true than false; whether the ideasthediscoveriesof which we boast most in the nineteenth centuryarenot reallydue to the end of the eighteenth. Whether other men didnotlabourand we have only entered into their labours. Whetherourpositivist spiritour content with the collecting of factsourdread ofvast theoriesis not a symptom--wholesomeprudentmodestbut still a symptom--of our consciousness that we are not asourgrandfathers were; that we can no longer conceive great ideaswhichilluminefor good or evilthe whole mind and heart of manand drivehim on to dare and suffer desperately.
Railroads? Electric telegraphs? All honour to them in their place:but theyare not progress; they are only the fruits of pastprogress. No outward and material thing is progress; no machinerycausesprogress; it merely spreads and makes popular the results ofprogress. Progress is inwardof the soul. Andthereforeimprovedconstitutionsand improved book instruction--now miscallededucation--arenot progress: they are at best only fruits and signsthereof. For they are outwardmaterial; and progressI sayisinward. The self-help and self-determination of the independentsoul--thatis the root of progress; and the more human beings whohave thatthe more progress there is in the world. Give me a manwhothough he can neither read nor writeyet dares think forhimselfand do the thing he believes: that man will help forwardthe humanrace more than any thousand men who have reador writteneitherathousand books apiecebut have not dared to think forthemselves. And better for his raceand betterI believein thesight ofGodthe confusions and mistakes of that one sincere bravemanthanthe second-hand and cowardly correctness of all thethousand.
As for the"triumphs of science" let us honourwith astonishmentand awethe genius of those who invented them; but let us rememberthat thethings themselves are as a gun or a swordwith which wecan killour enemybut with which also our enemy can kill us. Likealloutward and material thingsthey are equally fit for good andfor evil. In England here--they have been as yetas far as I canseenothing but blessings: but I have my very serious doubtswhetherthey are likely to be blessings to the whole human raceformany anage to come. I can conceive them--may God avert the omen!--theinstruments of a more crushing executive centralisationof amore utteroppression of the bodies and souls of menthan the worldhas yetseen. I can conceive--may God avert the omen!--centurieshencesome future world-ruler sitting at the junction of allrailroadsat the centre of all telegraph-wires--a world-spider intheomphalos of his world-wide web; and smiting from thenceeverythingthat dared to lift its heador utter a cry of painwithaswiftness and surety to which the craft of a Justinian or a PhilipII. werebut clumsy and impotent.
Allalloutward thingsbe sure of itare good or evilexactly asfar asthey are in the hands of good men or of bad.
Moreoverparadoxical as it may seemrailroads and telegraphsinstead ofinaugurating an era of progressmay possibly only retardit. "Rester sur un grand succes" which was Rossini's advice toayoungsinger who had achieved a triumphis a maxim which the worldoftenfollowsnot only from prudencebut from necessity. Theyhave doneso much that it seems neither prudent nor possible to domore. They will rest and be thankful.
Thusgunpowder and printing made rapid changes enough; but thosechangeshad no farther development. The new art of warthe new artofliteratureremained stationaryor rather receded anddegeneratedtill the end of the eighteenth century.
And so itmay be with our means of locomotion and intercommunionand whatdepends on them. The vast and unprecedented amount ofcapitalof social interestof actual human intellect invested--Imay saylocked up--in these railroadsand telegraphsand othertriumphsof industry and sciencewill not enter into competitionagainstthemselves. They will not set themselves free to seek newdiscoveriesin directions which are often actually opposed to theirownalways foreign to it. If the money of thousands are locked upin thesegreat worksthe brains of hundreds of thousandsand ofthe veryshrewdest tooare equally locked up therein likewise; andare to besubtracted from the gross material of social developmentand added(without personal fault of their ownerswho may be verygood men)to the dead weight of vested selfishnessignoranceanddislike ofchange.
Yes. A Byzantine and stationary age is possible yet. Perhaps weare nowentering upon it; an age in which mankind shall be satisfiedwith the"triumphs of science" and shall look merely to thegreatestcomfort (call it not happiness) of the greatest number; andlike thedebased Jews of old"having found the life of their handbetherewith content" no matter in what mud-hole of slavery andsuperstition.
But onehope there isand more than a hope--one certaintythathoweversatisfied enlightened public opinion may become with theresults ofscienceand the progress of the human racethere willbe alwaysa more enlightened private opinion or opinionswhich willnot besatisfied therewith at all; a few men of geniusa fewchildrenof lightit may be a few persecutedand a few martyrs fornewtruthswho will wish the world not to rest and be thankfulbutto bediscontented with itselfashamed of itselfstriving andtoilingupwardwithout present hope of gaintill it has reachedthatunknown goal which Bacon saw afar offand like all otherheroesdied in faithnot having received the promisesbut seekingstill apolity which has foundationswhose builder and maker isGod.
These willbe the men of sciencewhether physical or spiritual.Not merelythe men who utilise and apply that which is known (usefulas theyplainly are)but the men who themselves discover that whichwasunknownand are generally deemed uselessif not hurtfultotheirrace. They will keep the sacred lamp burning unobserved inquietstudieswhile all the world is gazing only at the gaslightsflaring inthe street. They will pass that lamp on from hand tohandmodestlyalmost stealthilytill the day comes round againwhen theobscure student shall be discovered once more to beas hehas alwaysbeenthe strongest man on earth. For they follow amistresswhose footsteps may often slipyet never fall; for shewalksforward on the eternal facts of Naturewhich are the actedwill ofGod. A giantess she is; young indeedbut humble as yet:cautiousand modest beyond her years. She is accused of trying toscaleOlympusby some who fancy that they have already scaled itthemselvesand willof coursebrook no rival in their fanciedmonopolyof wisdom.
TheaccusationI believeis unjust. And yet science may scaleOlympusafter all. Without intending italmost without knowing itshe mayfind herself hereafter upon a summit of which she neverdreamed;surveying the universe of God in the light of Him who madeit andherand remakes them both for ever and ever. On that summitshe maystand hereafterif only she goes onas she goes nowinhumilityand in patience; doing the duty which lies nearest her;luredalong the upward roadnot by ambitionvanityor greedbutbyreverent curiosity for every new pebbleand flowerand childandsavagearound her feet.