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Title: Studies in Literature
Author: Morley, John, 1838-1923
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Studies in Literature" ***

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The contents of the present collection have all been in print before,
either in the _Nineteenth Century_ and _Fortnightly Review_, or
in some other shape. I have to thank the proprietors of the two
periodicals named for sanctioning the reproduction of my articles


_October_ 1890.




[Footnote 1: Originally published as an Introduction to the new
edition of Wordsworth's _Complete Poetical Works_ (1888).]

The poet whose works are contained in the present volume was born in
the little town of Cockermouth, in Cumberland, on April 7, 1770. He
died at Rydal Mount, in the neighbouring county of Westmoreland, on
April 23, 1850. In this long span of mortal years, events of vast and
enduring moment shook the world. A handful of scattered and dependent
colonies in the northern continent of America made themselves into one
of the most powerful and beneficent of states. The ancient monarchy of
France, and all the old ordering of which the monarchy had been the
keystone, was overthrown, and it was not until after many a violent
shock of arms, after terrible slaughter of men, after strange
diplomatic combinations, after many social convulsions, after many
portentous mutations of empire, that Europe once more settled down for
a season into established order and system. In England almost alone,
after the loss of her great possessions across the Atlantic Ocean,
the fabric of the State stood fast and firm. Yet here, too, in these
eighty years, an old order slowly gave place to new. The restoration
of peace, after a war conducted with extraordinary tenacity and
fortitude, led to a still more wonderful display of ingenuity,
industry, and enterprise, in the more fruitful field of commerce
and of manufactures. Wealth, in spite of occasional vicissitudes,
increased with amazing rapidity. The population of England and Wales
grew from being seven and a half millions in 1770, to nearly eighteen
millions in 1850. Political power was partially transferred from a
territorial aristocracy to the middle and trading classes. Laws were
made at once more equal and more humane. During all the tumult of the
great war which for so many years bathed Europe in fire, through all
the throes and agitations in which peace brought forth the new time,
Wordsworth for half a century (1799-1850) dwelt sequestered in
unbroken composure and steadfastness in his chosen home amid the
mountains and lakes of his native region, working out his own ideal of
the high office of the Poet.

The interpretation of life in books and the development of imagination
underwent changes of its own. Most of the great lights of the
eighteenth century were still burning, though burning low, when
Wordsworth came into the world. Pope, indeed, had been dead for six
and twenty years, and all the rest of the Queen Anne men had gone.
But Gray only died in 1771, and Goldsmith in 1774. Ten years later
Johnson's pious and manly heart ceased to beat. Voltaire and Rousseau,
those two diverse oracles of their age, both died in 1778. Hume had
passed away two years before. Cowper was forty years older than
Wordsworth, but Cowper's most delightful work was not produced until
1783. Crabbe, who anticipated Wordsworth's choice of themes from rural
life, while treating them with a sterner realism, was virtually his
contemporary, having been born in 1754, and dying in 1832. The two
great names of his own date were Scott and Coleridge, the first born
in 1771, and the second a year afterwards. Then a generation later
came another new and illustrious group. Byron was born in 1788,
Shelley in 1792, and Keats in 1795. Wordsworth was destined to see one
more orb of the first purity and brilliance rise to its place in the
poetic firmament. Tennyson's earliest volume of poems was published in
1830, and _In Memoriam_, one of his two masterpieces, in 1830. Any one
who realises for how much these famous names will always stand in
the history of human genius, may measure the great transition that
Wordsworth's eighty years witnessed in some of men's deepest feelings
about art and life and "the speaking face of earth and heaven."

Here, too, Wordsworth stood isolated and apart. Scott and Southey were
valued friends, but, as has been truly said, he thought little of
Scott's poetry, and less of Southey's. Of Blake's _Songs of Innocence
and Experience_ he said, "There is something in the madness of this
man which interests me more than the sanity of Lord Byron and Walter
Scott." Coleridge was the only member of the shining company with whom
he ever had any real intimacy of mind, for whom he ever nourished real
deference and admiration as one "unrelentingly possessed by thirst of
greatness, love, and beauty," and in whose intellectual power, as the
noble lines in the Sixth Book of the _Prelude_ so gorgeously attest,
he took the passionate interest of a man at once master, disciple, and
friend. It is true to say, as Emerson says, that Wordsworth's genius
was the great exceptional fact of the literature of his period. But he
had no teachers nor inspirers save nature and solitude.

Wordsworth was the son of a solicitor, and all his early circumstances
were homely, unpretentious, and rather straitened. His mother died
when he was eight years old, and when his father followed her five
years later, two of his uncles provided means for continuing
at Cambridge the education which had been begun in the rural
grammar-school of Hawkshead. It was in 1787 that he went up to St.
John's College. He took his Bachelor's degree at the beginning of
1791, and there his connection with the university ended.

For some years after leaving Cambridge, Wordsworth let himself drift.
He did not feel good enough for the Church; he shrank from the law;
fancying that he had talents for command, he thought of being a
soldier. Meanwhile, he passed a short time desultorily in London.
Towards the end of 1791, through Paris, he passed on to Orleans
and Blois, where he made some friends and spent most of a year. He
returned to Paris in October 1792. France was no longer standing on
the top of golden hours. The September massacres filled the sky with
a lurid flame. Wordsworth still retained his ardent faith in the
Revolution, and was even ready, though no better than "a landsman on
the deck of a ship struggling with a hideous storm," to make common
cause with the Girondists. But the prudence of friends at home forced
him back to England before the beginning of the terrible year of '93.
With his return closed that first survey of its inheritance, which
most serious souls are wont to make in the fervid prime of early

It would be idle to attempt any commentary on the bare facts that we
have just recapitulated; for Wordsworth himself has clothed them with
their full force and meaning in the _Prelude_. This record of the
growth of a poet's mind, told by the poet himself with all the
sincerity of which he was capable, is never likely to be popular. Of
that, as of so much more of his poetry, we must say that, as a whole,
it has not the musical, harmonious, sympathetic quality which seizes
us in even the prose of such a book as Rousseau's _Confessions_.
Macaulay thought the _Prelude_ a poorer and more tiresome _Excursion_,
with the old flimsy philosophy about the effect of scenery on the
mind, the old crazy mystical metaphysics, and the endless wilderness
of twaddle; still he admits that there are some fine descriptions and
energetic declamations. All Macaulay's tastes and habits of mind made
him a poor judge of such a poet as Wordsworth. He valued spirit,
energy, pomp, stateliness of form and diction, and actually thought
Dryden's fine lines about to-morrow being falser than the former clay
equal to any eight lines in Lucretius. But his words truly express
the effect of the _Prelude_ on more vulgar minds than his own. George
Eliot, on the other hand, who had the inward eye that was not among
Macaulay's gifts, found the _Prelude_ full of material for a daily
liturgy, and it is easy to imagine how she fondly lingered, as she
did, over such a thought as this--

                      "There is
  One great society alone on earth:
  The noble Living and the noble Dead."

There is, too, as may be found imbedded even in Wordsworth's dullest
work, many a line of the truest poetical quality, such as that on
Newton's statue in the silent Chapel of Trinity College--

  "The marble index of a mind for ever
  Voyaging through strange seas of Thought alone."

Apart, however, from beautiful lines like this, and from many noble
passages of high reflection set to sonorous verse, this remarkable
poem is in its whole effect unique in impressive power, as a picture
of the advance of an elect and serious spirit from childhood and
school-time, through the ordeal of adolescence, through close contact
with stirring and enormous events, to that decisive stage when it has
found the sources of its strength, and is fully and finally prepared
to put its temper to the proof.

The three Books that describe the poet's residence in France have a
special and a striking value of their own. Their presentation of the
phases of good men's minds as the successive scenes of the Revolution
unfolded themselves has real historic interest. More than this, it
is an abiding lesson to brave men how to bear themselves in hours of
public stress. It portrays exactly that mixture of persevering faith
and hope with firm and reasoned judgment, with which I like to think
that Turgot, if he had lived, would have confronted the workings
of the Revolutionary power. Great masters in many kinds have been
inspired by the French Revolution. Human genius might seem to have
exhausted itself in the burning political passion of Burke, in the
glowing melodrama of fire and tears of Carlyle, Michelet, Hugo; but
the ninth, tenth, and eleventh Books of the _Prelude_, by their
strenuous simplicity, their deep truthfulness, their slowfooted and
inexorable transition from ardent hope to dark imaginations, sense of
woes to come, sorrow for human kind, and pain of heart, breathe the
very spirit of the great catastrophe. There is none of the ephemeral
glow of the political exhortation, none of the tiresome falsity of the
dithyramb in history. Wordsworth might well wish that some dramatic
tale, endued with livelier shapes and flinging out less guarded words,
might set forth the lessons of his experience. The material was
fitting. The story of these three Books has something of the severity,
the self-control, the inexorable necessity of classic tragedy, and
like classic tragedy it has a noble end. The dregs and sour sediment
that reaction from exaggerated hope is so apt to stir in poor natures
had no place here. The French Revolution made the one crisis in
Wordsworth's mental history, the one heavy assault on his continence
of soul, and when he emerged from it all his greatness remained to
him. After a long spell of depression, bewilderment, mortification,
and sore disappointment, the old faith in new shapes was given back.

                  "Nature's self,
  By all varieties of human love
  Assisted, led me back through opening day
  To those sweet counsels between head and heart
  Whence grew that genuine knowledge, fraught with peace,
  Which, through the later sinkings of this cause,
  Hath still upheld me and upholds me now."

It was six years after his return from France before Wordsworth
finally settled down in the scenes with which his name and the power
of his genius were to be for ever associated. During this interval it
was that two great sources of personal influence were opened to him.
He entered upon that close and beloved companionship with his sister,
which remained unbroken to the end of their days; and he first made
the acquaintance of Coleridge. The character of Dorothy Wordsworth has
long taken its place in the gallery of admirable and devoted women who
have inspired the work and the thoughts of great men. "She is a woman,
indeed," said Coleridge, "in mind I mean, and heart; for her person is
such that if you expected to see a pretty woman, you would think her
rather ordinary; if you expected to see an ordinary woman, you would
think her pretty." To the solidity, sense, and strong intelligence
of the Wordsworth stock she added a grace, a warmth, a liveliness
peculiarly her own. Her nature shines transparent in her letters, in
her truly admirable journal, and in every report that we have of her.
Wordsworth's own feelings for her, and his sense of the debt that
he owed to her faithful affection and eager mind, he has placed on
lasting record.

The intimacy with Coleridge was, as has been said, Wordsworth's one
strong friendship, and must be counted among the highest examples of
that generous relation between great writers. Unlike in the quality
of their genius, and unlike in force of character and the fortunes of
life, they remained bound to one another by sympathies that neither
time nor harsh trial ever extinguished. Coleridge had left Cambridge
in 1794, had married, had started various unsuccessful projects for
combining the improvement of mankind with the earning of an income,
and was now settled in a small cottage at Nether Stowey, in
Somersetshire, with an acre and a half of land, from which he hoped to
raise corn and vegetables enough to support himself and his wife, as
well as to feed a couple of pigs on the refuse. Wordsworth and his
sister were settled at Racedown, near Crewkerne, in Dorsetshire.
In 1797 they moved to Alfoxden, in Somersetshire, their principal
inducement to the change being Coleridge's society. The friendship
bore fruit in the production of _Lyrical Ballads_ in 1798, mainly the
work of Wordsworth, but containing no less notable a contribution from
Coleridge than the _Ancient Mariner_. The two poets only received
thirty guineas for their work, and the publisher lost his money.
The taste of the country was not yet ripe for Wordsworth's poetic

Immediately after the publication of the _Lyrical Ballads_, the
two Wordsworths and Coleridge started from Yarmouth for Hamburg.
Coleridge's account in Satyrane's Letters, published In the
_Biographia Literaria_, of the voyage and of the conversation between
the two English poets and Klopstock, is worth turning to. The pastor
told them that Klopstock was the German Milton. "A very German Milton
indeed," they thought. The Wordsworths remained for four wintry months
at Goslar, in Saxony, while Coleridge went on to Ratzeburg, Göttingen,
and other places, mastering German, and "delving in the unwholesome
quicksilver mines of metaphysic depths." Wordsworth made little way
with the language, but worked diligently at his own verse.

When they came back to England, Wordsworth and his sister found their
hearts turning with irresistible attraction to their own familiar
countryside. They at last made their way to Grasmere. The opening book
of the _Recluse_, which is published for the first time in the present
volume, describes in fine verse the emotions and the scene. The face
of this delicious vale is not quite what it was when

                  "Cottages of mountain stone
  Clustered like stars some few, but single most,
  And lurking dimly in their shy retreats,
  Or glancing at each other cheerful looks
  Like separated stars with clouds between."

But it is foolish to let ourselves be fretted by the villa, the hotel,
and the tourist. We may well be above all this in a scene that is
haunted by a great poetic shade. The substantial features and elements
of beauty still remain, the crags and woody steeps, the lake, "its one
green island and its winding shores; the multitude of little rocky
hills." Wordsworth was not the first poet to feel its fascination.
Gray visited the Lakes in the autumn of 1769, and coming into the vale
of Grasmere from the north-west, declared it to be one of the sweetest
landscapes that art ever attempted to imitate, an unsuspected paradise
of peace and rusticity. We cannot indeed compare the little crystal
mere, set like a gem in the verdant circle of the hills, with the
grandeur and glory of Lucerne, or the radiant gladness and expanse of
Como: yet it has an inspiration of its own, to delight, to soothe, to
fortify, and to refresh.

  "What want we? have we not perpetual streams,
  Warm woods, and sunny hills, and fresh green fields,
  And mountains not less green, and flocks and herds,
  And thickets full of songsters, and the voice
  Of lordly birds, an unexpected sound
  Heard now and then from morn to latest eve,
  Admonishing the man who walks below
  Of solitude and silence in the sky.
  These have we, and a thousand nooks of earth
  Have also these, but nowhere else is found,
  Nowhere (or is it fancy?) can be found
  The one sensation that is here;...'tis the sense
  Of majesty, and beauty, and repose,
  A blended holiness of earth and sky,
  Something that makes this individual spot,
  This small abiding-place of many men,
  A termination, and a last retreat,
  A centre, come from wheresoe'er you will,
  A whole without dependence or defect,
  Made for itself, and happy in itself,
  Perfect contentment, Unity entire."

In the Grasmere vale Wordsworth lived for half a century, first in a
little cottage at the northern corner of the lake, and then (1813) in
a more commodious house at Rydal Mount at the southern end, on the
road to Ambleside. In 1802 he married Mary Hutchinson, of Penrith, and
this completed the circle of his felicity. Mary, he once said, was to
his ear the most musical and most truly English in sound of all the
names we have. The name was of harmonious omen. The two beautiful
sonnets that he wrote on his wife's portrait long years after, when
"morning into noon had passed, noon into eve," show how much her large
heart and humble mind had done for the blessedness of his home.

Their life was almost more simple than that of the dalesmen their
neighbours. "It is my opinion," ran one of his oracular sayings to Sir
George Beaumont, "that a man of letters, and indeed all public men
of every pursuit, should be severely frugal." Means were found for
supporting the modest home out of two or three small windfalls
bequeathed by friends or relatives, and by the time that children had
begun to come Wordsworth was raised to affluence by obtaining the post
of distributor of stamps for Westmoreland and part of Cumberland. His
life was happily devoid of striking external incident. Its essential
part lay in meditation and composition.

He was surrounded by friends. Southey had made a home for himself
and his beloved library a few miles over the hills, at Keswick. De
Quincey, with his clever brains and shallow character, took up his
abode in the cottage which Wordsworth had first lived in at Grasmere.
Coleridge, born the most golden genius of them all, came to and fro
in those fruitless unhappy wanderings which consumed a life that once
promised to be so rich in blessing and in glory. In later years Dr.
Arnold built a house at Fox How, attracted by the Wordsworths and the
scenery; and other lesser lights came into the neighbourhood. "Our
intercourse with the Wordsworths," Arnold wrote on the occasion of his
first visit in 1832, "was one of the brightest spots of all; nothing
could exceed their friendliness, and my almost daily walks with him
were things not to be forgotten. Once and once only we had a good
fight about the Reform Bill during a walk up Greenhead Ghyll to see
the unfinished sheep-fold, recorded in _Michael_. But I am sure that
our political disagreement did not at all interfere with our enjoyment
of each other's society; for I think that in the great principles of
things we agreed very entirely." It ought to be possible, for that
matter, for magnanimous men, even if they do not agree in the great
principles of things, to keep pleasant terms with one another for more
than one afternoon's walk. Many pilgrims came, and the poet seems to
have received them with cheerful equanimity. Emerson called upon him
in 1833, and found him plain, elderly, whitehaired, not prepossessing.
"He led me out into his garden, and showed me the gravel walk in
which thousands of his lines were composed. He had just returned from
Staffa, and within three days had made three sonnets on Fingal's Cave,
and was composing a fourth when he was called in to see me. He said,
'If you are interested in my verses, perhaps you will like to hear
these lines.' I gladly assented, and he recollected himself for a few
moments, and then stood forth and repeated, one after the other, the
three entire sonnets with great animation. This recitation was so
unlooked for and surprising--he, the old Wordsworth, standing apart,
and reciting to me in a garden-walk, like a schoolboy declaiming--that
I at first was near to laugh; but recollecting myself, that I had come
thus far to see a poet, and he was chanting poems to me, I saw that he
was right and I was wrong, and gladly gave myself up to hear. He never
was in haste to publish; partly because he corrected a good deal....
He preferred such of his poems as touched the affections to any
others; for whatever is didactic--what theories of society, and so
on--might perish quickly, but whatever combined a truth with an
affection was good to-day and good for ever" (_English Traits_, ch.

Wordsworth was far too wise to encourage the pilgrims to turn into
abiding sojourners in his chosen land. Clough has described how, when
he was a lad of eighteen (1837), with a mild surprise he heard the
venerable poet correct the tendency to exaggerate the importance of
flowers and fields, lakes, waterfalls, and scenery. "People come to
the Lakes," said Wordsworth, "and are charmed with a particular spot,
and build a house, and find themselves discontented, forgetting that
these things are only the sauce and garnish of life."

In spite of a certain hardness and stiffness, Wordsworth must have
been an admirable companion for anybody capable of true elevation
of mind. The unfortunate Haydon says, with his usual accent of
enthusiasm, after a saunter at Hampstead, "Never did any man so
beguile the time as Wordsworth. His purity of heart, his kindness,
his soundness of principle, his information, his knowledge, and the
intense and eager feelings with which he pours forth all he knows,
affect, interest, and enchant one" (_Autobiog._ i. 298, 384). The
diary of Crabb Robinson, the correspondence of Charles Lamb, the
delightful autobiography of Mrs. Fletcher, and much less delightfully
the autobiography of Harriet Martineau, all help us to realise by many
a trait Wordsworth's daily walk and conversation. Of all the glimpses
that we get, from these and many other sources, none are more pleasing
than those of the intercourse between Wordsworth and Scott. They were
the two manliest and most wholesome men of genius of their time. They
held different theories of poetic art, but their affection and esteem
for one another never varied, from the early days when Scott and his
young wife visited Wordsworth in his cottage at Grasmere, down to that
sorrowful autumn evening (1831) when Wordsworth and his daughter went
to Abbotsford to bid farewell to the wondrous potentate, then just
about to start on his vain search for new life, followed by "the might
of the whole earth's good wishes."

Of Wordsworth's demeanour and physical presence, De Quincey's account,
silly, coxcombical, and vulgar, is the worst; Carlyle's, as might be
expected from his magical gift of portraiture, is the best. Carlyle
cared little for Wordsworth's poetry, had a real respect for the
antique greatness of his devotion to Poverty and Peasanthood,
recognised his strong intellectual powers and strong character, but
thought him rather dull, bad-tempered, unproductive, and almost
wearisome, and found his divine reflections and unfathomabilities
stinted, scanty, uncertain, palish. From these and many other
disparagements, one gladly passes to the picture of the poet as he was
in the flesh at a breakfast-party given by Henry Taylor, at a
tavern in St. James's Street, in 1840. The subject of the talk was
Literature, its laws, practices, and observances:--"He talked well in
his way; with veracity, easy brevity and force; as a wise tradesman
would of his tools and workshop, and as no unwise one could. His voice
was good, frank, and sonorous, though practically clear, distinct,
and forcible, rather than melodious; the tone of him business-like,
sedately confident; no discourtesy, yet no anxiety about being
courteous: a fine wholesome rusticity, fresh as his mountain breezes,
sat well on the stalwart veteran, and on all he said and did. You
would have said he was a usually taciturn man, glad to unlock himself
to audience sympathetic and intelligent, when such offered itself. His
face bore marks of much, not always peaceful, meditation; the look of
it not bland or benevolent, so much as close, impregnable, and hard;
a man _multa tacere loquive paratus_, in a world where he had
experienced no lack of contradictions as he strode along! The eyes
were not very brilliant, but they had a quiet clearness; there
was enough of brow, and well shaped; rather too much of cheek
('horse-face,' I have heard satirists say), face of squarish shape and
decidedly longish, as I think the head itself was (its 'length' going
horizontal); he was large-boned, lean, but still firm-knit, tall, and
strong-looking when he stood; a right good old steel-gray figure, with
rustic simplicity and dignity about him, and a vivacious _strength_
looking through him which might have suited one of those old
steel-gray _Markgrafs_ [Graf = _Grau_,'Steel-gray'] whom Henry the
Fowler set up to ward the 'marches,' and do battle with the intrusive
heathen, in a stalwart and judicious manner."

Whoever might be his friends within an easy walk, or dwelling afar,
the poet knew how to live his own life. The three fine sonnets headed
_Personal Talk_, so well known, so warmly accepted in our better
hours, so easily forgotten in hours not so good between pleasant
levities and grinding preoccupations, show us how little his
neighbours had to do with the poet's genial seasons of "smooth
passions, smooth discourse, and joyous thought."

For those days Wordsworth was a considerable traveller. Between 1820
and 1837 he made long tours abroad, to Switzerland, to Holland, to
Belgium, to Italy. In other years he visited Wales, Scotland,
and Ireland. He was no mechanical tourist, admiring to order and
marvelling by regulation; and he confessed to Mrs. Fletcher that he
fell asleep before the Venus de Medici at Florence. But the product of
these wanderings is to be seen in some of his best sonnets, such as
the first on Calais Beach, the famous one on Westminster Bridge, the
second of the two on Bruges, where "the Spirit of Antiquity mounts to
the seat of grace within the mind--a deeper peace than that in deserts
found"--and in some other fine pieces.

In weightier matters than mere travel, Wordsworth showed himself no
mere recluse. He watched the great affairs then being transacted in
Europe with the ardent interest of his youth, and his sonnets to
Liberty, commemorating the attack by France upon the Swiss, the fate
of Venice, the struggle of Hofer, the resistance of Spain, give no
unworthy expression to some of the best of the many and varied motives
that animated England in her long struggle with Bonaparte. The sonnet
to Toussaint l'Ouverture concludes with some of the noblest lines in
the English language. The strong verses on the expected death of Mr.
Fox are alive with a magnanimous public spirit that goes deeper than
the accidents of political opinion. In his young days he had sent Fox
a copy of the _Lyrical Ballads_, with a long letter indicating his
sense of Fox's great and generous qualities. Pitt he admits that he
could never regard with complacency. "I believe him, however," he
said, "to have been as disinterested a man, and as true a lover of his
country, as it was possible for so ambitious a man to be. His first
wish (though probably unknown to himself) was that his country should
prosper under his administration; his next that it should prosper.
Could the order of these wishes have been reversed, Mr. Pitt would
have avoided many of the grievous mistakes into which, I think, he
fell." "You always went away from Burke," he once told Haydon, "with
your mind filled; from Fox with your feelings excited; and from Pitt
with wonder at his having had the power to make the worse appear the
better reason."

Of the poems composed under the influence of that best kind of
patriotism which ennobles local attachments by associating them with
the lasting elements of moral grandeur and heroism it is needless to
speak. They have long taken their place as something higher even than
literary classics. As years began to dull the old penetration of a
mind which had once approached, like other youths, the shield of human
nature from the golden side, and had been eager to "clear a passage
for just government," Wordsworth lost his interest in progress.
Waterloo may be taken for the date at which his social grasp began to
fail, and with it his poetic glow. He opposed Catholic emancipation as
stubbornly as Eldon, and the Reform Bill as bitterly as Croker. For
the practical reforms of his day, even in education, for which he
had always spoken up, Wordsworth was not a force. His heart clung to
England as he found it. "This concrete attachment to the scenes about
him," says Mr. Myers, "had always formed an important element In his
character. Ideal politics, whether in Church or State, had never
occupied his mind, which sought rather to find its informing
principles embodied in the England of his own day." This flowed, we
may suppose, from Burke. In a passage in the seventh Book of the
_Prelude_, he describes, in lines a little prosaic but quite true,
how he sat, saw, and heard, not unthankful nor uninspired, the great

  "While he forewarns, denounces, launches forth
  Against all systems built on abstract rights."

The Church, as conceived by the spirit of Laud, and described by
Hooker's voice, was the great symbol of the union of high and stable
institution with thought, faith, right living, and "sacred religion,
mother of form and fear." As might be expected from such a point of
view, the church pieces, to which Wordsworth gave so much thought,
are, with few exceptions, such as the sonnet on _Seathwaite Chapel_,
formal, hard, and very thinly enriched with spiritual graces or
unction. They are ecclesiastical, not religious. In religious
poetry, the Church of England finds her most affecting voice, not in
Wordsworth, but in the _Lyra Innocentium_ and the _Christian Year_.
Wordsworth abounds in the true devotional cast of mind, but less than
anywhere else does it show in his properly ecclesiastical verse.

It was perhaps natural that when events no longer inspired him,
Wordsworth should have turned with new feelings towards the classic,
and discovered a virtue in classic form to which his own method had
hitherto made him a little blind. Towards the date of Waterloo, he
read over again some of the Latin writers, in attempting to prepare
his son for college. He even at a later date set about a translation
of the _Aeneid_ of Virgil, but the one permanent result of the classic
movement in his mind is _Laodamia_. Earlier in life he had translated
some books of Ariosto at the rate of a hundred lines a day, and he
even attempted fifteen of the sonnets of Michael Angelo, but so much
meaning is compressed into so little room in those pieces that he
found the difficulty insurmountable. He had a high opinion of the
resources of the Italian language. The poetry of Dante and of Michael
Angelo, he said, proves that if there be little majesty and strength
in Italian verse, the fault is in the authors and not in the tongue.

Our last glimpse of Wordsworth in the full and peculiar power of his
genius is the Ode _Composed on an evening of extraordinary splendour
and beauty_. It is the one exception to the critical dictum that all
his good work was done in the decade between 1798 and 1808. He lived
for more than thirty years after this fine composition. But he added
nothing more of value to the work that he had already done. The public
appreciation of it was very slow. The most influential among the
critics were for long hostile and contemptuous. Never at any time did
Wordsworth come near to such popularity as that of Scott or of Byron.
Nor was this all. For many years most readers of poetry thought more
even of _Lalla Rookh_ than of the _Excursion_. While Scott, Byron, and
Moore were receiving thousands of pounds, Wordsworth received nothing.
Between 1830 and 1840 the current turned in Wordsworth's direction,
and when he received the honour of a doctor's degree at the Oxford
Commemoration in 1839, the Sheldonian theatre made him the hero of the
day. In the spring of 1843 Southey died, and Sir Robert Peel pressed
Wordsworth to succeed him in the office of Poet-Laureate. "It is a
tribute of respect," said the Minister, "justly due to the first
of living poets." But almost immediately the light of his common
popularity was eclipsed by Tennyson, as it had earlier been eclipsed
by Scott, by Byron, and in some degree by Shelley. Yet his fame among
those who know, among competent critics with a right to judge, to-day
stands higher than it ever stood. Only two writers have contributed so
many lines of daily popularity and application. In the handbooks of
familiar quotations Wordsworth fills more space than anybody save
Shakespeare and Pope. He exerted commanding influence over great minds
that have powerfully affected our generation. "I never before," said
George Eliot in the days when her character was forming itself (1839),
"met with so many of my own feelings expressed just as I should like
them," and her reverence for Wordsworth remained to the end. J.S. Mill
has described how important an event in his life was his first reading
of Wordsworth. "What made his poems a medicine for my state of mind
was that they expressed not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling
and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. I
needed to be made to feel that there was real permanent happiness in
tranquil contemplation. Wordsworth taught me this, not only without
turning away from, but with greatly increased interest in the common
feelings and common destiny of human beings" _(Autobiog_., 148). This
effect of Wordsworth on Mill is the very illustration of the phrase
of a later poet of our own day, one of the most eminent and by his
friends best beloved of all those whom Wordsworth had known, and on
whom he poured out a generous portion of his own best spirit:--

  Time may restore us in his course
  Goethe's sage mind and Byron's force.
  But where will Europe's latter hour
  Again find Wordsworth's healing power?

It is the power for which Matthew Arnold found this happy designation
that compensates us for that absence of excitement of which the
heedless complain in Wordsworth's verse--excitement so often meaning
mental fever, hysterics, distorted passion, or other fitful agitation
of the soul.

Pretensions are sometimes advanced as to Wordsworth's historic
position, which involve a mistaken view of literary history. Thus, we
are gravely told by the too zealous Wordsworthian that the so-called
poets of the eighteenth century were simply men of letters; they had
various accomplishments and great general ability, but their thoughts
were expressed in prose, or in mere metrical diction, which passed
current as poetry without being so. Yet Burns belonged wholly to
the eighteenth century (1759-96), and no verse-writer is so little
literary as Burns, so little prosaic; no writer more truly poetic in
melody, diction, thought, feeling, and spontaneous song. It was Burns
who showed Wordsworth's own youth "How verse may build a princely
throne on humble truth." Nor can we understand how Cowper is to be set
down as simply a man of letters. We may, too, if we please, deny the
name of poetry to Collins's tender and pensive _Ode to Evening_;
but we can only do this on critical principles, which would end in
classing the author of _Lycidas_ and _Comus_, of the _Allegro_ and
_Penseroso_, as a writer of various accomplishments and great general
ability, but at bottom simply a man of letters and by no means a
poet. It is to Gray, however, that we must turn for the distinctive
character of the best poetry of the eighteenth century. With
reluctance we will surrender the Pindaric Odes, though not without
risking the observation that some of Wordsworth's own criticism on
Gray is as narrow and as much beside the mark as Jeffrey's on the
_Excursion_. But the _Ode on Eton College_ is not to have grudged to
it the noble name and true quality of poetry, merely because, as
one of Johnson's most unfortunate criticisms expresses it, the ode
suggests nothing to Gray which every beholder does not equally think
and feel. To find beautiful and pathetic language, set to harmonious
numbers, for the common impressions of meditative minds, is no small
part of the poet's task. That part has never been achieved by any poet
in any tongue with more complete perfection and success than in the
immortal _Elegy_, of which we may truly say that it has for nearly
a century and a half given to greater multitudes of men more of the
exquisite pleasure of poetry than any other single piece in all the
glorious treasury of English verse. It abounds, as Johnson says, "with
images which find a mirror in every mind, and with sentiments to which
every bosom returns an echo." These moving commonplaces of the human
lot Gray approached through books and studious contemplation; not, as
Wordsworth approached them, by daily contact with the lives and habit
of men and the forces and magical apparitions of external nature. But
it is a narrow view to suppose that the men of the eighteenth century
did not look through the literary conventions of the day to the truths
of life and nature behind them. The conventions have gone, or are
changed, and we are all glad of it. Wordsworth effected a
wholesome deliverance when he attacked the artificial diction, the
personifications, the allegories, the antitheses, the barren rhymes
and monotonous metres, which the reigning taste had approved. But
while welcoming the new freshness, sincerity, and direct and fertile
return on nature, that is a very bad reason why we should disparage
poetry so genial, so simple, so humane, and so perpetually pleasing,
as the best verse of the rationalistic century.

What Wordsworth did was to deal with themes that had been partially
handled by precursors and contemporaries, in a larger and more
devoted spirit, with wider amplitude of illustration, and with the
steadfastness and persistency of a religious teacher. "Every great
poet is a teacher," he said; "I wish to be considered as a teacher or
as nothing." It may be doubted whether his general proposition is at
all true, and whether it is any more the essential business of a poet
to be a teacher than it was the business of Handel, Beethoven, or
Mozart. They attune the soul to high states of feeling; the direct
lesson is often as nought. But of himself no view could be more sound.
He is a teacher, or he is nothing. "To console the afflicted; to add
sunshine to daylight by making the happy happier; to teach the
young and the gracious of every age to see, to think, and feel, and
therefore to become more actively and sincerely virtuous"--that was
his vocation; to show that the mutual adaptation of the external
world and the inner mind is able to shape a paradise from the "simple
produce of the common day"--that was his high argument.

Simplification was, as I have said elsewhere, the keynote of the
revolutionary time. Wordsworth was its purest exponent, but he had one
remarkable peculiarity, which made him, in England at least, not only
its purest but its greatest. While leading men to pierce below the
artificial and conventional to the natural man and natural life, as
Rousseau did, Wordsworth still cherished the symbols, the traditions,
and the great institutes of social order. Simplification of life and
thought and feeling was to be accomplished without summoning up the
dangerous spirit of destruction and revolt. Wordsworth lived with
nature, yet waged no angry railing war against society. The chief
opposing force to Wordsworth in literature was Byron. Whatever he was
in his heart, Byron in his work was drawn by all the forces of his
character, genius, and circumstances to the side of violent social
change, and hence the extraordinary popularity of Byron in the
continental camp of emancipation. Communion with nature is in
Wordsworth's doctrine the school of duty. With Byron nature is the
mighty consoler and the vindicator of the rebel.

A curious thing, which we may note in passing, is that Wordsworth, who
clung fervently to the historic foundations of society as it stands,
was wholly indifferent to history; while Byron, on the contrary, as
the fourth canto of _Childe Harold_ is enough to show, had at least
the sentiment of history in as great a degree as any poet that ever
lived, and has given to it by far the most magnificent expression. No
doubt, it was history on its romantic, rather than its philosophic or
its political side.

On Wordsworth's exact position in the hierarchy of sovereign poets,
a deep difference of estimate still divides even the most excellent
judges. Nobody now dreams of placing him so low as the _Edinburgh
Reviewers_ did, nor so high as Southey placed him when he wrote to
the author of _Philip van Artevelde_ in 1829 that a greater poet than
Wordsworth there never has been nor ever will be. An extravagance of
this kind was only the outburst of generous friendship. Coleridge
deliberately placed Wordsworth "nearest of all modern writers to
Shakespeare and Milton, yet in a kind perfectly unborrowed and his
own." Arnold, himself a poet of rare and memorable quality, declares
his firm belief that the poetical performance of Wordsworth is, after
that of Shakespeare and Milton, undoubtedly the most considerable in
our language from the Elizabethan age to the present time. Dryden,
Pope, Gray, Cowper, Goldsmith, Burns, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley,
Keats--"Wordsworth's name deserves to stand, and will finally stand,
above them all." Mr. Myers, also a poet, and the author of a volume on
Wordsworth as much distinguished by insight as by admirable literary
grace and power, talks of "a Plato, a Dante, a Wordsworth," all three
in a breath, as stars of equal magnitude in the great spiritual
firmament. To Mr. Swinburne, on the contrary, all these panegyrical
estimates savour of monstrous and intolerable exaggeration. Amid these
contentions of celestial minds it will be safest to content ourselves
with one or two plain observations in the humble positive degree,
without hurrying into high and final comparatives and superlatives.

One admission is generally made at the outset. Whatever definition
of poetry we fix upon, whether that it is the language of passion or
imagination formed into regular numbers; or, with Milton, that it
should be "simple, sensuous, impassioned;" in any case there are great
tracts in Wordsworth which, by no definition and on no terms, can be
called poetry. If we say with Shelley, that poetry is what redeems
from decay the visitations of the divinity in man, and is the record
of the best and happiest moments of the best and happiest minds, then
are we bound to agree that Wordsworth records too many moments that
are not specially good or happy, that he redeems from decay frequent
visitations that are not from any particular divinity in man, and
treats them all as very much on a level. Mr. Arnold is undoubtedly
right in his view that, to be receivable as a classic, Wordsworth must
be relieved of a great deal of the poetical baggage that now encumbers

The faults and hindrances in Wordsworth's poetry are obvious to every
reader. For one thing, the intention to instruct, to improve the
occasion, is too deliberate and too hardly pressed. "We hate poetry,"
said Keats, "that has a palpable design upon us. Poetry should be
great and unobtrusive." Charles Lamb's friendly remonstrance on one of
Wordsworth's poems is applicable to more of them: "The instructions
conveyed in it are too direct; they don't slide into the mind of the
reader while he is imagining no such matter."

Then, except the sonnets and half a score of the pieces where he
reaches his topmost height, there are few of his poems that are not
too long, and it often happens even that no degree of reverence for
the teacher prevents one from finding passages of almost unbearable
prolixity. A defence was once made by a great artist for what, to the
unregenerate mind, seemed the merciless tardiness of movement in one
of Goethe's romances, that it was meant to impress on his readers the
slow march and the tedium of events in human life. The lenient reader
may give Wordsworth the advantage of the same ingenious explanation.
We may venture on a counsel which is more to the point, in warning the
student that not seldom in these blocks of afflicting prose, suddenly
we come upon some of the profoundest and most beautiful passages that
the poet ever wrote. In deserts of preaching we find, almost within
sight of one another, delightful oases of purest poetry. Besides being
prolix, Wordsworth is often cumbrous; has often no flight; is not
liquid, is not musical. He is heavy and self-conscious with the burden
of his message. How much at his best he is, when, as in the admirable
and truly Wordsworthian poem of _Michael_, he spares us a sermon and
leaves us the story. Then, he is apt to wear a somewhat stiff-cut
garment of solemnity, when not solemnity, but either sternness or
sadness, which are so different things, would seem the fitter mood. In
truth Wordsworth hardly knows how to be stern, as Dante or Milton was
stern; nor has he the note of plangent sadness which strikes the ear
in men as morally inferior to him as Rousseau, Keats, Shelley, or
Coleridge; nor has he the Olympian air with which Goethe delivered
sage oracles. This mere solemnity is specially oppressive in some
parts of the _Excursion_--the performance where we best see the whole
poet, and where the poet most absolutely identifies himself with his
subject. Yet, even in the midst of these solemn discoursings, he
suddenly introduces an episode in which his peculiar power is at its
height. There is no better instance of this than the passage in the
second Book of the _Excursion_, where he describes with a fidelity, at
once realistic and poetic, the worn-out almsman, his patient life and
sorry death, and then the unimaginable vision in the skies, as they
brought the ancient man down through dull mists from the mountain
ridge to die. These hundred and seventy lines are like the landscape
in which they were composed; you can no more appreciate the beauty of
the one by a single or a second perusal, than you can the other in a
scamper through the vale on the box of the coach. But any lover of
poetry who will submit himself with leisure and meditation to the
impressions of the story, the pity of it, the naturalness of it, the
glory and the mystic splendours of the indifferent heavens, will feel
that here indeed is the true strength which out of the trivial raises
expression for the pathetic and the sublime.

Apart, however, from excess of prolixity and of solemnity, can it be
really contended that in purely poetic quality--in aerial freedom and
space, in radiant purity of light or depth and variety of colour, in
penetrating and subtle sweetness of music, in supple mastery of the
instrument, in vivid spontaneity of imagination, in clean-cut sureness
of touch--Wordsworth is not surpassed by men who were below him in
weight and greatness? Even in his own field of the simple and the
pastoral has he touched so sweet and spontaneous a note as Burns's
_Daisy_, or the _Mouse_? When men seek immersion or absorption in the
atmosphere of pure poesy, without lesson or moral, or anything but
delight of fancy and stir of imagination, they will find him less
congenial to their mood than poets not worthy to loose the latchet of
his shoe in the greater elements of his art. In all these comparisons,
it is not merely Wordsworth's theme and motive and dominant note that
are different; the skill of hand is different, and the musical ear and
the imaginative eye.

To maintain or to admit so much as this, however, is not to say the
last word. The question is whether Wordsworth, however unequal to
Shelley in lyric quality, to Coleridge or to Keats in imaginative
quality, to Burns in tenderness, warmth, and that humour which is so
nearly akin to pathos, to Byron in vividness and energy, yet possesses
excellences of his own which place him in other respects above
these master-spirits of his time. If the question is to be answered
affirmatively, it is clear that only in one direction must we look.
The trait that really places Wordsworth on an eminence above his
poetic contemporaries, and ranks him, as the ages are likely to rank
him, on a line just short of the greatest of all time, is his direct
appeal to will and conduct. "There is volition and self-government in
every line of his poetry, and his best thoughts come from his steady
resistance to the ebb and flow of ordinary desires and regrets. He
contests the ground inch by inch with all despondent and indolent
humours, and often, too, with movements of inconsiderate and wasteful
joy" (_R.H. Hutton_). That would seem to be his true distinction and
superiority over men to whom more had been given of fire, passion, and
ravishing music. Those who deem the end of poetry to be intoxication,
fever, or rainbow dreams, can care little for Wordsworth. If its
end be not intoxication, but on the contrary a search from the wide
regions of imagination and feeling for elements of composure deep and
pure, and of self-government in a far loftier sense than the merely
prudential, then Wordsworth has a gift of his own in which he was
approached by no poet of his time. Scott's sane and humane genius,
with much the same aims, yet worked with different methods. He once
remonstrated with Lockhart for being too apt to measure things by some
reference to literature. "I have read books enough," said Scott,
"and observed and conversed with enough of eminent and splendidly
cultivated minds; but I assure you, I have heard higher sentiments
from the lips of poor uneducated men and women, when exerting
the spirit of severe yet gentle heroism under difficulties and
afflictions, or speaking their simple thoughts as to circumstances in
the lot of friends and neighbours, than I ever yet met with out of the
pages of the Bible. We shall never learn to respect our real calling
and destiny, unless we have taught ourselves to consider everything as
moonshine compared with the education of the heart." This admirable
deliverance of Scott's is, so far as it goes, eminently Wordsworthian;
but Wordsworth went higher and further, striving not only to move the
sympathies of the heart, but to enlarge the understanding, and exalt
and widen the spiritual vision, all with the aim of leading us towards
firmer and austerer self-control.

Certain favourers of Wordsworth answer our question with a triumphant
affirmative, on the strength of some ethical, or metaphysical, or
theological system which they believe themselves to find in him. But
is it credible that poets can permanently live by systems? Or is not
system, whether ethical, theological, or philosophical, the heavy lead
of poetry? Lucretius is indisputably one of the mighty poets of the
world, but Epicureanism is not the soul of that majestic muse. So with
Wordsworth. Thought is, on the whole, predominant over feeling in his
verse, but a prevailing atmosphere of deep and solemn reflection does
not make a system. His theology and his ethics, and his so-called
Platonical metaphysics, have as little to do with the power of his
poetry over us, as the imputed Arianism or any other aspect of the
theology of _Paradise Lost_ has to do with the strength and the
sublimity of Milton, and his claim to a high perpetual place in the
hearts of men. It is best to be entirely sceptical as to the existence
of system and ordered philosophy in Wordsworth. When he tells us that
"one impulse from a vernal wood may teach you more of man, of moral
evil and of good, than all the sages can," such a proposition cannot
be seriously taken as more than a half-playful sally for the benefit
of some too bookish friend. No impulse from a vernal wood can teach us
anything at all of moral evil and of good. When he says that it is his
faith, "that every flower enjoys the air it breathes," and that
when the budding twigs spread out their fan to catch the air, he is
compelled to think "that there was pleasure there," he expresses a
charming poetic fancy and no more, and it is idle to pretend to see
in it the fountain of a system of philosophy. In the famous _Ode on
Intimations of Immortality_, the poet doubtless does point to a set of
philosophic ideas, more or less complete; but the thought from which
he sets out, that our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting, and that
we are less and less able to perceive the visionary gleam, less and
less alive to the glory and the dream of external nature, as infancy
recedes further from us, is, with all respect for the declaration of
Mr. Ruskin to the contrary, contrary to notorious fact, experience,
and truth. It is a beggarly conception, no doubt, to judge as if
poetry should always be capable of a prose rendering; but it is at
least fatal to the philosophic pretension of a line or a stanza if,
when it is fairly reduced to prose, the prose discloses that it is
nonsense, and there is at least one stanza of the great _Ode_ that
this doom would assuredly await. Wordsworth's claim, his special gift,
his lasting contribution, lies in the extraordinary strenuousness,
sincerity, and insight with which he first idealises and glorifies the
vast universe around us, and then makes of it, not a theatre on which
men play their parts, but an animate presence, intermingling with
our works, pouring its companionable spirit about us, and "breathing
grandeur upon the very humblest face of human life." This twofold and
conjoint performance, consciously and expressly--perhaps only too
consciously--undertaken by a man of strong inborn sensibility to
natural impressions, and systematically carried out in a lifetime
of brooding meditation and active composition, is Wordsworth's
distinguishing title to fame and gratitude. In "words that speak of
nothing more than what we are," he revealed new faces of nature; he
dwelt on men as they are, men themselves; he strove to do that which
has been declared to be the true secret of force in art, to make the
trivial serve the expression of the sublime. "Wordsworth's distinctive
work," Mr. Ruskin has justly said (_Modern Painters_, iii. 293), "was
a war with pomp and pretence, and a display of the majesty of simple
feelings and humble hearts, together with high reflective truth in his
analysis of the courses of politics and ways of men; without these,
his love of nature would have been comparatively worthless."

Yet let us not forget that he possessed the gift which to an artist is
the very root of the matter. He saw Nature truly, he saw her as she
is, and with his own eyes. The critic whom I have just quoted boldly
pronounces him "the keenest eyed of all modern poets for what is deep
and essential in nature." When he describes the daisy, casting the
beauty of its star-shaped shadow on the smooth stone, or the boundless
depth of the abysses of the sky, or the clouds made vivid as fire by
the rays of light, every touch is true, not the copying of a literary
phrase, but the result of direct observation.

It is true that Nature has sides to which Wordsworth was not
energetically alive--Nature "red in tooth and claw." He was not
energetically alive to the blind and remorseless cruelties of life
and the world. When in early spring he heard the blended notes of the
birds, and saw the budding twigs and primrose tufts, it grieved him,
amid such fair works of nature, to think "what man has made of man."
As if nature itself, excluding the conscious doings of that portion of
nature which is the human race, and excluding also nature's own share
in the making of poor Man, did not abound in raking cruelties and
horrors of her own. "_Edel sei der Mensch_," sang Goethe in a noble
psalm, "_Hulfreich und gut, Denn das allein unterscheidet ihn, Von
allen Wesen die wir kennen._" "_Let man be noble, helpful, and good,
for that alone distinguishes him from all beings that we know. No
feeling has nature: to good and bad gives the sun his light, and for
the evildoer as for the best shine moon and stars_." That the
laws which nature has fixed for our lives are mighty and eternal,
Wordsworth comprehended as fully as Goethe, but not that they are
laws pitiless as iron. Wordsworth had not rooted in him the sense of
Fate--of the inexorable sequences of things, of the terrible chain
that so often binds an awful end to some slight and trivial beginning.

This optimism or complacency in Wordsworth will be understood if we
compare his spirit and treatment with that of the illustrious French
painter whose subjects and whose life were in some ways akin to his
own. Millet, like Wordsworth, went to the realities of humble life for
his inspiration. The peasant of the great French plains and the forest
was to him what the Cumbrian dalesman was to Wordsworth. But he saw
the peasant differently. "You watch figures in the fields," said
Millet, "digging and delving with spade or pick. You see one of them
from time to time straightening his loins, and wiping his face with
the back of his hand. Thou shalt eat thy bread in the sweat of thy
brow. Is that the gay lively labour in which some people would have
you believe? Yet it is there that for me you must seek true humanity
and great poetry. They say that I deny the charm of the country; I
find in it far more than charms, I find infinite splendours. I see
in it, just as they do, the little flowers of which Christ said that
Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of them. I see
clearly enough the sun as he spreads his splendour amid the clouds.
None the less do I see on the plain, all smoking, the horses at the
plough. I see in some stony corner a man all worn out, whose _han han_
have been heard ever since daybreak--trying to straighten himself a
moment to get breath." The hardness, the weariness, the sadness, the
ugliness, out of which Millet's consummate skill made pictures that
affect us like strange music, were to Wordsworth not the real part of
the thing. They were all absorbed in the thought of nature as a whole,
wonderful, mighty, harmonious, and benign.

We are not called upon to place great men of his stamp as if they were
collegians in a class-list. It is best to take with thankfulness and
admiration from each man what he has to give. What Wordsworth does
is to assuage, to reconcile, to fortify. He has not Shakespeare's
richness and vast compass, nor Milton's sublime and unflagging
strength, nor Dante's severe, vivid, ardent force of vision. Probably
he is too deficient in clear beauty of form and in concentrated power
to be classed by the ages among these great giants. We cannot be sure.
We may leave it to the ages to decide. But Wordsworth, at any rate, by
his secret of bringing the infinite into common life, as he evokes
it out of common life, has the skill to lead us, so long as we yield
ourselves to his influence, into inner moods of settled peace,
to touch "the depth and not the tumult of the soul," to give us
quietness, strength, steadfastness, and purpose, whether to do or to
endure. All art or poetry that has the effect of breathing into men's
hearts, even if it be only for a space, these moods of settled
peace, and strongly confirming their judgment and their will for
good,--whatever limitations may be found besides, however prosaic may
be some or much of the detail,--is great art and noble poetry, and the
creator of it will always hold, as Wordsworth holds, a sovereign title
to the reverence and gratitude of mankind.


[Footnote 1: An Address delivered before the Edinburgh Philosophical
Institution, _November_ 11, 1887.]

Since I accepted the honour of the invitation to deliver the opening
address of your course, I have found no small difficulty in settling
down on an appropriate subject. I half wrote a discourse on modern
democracy,--how the rule of numbers is to be reconciled with the rule
of sage judgment, and the passion for liberty and equality is to be
reconciled with sovereign regard for law, authority, and order; and
how our hopes for the future are to be linked to wise reverence for
tradition and the past. But your secretary had emphatically warned me
off all politics, and I feared that however carefully I might be on my
guard against every reference to the burning questions of the hour,
yet the clever eyes of political charity would be sure to spy out
party innuendoes in the most innocent deliverances of purely abstract
philosophy. Then for a day or two I lingered over a subject in a
little personal incident. One Saturday night last summer I found
myself dining with an illustrious statesman on the Welsh border, and
on the Monday following I was seated under the acacias by the shore of
the Lake of Geneva, where Gibbon, a hundred years ago almost to the
day, had, according to his own famous words, laid down his pen after
writing the last lines of his last page, and there under a serene sky,
with the silver orb of the moon reflected from the waters, and amid
the silence of nature, felt his joy at the completion of an immortal
task, dashed by melancholy that he had taken everlasting leave of an
old and agreeable companion. It was natural that I should meditate on
the contrast that might be drawn between great literary performance
and great political performance, between the making of history and the
writing of it,--a contrast containing matter enough not only for one,
but for a whole series of edifying and instructive discourses. But
there were difficulties here too, and the edifying discourse remains,
like many another, incomplete.

So I am going to ask you after all to pass a tranquil hour with me in
pondering a quiet chapter in the history of books. There is a loud cry
in these days for clues that shall guide the plain man through the
vast bewildering labyrinth of printed volumes. Everybody calls for
hints what to read, and what to look out for in reading. Like all the
rest of us, I have often been asked for a list of the hundred best
books, and the other day a gentleman wrote to me to give him by return
of post that far more difficult thing--list of the three best books in
the world. Both the hundred and the three are a task far too high for
me; but perhaps you will let me try to indicate what, among so much
else, is one of the things best worth hunting for in books, and one
of the quarters of the library where you may get on the scent. Though
tranquil, it will be my fault if you find the hour dull, for this
particular literary chapter concerns life, manners, society, conduct,
human nature, our aims, our ideals, and all besides that is most
animated and most interesting in man's busy chase after happiness and

What is wisdom? That sovereign word, as has often been pointed out, is
used for two different things. It may stand for knowledge, learning,
science, systematic reasoning; or it may mean, as Coleridge has
defined it, common sense in an uncommon degree; that is to say, the
unsystematic truths that come to shrewd, penetrating, and observant
minds, from their own experience of life and their daily commerce with
the world, and that is called the wisdom of life, or the wisdom of the
world, or the wisdom of time and the ages. The Greeks had two words
for these two kinds of wisdom: one for the wise who scaled the heights
of thought and knowledge; another for those who, without logical
method, technical phraseology, or any of the parade of the Schools,
whether "Academics old and new, Cynic, Peripatetic, the sect
Epicurean, or Stoic severe," held up the mirror to human nature, and
took good counsel as to the ordering of character and of life.

Mill, in his little fragment on Aphorisms, has said that in the first
kind of wisdom every age in which science flourishes ought to surpass
the ages that have gone before. In knowledge and methods of science
each generation starts from the point at which its predecessor left
off; but in the wisdom of life, in the maxims of good sense applied to
public and to private conduct, there is, said Mill, a pretty nearly
equal amount in all ages.

If this seem doubtful to any one, let him think how many of the
shrewdest moralities of human nature are to be found in writings as
ancient as the apocryphal Book of the Wisdom of Solomon and of Jesus
the Son of Sirach; as _Aesop's Fables_; as the oracular sentences that
are to be found in Homer and the Greek dramatists and orators; as
all that immense host of wise and pithy saws which, to the number
of between four and five thousand, were collected from all ancient
literature by the industry of Erasmus in his great folio of Adages. As
we turn over these pages of old time, we almost feel that those are
right who tell us that everything has been said, that the thing that
has been is the thing that shall be, and there is no new thing under
the sun. Even so, we are happily not bound to Schopenhauer's gloomy
conclusion (_Werke_, v. 332), that "The wise men of all times have
always said the same, and the fools, that is the immense majority, of
all times have always done the same, that is to say, the opposite of
what the wise have said; and that is why Voltaire tells us that we
shall leave this world just as stupid and as bad as we found it when
we came here."

It is natural that this second kind of wisdom, being detached and
unsystematic, should embody itself in the short and pregnant form of
proverb, sentence, maxim, and aphorism. The essence of aphorism is the
compression of a mass of thought and observation into a single
saying. It is the very opposite of dissertation and declamation; its
distinction is not so much ingenuity, as good sense brought to a
point; it ought to be neither enigmatical nor flat, neither a truism
on the one hand, nor a riddle on the other. These wise sayings, said
Bacon, the author of some of the wisest of them, are not only for
ornament, but for action and business, having a point or edge, whereby
knots in business are pierced and discovered. And he applauds Cicero's
description of such sayings as saltpits,--that you may extract salt
out of them, and sprinkle it where you will. They are the guiding
oracles which man has found out for himself in that great business
of ours, of learning how to be, to do, to do without, and to depart.
Their range extends from prudential kitchen maxims, such as Franklin
set forth in the sayings of Poor Richard about thrift in time and
money, up to such great and high moralities of life as are the prose
maxims of Goethe,--just as Bacon's Essays extend from precepts as to
building and planting, up to solemn reflections on truth, death, and
the vicissitudes of things. They cover the whole field of man as he
is, and life as it is, not of either as they ought to be; friendship,
ambition, money, studies, business, public duty, in all their actual
laws and conditions as they are, and not as the ideal moralist may
wish that they were.

The substance of the wisdom of life must be commonplace, for the best
of it is the result of the common experience of the world. Its most
universal and important propositions must in a certain sense be
truisms. The road has been so broadly trodden by the hosts who have
travelled along it, that the main rules of the journey are clear
enough, and we all know that the secret of breakdown and wreck is
seldom so much an insufficient knowledge of the route, as imperfect
discipline of the will. The truism, however, and the commonplace may
be stated in a form so fresh, pungent, and free from triviality, as
to have all the force of new discovery. Hence the need for a caution,
that few maxims are to be taken without qualification. They seek
sharpness of impression by excluding one side of the matter and
exaggerating another, and most aphorisms are to be read as subject to
all sorts of limits, conditions, and corrections.

It has been said that the order of our knowledge is this: that we know
best, first, what we have divined by native instinct; second, what
we have learned by experience of men and things; third, what we have
learned not in books, but by books--that is, by the reflections that
they suggest; fourth, last and lowest, what we have learned in books
or with masters. The virtue of an aphorism comes under the third of
these heads: it conveys a portion of a truth with such point as to set
us thinking on what remains. Montaigne, who delighted in Plutarch,
and kept him ever on his table, praises him in that besides his long
discourses, "there are a thousand others, which he has only touched
and glanced upon, where he only points with his finger to direct us
which way we may go if we will, and contents himself sometimes with
only giving one brisk hit in the nicest article of the question,
from whence we are to grope out the rest." And this is what Plutarch
himself is driving at, when he warns young men that it is well to go
for a light to another man's fire, but by no means to tarry by it,
instead of kindling a torch of their own.

Grammarians draw a distinction between a maxim and an aphorism, and
tell us that while an aphorism only states some broad truth of general
bearing, a maxim, besides stating the truth, enjoins a rule of conduct
as its consequence. For instance, to say that "There are some men with
just imagination enough to spoil their judgment" is an aphorism. But
there is action as well as thought in such sayings as this: "'Tis a
great sign of mediocrity to be always reserved in praise"; or in this
of M. Aurelius, "When thou wishest to give thyself delight, think of
the excellences of those who live with thee; for instance, of the
energy of one, the modesty of another, the liberal kindness of a
third." Again, according to this distinction of the word, we are
to give the name of aphorism to Pascal's saying that "Most of the
mischief in the world would never happen, if men would only be content
to sit still in their parlours."[1] But we should give the name of
maxim to the profound and admirably humane counsel of a philosopher of
a very different school, that "If you would love mankind, you should
not expect too much from them."

[Footnote 1: La Bruyère also says:--"All mischief comes from our
not being able to be alone; hence play, luxury, dissipation, wine,
ignorance, calumny, envy, forgetfulness of one's self and of God."]

But the distinction is one without much difference; we need not labour
it nor pay it further attention. Aphorism or maxim, let us remember
that this wisdom of life is the true salt of literature; that those
books, at least in prose, are most nourishing which are most richly
stored with it; and that it is one of the main objects, apart from the
mere acquisition of knowledge, which men ought to seek in the reading
of books.

A living painter has said, that the longer he works, the more does be
realise how very little anybody except the trained artist actually
perceives in the natural objects constantly before him; how blind men
are to impressions of colour and light and form, which would be full
of interest and delight, if people only knew how to see them. Are not
most of us just as blind to the thousand lights and shades in the
men and women around us? We live in the world as we live among
fellow-inmates in a hotel, or fellow-revellers at a masquerade. Yet
this, to bring knowledge of ourselves and others "home to our business
and our bosoms," is one of the most important parts of culture.

Some prejudice is attached in generous minds to this wisdom of the
world as being egotistical, poor, unimaginative, of the earth earthy.
Since the great literary reaction at the end of the last century, men
have been apt to pitch criticism of life in the high poetic key. They
have felt with Wordsworth:--

  "The human nature unto which I felt
  That I belonged, and reverenced with love,
  Was not a punctual presence, but a spirit
  Diffused through time and space, with aid derived
  Of evidence from monuments, erect,
  Prostrate, or leaning towards their common rest
  In earth, the widely-scattered wreck sublime
  Of vanished nations."

Then again, there is another cause for the passing eclipse of interest
in wisdom of the world. Extraordinary advances have been made in
ordered knowledge of the various stages of the long prehistoric
dawn of human civilisation. The man of the flint implement and the
fire-drill, who could only count up to five, and who was content to
live in a hut like a beehive, has drawn interest away from the man of
the market and the parlour. The literary passion for primitive times
and the raw material of man has thrust polished man, the manufactured
article, into a secondary place. All this is in the order of things.
It is fitting enough that we should pierce into the origins of human
nature. It is right, too, that the poets, the ideal interpreters of
life, should be dearer to us than those who stop short with mere
deciphering of what is real and actual. The poet has his own sphere
of the beautiful and the sublime. But it is no less true that the
enduring weight of historian, moralist, political orator, or preacher
depends on the amount of the wisdom of life that is hived in his
pages. They may be admirable by virtue of other qualities, by
learning, by grasp, by majesty of flight; but it is his moral
sentences on mankind or the State that rank the prose writer among the
sages. These show that he has an eye for the large truths of action,
for the permanent bearings of conduct, and for things that are for the
guidance of all generations. What is it that makes Plutarch's Lives
"the pasture of great souls," as they were called by one who was
herself a great soul? Because his aim was much less to tell a story
than, as he says, "to decipher the man and his nature"; and in
deciphering the man, to strike out pregnant and fruitful thoughts on
all men. Why was it worth while for Mr. Jowett, the other day, to give
us a new translation of Thucydides' history of the Peloponnesian War?
And why is it worth your while, at least to dip in a serious spirit
into its pages? Partly, because the gravity and concision of
Thucydides are of specially wholesome example in these days of
over-coloured and over-voluminous narrative; partly, because he knows
how to invest the wreck and overthrow of those small states with the
pathos and dignity of mighty imperial fall; but most of all, for the
sake of the wise sentences that are sown with apt but not unsparing
hand through the progress of the story. Well might Gray ask his friend
whether Thucydides' description of the final destruction of the
Athenian host at Syracuse was not the finest thing he ever read in
his life; and assuredly the man who can read that stern tale without
admiration, pity, and awe may be certain that he has no taste for
noble composition, and no feeling for the deepest tragedy of mortal
things. But it is the sagacious sentences in the speeches of
Athenians, Corinthians, Lacedaemonians, that do most of all to give
to the historian his perpetuity of interest to every reader with the
rudiments of a political instinct, and make Thucydides as modern as if
he had written yesterday.

Tacitus belongs to a different class among the great writers of the
world. He had, beyond almost any author of the front rank that has
ever lived, the art of condensing his thought and driving it home
to the mind of the reader with a flash. Beyond almost anybody, he
suffered from what a famous writer of aphorisms in our time has
described as "the cursed ambition to put a whole book into a page, a
whole page into a phrase, and the phrase into a word." But the moral
thought itself in Tacitus mostly belongs less to the practical wisdom
of life, than to sombre poetic indignation, like that of Dante,
against the perversities of men and the blindness of fortune.

Horace's Epistles are a mine of genial, friendly, humane observation.
Then there is none of the ancient moralists to whom the modern, from
Montaigne, Charron, Ralegh, Bacon, downwards, owe more than to Seneca.
Seneca has no spark of the kindly warmth of Horace; he has not the
animation of Plutarch; he abounds too much in the artificial and
extravagant paradoxes of the Stoics. But, for all that, he touches the
great and eternal commonplaces of human occasion--friendship, health,
bereavement, riches, poverty, death--with a hand that places him high
among the wise masters of life. All through the ages men tossed in the
beating waves of circumstance have found more abundantly in the essays
and letters of Seneca than in any other secular writer words of good
counsel and comfort. And let this fact not pass, without notice of the
light that it sheds on the fact of the unity of literature, and of
the absurdity of setting a wide gulf between ancient or classical
literature and modern, as if under all dialects the partakers in
Graeco-Roman civilisation, whether in Athens, Rome, Paris, Weimar,
Edinburgh, London, Dublin, were not the heirs of a great common stock
of thought as well as of speech.

I certainly do not mean anything so absurd as that the moralities,
whether major or minor, whether affecting the foundation of conduct or
the surface of manners, remain fixed. On the contrary, one of the most
interesting things in literature is to mark the shifts and changes in
men's standards. For instance, Boswell tells a curious story of the
first occasion on which Johnson met Sir Joshua Reynolds. Two ladies of
the company were regretting the death of a friend to whom they owed
great obligations. Reynolds observed that they had at any rate the
comfort of being relieved from a debt of gratitude. The ladies were
naturally shocked at this singular alleviation of their grief, but
Johnson defended it in his clear and forcible manner, and, says
Boswell, "was much pleased with the mind, the fair view of human
nature, that it exhibited, like some of the reflections of
Rochefoucauld." On the strength of it he went home with Reynolds,
supped with him, and was his friend for life. No moralist with a
reputation to lose would like to back Reynolds's remark in the
nineteenth century.

Our own generation in Great Britain has been singularly unfortunate
in the literature of aphorism. One too famous volume of proverbial
philosophy had immense vogue, but it is so vapid, so wordy, so futile,
as to have a place among the books that dispense with parody. Then,
rather earlier in the century, a clergyman, who ruined himself by
gambling, ran away from his debts to America, and at last blew his
brains out, felt peculiarly qualified to lecture mankind on moral
prudence. He wrote a little book in 1820; called _Lacon; or Many
Things in Few Words, addressed to those who think_. It is an awful
example to anybody who is tempted to try his hand at an aphorism.
Thus, "Marriage is a feast where the grace is sometimes better than
the dinner." I had made some other extracts from this unhappy sage,
but you will thank me for having thrown them into the fire. Finally, a
great authoress of our time was urged by a friend to fill up a gap in
our literature by composing a volume of Thoughts: the result was that
least felicitous of performances, _Theophrastus Such_. One living
writer of genius has given us a little sheaf of subtly-pointed maxims
in the _Ordeal of Richard Feverel_, and perhaps he will one day
divulge to the world the whole contents of Sir Austin Feverel's
unpublished volume, _The Pilgrim's Scrip_.

Yet the wisdom of life has its full part in our literature. Keen
insight into peculiarities of individual motive, and concentrated
interest in the play of character, shine not merely in Shakespeare,
whose mighty soul, as Hallam says, was saturated with moral
observation, nor in the brilliant verse of Pope. For those who love
meditative reading on the ways and destinies of men, we have Burton
and Fuller and Sir Thomas Browne in one age, and Addison, Johnson,
and the rest of the Essayists, in another. Sir Thomas Overbury's
_Characters_, written in the Baconian age, are found delightful
by some; but for my own part, though I have striven to follow the
critic's golden rule, to have preferences but no exclusions, Overbury
has for me no savour. In the great art of painting moral portraits,
or character-writing, the characters in Clarendon, or in Burnet's
_History of His Own Time_, are full of life, vigour, and coherency,
and are intensely attractive to read. I cannot agree with those who
put either Clarendon or Burnet on a level with the characters in St.
Simon or the Cardinal de Retz: there is a subtlety of analysis, a
searching penetration, a breadth of moral comprehension, in the
Frenchmen, which I do not find, nor, in truth, much desire to find,
in our countrymen. A homelier hand does well enough for homelier men.
Nevertheless, such characters as those of Falkland, or Chillingworth,
by Clarendon, or Burnet's very different Lauderdale, are worth a
thousand battle-pieces, cabinet plots, or parliamentary combinations,
of which we never can be sure that the narrator either knew or has
told the whole story. It is true that these characters have not the
strange quality which some one imputed to the writing of Tacitus, that
it seems to put the reader himself and the secrets of his own heart
into the confessional. It is in the novel that, in this country, the
faculty of observing social man and his peculiarities has found its
most popular instrument. The great novel, not of romance or adventure,
but of character and manners, from the mighty Fielding, down, at a
long interval, to Thackeray, covers the field that in France is held,
and successfully held, against all comers, by her maxim-writers, like
La Rochefoucauld, and her character-writers, like La Bruyère. But the
literature of aphorism contains one English name of magnificent and
immortal lustre--the name of Francis Bacon. Bacon's essays are the
unique masterpiece in our literature of this oracular wisdom of life,
applied to the scattered occasions of men's existence. The Essays are
known to all the world; but there is another and perhaps a weightier
performance of Bacon's which is less known, or not known at all,
except to students here and there. I mean the second chapter of the
eighth book of his famous treatise, _De Augmentis_. It has been
translated into pithy English, and is to be found in the fifth volume
of the great edition of Bacon, by Spedding and Ellis.

In this chapter, among other things, he composes comments on between
thirty and forty of what he calls the Aphorisms or Proverbs of
Solomon, which he truly describes as containing, besides those of
a theological character, "not a few excellent civil precepts and
cautions, springing from the inmost recesses of wisdom, and extending
to much variety of occasions." I know not where else to find more of
the salt of common sense in an uncommon degree than in Bacon's terse
comments on the Wise King's terse sentences, and in the keen,
sagacious, shrewd wisdom of the world, lighted up by such brilliance
of wit and affluence of illustration, in the pages that come after

This sort of wisdom was in the taste of the time; witness Ralegh's
_Instructions to his Son_, and that curious collection "of political
and polemical aphorisms grounded on authority and experience,"
which he called by the name of the _Cabinet Council_. Harrington's
_Political Aphorisms_, which came a generation later, are not moral
sentences; they are a string of propositions in political theory,
breathing a noble spirit of liberty, though too abstract for practical
guidance through the troubles of the day. But Bacon's admonitions
have a depth and copiousness that are all his own. He says that the
knowledge of advancement in life, though abundantly practised, had
not been sufficiently handled in books, and so he here lays down
the precepts for what he calls the _Architecture of Fortune_. They
constitute the description of a man who is politic for his own
fortune, and show how he may best shape a character that will attain
the ends of fortune.

_First_, A man should accustom his mind to judge of the proportion and
value of all things as they conduce to his fortune and ends.

_Second_, Not to undertake things beyond his strength, nor to row
against the stream.

_Third_, Not to wait for occasions always, but sometimes to challenge
and induce them, according to that saying of Demosthenes: "In the same
manner as it is a received principle that the general should lead the
army, so should wise men lead affairs," causing things to be done
which they think good, and not themselves waiting upon events.

_Fourth_, Not to take up anything which of necessity forestalls a
great quantity of time, but to have this sound ever ringing in our
ears: "Time is flying--time that can never be retrieved."

_Fifth_, Not to engage one's-self too peremptorily in anything, but
ever to have either a window open to fly out at, or a secret way to
retire by.

_Sixth_, To follow that ancient precept, not construed to any point
of perfidiousness, but only to caution and moderation, that we are to
treat our friend as if he might one day be a foe, and our foe as if he
should one day be friend.

All these Bacon called the good arts, as distinguished from the evil
arts that had been described years before by Machiavelli in his
famous book _The Prince_, and also in his _Discourses_. Bacon called
Machiavelli's sayings depraved and pernicious, and a corrupt wisdom,
as indeed they are. He was conscious that his own maxims, too, stood
in some need of elevation and of correction, for he winds up with
wise warnings against being carried away by a whirlwind or tempest
of ambition; by the general reminder that all things are vanity and
vexation of spirit, and the particular reminder that, "Being without
well-being is a curse, and the greater being, the greater curse," and
that "all virtue is most rewarded, and all wickedness most punished in
itself"; by the question, whether this incessant, restless, and, as it
were, Sabbathless pursuit of fortune, leaves time for holier duties,
and what advantage it is to have a face erected towards heaven, with a
spirit perpetually grovelling upon earth, eating dust like a serpent;
and finally, he says that it will not be amiss for men, in this eager
and excited chase of fortune, to cool themselves a little with that
conceit of Charles V. in his instructions to his son, that "Fortune
hath somewhat of the nature of a woman, who, if she be too closely
wooed, is commonly the further off."

There is Baconian humour as well as a curious shrewdness in such an
admonition as that which I will here transcribe, and there are many
like it:--

    "It is therefore no unimportant attribute of prudence in a man to
    be able to set forth to advantage before others, with grace and
    skill, his virtues, fortunes, and merits (which may be done
    without arrogance or breeding disgust); and again, to cover
    artificially his weaknesses, defects, misfortunes, and disgraces;
    dwelling upon the former and turning them to the light, sliding
    from the latter or explaining them away by apt interpretations and
    the like. Tacitus says of Mucianus, the wisest and most active
    politician of his time, 'That he had a certain art of setting
    forth to advantage everything he said or did.' And it requires
    indeed some art, lest it become wearisome and contemptible; but
    yet it is true that ostentation, though carried to the first
    degree of vanity, is rather a vice in morals than in policy. For
    as it is said of calumny, 'Calumniate boldly, for some of it
    will stick,' so it may be said of ostentation (except it be in a
    ridiculous degree of deformity), 'Boldly sound your own praises,
    and some of them will stick.' It will stick with the more ignorant
    and the populace, though men of wisdom may smile at it; and the
    reputation won with many will amply countervail the disdain of a
    few.... And surely no small number of those who are of a solid
    nature, and who, from the want of this ventosity, cannot spread
    all sail in pursuit of their own honour, suffer some prejudice and
    lose dignity by their moderation."

Nobody need go to such writings as these for moral dignity or moral
energy. They have no place in that nobler literature, from Epictetus
and Marcus Aurelius downwards, which lights up the young soul with
generous aims, and fires it with the love of all excellence. Yet the
most heroic cannot do without a dose of circumspection. The counsels
of old Polonius to Laertes are less sublime than Hamlet's soliloquy,
but they have their place. Bacon's chapters are a manual of
circumspection, whether we choose to give to circumspection a high or
a low rank in the list of virtues. Bacon knew of the famous city which
had three gates, and on the first the horseman read inscribed, "Be
bold"; and on the second gate yet again, "Be bold, and evermore be
bold"; and on the third it was written, "Be not too bold."

This cautious tone had been brought about by the circumstances of
the time. Government was strict; dissent from current opinions was
dangerous; there was no indifference and hardly any tolerance;
authority was suspicious and it was vindictive. When the splendid
genius of Burke rose like a new sun into the sky, the times were
happier, and nowhere in our literature does a noble prudence wear
statelier robes than in the majestic compositions of Burke.

Those who are curious to follow the literature of aphorism into
Germany, will, with the mighty exceptions of Goethe and Schiller, find
but a parched and scanty harvest. The Germans too often justify the
unfriendly definition of an aphorism as a form of speech, that wraps
up something quite plain in words that turn it into something very
obscure. As old Fuller says, the writers have a hair hanging to the
nib of their pen. Their shortness does not prevent them from being
tiresome. They recall the French wit to whom a friend showed a
distich: "Excellent," he said; "but isn't it rather spun out?"

Lichtenberg, a professor of physics, who was also a considerable hand
at satire a hundred years ago, composed a collection of sayings, not
without some wheat amid much chaff. A later German writer, of whom
I will speak in a moment or two, Schopenhauer, has some excellent
remarks on Self-reflection, and on the difference between those who
think for themselves and those who think for other people; between
genuine Philosophers, who look at things first hand for their own
sake, and Sophists, who look at words and books for the sake of making
an appearance before the world, and seek their happiness in what
they hope to get from others: he takes Herder for an example of the
Sophist, and Lichtenberg for the true Philosopher. It is true that we
hear the voice of the Self-thinker, and not the mere Book-philosopher,
if we may use for once those uncouth compounds, in such sayings as

  "People who never have any time are the people
  who do least."

  "The utmost that a weak head can get out of experience
  is an extra readiness to find out the weaknesses
  of other people."

  "Over-anxiously to feel and think what one could
  have done, is the very worst thing one can do."

  "He who has less than he desires, should know that
  he has more than he deserves."

  "Enthusiasts without capacity are the really dangerous

This last, by the way, recalls a saying of the great French
reactionary, De Bonald, which is never quite out of date: "Follies
committed by the sensible, extravagances uttered by the clever, crimes
perpetrated by the good,--there is what makes revolutions."

Radowitz was a Prussian soldier and statesman, who died in 1853,
after doing enough to convince men since that the revolution of 1848
produced no finer mind. He left among other things two or three
volumes of short fragmentary pieces on politics, religion, literature,
and art. They are intelligent and elevated, but contain hardly
anything to our point to-night, unless it be this,--that what is
called Stupidity springs not at all from mere want of understanding,
but from the fact that the free use of a man's understanding is
hindered by some definite vice: Frivolity, Envy, Dissipation,
Covetousness, all these darling vices of fallen man,--these are at the
bottom of what we name Stupidity. This is true enough, but it is not
so much to the point as the saying of a highly judicious aphorist of
my own acquaintance, that "Excessive anger against human stupidity is
itself one of the most provoking of all forms of stupidity."

Another author of aphorisms of the Goethe period was Klinger, a
playwriter, who led a curious and varied life in camps and cities, who
began with a vehement enthusiasm for the sentimentalism of Rousseau,
and ended, as such men often end, with a hard and stubborn cynicism.
He wrote _Thoughts on different Subjects of the World and Literature_,
which are intelligent and masculine, if they are not particularly
pungent in expression. One of them runs--"He who will write
interestingly must be able to keep heart and reason in close and
friendliest connection. The heart must warm the reason, and reason
must in turn blow on the embers if they are to burst into flame." This
illustrates what an aphorism should not be. Contrast its clumsiness
with the brevity of the famous and admirable saying of Vauvenargues,
that "great thoughts come from the heart."

Schopenhauer gave to one of his minor works the name of _Aphorismen zu
Lebens-Weisheit_, "Aphorisms for the Wisdom of Life," and he put to
it, by way of motto, Chamfort's saying, "Happiness is no easy matter;
'tis very hard to find it within ourselves, and impossible to find it
anywhere else." Schopenhauer was so well read in European literature,
he had such natural alertness of mind, and his style is so pointed,
direct, and wide-awake, that these detached discussions are
interesting and most readable; but for the most part discussions they
are, and not aphorisms. Thus, in the saying that "The perfect man of
the world should be he who never sticks fast in indecision, nor ever
falls into overhaste," the force of it lies in what goes before and
what follows after. The whole collection, winding up with the chapter
of Counsels and Maxims, is in the main an unsystematic enforcement of
those peculiar views of human happiness and its narrow limits which
proved to be the most important part of Schopenhauer's system. "The
sovereign rule in the wisdom of life," he said, "I see in Aristotle's
proposition (_Eth. Nic_. vii. 12), [Greek: ho phronimos to alupon
diokei, ou to haedu]: Not pleasure but freedom from pain is what
the sensible man goes after." The second volume, of Detached though
systematically Ordered Thoughts on Various Circumstances, is
miscellaneous in its range of topics, and is full of suggestion; but
the thoughts are mainly philosophical and literary, and do not come
very close to practical wisdom. In truth, so negative a view of
happiness, such pale hopes and middling expectations, could not guide
a man far on the path of active prudence, where we naturally take for
granted that the goal is really something substantial, serious, solid,
and positive.[1]

[Footnote 1: Burke says on the point raised above: "I am satisfied the
ideas of pain are much more powerful than those which enter on the
part of pleasure. Without all doubt, the torments which we may be made
to suffer are much greater in their effect on the body and mind, than
any pleasures which the most learned voluptuary could suggest. Nay,
I am in great doubt whether any man could be found, who would earn a
life of the most perfect satisfaction at the price of ending it in
the torments which justice inflicted in a few hours on the late
unfortunate regicide in France" (_Sublime and Beautiful_, pt. I. sec.
vii.). The reference is, of course, to Damien.]

Nobody cared less than Schopenhauer for the wisdom that is drawn from
books, or has said such hard things of mere reading. In the short
piece to which I have already referred (p. 80), he works out the
difference between the Scholar who has read in books, and the
Thinkers, the Geniuses, the Lights of the World, and Furtherers of
the human race, who have read directly from the world's own pages.
Reading, he says, is only a _succedaneum_ for one's own thinking.
Reading is thinking with a strange head instead of one's own. People
who get their wisdom out of books are like those who have got their
knowledge of a country from the descriptions of travellers. Truth that
has been picked up from books only sticks to us like an artificial
limb, or a false tooth, or a rhinoplastic nose; the truth we have
acquired by our own thinking is like the natural member. At least, as
Goethe puts it in his verse,

  Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast,
  Erwirb es, um es zu besitzen.

  _What from thy fathers thou dost inherit, be sure thou
  earn it, that so it may become thine own_.

It is only Goethe and Schiller, and especially Goethe, "the strong,
much-toiling sage, with spirit free from mists, and sane and clear,"
who combine the higher and the lower wisdom, and have skill to put
moral truths into forms of words that fix themselves with stings in
the reader's mind. All Goethe's work, whether poetry or prose, his
plays, his novels, his letters, his conversations, are richly bestrewn
with the luminous sentences of a keen-eyed, steadfast, patient,
indefatigable watcher of human life. He deals gravely and sincerely
with men. He has none of that shallow irony by which small men who
have got wrong with the world seek a shabby revenge. He tells us the
whole truth. He is not of those second-rate sages who keep their own
secrets, externally complying with all the conventions of speech and
demeanour, while privately nourishing unbridled freedom of opinion
in the inner sanctuary of the mind. He handles soberly, faithfully,
laboriously, cheerfully, every motive and all conduct. He marks
himself the friend, the well-wisher, and the helper. I will not begin
to quote from Goethe, for I should never end. The volume of _Spruche_,
or aphorisms in rhyme and prose in his collected works, is accessible
to everybody, but some of his wisest and finest are to be found in the
plays, like the well-known one in his _Tasso_, "In stillness Talent
forms itself, but Character in the great current of the world."

But here is a concentrated admonition from the volume that I have
named, that will do as well as any other for an example of his

  "Wouldst fashion for thyself a seemly life?--
  Then fret not over what is past and gone;
  And spite of all thou mayst have lost behind,
  Yet act as if thy life were just begun.
  What each day wills, enough for thee to know;
  What each day wills, the day itself will tell.
  Do thine own task, and be therewith content;
  What others do, that shalt thou fairly judge;
  Be sure that thou no brother-mortal hate,
  Then all besides leave to the Master Power."

If any of you should be bitten with an unhappy passion for the
composition of aphorisms, let me warn such an one that the power of
observing life is rare, the power of drawing new lessons from it is
rarer still, and the power of condensing the lesson in a pointed
sentence is rarest of all. Beware of cultivating this delicate art.
The effort is only too likely to add one more to that perverse
class described by Gibbon, who strangle a thought in the hope of
strengthening it, and applaud their own skill when they have shown
in a few absurd words the fourth part of an idea. Let me warmly urge
anybody with so mistaken an ambition, instead of painfully distilling
poor platitudes of his own, to translate the shrewd saws of the wise
browed Goethe.

Some have found light in the sayings of Balthasar Gracian, a Spaniard,
who flourished at the end of the seventeenth century, whose maxims
were translated into English at the very beginning of the eighteenth,
and who was introduced to the modern public in an excellent article
by Sir M.E. Grant Duff a few years ago. The English title is
attractive,--_The Art of Prudence, or a Companion for a Man of Sense_.
I do not myself find Gracian much of a companion, though some of his
aphorisms give a neat turn to a commonplace. Thus:--

  "The pillow is a dumb sibyl. To sleep upon a thing
  that is to be done, is better than to be wakened up by
  one already done."

  "To equal a predecessor one must have twice his

  "What is easy ought to be entered upon as though
  it were difficult, and what is difficult as though it were

  "Those things are generally best remembered which
  ought most to be forgot. Not seldom the surest remedy
  of the evil consists in forgetting it."

It is France that excels in the form no less than in the matter of
aphorism, and for the good reason that in France the arts of polished
society were relatively at an early date the objects of a serious and
deliberate cultivation, such as was and perhaps remains unknown in the
rest of Europe. Conversation became a fine art. "I hate war," said
one; "it spoils conversation." The leisured classes found their
keenest relish in delicate irony, in piquancy, in contained vivacity,
in the study of niceties of observation and finish of phrase. You have
a picture of it in such a play as Molière's _Misanthropist_, where we
see a section of the polished life of the time--men and women making
and receiving compliments, discoursing on affairs with easy lightness,
flitting backwards and forwards with a thousand petty hurries, and
among them one singular figure, hoarse, rough, sombre, moving with a
chilling reality in the midst of frolicking shadows. But the shadows
were all in all to one another. Not a point of conduct, not a subtlety
of social motive, escaped detection and remark.

Dugald Stewart has pointed to the richness of the French tongue
in appropriate and discriminating expressions for varieties of
intellectual turn and shade. How many of us, who claim to a reasonable
knowledge of French, will undertake easily to find English
equivalents for such distinctions as are expressed in the following
phrases--Esprit juste, esprit étendu, esprit fin, esprit délié, esprit
de lumière. These numerous distinctions are the evidence, as Stewart
says, of the attention paid by the cultivated classes to delicate
shades of mind and feeling. Compare with them the colloquial use of
our terribly overworked word "clever." Society and conversation have
never been among us the school of reflection, the spring of literary
inspiration, that they have been in France. The English rule has
rather been like that of the ancient Persians, that the great thing is
to learn to ride, to shoot with the bow, and to speak the truth. There
is much in it. But it has been more favourable to strength than to
either subtlety or finish.

One of the most commonly known of all books of maxims, after the
Proverbs of Solomon, are the Moral Reflections of La Rochefoucauld.
The author lived at court, himself practised all the virtues which
he seemed to disparage, and took so much trouble to make sure of the
right expression that many of these short sentences were more than
thirty times revised. They were given to the world in the last half
of the seventeenth century in a little volume which Frenchmen used
to know by heart, which gave a new turn to the literary taste of the
nation, and which has been translated into every civilised tongue. It
paints men as they would be if self-love were the one great mainspring
of human action, and it makes magnanimity itself no better than
self-interest in disguise.

  "Interest," he says, "speaks all sorts of tongues and
  plays all sorts of parts, even the part of the disinterested."

  "Gratitude is with most people only a strong desire
  for greater benefits to come."

  "Love of justice is with most of us nothing but the
  fear of suffering injustice."

  "Friendship is only a reciprocal conciliation of
  interests, a mutual exchange of good offices; it is a
  species of commerce out of which self-love always
  intends to make something."

  "We have all strength enough to endure the troubles
  of other people."

  "Our repentance is not so much regret for the ill we
  have done, as fear of the ill that may come to us in

And everybody here knows the saying that "In the adversity of our best
friends we often find something that is not exactly displeasing."

We cannot wonder that in spite of their piquancy of form, such
sentences as these have aroused in many minds an invincible repugnance
for what would be so tremendous a calumny on human nature, if the
book were meant to be a picture of human nature as a whole. "I count
Rochefoucauld's _Maxims_," says one critic, "a bad book. As I am
reading it, I feel discomfort; I have a sense of suffering which I
cannot define. Such thoughts tarnish the brightness of the soul;
they degrade the heart." Yet as a faithful presentation of human
selfishness, and of you and me in so far as we happen to be mainly
selfish, the odious mirror has its uses by showing us what manner of
man we are or may become. Let us not forget either that not quite all
is selfishness in La Rochefoucauld. Everybody knows his saying that
hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue. There is a subtle
truth in this, too,--that to be in too great a hurry to discharge an
obligation is itself a kind of ingratitude. Nor is there any harm in
the reflection that no fool is so troublesome as the clever fool; nor
in this, that only great men have any business with great defects;
nor, finally, in the consolatory saying, that we are never either so
happy or so unhappy as we imagine.

No more important name is associated with the literature of aphorism
than that of Pascal; but the Thoughts of Pascal concern the deeper
things of speculative philosophy and religion, rather than the wisdom
of daily life, and, besides, though aphoristic in form, they are in
substance systematic. "I blame equally," he said, "those who take
sides for praising man, those who are for blaming him, and those
who amuse themselves with him: the only wise part is search for
truth--search with many sighs." On man, as he exists in society, he
said little; and what he said does not make us hopeful. He saw the
darker side. "If everybody knew what one says of the other, there
would not be four friends left in the world." "Would you have men
think well of you, then do not speak well of yourself." And so forth.
If you wish to know Pascal's theory you may find it set out in
brilliant verse in the opening lines of the second book of Pope's
_Essay on Man_. "What a chimera is Man!" said Pascal. "What a confused
chaos! What a subject of contradiction! A professed judge of all
things, and yet a feeble worm of the earth; the great depository and
guardian of truth, and yet a mere huddle of uncertainty; the glory and
the scandal of the universe." Shakespeare was wiser and deeper when,
under this quintessence of dust, he discerned what a piece of work is
man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving
how express and admirable. That serene and radiant faith is the
secret, added to matchless gifts of imagination and music, why
Shakespeare is the greatest of men.

There is a smart, spurious wisdom of the world which has the
bitterness not of the salutary tonic but of mortal poison; and of this
kind the master is Chamfort, who died during the French Revolution
(and for that matter died of it), and whose little volume of thoughts
is often extremely witty, always pointed, but not seldom cynical and
false. "If you live among men," he said, "the heart must either break
or turn to brass." "The public, the public," he cried; "how many fools
does it take to make a public!" "What is celebrity? The advantage of
being known to people who don't know you."

All literatures might be ransacked in vain for a more repulsive saying
than this, that "A man must swallow a toad every morning if he wishes
to be quite sure of finding nothing still more disgusting before the
day is over." We cannot be surprised to hear of the lady who said that
a conversation with Chamfort in the morning made her melancholy until
bedtime. Yet Chamfort is the author of the not unwholesome saying that
"The most wasted of all days is that on which one has not laughed."
One of his maxims lets us into the secret of his misanthropy.
"Whoever," he said, "is not a misanthropist at forty can never have
loved mankind." It is easy to know what this means. Of course if a man
is so superfine that he will not love mankind any longer than he can
believe them to be demigods and angels, it is true that at forty he
may have discovered that they are neither. Beginning by looking for
men to be more perfect than they can be, he ends by thinking them
worse than they are, and then he secretly plumes himself on his
superior cleverness in having found humanity out. For the deadliest
of all wet blankets give me a middle-aged man who has been most of a
visionary in his youth.

To correct all this, let us recall Helvétius's saying that I have
already quoted, which made so deep an impression on Jeremy Bentham:
"In order to love mankind, we must not expect too much from them." And
let us remember that Fénelon, one of the most saintly men that ever
lived, and whose very countenance bore such a mark of goodness that
when he was in a room men found they could not desist from looking at
him, wrote to a friend the year before he died, "I ask little from
most men; I try to render them much, and to expect nothing in return,
and I get very well out of the bargain."

Chamfort I will leave, with his sensible distinction between Pride and
Vanity. "A man," he says, "has advanced far in the study of morals who
has mastered the difference between pride and vanity. The first is
lofty, calm, immovable; the second is uncertain, capricious, unquiet.
The one adds to a man's stature; the other only puffs him out. The one
is the source of a thousand virtues; the other is that of nearly all
vices and all perversities. There is a kind of pride in which are
included all the commandments of God; and a kind of vanity which
contains the seven mortal sins."

I will say little of La Bruyère, by far the greatest, broadest,
strongest, of French character-writers, because his is not one of the
houses of which you can judge by a brick or two taken at random. For
those in whom the excitements of modern literature have not burnt up
the faculty of sober meditation on social man, La Bruyère must always
be one of the foremost names. Macaulay somewhere calls him thin. But
Macaulay has less ethical depth, and less perception of ethical depth,
than any writer that ever lived with equally brilliant gifts in other
ways; and _thin_ is the very last word that describes this admirable
master. If one seeks to measure how far removed the great classic
moralists are from thinness, let him turn from La Bruyère to the inane
subtleties and meaningless conundrums, not worth answering, that do
duty for analysis of character in some modern American literature.
We feel that La Bruyère, though retiring, studious, meditative, and
self-contained, has complied with the essential condition of looking
at life and men themselves, and with his own eyes. His aphoristic
sayings are the least important part of him, but here are one or two

  "Eminent posts make great men greater, and little
  men less."

  "There is in some men a certain mediocrity of mind
  that helps to make them wise."

  "The flatterer has not a sufficiently good opinion
  either of himself or of others."

  "People from the provinces and fools are always
  ready to take offence, and to suppose that you are
  laughing at them: we should never risk a pleasantry,
  except with well-bred people, and people with brains.

  "All confidence is dangerous, unless it is complete,
  there are few circumstances in which it is not best
  either to hide all or to tell all."

  "When the people is in a state of agitation, we do
  not see how quiet is to return; and when it is tranquil,
  we do not see how the quiet is to be disturbed."

  "Men count for almost nothing the virtues of the
  heart, and idolise gifts of body or intellect. The man
  who quite coolly, and with no idea that he is offending
  modesty, says that he is kind-hearted, constant, faithful,
  sincere, fair, grateful, would not dare to say that
  he is quick and clever, that he has fine teeth and a
  delicate skin."

I will say nothing of Rivarol, a caustic wit of the revolutionary
time, nor of Joubert, a writer of sayings of this century, of whom
Mr. Matthew Arnold has said all that needs saying. He is delicate,
refined, acute, but his thoughts were fostered in the hothouse of a
coterie, and have none of the salt and sapid flavour that comes to
more masculine spirits from active contact with the world.

I should prefer to close this survey in the sunnier moral climate of
Vauvenargues. His own life was a pathetic failure in all the aims of
outer circumstance. The chances of fortune and of health persistently
baulked him, but from each stroke he rose up again, with undimmed
serenity and undaunted spirit. As blow fell upon blow, the sufferer
hold, firmly to his incessant lesson,--Be brave, persevere in the
fight, struggle on, do not let go, think magnanimously of man and
life, for man is good and life is affluent and fruitful. He died a
hundred and forty years ago, leaving a little body of maxims behind
him which, for tenderness, equanimity, cheerfulness, grace, sobriety,
and hope, are not surpassed in prose literature. "One of the noblest
qualities in our nature," he said, "is that we are able so easily to
dispense with greater perfection."

  "Magnanimity owes no account to prudence of its

  "To do great things a man must live as though he
  had never to die."

  "The first days of spring have less grace than the
  growing virtue of a young man."

  "You must rouse in men a consciousness of their
  own prudence and strength if you would raise their

Just as Tocqueville said: "He who despises mankind will never get the
best out of either others or himself."[1]

[Footnote 1: The reader who cares to know more about Vauvenargues will
find a chapter on him in the present writer's _Miscellanies_, vol.

The best known of Vauvenargues' sayings, as it is the deepest and the
broadest, is the far-reaching sentence already quoted, that "Great
thoughts come from the heart." And this is the truth that shines out
as we watch the voyagings of humanity from the "wide, grey, lampless
depths" of time. Those have been greatest in thought who have been
best endowed with faith, hope, sympathy, and the spirit of effort. And
next to them come the great stern, mournful men, like Tacitus, Dante,
Pascal, who, standing as far aloof from the soft poetic dejection
of some of the moods of Shelley or Keats as from the savage fury
of Swift, watch with a prophet's indignation the heedless waste of
faculty and opportunity, the triumph of paltry motive and paltry aim,
as if we were the flies of a summer noon, which do more than any
active malignity to distort the noble lines, and to weaken or to
frustrate the strong and healthy parts, of human nature. For practical
purposes all these complaints of man are of as little avail as Johnson
found the complaint that of the globe so large a space should be
occupied by the uninhabitable ocean, encumbered by naked mountains,
lost under barren sands, scorched by perpetual heat or petrified by
perpetual frost, and so small a space be left for the production of
fruits, the pasture of cattle, and the accommodation of men.

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


[Footnote 1: February 1886.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 1: _Rousseau_, chap. xii.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[Footnote 1: March 1888.]

                   Nunquamne reponam,
  Vexatus toties rauci Theseide Codri?

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

[Footnote 1: Lecky, vi. 297.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 1: Diderot, i. 247.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 1: Nov. 3, 1886.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 1: Mr. Arthur Balfour.]

It is true that we cannot bring to London, with this movement, the
indefinable charm that haunts the grey and venerable quadrangles of
Oxford and Cambridge. We cannot take you into the stately halls, the
silent and venerable libraries, the solemn chapels, the studious
old-world gardens. We cannot surround you with all those elevated
memorials and sanctifying associations of scholars and poets, of
saints and sages, that march in glorious procession through the ages,
and make of Oxford and Cambridge a dream of music for the inward ear,
and of delight for the contemplative eye. We cannot bring all that to
you; but I hope, and I believe, it is the object of those who are more
intimately connected with the society than I have been, that every
partaker of the benefits of this society will feel himself and herself
in living connection with those two famous centres, and feel conscious
of the links that bind the modern to the older England. One of the
most interesting facts mentioned in your report this year is that last
winter four prizes of £10 each were offered in the mining district of
Northumberland, one each to the male and female student in every term
who should take the highest place in the examination, in order to
enable them to spend a month in Cambridge in the long vacation for the
purpose of carrying on in the laboratories and museums the work in
which they had been engaged in the winter at the local centre. That is
not a step taken by our society; but the University of Cambridge has
inspired and worked out the scheme, and I am not without hope that
from London some of those who attend these classes may be able to
realise in person the attractions and the associations of these two
great historic sites. One likes to think how poor scholars three or
four hundred years ago used to flock to Oxford, regardless of cold,
privation, and hardship, so that they might satisfy their hunger and
thirst for knowledge. I like to think of them in connection with this
movement. I like to think of them in connection with students like
those miners in Northumberland, whom I know well, and who are
mentioned in the report of the Cambridge Extension Society as, after
a day's hard work in the pit, walking four or five miles through cold
and darkness and rough roads to hear a lecture, and then walking
back again the same four or five miles. You must look for the same
enthusiasm, the same hunger and thirst for knowledge, that presided
over the foundation of the Universities many centuries ago, to carry
on this work, to strengthen and stimulate men's faith in knowledge,
their hopes from it, and their zeal for it.

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

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

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

There are other complaints of literature as an object of interest in
this country. I was reading the other day an essay by the late head of
my old college at Oxford, that very learned and remarkable man Mark
Pattison, who was a booklover if ever there was one. He complained
that the bookseller's bill in the ordinary English middle class family
is shamefully small. It appeared to him to be monstrous that a man
who is earning £1000 a year should spend less than £1 a week on
books--that is to say, less than a shilling in the pound per annum. I
know that Chancellors of the Exchequer take from us 8d. or 6d. in the
pound, and I am not sure that they always use it as wisely as if they
left us to spend it on books. Still, a shilling in the pound to be
spent on books by a clerk who earns a couple of hundred pounds a year,
or by a workman who earns a quarter of that sum, is rather more, I
think, than can be reasonably expected. A man does not really need
to have a great many books. Pattison said that nobody who respected
himself could have less than 1000 volumes. He pointed out that you can
stack 1000 octavo volumes in a bookcase that shall be 13 feet by 10
feet, and 6 inches deep, and that everybody has that small amount of
space at disposal. Still the point is not that men should have a great
many books, but that they should have the right ones, and that they
should use those that they have. We may all agree in lamenting
that there are so many houses--even some of considerable social
pretension--where you will not find a good atlas, a good dictionary,
or a good cyclopaedia of reference. What is still more lamentable, in
a good many more houses where these books are, they are never referred
to or opened. That is a very discreditable fact, because I defy
anybody to take up a single copy of the _Times_ newspaper and not come
upon something in it, upon which, if their interest in the affairs of
the day were active, intelligent, and alert as it ought to be, they
would consult an atlas, dictionary, or cyclopaedia of reference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 1: "If I would put anything in my Common-place Book, I
find out a head to which I may refer it. Each head ought to be some
important and essential word to the matter in hand" (Locke's _Works_,
iii. 308, ed. 1801).]

[Footnote 2: This is for indexing purposes, but it is worth while to
go further and make a title for the passage extracted, indicating its
pith and purport.]

Various correspondents have asked me to say something about those
lists of a hundred books that have been circulating through the world
within the last few months. I have examined some of these lists with
considerable care, and whatever else may be said of them--and I speak
of them with deference and reserve, because men for whom one must
have a great regard have compiled them--they do not seem to me to be
calculated either to create or satisfy a wise taste for literature
in any very worthy sense. To fill a man with a hundred parcels of
heterogeneous scraps from the _Mahabharata_, and the _Sheking_, down
to _Pickwick_ and _White's Selborne_, may pass the time, but I cannot
perceive how it would strengthen or instruct or delight. For instance,
it is a mistake to think that every book that has a great name in the
history of books or of thought is worth reading. Some of the most
famous books are least worth reading. Their fame was due to their
doing something that needed in their day to be done. The work done,
the virtue of the book expires. Again, I agree with those who say
that the steady working down one of these lists would end in the
manufacture of that obnoxious product--the prig. A prig has been
defined as an animal that is overfed for its size. I think that these
bewildering miscellanies would lead to an immense quantity of that
kind of overfeeding. The object of reading is not to dip into
everything that even wise men have ever written. In the words of one
of the most winning writers of English that ever existed--Cardinal
Newman--the object of literature in education is to open the mind, to
correct it, to refine it, to enable it to comprehend and digest its
knowledge, to give it power over its own faculties, application,
flexibility, method, critical exactness, sagacity, address, and
expression. These are the objects of that intellectual perfection
which a literary education is destined to give. I will not venture on
a list of a hundred books, but will recommend you instead to one book
well worthy of your attention. Those who are curious as to what they
should read in the region of pure literature will do well to peruse
Mr. Frederic Harrison's admirable, volume, called _The Choice of
Books_. You will find there as much wise thought, eloquently and
brilliantly put, as in any volume of its size and on its subject,
whether it be in the list of a hundred or not.

Let me pass to another topic. We are often asked whether it is best to
study subjects, or authors, or books. Well, I think that is like most
of the stock questions with which the perverse ingenuity of mankind
torments itself. There is no universal and exclusive answer. My own
answer is a very plain one. It is sometimes best to study books,
sometimes authors, and sometimes subjects; but at all times it is best
to study authors, subjects, and books in connection with one another.
Whether you make your first approach from interest in an author or in
a book, the fruit will be only half gathered if you leave off without
new ideas and clearer lights both on the man and the matter. One of
the noblest masterpieces in the literature of civil and political
wisdom is to be found in Burke's three performances on the American
war--his speech on Taxation in 1774, on Conciliation in 1775, and his
letter to the Sheriffs of Bristol in 1777. I can only repeat to you
what I have been saying in print and out of it for a good many years,
and what I believe more firmly as observation is enlarged by time and
occasion, that these three pieces are the most perfect manual in all
literature for the study of great affairs, whether for the purpose of
knowledge or action. "They are an example," as I have said before
now, "an example without fault of all the qualities which the critic,
whether a theorist or an actor, of great political situations should
strive by night and by day to possess. If their subject were as remote
as the quarrel between the Corinthians and Corcyra, or the war between
Rome and the Allies, instead of a conflict to which the world owes the
opportunity of one of the most important of political experiments, we
should still have everything to learn from the author's treatment; the
vigorous grasp of masses of compressed detail, the wide illumination
from great principles of human experience, the strong and masculine
feeling for the two great political ends of Justice and Freedom, the
large and generous interpretation of expediency, the morality, the
vision, the noble temper." No student worthy of the name will lay
aside these pieces, so admirable in their literary expression, so
important for history, so rich in the lessons of civil wisdom, until
he has found out something from other sources as to the circumstances
from which such writings arose, and as to the man whose resplendent
genius inspired them. There are great personalities like Burke who
march through history with voices like a clarion trumpet and something
like the glitter of swords in their hands. They are as interesting as
their work. Contact with them warms and kindles the mind. You will not
be content, after reading one of these pieces, without knowing the
character and personality of the man who conceived it, and until you
have spent an hour or two--and an hour or two will go a long way with
Burke still fresh in your mind--over other compositions in political
literature, over Bacon's civil pieces, or Machiavelli's _Prince_, and
others in the same order of thought.

This points to the right answer to another question that is constantly
asked. We are constantly asked whether desultory reading is among
things lawful and permitted. May we browse at large in a library, as
Johnson said, or is it forbidden to open a book without a definite aim
and fixed expectations? I am for a compromise. If a man has once got
his general point of view, if he has striven with success to place
himself at the centre, what follows is of less consequence. If he has
got in his head a good map of the country, he may ramble at large with
impunity. If he has once well and truly laid the foundations of a
methodical, systematic habit of mind, what he reads will find its way
to its proper place. If his intellect is in good order, he will find
in every quarter something to assimilate and something that will

Next I am going to deal with another question, with which perhaps I
ought to have started. What is literature? It has often been defined.
Emerson says it is a record of the best thoughts. "By literature,"
says another author, "we mean the written thoughts and feelings of
intelligent men and women arranged in a way that shall give pleasure
to the reader." A third account is that "the aim of a student of
literature is to know the best that has been thought in the world."
Definitions always appear to me in these things to be in the nature
of vanity. I feel that the attempt to be compact in the definition of
literature ends in something that is rather meagre, partial, starved,
and unsatisfactory. I turn to the answer given by a great French
writer to a question not quite the same, viz. "What is a classic?"
Literature consists of a whole body of classics in the true sense of
the word, and a classic, as Sainte-Beuve defines him, is an "author
who has enriched the human mind, who has really added to its treasure,
who has got it to take a step further; who has discovered some
unequivocal moral truth, or penetrated to some eternal passion,
in that heart of man where it seemed as though all were known and
explored, who has produced his thought, or his observation, or his
invention under some form, no matter what, so it be great, large,
acute, and reasonable, sane and beautiful in itself; who has spoken to
all in a style of his own, yet a style which finds itself the style
of everybody,--in a style that Is at once new and antique, and is the
contemporary of all the ages." Another Frenchman, Doudan, who died in
1872, has an excellent passage on the same subject:--

    "The man of letters properly so called is a rather singular being:
    he does not look at things exactly with his own eyes, he has not
    impressions of his own, we could not discover the imagination with
    which he started. 'Tis a tree on which have been grafted Homer,
    Virgil, Milton, Dante, Petrarch; hence have grown peculiar flowers
    which are not natural, and yet which are not artificial. Study has
    given to the man of letters something of the reverie of René; with
    Homer he has looked upon the plain of Troy, and there has remained
    in his brain some of the light of the Grecian sky; he has taken a
    little of the pensive lustre of Virgil, as he wanders by his side
    on the slopes of the Aventine; he sees the world as Milton saw it,
    through the grey mists of England, as Dante saw it, through the
    clear and glowing light of Italy. Of all these colours he composes
    for himself a colour that is unique and his own; from all these
    glasses by which his life passes on its journey to the real
    world, there is formed a special tint, and that is what makes the
    imagination of men of letters."

At a single hearing you may not take all that in; but if you should
have any opportunity of recurring to it, you will find this a
satisfactory, full, and instructive account of what is a classic, and
will find in it a full and satisfactory account of what those who have
thought most on literature hope to get from it, and most would
desire to confer upon others by it. Literature consists of till the
books--and they are not so many--where moral truth and human passion
are touched with a certain largeness, sanity, and attraction of form.
My notion of the literary student is one who through books explores
the strange voyages of man's moral reason, the impulses of the human
heart, the chances and changes that have overtaken human ideals
of virtue and happiness, of conduct and manners, and the shifting
fortunes of great conceptions of truth and virtue. Poets, dramatists,
humorists, satirists, masters of fiction, the great preachers,
the character-writers, the maxim-writers, the great political
orators--they are all literature in so far as they teach us to know
man and to know human nature. This is what makes literature, rightly
sifted and selected and rightly studied, not the mere elegant trifling
that it is so often and so erroneously supposed to be, but a
proper instrument for a systematic training of the imagination and
sympathies, and of a genial and varied moral sensibility.

From this point of view let me remind you that books are not the
products of accident and caprice. As Goethe said, if you would
understand an author, you must understand his age. The same thing is
just as true of a book. If you would fully comprehend it, you must
know the age. There is an order; there are causes and relations
between great compositions and the societies in which they have
emerged. Just as the naturalist strives to understand and to explain
the distribution of plants and animals over the surface of the globe,
to connect their presence or their absence with the great geological,
climatic, and oceanic changes, so the student of literature, if he be
wise, undertakes an ordered and connected survey of ideas, of tastes,
of sentiments, of imagination, of humour, of invention, as they affect
and as they are affected by the ever changing experiences of human
nature, and the manifold variations that time and circumstances are
incessantly working in human society.

Those who are possessed, and desire to see others possessed, by that
conception of literary study must watch with the greatest sympathy and
admiration the efforts of those who are striving so hard, and, I hope,
so successfully, to bring the systematic and methodical study of our
own literature, in connection with other literatures, among subjects
for teaching and examination in the Universities of Oxford and
Cambridge. I regard those efforts with the liveliest interest and
sympathy. Everybody agrees that an educated man ought to have a
general notion of the course of the great outward events of European
history. So, too, an educated man ought to have a general notion of
the course of all those inward thoughts and moods which find their
expression in literature. I think that in cultivating the study of
literature, as I have perhaps too laboriously endeavoured to define
it, you will be cultivating the most important side of history.
Knowledge of it gives stability and substance to character. It
furnishes a view of the ground we stand on. It builds up a solid
backing of precedent and experience. It teaches us where we are. It
protects us against imposture and surprise.

Before closing I should like to say one word upon the practice of
composition. I have suffered, by the chance of life, many things from
the practice of composition. It has been my lot, I suppose, to read
more unpublished work than any one else in this room.

There is an idea, and, I venture to think, a very mistaken idea, that
you cannot have a taste for literature unless you are yourself an
author. I make bold entirely to demur to that proposition. It is
practically most mischievous, and leads scores and even hundreds of
people to waste their time in the most unprofitable manner that the
wit of man can devise, on work in which they can no more achieve even
the most moderate excellence than they can compose a Ninth Symphony
or paint a Transfiguration. It Is a terrible error to suppose that
because one is happily able to relish "Wordsworth's solemn-thoughted
idyll, or Tennyson's enchanted reverie," therefore a solemn mission
calls you to run off to write bad verse at the Lakes or the Isle
of Wight. I beseech you not all to turn to authorship. I will even
venture, with all respect to those who are teachers of literature,
to doubt the excellence and utility of the practice of over-much
essay-writing and composition. I have very little faith in rules of
style, though I have an unbounded faith in the virtue of cultivating
direct and precise expression. But you must carry on the operation
inside the mind, and not merely by practising literary deportment on
paper. It is not everybody who can command the mighty rhythm of the
greatest masters of human speech. But every one can make reasonably
sure that he knows what he means, and whether he has found the right
word. These are internal operations, and are not forwarded by writing
for writing's sake. Everybody must be urgent for attention to
expression, if that attention be exercised in the right way. It has
been said a million times that the foundation of right expression in
speech or writing is sincerity. That is as true now as it has ever
been. Right expression is a part of character. As somebody has
said, by learning to speak with precision, you learn to think with
correctness; and the way to firm and vigorous speech lies through the
cultivation of high and noble sentiments. So far as my observation has
gone, men will do better if they seek precision by studying carefully
and with an open mind and a vigilant eye the great models of writing,
than by excessive practice of writing on their own account.

Much might here be said on what is one of the most important of all
the sides of literary study. I mean its effect as helping to preserve
the dignity and the purity of the English language. That noble
instrument has never been exposed to such dangers as those which
beset it to-day. Domestic slang, scientific slang, pseudo-aesthetic
affectations, hideous importations from American newspapers, all bear
down with horrible force upon the glorious fabric which the genius of
our race has reared. I will say nothing of my own on this pressing
theme, but will read to you a passage of weight and authority from the
greatest master of mighty and beautiful speech.

"Whoever in a state," said Milton, "knows how wisely to form the
manners of men and to rule them at home and in war with excellent
institutes, him in the first place, above others, I should esteem
worthy of all honour. But next to him the man who strives to establish
in maxims and rules the method and habit of speaking and writing
received from a good age of the nation, and, as it were, to fortify
the same round with a kind of wall, the daring to overleap which let a
law only short of that of Romulus be used to prevent.... The one, as I
believe, supplies noble courage and intrepid counsels against an
enemy invading the territory. The other takes to himself the task of
extirpating and defeating, by means of a learned detective police of
ears, and a light band of good authors, that barbarism which makes
large inroads upon the minds of men, and is a destructive intestine
enemy of genius. Nor is it to be considered of small consequence what
language, pure or corrupt, a people has, or what is their customary
degree of propriety in speaking it.... For, let the words of a country
be in part unhandsome and offensive in themselves, in part debased by
wear and wrongly uttered, and what do they declare, but, by no light
indication, that the inhabitants of that country are an indolent,
idly-yawning race, with minds already long prepared for any amount of
servility? On the other hand, we have never heard that any empire, any
state, did not at least flourish in a middling degree as long as its
own liking and care for its language lasted."[1]

[Footnote 1: Letter to Bonmattei, from Florence, 1638.]

The probabilities are that we are now coming to an epoch of a quieter
style. There have been in our generation three strong masters in the
aft of prose writing. There was, first of all, Carlyle, there was
Macaulay, and there is Mr. Raskin. These are all giants, and they have
the rights of giants. But I do not believe that a greater misfortune
can befall the students who attend classes here, than that they should
strive to write like any one of these three illustrious men. I think
it is the worst thing that can happen to them. They can never attain
to the high mark which they have set before themselves. It Is not
everybody who can bend the bow of Ulysses, and most men only do
themselves a mischief by trying to bend it. If we are now on our way
to a quieter style, I am not sorry for it. Truth is quiet. Milton's
phrase ever lingers in our minds as one of imperishable beauty--where
he regrets that he is drawn by I know not what, from beholding the
bright countenance of truth in the quiet and still air of delightful
studies. Moderation and judgment are, for most purposes, more than the
flash and the glitter even of the genius. I hope that your professors
of rhetoric will teach you to cultivate that golden art--the steadfast
use of a language in which truth can be told; a speech that is
strong by natural force, and not merely effective by declamation; an
utterance without trick, without affectation, without mannerisms,
without any of that excessive ambition which overleaps itself as
disastrously in prose writing as in so many other things.

I will detain you no longer. I hope that I have made it clear that we
conceive the end of education on its literary side to be to make a man
and not a cyclopaedia, to make a citizen and not an album of elegant
extracts. Literature does not end with knowledge of forms, with
inventories of books and authors, with finding the key of rhythm, with
the varying measure of the stanza, or the changes from the involved
and sonorous periods of the seventeenth century down to the _staccato_
of the nineteenth, or all the rest of the technicalities of
scholarship. Do not think I contemn these. They are all good things to
know, but they are not ends in themselves. The intelligent man, says
Plato, will prize those studies which result in his soul getting
soberness, righteousness, and wisdom, and he will less value the
others. Literature is one of the instruments, and one of the most
powerful instruments, for forming character for giving us men
and women armed with reason, braced by knowledge, clothed with
steadfastness and courage, and inspired by that public spirit and
public virtue of which it has been well said that they are the
brightest ornaments of the mind of man. Bacon is right, as he
generally is, when he bids us read not to contradict and refute, nor
to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse, but
to weigh and to consider. Yes, let us read to weigh and to consider.
In the times before us that promise or threaten deep political,
economical, and social controversy, what we need to do is to induce
our people to weigh and consider. We want them to cultivate energy
without impatience, activity without restlessness, inflexibility
without ill-humour. I am not going to preach to you any artificial
stoicism. I am not going to preach to you any indifference to money,
or to the pleasures of social intercourse, or to the esteem and
good-will of our neighbours, or to any other of the consolations and
necessities of life. But, after all, the thing that matters most, both
for happiness and for duty, is that we should strive habitually to
live with wise thoughts and right feelings. Literature helps us more
than other studies to this most blessed companionship of wise thoughts
and right feelings, and so I have taken this opportunity of earnestly
commending it to your interest and care.


"History has its truth, Legend has its truth. Legendary truth is of
a different nature from historic truth. Legendary truth is invention
with reality for result. For the rest, history and legend have the
same aim--to paint under the man of a day eternal humanity." These
words from his new and latest work (ii. 4) are a repetition of what
Victor Hugo had already said in the introduction to his memorable
_Legend of the Ages_[1]. But the occasion of their application is far
more delicate. Poetry lends itself naturally to the spacious, distant,
vague, highly generalised way of present and real events. A prose
romance, on the other hand, is of necessity abundant in details, in
special circumstances, in particularities of time and place. This
leaves all the more room for historic error, and historic error in
a work of imagination dealing with actual and known occurrences is
obviously fatal, not only to legendary truth, but to legendary beauty
and poetic impressiveness. And then the pitfalls which lie about the
feet of the Frenchman who has to speak of 1793,--the terrible year
of the modern epoch! The delirium of the Terror haunts most of the
revolutionary historians, and the choicest examples in all literature
of bombast, folly, emptiness, political immorality, inhumanity, formal
repudiation of common sense and judgment, are to be found in the
rhapsodies which men of letters, some of them men of eminence, call
histories of the Revolution, or lives of this or that actor in it.

[Footnote 1: The references are to the "Édition Définitive" in two

It was hardly a breach, therefore, of one's allegiance to Hugo's
superb imaginative genius, if one had misgivings as to the result of
an attempt, even in his strong hands, to combine legend with truth on
a disastrous field, in which grave writers with academic solemnity had
confounded truth with the falsest kind of legend. The theme was so
likely to emphasise the defects incident to his mighty qualities; so
likely to provoke an exaggeration of those mannerisms of thought no
less than of phrase, which though never ignoble nor paltry, yet now
and then take something from the loftiness and sincerity of the
writer's work. Wisdom, however, is justified of her children, and M.
Hugo's genius has justified his choice of a difficult and perilous
subject. _Quatrevingt-treize_ is a monument of its author's finest
gifts; and while those who are happily endowed with the capacity of
taking delight in nobility and beauty of imaginative work will find
themselves in possession of a new treasure, the lover of historic
truth who hates to see abstractions passed off for actualities and
legend erected in the place of fact escapes with his sensibilities
almost unwounded.

The historic interlude at the beginning of the second volume is
undoubtedly open to criticism from the political student's point of
view. As a sketch of the Convention, the scene of its sittings, the
stormful dramas that were enacted there one after another for month
after month, the singular men who one after another rode triumphant
upon the whirlwind for a little space, and were then mercilessly in an
instant swept into outer darkness, the commoner men who cowered before
the fury of the storm, and were like "smoke driven hither and thither
by the wind," and laboured hard upon a thousand schemes for human
improvement, some admirable, others mere frenzy, while mobs filed in
and danced mad carmagnoles before them--all this is a magnificent
masterpiece of accurate, full, and vivid description. To the
philosophy of it we venture to demur. The mystic, supernatural view of
the French Revolution, which is so popular among French writers who
object to the supernatural and the mystical everywhere else, is to us
a thing most incredible, most puerile, most mischievous. People talk
of '93, as a Greek tragedian treats the Tale of Troy divine, or the
terrible fortunes of the house of Atreus, as the result of dark
invincible fate, as the unalterable decree of the immortal gods. Even
Victor Hugo's strong spirit does not quite overcome the demoralising
doctrine of a certain revolutionary school, though he has the poet's
excuse. Thus, of the Convention:--

    "Minds all a prey to the wind. But this wind was a wind of miracle
    and portent. To be a member of the Convention was to be a wave
    of the ocean. And this was true of its greatest. The force of
    impulsion came from on high. There was in the Convention a will,
    which was the will of all, and yet was the will of no one. It was
    an idea, an idea resistless and without measure, which breathed in
    the shadow from the high heavens. We call that the Revolution. As
    this idea passed, it threw down one and raised up another; it bore
    away this man in the foam, and broke that man to pieces upon the
    rocks. The idea knew whither it went, and drove the gulf of waters
    before it. To impute the Revolution to men is as one who should
    impute the tide to the waves. The revolution is an action of the
    Unknown.... It is a form of the abiding phenomenon that shuts us
    in on every side and that we call Necessity.... In presence
    of these climacteric catastrophes which waste and vivify
    civilisation, one is slow to judge detail. To blame or praise men
    on account of the result, is as if one should blame or praise the
    figures on account of the total. That which must pass passes, the
    storm that must rage rages. The eternal serenity does not suffer
    from these boisterous winds. Above revolutions truth and justice
    abide, as the starry heaven abides above the tempests" (i.

As a lyric passage, full of the breath of inspiration; as history,
superficial and untrue; as morality, enervating and antinomian. The
author is assuredly far nearer the mark in another place when
he speaks of "_that immense improvisation_ which is the French
Revolution" (ii. 35)--an improvisation of which every step can be
rationally explained.

After all, this is no more than an interlude. Victor Hugo only surveys
the events of '93 as a field for the growth of types of character. His
instinct as an artist takes him away from the Paris of '93, where the
confusion, uproar, human frenzy, leave him no background of nature,
with nature's fixity, sternness, indifference, sublimity. This he
found in La Vendée, whose vast forests grow under the pencil of this
master of all the more terrible and majestic effects, into a picture
hardly less sombre and mighty in its impressiveness than the memorable
ocean pieces of the _Toilers of the Sea_. If the waves are appalling
in their agitation, their thunders, their sterility, the forest is
appalling in its silence, its dimness, its rest, and the invisibleness
of the thousand kinds of life to which it gives a shelter. If the
violence and calm and mercilessness of the sea penetrated the romance
of eight years ago with transcendent fury, so does the stranger, more
mysterious, and in a sense even the more inhuman life of the forest
penetrate the romance of to-day. From the opening chapter down to the
very close, even while the interlude takes us for a little while to
the Paris café where Danton, Robespierre, and Marat sit in angry
counsel, even while we are on the sea with the royalist Marquis and
Halmalo, the reader is subtly haunted by the great Vendean woods,
their profundity, their mystery, their tragic and sinister beauties.

    "The forest is barbarous.

    "The configuration of the land counsels man in many an act. More
    than we suppose, it is his accomplice. In the presence of certain
    savage landscapes, you are tempted to exonerate man and blame
    creation; you feel a silent challenge and incitement from nature;
    the desert is constantly unwholesome for conscience, especially
    for a conscience without light. Conscience may be a giant; that
    makes a Socrates or a Jesus: it may be a dwarf; that makes an
    Atreus or a Judas. The puny conscience soon turns reptile; the
    twilight thickets, the brambles, the thorns, the marsh waters
    under branches, make for it a fatal haunting place; amid all this
    it undergoes the mysterious infiltration of ill suggestions. The
    optical illusions, the unexplained images, the scaring hour,
    the scaring spot, all throw man into that kind of affright,
    half-religious, half-brutal, which in ordinary times engenders
    superstition, and in epochs of violence, savagery. Hallucinations
    hold the torch that lights the path to murder. There is something
    like vertigo in the brigand. Nature with her prodigies has a
    double effect; she dazzles great minds, and blinds the duller
    soul. When man is ignorant, when the desert offers visions,
    the obscurity of the solitude is added to the obscurity of the
    intelligence; thence in man comes the opening of abysses. Certain
    rocks, certain ravines, certain thickets, certain wild openings
    of the evening sky through the trees, drive man towards mad or
    monstrous exploits. We might almost call some places criminal"
    (ii. 21).

With La Vendée for background, and some savage incidents of the bloody
Vendean war for external machinery, Victor Hugo has realised his
conception of '93 in three types of character: Lantenac, the royalist
marquis; Cimourdain, the puritan turned Jacobin; and Gauvain, for whom
one can as yet find no short name, he belonging to the millenarian
times. Lantenac, though naturally a less original creation than the
other two, is still an extremely bold and striking figure, drawn with
marked firmness of hand, and presenting a thoroughly distinct and
coherent conception. It is a triumph of the poetic or artistic part
of the author's nature over the merely political part, that he should
have made even his type of the old feudal order which he execrates
so bitterly, a heroic, if ever so little also a diabolic, personage.
There is everything that is cruel, merciless, unflinching, in
Lantenac; there is nothing that is mean or insignificant. A gunner
at sea, by inattention to the lashing of his gun, causes an accident
which breaks the ship to pieces, and then he saves the lives of the
crew by hazarding his own life to secure the wandering monster.
Lantenac decorates him with the cross of Saint Lewis for his
gallantry, and instantly afterwards has him shot for his carelessness.
He burns homesteads and villages, fusillades men and women, and makes
the war a war without quarter or grace. Yet he is no swashbuckler of
the melodramatic stage. There is a fine reserve, a brief gravity,
in the delineation of him, his clear will, his quickness, his
intrepidity, his relentlessness, which make of him the incarnation
of aristocratic coldness, hatred, and pride. You might guillotine
Lantenac with exquisite satisfaction, and yet he does not make us
ashamed of mankind. Into his mouth, as he walks about his dungeon,
impatiently waiting to be led out to execution, Victor Hugo has put
the aristocratic view of the Revolution. Some portions of it (ii.
224-226) would fit amazingly well into M. Renan's notions about the
moral and intellectual reform of France.

If the Breton aristocrat of '93 was fearless, intrepid, and without
mercy in defence of God and the King--and his qualities were all
shared, the democrat may love to remember, by the Breton peasant,
whether peasant follower or peasant leader--the Jacobin was just as
vigorous, as intrepid, as merciless in defence of his Republic. "Pays,
Patrie," says Victor Hugo, in words which perhaps will serve to
describe many a future passage in French history, "ces deux mots
résument toute la guerre de Vendée; querelle de l'idée locale centre
l'idée universelle; paysans contre patriotes" (ii. 22).[1] Certainly
the Jacobins were the patriots of that era, the deliverers of France
from something like that process of partition which further east was
consummated in this very '93. We do not mean the handful of odious
miscreants who played fool and demon in turns in the insurrectionary
Commune and elsewhere: such men as Collot d'Herbois, or Carrier,
or Panis. The normal Jacobin was a remarkable type. He has been
excellently described by Louis Blanc as something powerful, original,
sombre; half agitator and half statesman; half puritan and half monk
half inquisitor and half tribune. These words of the historian are the
exact prose version of the figure of Cimourdain, the typical Jacobin
of the poet. "Cimourdain was a pure conscience, but sombre. He had in
him the absolute. He had been a priest and that is a serious thing.
Man, like the sky, may have a dark serenity; it is enough that
something should have brought night into his soul. Priesthood had
brought night into Cimourdain. He who has been a priest is one still.
What brings night upon us may leave the stars with us. Cimourdain
was full of virtues, full of truths, but they shone in the midst
of darkness" (i. 123). If the aristocrat had rigidity, so had the
Jacobin. "Cimourdain had the blind certitude of the arrow, which only
sees the mark and makes for it. In revolution, nothing so formidable
as the straight line. Cimourdain strode forward with fatality in his
step. He believed that in social genesis the very extreme point must
always be solid ground, an error peculiar to minds that for reason
substitute logic" (i. 127). And so forth, until the character of the
Jacobin lives for us with a precision, a fulness, a naturalness, such
as neither Carlyle nor Michelet nor Quinet has been able to clothe it
with, though these too have the sacred illumination of genius. Victor
Hugo's Jacobin is a poetic creation, yet the creation only lies in the
vivid completeness with which the imagination of a great master has
realised to itself the traits and life of an actual personality. It is
not that he has any special love for his Jacobin, but that he has the
poet's eye for types, politics apart. He sees how much the aristocrat,
slaying hip and thigh for the King, and the Jacobin, slaying hip and
thigh for the Republic, resembled one another. "Let us confess,"
he says, "these two men, the Marquis and the priest [Lantenac and
Cimourdain], were up to a certain point the self-same man. The bronze
mask of civil war has two profiles, one turned towards the past, the
other towards the future, but as tragic the one as the other. Lantenac
was the first of these profiles, Cimourdain was the second; only the
bitter rictus of Lantenac was covered with shadow and night, and on
the fatal brow of Cimourdain was a gleaming of the dawn" (ii. 91).

[Footnote 1: In corroboration of this view of the Vendean rising as
democratic, see Mortimer-Ternaux, _Hist. de la Terreur_, vol. vi. bk.

And let us mark Victor Hugo's signal distinction in his analysis
of character. It is not mere vigour of drawing, nor acuteness of
perception, nor fire of imagination, though he has all these gifts in
a singular degree, and truest of their kind. But then Scott had
them too, and yet we feel in Victor Hugo's work a seriousness, a
significance, a depth of tone, which never touches us in the work of
his famous predecessor in romance, delightful as the best of that work
is. Balfour of Burley is one of Scott's most commanding figures, and
the stern Covenanter is nearly in the same plane of character as the
stern heroic Jacobin. Yet Cimourdain impresses us more profoundly. He
is as natural, as human, as readily conceivable, and yet he produces
something of the subtle depth of effect which belongs to the actor in
a play of Aeschylus. Why is this? Because Hugo makes us conscious of
that tragedy of temperament, that sterner Necessity of character,
that resistless compulsion of circumstance, which is the modern and
positive expression for the old Destiny of the Greeks, and which in
some expression or other is now an essential element in the highest
presentation of human life. Here is not the Unknown. On the contrary,
we are in the very heart of science; tragedy to the modern is
not [Greek: tuchae], but a thing of cause and effect, invariable
antecedent and invariable consequent. It is the presence of this
tragic force underlying action that gives to all Hugo's work its lofty
quality, its breadth, and generality, and fills both it, and us who
read, with pity and gravity and an understanding awe.

The action is this. Cimourdain had the young Gauvain to train from his
earliest childhood, and the pupil grew up with the same rigid sense
of duty as the master, though temperament modified its form. When the
Revolution came, Gauvain, though a noble, took sides with the people,
but he was not of the same spirit as his teacher. "The Revolution,"
says Victor Hugo, "by the side of youthful figures of giants, such as
Danton, Saint-Just, and Robespierre, has young ideal figures, like
Hoche and Marceau. Gauvain was one of these figures" (ii. 34).
Cimourdain has himself named delegate from the Committee of Public
Safety to the expeditionary column of which Gauvain is in command. The
warmth of affection between them was undiminished, but difference in
temperament bred difference in their principles. They represented, as
the author says, with the candour of the poet, the two poles of
the truth; the two sides of the inarticulate, subterranean, fatal
contention of the year of the Terror. Their arguments with one another
make the situation more intelligible to the historic student, as they
make the characters of the speakers more transparent for the purposes
of the romance.

This is Cimourdain:--

    "Beware, there are terrible duties in life. Do not accuse what is
    not responsible. Since when has the disorder been the fault of the
    physician? Yes, what marks this tremendous year is being without
    pity. Why? Because it is the great revolutionary year. This year
    incarnates the revolution. The revolution has an enemy, the old
    world, and to that it is pitiless, just as the surgeon has
    an enemy, gangrene, and is pitiless to that. The revolution
    extirpates kingship in the king, aristocracy in the noble,
    despotism in the soldier, superstition in the priest, barbarity in
    the judge, in a word whatever is tyranny in whatever is tyrant.
    The operation is frightful, the revolution performs it with a sure
    hand. As to the quantity of sound flesh that it requires, ask
    Boerhave what he thinks of it. What tumour that has to be cut out
    does not involve loss of blood?... The revolution devotes itself
    to its fated task. It mutilates but it saves.... It has the past
    in its grasp, it will not spare. It makes in civilisation a deep
    incision whence shall come the safety of the human race. You
    suffer? No doubt. How long will it last? The time needed for the
    operation. Then you will live," etc. (ii. 65-66).

"One day," he adds, "the Revolution will justify the Terror." To which
Gauvain retorts thus:--

    "Fear lest the Terror be the calumny of the Revolution. Liberty,
    Equality, Fraternity, are dogmas of peace and harmony. Why give
    them an aspect of alarm? What do we seek? To win nations to the
    universal public. Then why inspire fright? Of what avail is
    intimidation? It is wrong to do ill in order to do good. You do
    not pull down the throne to leave the scaffold standing. Let us
    hurl away crowns, let us spare heads. The revolution is concord,
    not affright. Mild ideas are ill-served by men who do not know
    pity. Amnesty is for me the noblest word in human speech. I will
    shed no blood save at hazard of my own.... In the fight let us be
    the enemies of our foes, and after the victory their brothers"
    (ii. 67).

These two together, Cimourdain and Gauvain, make an ideal pair of the
revolutionists of '93. Strip each of them of the beauty of character
with which the poet's imagination has endowed them, add instead
passion, violence, envy, egoism, malice; then you understand how in
the very face of the foreign enemy Girondins sharpened the knife
for the men of the Mountain, Hébertists screamed for the lives
of Robespierrists, Robespierre struck off the head of Danton,
Thermidorians crushed Robespierre.

Victor Hugo has given to this typic historical struggle of '93 the
qualities of nobleness and beauty which art requires in dealing with
real themes. Lantenac falls into the hands of the Blues, headed by
Cimourdain and Gauvain, but he does so in consequence of yielding to a
heroic and self-devoting impulse of humanity. Cimourdain, true to his
temperament, insists on his instant execution. Gauvain, true also to
his temperament, is seized with a thousand misgivings, and there is
no more ample, original, and masterly presentation of a case of
conscience, that in civil war is always common enough, than the
struggle through which Gauvain passes before he can resolve to deliver
Lantenac. This pathetic debate--"the stone of Sisyphus, which is only
the quarrel of man with himself"--turns on the loftiest, broadest,
most generous motives, touching the very bases of character, and
reaching far beyond the issue of '93. The political question is seen
to be no more than a superficial aspect of the deeper moral question.
Lantenac, the representative of the old order, had performed an
exploit of signal devotion. Was it not well that one who had faith in
the new order should show himself equally willing to cast away his
life to save one whom self-sacrifice had transformed from the infernal
Satan into the heavenly Lucifer?

    "Gauvain saw in the shade the sinister smile of the sphinx. The
    situation was a sort of dread crossway where the conflicting
    truths issued and confronted one another, and where the three
    supreme ideas of man stood face to face--humanity, the family, the
    fatherland. Each of the voices spoke in turn, and each in turn
    declared the truth. How choose? Each in turn seemed to hit the
    mark of reason and justice, and said, Do that. Was that the thing
    to be done? Yes. No. Reasoning counselled one thing; sentiment
    another; the two counsels were contradictory. Reasoning is only
    reason; sentiment is often conscience; the one comes from man,
    the other from a loftier source. That is why sentiment has less
    distinctness, and more might. Yet what strength in the severity
    of reason! Gauvain hesitated. His perplexity was so fierce. Two
    abysses opened before him: to destroy the marquis, or to save him.
    Which of these two gulfs was duty?"

The whole scene (ii. 206-219) is a masterpiece of dramatic strength,
sustention, and flexibility--only equalled by the dramatic vivacity of
the scene in which Cimourdain, sitting as judge, orders the prisoner
to be brought forward, to his horror sees Gauvain instead of Lantenac,
and then proceeds to condemn the man whom he loves best on earth to be
taken to the guillotine.

       *       *       *       *       *

The tragedy of the story, its sombre tone, the overhanging presence of
death in it, are prevented from being oppressive to us by the variety
of minor situation and subordinate character with which the writer has
surrounded the central figures. No writer living is so consummate a
master of landscape, and besides the forest we here have an elaborate
sea-piece, full of the weird, ineffable, menacing suggestion of the
sea in some of her unnumbered moods; and there is a scene of late
twilight on a high solitary down over the bay of Mont Saint-Michel, to
which a reader blessed with sensibility to the subtler impressions of
landscape will turn again and again, as one visits again and again
some actual prospect where the eye procures for the inner sense
a dream of beauty and the incommensurable. Perhaps the palm for
exquisite workmanship will be popularly given, and justly given, to
the episode humorously headed _The Massacre of Saint Bartholomew_,
at the opening of the third volume. It is the story of three little
children, barely out of infancy, awaking, playing, eating, wondering,
slumbering, in solitude through a summer day in an old tower. As a
rule the attempt to make infancy interesting in literature ends in
maudlin failure. But at length the painters have found an equal, or
more than an equal, in an artist whose medium lends itself less easily
than colour and form to the reproduction of the beauty and life of
childhood. In his poetry Victor Hugo had already shown his passing
sensibility to the pathos of the beginnings of our life; witness such
pieces as _Chose vue un Jour de Printemps, Les Pauvres Gens_, the
well-known pieces in _L'Année Terrible_, and a hundred other lively
touches and fragments of finished loveliness and penetrating sympathy.
In prose it is a more difficult feat to collect the trivial details
which make up the life of the tiny human animal into a whole that
shall be impressive, finished, and beautiful. And prose can only
describe by details enumerated one by one. This most arduous feat
is accomplished in the children's summer day in the tower, and with
enchanting success. Intensely realistic, yet the picture overflows
with emotion--not the emotion of the mother, but of the poet. There
is infinite tenderness, pathos, love, but all heightened at once and
strengthened by the self-control of masculine force. A man writing
about little ones seems able to place himself outside, and thus to
gain more calmness and freedom of vision than the more passionate
interest or yearning of women permits to them in this field of art.
Not a detail is spared, yet the whole is full of delight and pity and
humour. Only one lyric passage is allowed to poetise and accentuate
the realism of the description. Georgette, some twenty months old,
scrambles from her cradle and prattles to the sunbeam.

    "What a bird says in its song, a child says in its prattle. 'Tis
    the same hymn; a hymn indistinct, lisping, profound. The child has
    what the bird has not, the sombre human destiny in front of it.
    Hence the sadness of men as they listen, mingling with the joy of
    the little one as it sings. The sublimest canticle to be heard on
    earth is the stammering of the human soul on the lips of infancy.
    That confused chirruping of a thought, that is as yet no more than
    an instinct, has in it one knows not what sort of artless appeal
    to the eternal justice; or is it a protest uttered on the
    threshold before entering in, a protest meek and poignant? This
    ignorance smiling at the Infinite compromises all creation in the
    lot that shall fall to the weak defenceless being. Ill, if it
    shall come, will be an abuse of confidence.

    "The child's murmuring is more and is less than words; there are
    no notes, and yet it is a song; there are no syllables, and yet it
    is a language.... This poor stammering is a compound of what the
    child said when it was an angel, and of what it will say when
    it becomes a man. The cradle has a Yesterday as the grave has a
    Morrow; the Morrow and the Yesterday mingle in that strange cooing
    their twofold mystery...."

    "Her lips smiled, her eyes smiled, the dimples in her cheeks
    smiled. There came forth in this smile a mysterious welcome of the
    morning. The soul has faith in the ray. The heavens were blue,
    warm was the air. The fragile creature, without knowing anything,
    or recognising anything, or understanding anything, softly
    floating in musings which are not thought, felt itself in safety
    in the midst of nature, among those good trees and that guileless
    greenery, in the pure and peaceful landscape, amid the rustle of
    nests, of flowing springs, of insects, of leaves, while over all
    there glowed the great innocency of the sun" (ii. 104).

As an eminent man has recently written about Wordsworth's most famous
Ode, there may be some bad philosophy here, but there is assuredly
some noble and touching poetry.

If the carelessness of infancy is caught with this perfection of
finish, there is a tragic companion piece in the horror and gnawing
anguish of the wretched woman from whom her young have been taken--her
rescue from death, her fierce yearnings for them like the yearnings of
a beast, her brute-like heedlessness of her life and her body in the
cruel search.

And so the poet conducts us along the strange excursive windings of
the life and passion of humanity. The same hand which draws such noble
figures as Gauvain--and the real Lanjuinais of history was fully as
heroic and as noble as the imaginary Gauvain of fiction--is equally
skilful in drawing the wild Breton beggar who dwells underground among
the branching tree-roots; and the monstrous Imânus, the barbarous
retainer of the Lord of the Seven Forests; and Radoub, the serjeant
from Paris, a man of hearty oaths, hideous, heroic, humoursome, of
a bloody ingenuity in combat. And the same hand which described the
silent sundown on the sandy shore of the bay, and the mysterious
darkness of the forests, and the blameless play of the little ones,
gives us the prodigious animation of the night surprise at Dôl, the
furious conflict at La Tourgue, and, perhaps most powerful of all, the
breaking loose of the gun on the deck of the _Claymore_. You may say
that this is only melodrama; but if we turn to the actual events of
'93, the melodrama of the romancer will seem tame compared with the
melodrama of the faithful chronicler. And so long as the narrative
of melodramatic action is filled with poetry and beauty, there is no
reproach in uncommon situation, in intense passion, in magnanimous or
subtle motives that are not of every day. Of Hugo's art we may say
what Dr. Newman has said of something else: _Such work is always open
to criticism and it is always above it_.

There is poetry and beauty, no doubt, in the common lives about us, if
we look at them with imaginative and sympathetic eye, and we owe much
to the art that reveals to us the tragedy of the parlour and the
frockcoat, and analyses the bitterness and sorrow and high passion
that may underlie a life of outer smoothness and decorum. Still,
criticism cannot accept this as the final and exclusive limitation of
imaginative work. Art is nothing if not catholic and many-sided, and
it is certainly not exhausted by mere domestic possibilities. Goethe's
fine and luminous feeling for practical life, which has given such
depth of richness and wisdom to his best prose writing, fills us with
a delightful sense of satisfaction and adequateness; and yet why
should it not leave us with a mind eagerly open for the larger and
more inventive romance, in which nature is clothed with some of that
awe and might and silent contemplation of the puny destinies of man,
that used to surround the conception of the supernatural? Victor Hugo
seeks strong and extraordinary effects; he is a master of terrible
image, profound emotion, audacious fancy; but then these are as real,
as natural, as true to fact, as the fairest reproduction of the moral
poverties and meannesses of the world. And let it be added that while
he is without a rival in the dark mysterious heights of imaginative
effect, he is equally a master in strokes of tenderness and the most
delicate human sympathy. His last book seems to contain pieces that
surpass every other book of Hugo's in the latter range of qualities,
and not to fall at all short in the former. And so, in the words of
the man of genius who last wrote on Victor Hugo in these pages,[1]
"As we pity ourselves for the loss of poems and pictures which have
perished, and left of Sappho but a fragment and of Zeuxis but a name,
so are we inclined to pity the dead who died too soon to enjoy the
great works we have enjoyed. At each new glory that 'swims into our
ken,' we surely feel that it is something to have lived to see that
too rise."

[Footnote 1: Mr. Swinburne.]


When the first volume of Mr. Browning's new poem came before the
critical tribunals, public and private, recognised or irresponsible,
there was much lamentation even in quarters where a manlier humour
might have been expected, over the poet's choice of a subject. With
facile largeness of censure, it was pronounced a murky subject,
sordid, unlovely, morally sterile, an ugly leaf out of some ancient
Italian Newgate Calendar. One hinted in vain that wisdom is justified
of her children, that the poet must be trusted to judge of the
capacity of his own theme, and that it is his conception and treatment
of it that ultimately justify or discredit his choice. Now that the
entire work is before the world, this is plain, and it is admitted.
When the second volume, containing _Giuseppe Caponsacchi_, appeared,
men no longer found it sordid or ugly; the third, with _Pompilia_,
convinced them that the subject was not, after all, so incurably
unlovely; and the fourth, with _The Pope_, and the passage from the
Friar's sermon, may well persuade those who needed persuasion, that
moral fruitfulness depends on the master, his eye and hand, his vision
and grasp, more than on this and that in the transaction which has
taken possession of his imagination.

The truth is, we have for long been so debilitated by pastorals, by
graceful presentation of the Arthurian legend for drawing-rooms, by
idylls, not robust and Theocritean, by verse directly didactic, that a
rude blast of air from the outside welter of human realities is apt
to give a shock, that might well show in what simpleton's paradise
we have been living. The ethics of the rectory parlour set to sweet
music, the respectable aspirations of the sentimental curate married
to exquisite verse, the everlasting glorification of domestic
sentiment in blameless princes and others, as if that were the poet's
single province and the divinely-appointed end of all art, as if
domestic sentiment included and summed up the whole throng of
passions, emotions, strife, and desire; all this might seem to be
making valetudinarians of us all. Our public is beginning to measure
the right and possible in art by the superficial probabilities of life
and manners within a ten-mile radius of Charing Cross. Is it likely,
asks the critic, that Duke Silva would have done this, that Fedalma
would have done that? Who shall suppose it possible that Caponsacchi
acted thus, that Count Guido was possessed by devils so? The poser
is triumphant, because the critic is tacitly appealing to the normal
standard of probabilities in our own day. In the tragedy of Pompilia
we are taken far from the serene and homely region in which some of
our teachers would fain have it that the whole moral universe can be
snugly pent up. We see the black passions of man at their blackest;
hate, so fierce, undiluted, implacable, passionate, as to be hard of
conception by our simpler northern natures; cruelty, so vindictive,
subtle, persistent, deadly, as to fill us with a pain almost too great
for true art to produce; greediness, lust, craft, penetrating a whole
stock and breed, even down to the ancient mother of "that fell house
of hate,"--

  "The gaunt grey nightmare in the furthest smoke,
  The hag that gave these three abortions birth,
  Unmotherly mother and unwomanly
  Woman, that near turns motherhood to shame,
  Womanliness to loathing: no one word,
  No gesture to curb cruelty a whit
  More than the she-pard thwarts her playsome whelps
  Trying their milk-teeth on the soft o' the throat
  O' the first fawn, flung, with those beseeching eyes,
  Flat in the covert! How should she but couch,
  Lick the dry lips, unsheathe the blunted claw,
  Catch 'twixt her placid eyewinks at what chance
  Old bloody half-forgotten dream may flit,
  Born when herself was novice to the taste,
  The while she lets youth take its pleasure" (iv. 40).

But, then, if the poet has lighted up for us these grim and appalling
depths, he has not failed to raise us too into the presence of
proportionate loftiness and purity.

               "Tantum vertice in auras
  Aetherias quantum radice in Tartara tendit."

Like the gloomy and umbrageous grove of which the Sibyl spake to the
pious Aeneas, the poem conceals a golden branch and golden leaves.
In the second volume, Guido, servile and false, is followed by
Caponsacchi, as noble alike in conception and execution as anything
that Mr. Browning has ever achieved. In the third volume, the austere
pathos of Pompilia's tale relieves the too oppressive jollity of Don
Giacinto, and the flowery rhetoric of Bottini; while in the fourth,
the deep wisdom, justice, and righteous mind of the Pope, reconcile
us to endure the sulphurous whiff from the pit in the confession of
Guido, now desperate, naked, and satanic. From what at first was sheer
murk, there comes out a long procession of human figures, infinitely
various in form and thought, in character and act; a group of men and
women, eager, passionate, indifferent; tender and ravenous, mean and
noble, humorous and profound, jovial with prosperity or half-dumb with
misery, skirting the central tragedy, or plunged deep into the thick
of it, passers-by who put themselves off with a glance at the surface
of a thing, and another or two who dive to the heart of it. And
they all come out with a certain Shakespearian fulness, vividness,
directness. Above all, they are every one of them men and women,
with free play of human life in limb and feature, as in an antique
sculpture. So much of modern art, in poetry as in painting, runs to
mere drapery. "I grant," said Lessing, "that there is also a beauty in
drapery, but can it be compared with that of the human form? And shall
he who can attain to the greater, rest content with the less? I much
fear that the most perfect master in drapery shows by that very talent
wherein his weakness lies." This was spoken of plastic art, but it has
a yet deeper meaning in poetic criticism. There too, the master is he
who presents the natural shape, the curves, the thews of men, and does
not labour and seek praise for faithful reproduction of the mere moral
drapery of the hour, this or another; who gives you Hercules at strife
with Antaeus, Laocoon writhing in the coils of the divine serpents,
the wrestle with circumstance or passion, with outward destiny or
inner character, in the free outlines of nature and reality. The
capacity which it possesses for this presentation, at once so varied
and so direct, is one reason why the dramatic form ranks as the
highest expression and measure of the creative power of the poet; and
the extraordinary grasp with which Mr. Browning has availed himself of
this double capacity is one reason why we should reckon _The Ring and
the Book_ as one of his masterpieces.

We may say this, and still not be blind to the faults of the poem.
Many persons agree that they find it too long, and if they find it so,
then for them it is too long. Others, who cannot resist the critic's
temptation of believing that a remark must be true if it only look
acute and specific, vow that the disclosure in the first volume of the
whole plan and plot vitiates subsequent artistic merit. If one
cannot enjoy what comes, for knowing beforehand what is coming, this
objection may be allowed to have a root in human nature; but then two
things might perhaps be urged on the other side,--first, that the
interest of the poem lies in the development and presentation of
character, on the one hand, and in the many sides which a single
transaction offered to as many minds, on the other; and therefore that
this true interest could not be marred by the bare statement what the
transaction was or, baldly looked at, seemed to be; and, second, that
the poem was meant to find its reader in a mood of mental repose,
ready to receive the poet's impressions, undisturbed by any agitating
curiosity as to plot or final outcome. A more valid accusation touches
the many verbal perversities, in which a poet has less right than
another to indulge. The compound Latin and English of Don Giacinto,
notwithstanding the fan of the piece, still grows a burden to the
flesh. Then there are harsh and formless lines, bursts of metrical
chaos, from which a writer's dignity and self-respect ought surely
to be enough to preserve him. Again, there are passages marked by a
coarse violence of expression that is nothing short of barbarous (for
instance, ii. 190, or 245). The only thing to be said is, that the
countrymen of Shakespeare have had to learn to forgive uncouth
outrages on form and beauty to fine creative genius. If only one could
be sure that readers, unschooled as too many are to love the simple
and elevated beauty of such form as Sophocles or as Corneille gives,
would not think the worst fault the chief virtue, and confound the
poet's bluntnesses with his admirable originality. It is certain that
in Shakespeare's case his defects are constantly fastened upon, by
critics who have never seriously studied the forms of dramatic art
except in the literature of England, and extolled as instances of
his characteristic mightiness. It may well be, therefore, that the
grotesque caprices which Mr. Browning unfortunately permits to himself
may find misguided admirers, or, what is worse, even imitators. It
would be most unjust, however, while making due mention of these
things, to pass over the dignity and splendour of the verse in
many places, where the intensity of the writer's mood finds worthy
embodiment in a sustained gravity and vigour and finish of diction not
to be surpassed. The concluding lines of the _Caponsacchi_ (comprising
the last page of the second volume), the appeal of the Greek poet in
_The Pope_, one or two passages in the first _Guido_ (e.g. vol. ii.,
p. 156, from line 1957), and the close of the _Pompilia_, ought to be
referred to when one wishes to know what power over the instrument
of his art Mr. Browning might have achieved, if he had chosen to
discipline himself in instrumentation.

When all is said that can be said about the violences which from
time to time invade the poem, it remains true that the complete work
affects the reader most powerfully with that wide unity of impression
which it is the highest aim of dramatic art, and perhaps of all art,
to produce. After we have listened to all the whimsical dogmatising
about beauty, to all the odious cant about morbid anatomy, to all the
well-deserved reproach for unpardonable perversities of phrase and
outrages on rhythm, there is left to us the consciousness that a
striking human transaction has been seized by a vigorous and profound
imagination, that its many diverse threads have been wrought into a
single, rich, and many-coloured web of art, in which we may see traced
for us the labyrinths of passion and indifference, stupidity and
craft, prejudice and chance, along which truth and justice have to
find a devious and doubtful way. The transaction itself, lurid
and fuliginous, is secondary to the manner of its handling and
presentment. We do not derive our sense of unity from the singleness
and completeness of the horrid tragedy, so much as from the power
with which its own circumstances as they happened, the rumours which
clustered about it from the minds of men without, the many moods,
fancies, dispositions, which it for the moment brought out into light,
playing round the fact, the half-sportive flights with which lawyers,
judges, quidnuncs of the street, darted at conviction and snatched
hap-hazard at truth, are all wrought together into one self-sufficient
and compacted shape.

But this shape is not beautiful, and the end of art is beauty? Verbal
fanaticism is always perplexing, and, rubbing my eyes, I ask whether
that beauty means anything more than such an arrangement and
disposition of the parts of the work as, first kindling a great
variety of dispersed emotions and thoughts in the mind of the
spectator, finally concentrates them in a single mood of joyous, sad,
meditative, or interested delight. The sculptor, the painter, and the
musician, have each their special means of producing this final
and superlative impression; each is bound by the strictly limited
capability in one direction and another of the medium in which he
works. In poetry it is because they do not perceive how much more
manifold and varied are the means of reaching the end than in the
other expressions of art, that people insist each upon some particular
quiddity which, entering into composition, alone constitutes it
genuinely poetic, beautiful, or artistic. Pressing for definition, you
never get much further than that each given quiddity means a certain
Whatness. This is why poetical criticism is usually so little
catholic. A man remembers that a poem in one style has filled him with
consciousness of beauty and delight. Why conclude that this style
constitutes the one access to the same impression? Why not rather
perceive that, to take contemporaries, the beauty of _Thyrsis_ Is
mainly produced by a fine suffusion of delicately-toned emotion; that
of _Atalanta_ by splendid and barely rivalled music of verse; of _In
Memoriam_ by its ordered and harmonious presentation of a sacred mood;
of the _Spanish Gypsy_, in the parts where it reaches beauty, by
a sublime ethical passion; of the _Earthly Paradise_, by sweet and
simple reproduction of the spirit of the younger-hearted times? There
are poems by Mr. Browning in which it is difficult, or, let us frankly
say, impossible, for most of us at all events and as yet, to discover
the beauty or the shape. But if beauty may not be denied to a work
which, abounding in many-coloured scenes and diverse characters, in
vivid image and portraiture, wide reflection and multiform emotion,
does further, by a broad thread of thought running under all, bind
these impressions into one supreme and elevated conviction, then
assuredly, whatever we may think of this passage or that, that episode
or the other, the first volume or the third, we cannot deny that _The
Ring and the Book_, in its perfection and integrity, fully satisfies
the conditions of artistic triumph. Are we to ignore the grandeur of
a colossal statue, and the nobility of the human conceptions which it
embodies, because here and there we notice a flaw in the marble, a
blemish in its colour, a jagged slip of the chisel? "It is not force
of intellect," as George Eliot has said, "which causes ready repulsion
from the aberration and eccentricities of greatness, any more than it
is force of vision that causes the eye to explore the warts in a
face bright with human expression; it is simply the negation of high

Then, it is asked by persons of another and still more rigorous
temper, whether, as the world goes, the subject, or its treatment
either, justifies us in reading some twenty-one thousand and
seventy-five lines, which do not seem to have any direct tendency to
make us better or to improve mankind. This objection is an old enemy
with a new face, and need not detain us, though perhaps the crude
and incessant application of a narrow moral standard, thoroughly
misunderstood, is one of the intellectual dangers of our time. You may
now and again hear a man of really masculine character confess that
though he loves Shakespeare and takes habitual delight in his works,
he cannot see that he was a particularly moral writer. That is to say,
Shakespeare is never directly didactic; you can no more get a system
of morals out of his writings than you can get such a system out
of the writings of the ever-searching Plato. But, if we must be
quantitative, one great creative poet probably exerts a nobler,
deeper, more permanent ethical influence than a dozen generations of
professed moral teachers. It is a commonplace to the wise, and an
everlasting puzzle to the foolish, that direct inculcation of morals
should invariably prove so powerless an instrument, so futile a
method. The truth is that nothing can be more powerfully efficacious
from the moral point of view than the exercise of an exalted creative
art, stirring within the intelligence of the spectator active thought
and curiosity about many types of character and many changeful issues
of conduct and fortune, at once enlarging and elevating the range of
his reflections on mankind, ever kindling his sympathies into the warm
and continuous glow which purifies and strengthens nature, and fills
men with that love of humanity which is the best inspirer of virtue.
Is not this why music, too, is to be counted supreme among moral
agents, soothing disorderly passion by diving down into the hidden
deeps of character where there is no disorder, and touching the
diviner mind? Given a certain rectitude as well as vigour of
intelligence, then whatever stimulates the fancy, expands the
imagination, enlivens meditation upon the great human drama, is
essentially moral. Shakespeare does all this, as if sent Iris-like
from the immortal gods, and _The Ring and the Book_ has a measure of
the same incomparable quality.

A profound and moving irony subsists in the very structure of the
poem. Any other human transaction that ever was, tragic or comic or
plain prosaic, may be looked at in a like spirit, As the world's talk
bubbled around the dumb anguish of Pompilia, or the cruelty and hate
of Guido, so it does around the hourly tragedies of all times and

  "The instinctive theorizing whence a fact
  Looks to the eye as the eye likes the look."--
  "Vibrations in the general mind
  At depth of deed already out of reach."--
                 "Live fact deadened down,
  Talked over, bruited abroad, whispered away:"--

if we reflect that these are the conditions which have marked the
formation of all the judgments that we hold by, and which are vivid in
operation and effect at this hour, the deep irony and the impressive
meaning of the poem are both obvious:--

                 "So learn one lesson hence
  Of many which whatever lives should teach,
  This lesson that our human speech is naught,
  Our human testimony false, our fame
  And human estimation words and wind" (iv. 234).

It is characteristic of Mr. Browning that he thus casts the moral of
his piece in an essentially intellectual rather than an emotional
form, appealing to hard judgment rather than to imaginative
sensibility. Another living poet of original genius, of whom we have
much right to complain that he gives us so little, ends a poem in two
or three lines which are worth quoting here for the illustration they
afford of what has just been said about Mr. Browning:--

  "Ah, what dusty answer gets the soul,
  When hot for certainties in this our life!--
  In tragic hints here see what evermore
  Moves dark as yonder midnight ocean's force,
  Thundering like ramping hosts of warrior horse,
  To throw that faint thin line upon the shore?"[1]

[Footnote 1: Mr. George Meredith's _Modern Love_.]

This is imaginative and sympathetic in thought as well as expression,
and the truth and the image enter the writer's mind together, the one
by the other. The lines convey poetic sentiment rather than reasoned
truth; while Mr. Browning's close would be no unfit epilogue to a
scientific essay on history, or a treatise on the errors of the human
understanding and the inaccuracy of human opinion and judgment. This
is the common note of his highest work; hard thought and reason
illustrating themselves in dramatic circumstance, and the thought
and reason are not wholly fused, they exist apart and irradiate with
far-shooting beams the moral confusion of the tragedy. This is, at any
rate, emphatically true of _The Ring and the Book_. The fulness
and variety of creation, the amplitude of the play and shifting of
characters and motive and mood, are absolutely unforced, absolutely
uninterfered with by the artificial exigencies of ethical or
philosophic purpose. There is the purpose, full-grown, clear in
outline, unmistakeable in significance. But the just proprieties of
place and season are rigorously observed, because Mr. Browning, like
every other poet of his quality, has exuberant and adequate delight in
mere creation, simple presentment, and returns to bethink him of the
meaning of it all only by-and-by. The pictures of Guido, of Pompilia,
of Caponsacchi, of Dominus Hyacinthus de Archangelis, of Pope
Innocent, are each of them full and adequate, as conceptions of
character in active manifestation apart from the truth which the whole
composition is meant to illustrate, and which clothes itself in this
most excellent drama.

The scientific attitude of the intelligence is almost as markedly
visible in Mr. Browning as the strength of his creative power. The
lesson of _The Ring and the Book_ is perhaps as nearly positive as
anything poetic can be. It is true that ultimately the drama ends in
a vindication of what are called the ways of God to man, if indeed
people are willing to put themselves off with a form of omnipotent
justice which is simply a partial retribution inflicted on the
monster, while torture and butchery fall upon victims more or
less absolutely blameless. As if the fact of punishment at length
overtaking the guilty Franceschini were any vindication of the justice
of that assumed Providence, which had for so long a time awarded
punishment far more harsh to the innocent Pompilia. So far as you
can be content with the vindication of a justice of this less than
equivocal quality, the sight of the monster brought to the

                             "Close fetid cell,
  Where the hot vapour of an agony,
  Struck into drops on the cold wall, runs down
  Horrible worms made out of sweat and tears,"--

may in a sense prove satisfactory enough. But a man must be very dull
who in reading the poem does not perceive that the very spirit of it
points to the thousand hazards which even this fragment of justice had
to run in saving itself, and bringing about such partially righteous
consummation as destiny permits. True opinion fares yet more
perilously. _Half-Rome_, the _Other Half-Rome_, the _Tertium Quid_,
which is perhaps most masterly and finished of the three, show us
how ill truth sifts itself, to how many it never comes at all, how
blurred, confused, next door to false, it is figured even to those who
seize it by the hem of the garment. We may, perhaps, yawn over the
intermingled Latin and law of Arcangeli, in spite of the humour of
parts of it, as well as over the vapid floweriness of his rival; but
for all that, we are touched keenly by the irony of the methods by
which the two professional truth-sifters darken counsel with words,
and make skilful sport of life and fact. The whole poem is a parable
of the feeble and half-hopeless struggle which truth has to make
against the ways of the world. That in this particular case truth and
justice did win some pale sort of victory does not weaken the force
of the lesson. The victory was such and so won as to stir in us awful
thoughts of fatal risks and certain defeats, of falsehood a thousand
times clasped for truth, of fact a thousand times banished for

  "Because Pompilia's purity prevails,
  Conclude you, all truth triumphs in the end?
  So might those old inhabitants of the ark,
  Witnessing haply their dove's safe return,
  Pronounce there was no danger all the while
  O' the deluge, to the creature's counterparts,
  Aught that beat wing i' the world, was white or soft,
  And that the lark, the thrush, the culver too,
  Might equally have traversed air, found earth,
  And brought back olive-branch In unharmed bill.
  Methinks I hear the Patriarch's warning voice--
  'Though this one breast, by miracle, return,
  No wave rolls by, in all the waste, but bears
  Within it some dead dove-like thing as dear,
  Beauty made blank and harmlessness destroyed!'"

  (iv. 218).

Or, to take another simile from the same magnificent passage, in which
the fine dignity of the verse fitly matches the deep truth of the
preacher's monitions:--

  "Romans! An elder race possessed your land
  Long ago, and a false faith lingered still,
  As shades do, though the morning-star be out.
  Doubtless, some pagan of the twilight day
  Has often pointed to a cavern-mouth,
  Obnoxious to beholders, hard by Rome,
  And said,--nor he a bad man, no, nor fool,--
  Only a man, so, blind like all his mates,--
  'Here skulk in safety, lurk, defying law,
  The devotees to execrable creed,
  Adoring--with what culture ... Jove, avert
  Thy vengeance from us worshippers of thee!...
  What rites obscene--their idol-god, an Ass!'
  So went the word forth, so acceptance found,
  So century re-echoed century,
  Cursed the accursed,--and so, from sire to son,
  You Romans cried, 'The offscourings of our race
  Corrupt within the depths there: fitly, fiends
  Perform a temple-service o'er the dead:
  Child, gather garment round thee, pass nor pry!'
  So groaned your generations: till the time
  Grew ripe, and lightning hath revealed, belike,--
  Thro' crevice peeped into by curious fear,--
  Some object even fear could recognise
  I' the place of spectres; on the illumined wall,
  To-wit, some nook, tradition talks about,
  Narrow and short, a corpse's length, no more:
  And by it, in the due receptacle,
  The little rude brown lamp of earthenware,
  The cruse, was meant for flowers, but held the blood,
  The rough-scratched palm-branch, and the legend left
  _Pro Christo_. Then the mystery lay clear:
  The abhorred one was a martyr all the time,
  A saint whereof earth was not worthy. What?
  Do you continue in the old belief?
  Where blackness bides unbroke, must devils be?
  Is it so certain, not another cell
  O' the myriad that make up the catacomb,
  Contains some saint a second flash would show?
  Will you ascend into the light of day
  And, having recognised a martyr's shrine,
  Go join the votaries that gape around
  Each vulgar god that awes the market-place?"
  (iv. 219).

With less impetuosity and a more weightily reasoned argument the Pope
confronts the long perplexity and entanglement of circumstances with
the fatuous optimism which insists that somehow justice and virtue do
rule in the world. Consider all the doings at Arezzo, before and after
the consummation of the tragedy. What of the Aretine archbishop, to
whom Pompilia cried "Protect me from the fiend!"--

  "No, for thy Guido is one heady, strong,
  Dangerous to disquiet; let him bide!
  He needs some bone to mumble, help amuse
  The darkness of his den with; so, the fawn
  Which limps up bleeding to my foot and lies,
  --Come to me, daughter,--thus I throw him back!"

Then the monk to whom she went, imploring him to write to Rome:--

  "He meets the first cold sprinkle of the world
  And shudders to the marrow, 'Save this child?
  Oh, my superiors, oh, the Archbishop here!
  Who was it dared lay hand upon the ark
  His betters saw fall nor put finger forth?'"

Worst of all, the Convent of the Convertites, women to whom she was
consigned for help,

  "They do help; they are prompt to testify
  To her pure life and saintly dying days.
  She dies, and lo, who seemed so poor, proves rich!
  What does the body that lives through helpfulness
  To women for Christ's sake? The kiss turns bite,
  The dove's note changes to the crow's cry: judge!
    'Seeing that this our Convent claims of right
  What goods belong to those we succour, be
  The same proved women of dishonest life,--
  And seeing that this Trial made appear
  Pompilia was in such predicament,--
  The Convent hereupon pretends to said
  Succession of Pompilia, issues writ,
  And takes possession by the Fisc's advice.'
  Such is their attestation to the cause
  Of Christ, who had one saint at least, they hoped:
  But, is a title-deed to filch, a corpse
  To slander, and an infant-heir to cheat?
  Christ must give up his gains then! They unsay
  All the fine speeches,--who was saint is whore."

It is not wonderful if his review of all the mean and dolorous
circumstance of this cycle of wrong brings the Pope face to face with
the unconquerable problem for the Christian believer, the keystone
of the grim arch of religious doubt and despair, through which the
courageous soul must needs pass to creeds of reason and life. Where is
"the gloriously decisive change, the immeasurable metamorphosis" in
human worth that should in some sort justify the consummate price that
had been paid for man these seventeen hundred years before?

  "Had a mere adept of the Rosy Cross
  Spent his life to consummate the Great Work,
  Would not we start to see the stuff it touched
  Yield not a grain more than the vulgar got
  By the old smelting-process years ago?
  If this were sad to see in just the sage
  Who should profess so much, perform no more,
  What is it when suspected in that Power
  Who undertook to make and made the world,
  Devised and did effect man, body and soul,
  Ordained salvation for them both, and yet ...
  Well, is the thing we see, salvation?"

It is certain that by whatever other deficiencies it may be marked
_The Ring and the Book_ is blameless for the most characteristic of
all the shortcomings of contemporary verse, a grievous sterility of
thought. And why? Because sterility of thought is the blight struck
into the minds of men by timorous and halt-footed scepticism, by a
half-hearted dread of what chill thing the truth might prove itself,
by unmanly reluctance or moral incapacity to carry the faculty of
poetic vision over the whole field; and because Mr. Browning's
intelligence, on the other hand, is masculine and courageous, moving
cheerfully on the solid earth of an articulate and defined conviction,
and careful not to omit realities from the conception of the great
drama, merely for being unsightly to the too fastidious eye,
or jarring in the ear, or too bitterly perplexing to faith or
understanding. It is this resolute feeling after and grip of fact
which is at the root of his distinguishing fruitfulness of thought,
and it is exuberance of thought, spontaneous, well-marked, and sapid,
that keeps him out of poetical preaching, on the one hand, and mere
making of music, on the other. Regret as we may the fantastic rudeness
and unscrupulous barbarisms into which Mr. Browning's art too often
falls, and find what fault we may with his method, let us ever
remember how much he has to say, and how effectively he communicates
the shock of new thought which was first imparted to him by the
vivid conception of a large and far-reaching story. The value of the
thought, indeed, is not to be measured by poetic tests; but still the
thought has poetic value, too, for it is this which has stirred in the
writer that keen yet impersonal interest in the actors of his story
and in its situations which is one of the most certain notes of
true dramatic feeling, and which therefore gives the most unfailing
stimulus to the interest of the appreciative reader.

At first sight _The Ring and the Book_ appears to be absolutely wanting
in that grandeur which, in a composition of such enormous length,
criticism must pronounce to be a fundamental and indispensable element.
In an ordinary way this effect of grandeur is produced either by some
heroic action surrounded by circumstances of worthy stateliness, as in
the finest of the Greek plays; or as in _Paradise Lost_ by the presence
of personages of majestic sublimity of bearing and association; or as in
_Faust_ or _Hamlet_ by the stupendous moral abysses which the poet
discloses fitfully on this side and that. None of these things are to be
found in _The Ring and the Book_ The action of Caponsacchi, though noble
and disinterested, is hardly heroic in the highest dramatic sense, for
it is not much more than the lofty defiance of a conventionality, the
contemplated penalty being only small; not, for example, as if life or
ascertained happiness had been the fixed or even probable price of his
magnanimous enterprise. There was no marching to the stake, no
deliberate encountering of the mightier risks, no voluntary submission
to a lifelong endurance. True, this came in the end, but it was an end
unforeseen, and one, therefore, not to be associated with the first
conception of the original act. Besides, Guido is so saturated with
hateful and ignoble motive as to fill the surrounding air with
influences that preclude heroic association. It has been said of the
great men to whom the Byzantine Empire once or twice gave birth, that
even their fame has a curiously tarnished air, as if that too had been
touched by the evil breath of the times. And in like manner we may say
of Guido Franceschini that even to have touched him in the way of
resistance detracts from pure heroism. Perhaps the same consideration
explains the comparative disappointment which most people seem to have
felt with _Pompilia_ in the third volume. Again, there is nothing which
can be rightly called majesty of character visible in one personage or
another. There is high devotion in Caponsacchi, a large-minded and free
sagacity in Pope Innocent, and around Pompilia the tragic pathos of an
incurable woe, which by its intensity might raise her to grandeur if it
sprang from some more solemn source than the mere malignity and baseness
of an unworthy oppressor. Lastly, there is nothing in _The Ring and the
Book_ of that "certain incommensurableness" which Goethe found in his
own _Faust_. The poem is kept closely concrete and strictly
commensurable by the very framework of its story:--

      "pure crude fact,
  Secreted from man's life when hearts beat hard,
  And brains, high-blooded, ticked two centuries since."

It moves from none of the supernatural agencies which give the impulse
to our interest in _Faust_, nor from the sublimer passions and
yearning after things unspeakable alike in _Faust_ and in _Hamlet._

Yet, notwithstanding its lack of the accustomed elements of grandeur,
there is a profound impressiveness about _The Ring and the Book_
which must arise from the presence of some other fine compensating
or equivalent quality. Perhaps one may say that this equivalent for
grandeur is a certain simple touching of our sense of human kinship,
of the large identity of the conditions of the human lot, of the
piteous fatalities which bring the lives of the great multitude of men
to be little more than "grains of sand to be blown by the wind." This
old woe, the poet says, now in the fulness of the days again lives,

  "_If precious be the soul of man to man_."

This is the deeply implanted sentiment to which his poem makes
successful appeal. Nor is it mocked by mere outpouring of scorn on the
blind and fortuitous groping of men and societies of men after truth
and justice and traces of the watchfulness of "the unlidded eye of
God." Rather it is this inability to see beyond the facts of our
condition to some diviner, ever-present law, which helps to knit us to
our kind, our brethren "whom we have seen."

      "Clouds obscure--
  But for which obscuration all were bright?
  Too hastily concluded! Sun-suffused,
  A cloud may soothe the eye made blind by blaze,--
  Better the very clarity of heaven:
  The soft streaks are the beautiful and dear.
  What but the weakness in a faith supplies
  The incentive to humanity, no strength
  Absolute, irresistible, comports?
  How can man love but what he yearns to help
  And that which men think weakness within strength
  But angels know for strength and stronger get--
  What were it else but the first things made new,
  But repetition of the miracle,
  The divine instance of self-sacrifice
  That never ends and aye begins for man?"


What are the qualities of a good contributor? What makes a good
Review? Is the best literature produced by the writer who does nothing
else but write, or by the man who tempers literature by affairs? What
are the different recommendations of the rival systems of anonymity
and signature? What kind of change, if any, has passed over periodical
literature since those two great periodicals, the _Edinburgh_ and the
_Quarterly_, held sway? These and a number of other questions in the
same matter--some of them obviously not to be opened with propriety in
these pages--must naturally be often present to the mind of any one
who is concerned in the control of a Review, and a volume has just
been printed which sets such musings once more astir. Mr. Macvey
Napier was the editor of the _Edinburgh Review_ from 1829--when
Jeffrey, after a reign of seven-and-twenty years, resigned it into
his hands--until his death in 1847. A portion of the correspondence
addressed to Mr. Napier during this period is full of personal
interest both to the man of letters and to that more singular being,
the Editor, the impresario of men of letters, the _entrepreneur_ of
the spiritual power.

To manage an opera-house is usually supposed to tax human powers more
urgently than any position save that of a general in the very heat
and stress of battle. The orchestra, the chorus, the subscribers,
the first tenor, a pair of rival prima donnas, the newspapers, the
box-agents in Bond Street, the army of hangers-on in the flies--all
combine to demand such gifts of tact, resolution, patience, foresight,
tenacity, flexibility, as are only expected from the great ruler
or the great soldier. The editor of a periodical of public
consideration--and the _Edinburgh Review_ in the hands of Mr. Napier
was the avowed organ of the ruling Whig powers--is sorely tested
in the same way. The rival house may bribe his stars. His popular
epigrammatist is sometimes as full of humours as a spoiled soprano.
The favourite pyrotechnist is systematically late and procrastinatory,
or is piqued because his punctuation or his paragraphs have been
meddled with. The contributor whose article would be in excellent
time if it did not appear before the close of the century, or never
appeared at all, pesters you with warnings that a month's delay is a
deadly blow to progress, and stays the great procession of the ages.
The contributor who could profitably fill a sheet, insists on sending
a treatise. Sir George Cornewall Lewis, who had charge of the
_Edinburgh_ for a short space, truly described prolixity as the _bête
noire_ of an editor. "Every contributor," he said, "has some special
reason for wishing to write at length on his own subject."

_Ah, que de choses dans un menuet!_ cried Marcel, the great
dancing-master, and ah, what things in the type and [Greek: idea] of
an article, cries an editor with the enthusiasm of his calling; such
proportion, measure, comprehension, variety of topics, pithiness of
treatment, all within a space appointed with Procrustean rigour. This
is what the soul of the volunteer contributor is dull to. Of the minor
vexations who can tell? There is one single tribulation dire enough
to poison life--even if there were no other--and this is disorderly
manuscript. Empson, Mr. Napier's well-known contributor, was one of
the worst offenders; he would never even take the trouble to mark his
paragraphs. It is my misfortune to have a manuscript before me at this
moment that would fill thirty of these pages, and yet from beginning
to end there is no indication that it is not to be read at a single
breath. The paragraph ought to be, and in all good writers it is, as
real and as sensible a division as the sentence. It is an organic
member in prose composition, with a beginning, a middle, and an end,
just as a stanza is an organic and definite member in the composition
of an ode, "I fear my manuscript is rather disorderly," says another,
"but I will correct carefully in print." Just so. Because he is too
heedless to do his work in a workmanlike way, he first inflicts
fatigue and vexation on the editor whom he expects to read his paper;
second, he inflicts considerable and quite needless expense on the
publisher; and thirdly, he inflicts a great deal of tedious and
thankless labour on the printers, who are for the most part far more
meritorious persons than fifth-rate authors. It is true that Burke
returned such disordered proofs that the printer usually found it
least troublesome to set the whole afresh, and Miss Martineau tells
a story of a Scotch compositor who fled from Edinburgh to avoid
Carlyle's manuscript, and to his horror was presently confronted with
a piece of the too familiar copy which made him cry, "Lord, have
mercy! Have _you_ got that man to print for!" But most editors will
cheerfully forgive such transgressions to all contributors who will
guarantee that they write as well as Burke or Carlyle. Alas! it is
usually the case that those who have least excuse are the worst
offenders. The slovenliest manuscripts come from persons to whom
the difference between an hour and a minute is of the very smallest
importance. This, however, is a digression, only to be excused partly
by the natural desire to say a word against one's persecutors, and
partly by a hope that some persons of sensitive conscience may be led
to ponder whether there may not be after all some moral obligations
even towards editors and printers.

Mr. Napier had one famous contributor, who stands out alone in the
history of editors. Lord Brougham's traditional connection with the
Review,--he had begun to write either in its first or third number,
and had written in it ever since--his encyclopaedic ignorance, his
power, his great fame in the country, and the prestige which his
connection reflected on the Review, all made him a personage with whom
it would have been most imprudent to quarrel. Yet the position in
which Mr. Napier was placed after Brougham's breach with the Whigs,
was one of the most difficult in which the conductor of a great organ
could possibly be placed. The Review was the representative, the
champion, and the mouthpiece of the Whig party, and of the Whigs who
were in office. Before William IV. dismissed the Whigs in 1834 as
arbitrarily as his father had dismissed the Whigs in 1784, Brougham
had covered himself with disrepute among his party by a thousand
pranks, and after the dismissal he disgusted them by asking the
new Chancellor to make him Chief Baron of the Exchequer. When Lord
Melbourne returned to power in the following year, this and other
escapades were remembered against him. "If left out," said Lord
Melbourne, "he would indeed be dangerous; but if taken in, he would
simply be destructive." So Brougham was left out, Pepys was made
Chancellor, and the Premier compared himself to a man who has broken
with a termagant mistress and married the best of cooks. Mr. Napier
was not so happy. The termagant was left on his hands. He had to
keep terms with a contributor who hated with deadly hatred the very
government that the Review existed to support. No editor ever had such
a contributor as Brougham in the long history of editorial torment
since the world began. He scolds, he storms, he hectors, he lectures;
he is for ever threatening desertion and prophesying ruin; he exhausts
the vocabulary of opprobrium against his correspondent's best friends;
they are silly slaves, base traitors, a vile clique "whose treatment
of me has been the very _ne plus ultra_ of ingratitude, baseness, and
treachery." He got the Review and its editor into a scrape which shook
the world at the time (1834), by betraying Cabinet secrets to spite
Lord Durham. His cries against his adversaries are as violent as
the threats of Ajax in his tent, and as loud as the bellowings of
Philoctetes at the mouth of his cave. Here is one instance out of a

    "That is a trifle, and I only mention it to beg of you to pluck up
    a little courage, and not be alarmed every time any of the little
    knot of threateners annoy you. _They want to break off all kind of
    connection between me and the Edinburgh Review_. I have long seen
    it. Their fury against the article in the last number knows no
    bounds, and they will never cease till they worry you out of your
    connection with me, and get the whole control of the Review into
    their own hands, by forcing you to resign it yourself. A _party
    and a personal_ engine is all they want to make it. What possible
    right can any of these silly slaves have to object to my opinion
    being--what it truly is--against the Holland House theory of Lord
    Chatham's madness? I _know_ that Lord Grenville treated it with
    contempt. I know others now living who did so too, and I know that
    so stout a Whig as Sir P. Francis was clearly of that opinion, and
    he knew Lord Chatham personally. I had every ground to believe
    that Horace Walpole, a vile, malignant, and unnatural wretch,
    though a very clever writer of Letters, was nine-tenths of the
    Holland House authority for the tale. I knew that a baser man in
    character, or a meaner in capacity than the first Lord Holland
    existed not, even in those days of job and mediocrity. Why, then,
    was I bound to take a false view because Lord Holland's family
    have inherited his hatred of a great rival?"

Another instance is as follows:--

    "I solicit your best attention to the fate which seems hastening
    upon the _Edinburgh Review_. The having always been free from the
    least control of booksellers is one of its principal distinctions,
    and long was peculiarly so--perhaps it still has it _nearly_ to
    itself. But if it shall become a _Treasury_ journal, I hardly see
    any great advantage in one kind of independence without the
    rest. Nay, I doubt if its _literary_ freedom, any more than its
    political, will long survive. Books will be treated according as
    the Treasury, or their under-strappers, regard the authors....
    But, is it after all possible that the Review should be suffered
    to sink into such a state of subserviency that it dares not insert
    any discussion upon a general question of politics because it
    might give umbrage to the Government of the day? I pass over the
    undeniable fact that it is _underlings_ only whom you are scared
    by, and that the Ministers themselves have no such inordinate
    pretension as to dream of interfering. I say nothing of those
    underlings generally, except this, that I well know the race, and
    a more despicable, above all, in point of judgment, exists not.
    Never mind their threats, they _can_ do no harm. Even if any of
    them are contributors, be assured they never will withdraw because
    you choose to keep your course free and independent."

Mr. Napier, who seems to have been one of the most considerate and
high-minded of men, was moved to energetic remonstrance on this
occasion. Lord Brougham explained his strong language away, but he
was incapable of really controlling himself, and the strain was never
lessened until 1843, when the correspondence ceases, and we learn
that there had been a quarrel between him and his too long-suffering
correspondent. Yet John Allen,--that able scholar and conspicuous
figure in the annals of Holland House--wrote of Brougham to Mr.
Napier:--"He is not a malignant or bad-hearted man, but he is an
unscrupulous one, and where his passions are concerned or his vanity
irritated, there is no excess of which he is not capable." Of
Brougham's strong and manly sense, when passion or vanity did not
cloud it, and even of a sort of careful justice, these letters give
more than one instance. The _Quarterly Review_, for instance, had an
article on Romilly's Memoirs, which to Romilly's friends seemed to do
him less than justice. Brougham took a more sensible view.

    "Surely we had no right whatever to expect that they whom Romilly
    had all his life so stoutly opposed, and who were treated by him
    with great harshness, should treat him as his friends would do,
    and at the very moment when a most injudicious act of his family
    was bringing out all his secret thoughts against them. Only place
    yourself in the same position, and suppose that Canning's private
    journals had been published,--the journals he may have kept while
    the bitterest enemy of the Whigs, and in every page of which there
    must have been some passage offensive to the feelings of the
    living and of the friends of the dead. Would any mercy have been
    shown to Canning's character and memory by any of the Whig party,
    either in society or in Reviews? Would the line have been drawn of
    only attacking Canning's executors, who published the papers, and
    leaving Canning himself untouched? Clearly and certainly not,
    and yet I am putting a very much weaker case, for we had joined
    Canning, and all political enmity was at an end: whereas the
    Tories and Romilly never had for an hour laid aside their mutual

And if he was capable of equity, Brougham was also capable of hearty
admiration, even of an old friend who had on later occasions gone into
a line which he intensely disliked. It is a relief in the pages of
blusterous anger and raging censure to come upon what he says of

    "I can truly say that there never in all my life crossed my mind
    one single unkind feeling respecting him, or indeed any feeling
    but that of the warmest affection and the most unmingled
    admiration of his character, believing and knowing him to be as
    excellent and amiable as he is great in the ordinary, and, as I
    think, the far less important sense of the word."

Of the value of Brougham's contributions we cannot now judge. They
will not, in spite of their energy and force, bear re-reading to-day,
and perhaps the same may be said of three-fourths of Jeffrey's once
famous essays. Brougham's self-confidence is heroic. He believed that
he could make a speech for Bolingbroke, but by-and-by he had sense
enough to see that, in order to attempt this, he ought to read
Bolingbroke for a year, and then practise for another year. In 1838 he
thought nothing of undertaking, amid all the demands of active life,
such a bagatelle as a History of the French Revolution. "I have some
little knack of narrative," he says, "the most difficult by far of all
styles, and never yet attained in perfection but by Hume and Livy;
and I bring as much oratory and science to the task as most of my
predecessors." But what sort of science? And what has oratory to do
with it? And how could he deceive himself into thinking that he could
retire to write a history? Nobody that ever lived would have more
speedily found out the truth of Voltaire's saying, "_Le repos est
une bonne chose, mais l'ennui est son frère_." The truth is that one
learns, after a certain observation of the world, to divide one's
amazement pretty equally between the literary voluptuary or
over-fastidious collegian, on the one hand, who is so impressed by the
size of his subject that he never does more than collect material and
make notes, and the presumptuous politician, on the other hand, who
thinks that he can write a history or settle the issues of philosophy
and theology in odd half-hours. The one is so enfeebled in will and
literary energy after his _viginti annorum lucubrationes_; the other
is so accustomed to be content with the hurry, the unfinishedness,
the rough-and-ready methods of practical affairs, and they both in
different ways measure the worth and seriousness of literature so
wrongly in relation to the rest of human interests.

The relations between Lord Brougham and Mr. Napier naturally suggest
a good many reflections on the vexed question of the comparative
advantages of the old and the new theory of a periodical. The new
theory is that a periodical should not be an organ but an open pulpit,
and that each writer should sign his name. Without disrespect to ably
conducted and eminent contemporaries of long standing, it may be said
that the tide of opinion and favour is setting in this direction. Yet,
on the whole, experience perhaps leads to a doubt whether the gains of
the system of signature are so very considerable as some of us once
expected. An editor on the new system is no doubt relieved of a
certain measure of responsibility. Lord Cockburn's panegyric on the
first great editor may show what was expected from a man in such a
position as Jeffrey's. "He had to discover, and to train, authors; to
discern what truth and the public mind required; to suggest subjects;
to reject, and, more offensive still, to improve, contributions; to
keep down absurdities; to infuse spirit; to excite the timid; to
repress violence; to soothe jealousies; to quell mutinies; to watch
times; and all this in the morning of the reviewing day, before
experience had taught editors conciliatory firmness, and contributors
reasonable submission. He directed and controlled the elements he
presided over with a master's judgment. There was not one of his
associates who could have even held these elements together for a
single year.... Inferior to these excellences, but still important,
was his dexterity in revising the writings of others. Without altering
the general tone or character of the composition, he had great skill
in leaving out defective ideas or words, and in so aiding the original
by lively or graceful touches, that reasonable authors were surprised
and charmed on seeing how much better they looked than they thought
they would" (Cockburn's _Life of Jeffrey_, i. 301).

From such toils and dangers as these the editor of a Review with
signed articles is in the main happily free. He has usually
suggestions to make, for his experience has probably given him points
of view as to the effectiveness of this or that feature of an article
for its own purpose, which would not occur to a writer. The writer is
absorbed in his subject, and has been less accustomed to think of the
public. But this exercise of a claim to a general acquiescence in the
judgment and experience of a man who has the best reasons for trying
to judge rightly, is a very different thing from the duty of drilling
contributors and dressing contributions as they were dressed and
drilled by Jeffrey. As Southey said, when groaning under the
mutilations inflicted by Gifford on Iris contributions to the
_Quarterly_, "there must be a power expurgatory in the hands of
the editor; and the misfortune is that editors frequently think it
incumbent on them to use that power merely because they have it"
(Southey's Life, iv. 18). This is probably true on the anonymous
system, where the editor is answerable for every word, and for the
literary form no less than for the substantial soundness or interest
of an article. In a man of weakish literary vanity--Jeffrey was
evidently full of it--there may well be a constant itch to set his
betters right in trifles, as Gifford thought that he could mend
Southey's adjectives. To a vain editor, or a too masterful editor, the
temptation under the anonymous system is no doubt strong. M. Buloz,
it is true, the renowned conductor of the _Revue des deux Mondes_, is
said to have insisted on, and to have freely practised, the fullest
editorial prerogative over articles that were openly signed by the
most eminent names in France. But M. Buloz had no competitor, and
those who did not choose to submit to his Sultanic despotism were
shut out from the only pulpit whence they were sure of addressing the
congregation that they wanted. In England contributors are better
off; and no editor of a signed periodical would feel either bound or
permitted to take such trouble about mere wording of sentences as
Gifford and Jeffrey were in the habit of taking.

There is, however, another side to this, from an editor's point of
view. With responsibility--not merely for commas and niceties and
literary kickshaws, but in its old sense--disappears also a portion of
the interest of editorial labour. One would suppose it must be more
interesting to command a man-of-war than a trading vessel; it would be
more interesting to lead a regiment than to keep a tilting-yard. But
the times are not ripe for such enterprises. Of literary ability of
a good and serviceable kind there is a hundred or five hundred times
more in the country than there was when Jeffrey, Smith, Brougham, and
Horner devised their Review in a ninth storey in Edinburgh seventy-six
years ago. It is the cohesion of a political creed that is gone, and
the strength and fervour of a political school. The principles that
inspired that group of strong men have been worked out. After their
reforms had been achieved, the next great school was economic, and
though it produced one fine orator, its work was at no time literary.
The Manchester school with all their shortcomings had at least the
signal distinction of attaching their views on special political
questions to a general and presiding conception of the modern phase of
civilisation, as industrial and pacific. The next party of advance,
when it is formed, will certainly borrow from Cobden and Bright their
hatred of war and their hatred of imperialism. After the sagacity and
enlightenment of this school came the school of persiflage. A knot of
vigorous and brilliant men towards 1856 rallied round the late editor
of the _Saturday Review_,--and a strange chief he was for such
a group,--but their flag was that of the Red Rover. They gave
Philistinism many a shrewd blow, but perhaps at the same time helped
to some degree--with other far deeper and stronger forces--to produce
that sceptical and centrifugal state of mind, which now tends to
nullify organised liberalism and paralyse the spirit of improvement.
The Benthamites, led first by James Mill, and afterwards in a
secondary degree by John Mill, had pushed a number of political
improvements in the radical and democratic direction during the
time when the _Edinburgh_ so powerfully represented more orthodox
liberalism. They were the last important group of men who started
together from a set of common principles, accepted a common programme
of practical applications, and set to work in earnest and with due
order and distribution of parts to advocate the common cause.

At present [1878] there is no similar agreement either among the
younger men in parliament, or among a sufficiently numerous group of
writers outside of parliament. The Edinburgh Reviewers were most
of them students of the university of that city. The Westminster
Reviewers had all sat at the feet of Bentham. Each group had thus a
common doctrine and a positive doctrine. In practical politics it does
not much matter by what different roads men have travelled to a given
position. But in an organ intended to lead public opinion towards
certain changes, or to hold it steadfast against wayward gusts of
passion, its strength would be increased a hundredfold if all the
writers in it were inspired by that thorough unity of conviction which
comes from sincerely accepting a common set of principles to start
from, and reaching practical conclusions by the same route. We are
probably not very far from a time when such a group might form itself,
and its work would for some years lie in the formation of a general
body of opinion, rather than in practical realisation of this or that
measure. The success of the French Republic, the peaceful order of the
United States, perhaps some trouble within our own borders, will lead
men with open minds to such a conception of a high and stable type of
national life as will unite a sufficient number of them in a common
project for pressing with systematic iteration for a complete set of
organic changes. A country with such a land-system, such an electoral
system, such a monarchy, as ours, has a trying time before it. Those
will be doing good service who shall unite to prepare opinion for the
inevitable changes. At the present moment the only motto that can be
inscribed on the flag of a liberal Review is the general device of
Progress, each writer interpreting it in his own sense, and within
such limits as he may set for himself. For such a state of things
signature is the natural condition, and an editor, even of a signed
Review, would hardly decline to accept the account of his function
which we find Jeffrey giving to Mr. Napier:--"There are three
legitimate considerations by which you should be guided in your
conduct as editor generally, and particularly as to the admission or
rejection of important articles of a political sort. 1. The effect of
your decision on the other contributors upon whom you mainly rely; 2.
its effect on the sale and circulation, and on the just authority
of the work with the great body of its readers; and, 3. your own
deliberate opinion as to the safety or danger of the doctrines
maintained in the article under consideration, and its tendency
either to promote or retard the practical adoption of those liberal
principles to which, and _their practical advancement_, you must
always consider the journal as devoted."

As for discovering and training authors, the editor under the new
system has inducements that lie entirely the other way; namely,
to find as many authors as possible whom the public has already
discovered and accepted for itself. Young unknown writers certainly
have not gained anything by the new system. Neither perhaps can they
be said to have lost, for though of two articles of equal merit
an editor would naturally choose the one which should carry the
additional recommendation of a name of recognised authority, yet any
marked superiority in literary brilliance or effective argument or
originality of view would be only too eagerly welcomed in any Review
in England. So much public interest is now taken in periodical
literature, and the honourable competition in securing variety,
weight, and attractiveness is so active, that there is no risk of
a literary candle remaining long under a bushel. Miss Martineau
says:--"I have always been anxious to extend to young or struggling
authors the sort of aid which would have been so precious to me in
that winter of 1829-30, and I know that, in above twenty years, I have
never succeeded but once." One of the most distinguished editors
in London, who had charge of a periodical for many years, told the
present writer what comes to the same thing, namely, that in no single
case during all these years did a volunteer contributor of real
quality, or with any promise of eminence, present himself or herself.
So many hundreds think themselves called, so few are chosen. It used
to be argued that the writer under the anonymous system was hidden
behind a screen and robbed of his well-earned distinction. In truth,
however, it is impossible for a writer of real distinction to remain
anonymous. If a writer in a periodical interests the public, they are
sure to find out who he is.

Again, there is folly unfathomable in a periodical affecting an
eternal consistency, and giving itself the airs of continuous
individuality, and being careful not to talk sense on a given question
to-day because its founders talked nonsense upon it fifty years ago.
This is quite true. There is a monstrous charlatanry about the old
editorial We, but perhaps there are some tolerably obvious openings
for charlatanry of a different kind under our own system. The man who
writes in his own name may sometimes be tempted to say what he knows
he is expected from his position or character to say, rather than what
he would have said if his personality were not concerned. As far as
honesty goes, signature perhaps offers as many inducements to one kind
of insincerity, as anonymity offers to another kind. And on the public
it might perhaps be contended that there is an effect of a rather
similar sort. They are in some cases tempted away from serious
discussion of the matter, into frivolous curiosity and gossip about
the man. All this criticism of the principle of which the _Fortnightly
Review_ was the earliest English adherent, will not be taken as the
result in the present writer of Chamfort's _maladie des désabusés_;
that would be both extremely ungrateful and without excuse or reason.
It is merely a fragment of disinterested contribution to the study of
a remarkable change that is passing over a not unimportant department
of literature. One gain alone counterbalances all the drawbacks, and
that is a gain that could hardly have been foreseen or expected; I
mean the freedom with which the great controversies of religion and
theology have been discussed in the new Reviews. The removal of the
mask has led to an outburst of plain speaking on these subjects, which
to Mr. Napier's generation would have seemed simply incredible. The
frank avowal of unpopular beliefs or non-beliefs has raised the whole
level of the discussion, and perhaps has been even more advantageous
to the orthodox in teaching them more humility, than to the heterodox
in teaching them more courage and honesty.

Let us return to Mr. Napier's volume. We have said that it is
impossible for a great writer to be anonymous. No reader will need to
be told who among Mr. Napier's correspondents is the writer of the

    "I have been thinking sometimes, likewise, of a paper on Napoleon,
    a man whom, though handled to the extreme of triteness, it will be
    long years before we understand. Hitherto in the English tongue,
    there is next to nothing that betokens insight into him, or even
    sincere belief of such, on the part of the writer. I should like
    to study the man with what heartiness I could, and form to myself
    some intelligible picture of him, both as a biographical and as
    a historical figure, in both of which senses he is our chief
    contemporary wonder, and in some sort the epitome of his age.
    This, however, were a task of far more difficulty than Byron, and
    perhaps not so promising at present."

And if there is any difficulty in recognising the same hand in the
next proposal, it arises only from the circumstance that it is this
writer above all others who has made Benthamism a term of reproach on
the lips of men less wise than himself:--

    "A far finer essay were a faithful, loving, and yet critical, and
    in part condemnatory, delineation of Jeremy Bentham, and his place
    and working in this section of the world's history. Bentham will
    not be put down by logic, and should not be put down, for we need
    him greatly as a backwoodsman: neither can reconciliation be
    effected till the one party understands and is just to the other.
    Bentham is a denyer; he denies with a loud and universally
    convincing voice; his fault is that he can _affirm_ nothing,
    except that money is pleasant in the purse, and food in the
    stomach, and that by this simplest of all beliefs he can
    reorganise society. He can shatter it in pieces--no thanks to him,
    for its old fastenings are quite rotten--but he cannot reorganise
    it; this is work for quite others than he. Such an essay on
    Bentham, however, were a great task for any one; for me a very
    great one, and perhaps rather out of my road."

Perhaps Carlyle would have agreed that Mr. Mill's famous pair of
essays on Bentham and Coleridge have served the purpose which he had
in his mind, though we may well regret the loss of such a picture of
Bentham's philosophic personality as he would surely have given us. It
is touching to think of him whom we all know as the most honoured name
among living veterans of letters,[1] passing through the vexed ordeal
of the young recruit, and battling for his own against the waywardness
of critics and the blindness of publishers. In 1831 he writes to Mr.
Napier: "All manner of perplexities have occurred in the publishing
of my poor book, which perplexities I could only cut asunder, not
unloose; so the MS. like an unhappy ghost still lingers on the wrong
side of Styx; the Charon of ---- Street durst not risk it in his
_sutilis cymba_, so it leaped ashore again." And three months later:
"I have given up the notion of hawking my little Manuscript Book about
any further; for a long time it has lain quiet in its drawer, waiting
for a better day." And yet this little book was nothing less than the
History of the French Revolution.

[Footnote 1: Carlyle died on February 5, 1881.]

It might be a lesson to small men to see the reasonableness, sense,
and patience of these greater men. Macaulay's letters show him to have
been a pattern of good sense and considerateness. Mr. Carlyle seems
indeed to have found Jeffrey's editorial vigour more than could be

    "My respected friend your predecessor had some difficulty with me
    in adjusting the respective prerogatives of Author and Editor, for
    though not, as I hope, insensible to fair reason, I used sometimes
    to rebel against what I reckoned mere authority, and this partly
    perhaps as a matter of literary conscience; being wont to write
    nothing without studying it if possible to the bottom, and writing
    always with an almost painful feeling of scrupulosity, that light
    editorial hacking and hewing to right and left was in general
    nowise to my mind."

But we feel that the fault must have lain with Jeffrey; the
qualifications that Lord Cockburn admired so much were not likely to
be to the taste of a man of Mr. Carlyle's grit. That did not prevent
the most original of Mr. Napier's contributors from being one of the
most just and reasonable.

    "I have, barely within my time, finished that paper
    ['Characteristics'], to which you are now heartily welcome, if you
    have room for it. The doctrines here set forth have mostly long
    been familiar convictions with me; yet it is perhaps only within
    the last twelvemonth that the public utterance of some of them
    could have seemed a duty. I have striven to express myself with
    what guardedness was possible; and, as there will now be no time
    for correcting proofs, I must leave it wholly in your editorial
    hands. Nay, should it on due consideration appear to you in your
    place (for I see that matter dimly, and nothing is clear but my
    own mind and the general condition of the world), unadvisable to
    print the paper at all, then pray understand, my dear Sir, now and
    always, that I am no unreasonable man; but if dogmatic enough (as
    Jeffrey used to call it) in my own beliefs, also truly desirous to
    be just towards those of others. I shall, in all sincerity, beg of
    you to do, without fear of offence (for in _no_ point of view will
    there be any), what you yourself see good. A mighty work lies
    before the writers of this time."

It is always interesting, to the man of letters at any rate if not
to his neighbours, to find what was first thought by men of admitted
competence of the beginnings of writers who are now seen to have made
a mark on the world. "When the reputation of authors is made," said
Sainte-Beuve, "it is easy to speak of them _convenablement_: we have
only to guide ourselves by the common opinion. But at the start, at
the moment when they are trying their first flight and are in part
ignorant of themselves, then to judge them with tact, with precision,
not to exaggerate their scope, to predict their flight, or divine
their limits, to put the reasonable objections in the midst of all
due respect--this is the quality of the critic who is born to be a
critic." We have been speaking of Mr. Carlyle. This is what Jeffrey
thought of him in 1832:--

    "I fear Carlyle will not do, that is, if you do not take the
    liberties and the pains with him that I did, by striking out
    freely, and writing in occasionally. The misfortune is, that he
    is very obstinate, and unluckily in a place like this, he finds
    people enough to abet and applaud him, to intercept the operation
    of the otherwise infallible remedy of general avoidance and
    neglect. It is a great pity, for he is a man of genius and
    industry, and with the capacity of being an elegant and impressive

The notion of Jeffrey occasionally writing elegantly and impressively
into Carlyle's proof-sheets is rather striking. Some of Jeffrey's
other criticisms sound very curiously in our ear in these days. It
is startling to find Mill's _Logic_ described (1843) as a "great
unreadable book, and its elaborate demonstration of axioms and
truisms." A couple of years later Jeffrey admits, in speaking of Mr.
Mill's paper on Guizot--"Though I have long thought very highly of his
powers as a reasoner, I scarcely gave him credit for such large and
sound views of _realities_ and practical results as are displayed
in this article." Sir James Stephen--the distinguished sire of two
distinguished contributors, who may remind more than one editor of our
generation of the Horatian saying, that

  "Fortes creantur fortibus et bonis,
  ... neque imbellera feroces
     Progenerant aquilae columbam"

--this excellent writer took a more just measure of the book which
Jeffrey thought unreadable.

    "My more immediate object in writing is to remind you of John
    Mill's book [System of Logic], of which I have lately been reading
    a considerable part, and I have done so with the conviction that
    it is one of the most remarkable productions of this nineteenth
    century. Exceedingly debatable indeed, but most worthy of debate,
    are many of his favourite tenets, especially those of the last
    two or three chapters. No man is fit to encounter him who is not
    thoroughly conversant with the moral sciences which he handles;
    and remembering what you told me of your own studies under Dugald
    Stewart, I cannot but recommend the affair to your own personal
    attention. You will find very few men fit to be trusted with it.
    You ought to be aware that, although with great circumspection,
    not to say timidity, Mill is an opponent of Religion in the
    abstract, not of any particular form of it. That is, he evidently
    maintains that superhuman influences on the mind of man are but a
    dream, whence the inevitable conclusion that all acts of devotion
    and prayer are but a superstition. That such is his real meaning,
    however darkly conveyed, is indisputable. You are well aware that
    it is in direct conflict with my own deepest and most cherished
    convictions. Yet to condemn him for holding, and for calmly
    publishing such views, is but to add to the difficulties of fair
    and full discussion, and to render truth (or supposed truth), less
    certain and valuable than if it had invited, and encountered,
    and triumphed over every assault of every honest antagonist. I,
    therefore, wish Mill to be treated respectfully and handsomely."

Few of Mr. Napier's correspondents seem to have been more considerate.
At one period (1844) a long time had passed without any contribution
from Sir James Stephen's pen appearing in the Review. Mr. Senior
wrote a hint on the subject to the editor, and Napier seems to have
communicated with Sir James Stephen, who replied in a model strain.

    "Have you any offer of a paper or papers from my friend John
    Austin? If you have, and if you are not aware what manner of man
    he is, it may not be amiss that you should be apprised that in
    these parts he enjoys, and deservedly, a very high and yet a
    peculiar reputation. I have a great attachment to him. He is, in
    the best sense of the word, a philosopher, an earnest and humble
    lover of wisdom. I know not anywhere a larger minded man, and yet,
    eloquent as he is in speech, there is, in his written style, an
    involution and a lack of vivacity which renders his writings a
    sealed book to almost every one. Whether he will be able to assume
    an easier and a lighter manner, I do not know. If not, I rather
    fear for him when he stands at your bar. All I ask is, that you
    would convey your judgment in measured and (as far as you can
    honestly) in courteous terms; for he is, for so considerable a
    man, strangely sensitive. You must have an odd story to tell of
    your intercourse with the knights of the Order of the Quill."

And the letter closed with what an editor values more even than
decently Christian treatment, namely the suggestion of a fine subject.
This became the admirable essay on the Clapham Sect.

The author of one of the two or three most delightful biographies
in all literature has published the letter to Mr. Napier in which
Macaulay speaks pretty plainly what he thought about Brougham and the
extent of his services to the Review. Brougham in turn hated Macaulay,
whom he calls the third or greatest bore in society that he has ever
known. He is furious--and here Brougham was certainly not wrong--over
the "most profligate political morality" of Macaulay's essay on Clive.

    "In my eyes, his defence of Clive, and the audacious ground of
    it, merit execration. It is a most serious, and, to me, a painful
    subject. No--no--all the sentences a man can turn, even if he made
    them in pure taste, and not in Tom's snip-snap taste of the lower
    empire,--all won't avail against a rotten morality. The first and
    most sacred duty of a public man, and, above all, an author, is
    to keep by honest and true doctrine--never to relax--never to
    countenance vice--ever to hold fast by virtue. What? Are we
    gravely to be told, at this time of day, that a set-off may be
    allowed for public, and, therefore, atrocious crimes, though he
    admits that a common felon pleads it in vain? Gracious God, where
    is this to end! What horrors will it not excuse! Tiberius's great
    capacity, his first-rate wit, that which made him the charm of
    society, will next, I suppose, be set up to give a splendour to
    the inhabitants of Capreae. Why, Olive's address, and his skill,
    and his courage are not at all more certain, nor are they
    qualities of a different cast. Every great ruffian, who has filled
    the world with blood and tears, will be sure of an acquittal,
    because of his talents and his success. After I had, and chiefly
    in the _Edinburgh Review_, been trying to restore a better, a
    purer, a higher standard of morals, and to wean men from the silly
    love of military glory, for which they are the first to pay, I
    find the _Edinburgh Review_ preaching, not merely the old and
    common heresies, but ten thousand times worse, adopting a vile
    principle never yet avowed in terms, though too often and too much
    taken for a guide, unknown to those who followed it, in forming
    their judgments of great and successful criminals."

Of the essay on Warren Hastings he thought better, "bating some
vulgarity and Macaulay's usual want of all power of reasoning."
Lord Cockburn wrote to Mr. Napier (1844) a word or two on Macaulay.
"Delighting as I do," says Lord Cockburn, "in his thoughts, views, and
knowledge, I feel too often compelled to curse and roar at his words
and the structure of his composition. As a corrupter of style, he is
more dangerous to the young than Gibbon. His seductive powers greater,
his defects worse." All good critics now accept this as true. Jeffrey,
by the way, speaking of the same essay, thinks that Macaulay rates
Chatham too high. "I have always had an impression," he says, "(though
perhaps an ignorant and unjust one), that there was more good luck
than wisdom in his foreign policy, and very little to admire (except
his personal purity) in any part of his domestic administration."

It is interesting to find a record, in the energetic speech of
contemporary hatred, of the way in which orthodox science regarded a
once famous book of heterodox philosophy. Here is Professor Sedgwick
on the _Vestiges of Creation_:--

    "I now know the Vestiges well, and I detest the book for its
    shallowness, for the intense vulgarity of its philosophy, for its
    gross, unblushing materialism, for its silly credulity in catering
    out of every fool's dish, for its utter ignorance of what is meant
    by induction, for its gross (and I dare to say, filthy) views of
    physiology,--most ignorant and most false,--and for Its shameful
    shuffling of the facts of geology so as to make them play a
    rogue's game. I believe some woman is the author; partly from the
    fair dress and agreeable exterior of the Vestiges: and partly from
    the utter ignorance the book displays of all sound physical logic.
    A _man_ who knew so much of the surface of Physics must, at least
    on some one point or other, have taken a deeper plunge; but _all_
    parts of the book are shallow.... From the bottom of my soul, I
    loathe and detest the Vestiges. 'Tis a rank pill of asafoetida and
    arsenic, covered with gold leaf. I do, therefore, trust that your
    contributor has stamped with an iron heel upon the head of the
    filthy abortion, and put an end to its crawlings. There is not one
    subject the author handles bearing on life, of which he does not
    take a degrading view."

Mr. Napier seems to have asked him to write on the book, and
Sedgwick's article, the first he ever wrote for a review, eventually
appeared (1845),--without, it is to be hoped, too much of the raging
contempt of the above and other letters. "I do feel contempt, and,
I hope, I shall express it. Eats hatched by the incubations of a
goose--dogs playing dominos--monkeys breeding men and women--all
distinctions between natural and moral done away--the Bible proved
all a lie, and mental philosophy one mass of folly, all of it to be
pounded down, and done over again in the cooking vessels of Gall and
Spurzheim!" This was the beginning of a long campaign, which is just
now drawing near its close. Let us at least be glad that orthodoxy,
whether scientific or religious, has mended his temper. One among
other causes of the improvement, as we have already said, is probably
to be found in the greater self-restraint which comes from the fact of
the writer appearing in his own proper person.


[Footnote 1: On the writer's retirement from the editorship of the
_Fortnightly Review_, in 1882.]

The present number of the Review marks the close of a task which was
confided to me no less than fifteen years ago--_grande mortalis cevi
spatium_, a long span of one's mortal days. Fifteen years are enough
to bring a man from youth to middle age, to test the working value of
convictions, to measure the advance of principles and beliefs, and,
alas! to cut off many early associates and to extinguish many lights.
It is hardly possible that a Review should have been conducted for so
considerable a time without the commission of some mistakes; articles
admitted which might as well have been left out, opinions expressed
which have a crudish look in the mellow light of years, phrases
dropped in the heat or hurry of the moment which one would fain
obliterate. Many a regret must rise in men's minds on any occasion
that compels them to look back over a long reach of years. The
disparity between aim and performance, the unfulfilled promise, the
wrong turnings taken at critical points--as an accident of the hour
draws us to take stock of a complete period of our lives, all these
things rise up in private and internal judgment against anybody who is
not either too stupid or too fatuously complacent to recognise facts
when he sees them. But the mood passes. Time, happily, is merciful,
and men's memories are benignly short.

More painful is the recollection of those earlier contributors of ours
who have vanished from the world. Periodical literature is like the
manna in the wilderness; it quickly loses its freshness, and to turn
over thirty volumes of old Reviews can hardly be exhilarating at the
best: least of all so, when it recalls friends and coadjutors who
can give their help no more. George Henry Lewes, the founder of the
Review, and always cordially interested in its fortunes, has not
survived to see the end of the reign of his successor, His vivacious
intelligence had probably done as much as he was competent to do for
his generation, but there were other important contributors, now gone,
of whom this could not be said. In the region of political theory, the
loss of J.E. Cairnes was truly lamentable and untimely. He had, as
Mill said of him, "that rare qualification among writers on political
and social subjects--a genuine scientific intellect." Not a month
passes in which one does not feel how great an advantage it would have
been to be able to go down to Blackheath, and discuss the perplexities
of the time in that genial and manly companionship, where facts were
weighed with so much care, where conclusions were measured with such
breadth and comprehension, and where even the great stolid idols of
the Cave and the Market Place were never too rudely buffeted. Of
a very different order of mind from Cairnes, but not less to be
permanently regretted by all of us who knew him, was Mr. Bagehot,
whose books on the English Constitution, on Physics and Politics,
and the fragment on the Postulates of Political Economy, were all
published in these pages. He wrote, in fact, the first article in
the first number. Though himself extremely cool and sceptical about
political improvement of every sort, he took abundant interest in more
ardent friends. Perhaps it was that they amused him; in return his
good-natured ironies put them wholesomely on their mettle. As has been
well said of him, he had a unique power of animation without combat;
it was all stimulus and yet no contest; his talk was full of youth,
yet had all the wisdom of mature judgment _(R.H. Hutton)_. Those who
were least willing to assent to Bagehot's practical maxims in judging
current affairs, yet were well aware how much they profited by his
Socratic objections, and knew, too, what real acquaintance with men
and business, what honest sympathy and friendliness, and what serious
judgment and interest all lay under his playful and racy humour.

More untimely, in one sense, than any other was the death of Professor
Clifford, whose articles in this Review attracted so much attention,
and I fear that I may add, gave for a season so much offence six or
seven years ago. Cairnes was scarcely fifty when he died, and Bagehot
was fifty-one, but Clifford was only four-and-thirty. Yet in this
brief space he had not merely won a reputation as a mathematician of
the first order, but had made a real mark on his time, both by the
substance of his speculations in science, religion, and ethics, and
by the curious audacity with which he proclaimed at the pitch of his
voice on the housetops religious opinions that had hitherto been kept
among the family secrets of the _domus Socratica_. It is melancholy
to think that exciting work, done under pressure of time of his own
imposing, should have been the chief cause of his premature decline.
How intense that pressure was the reader may measure by the fact that
a paper of his on _The Unseen Universe_, which filled eighteen pages
of the Review, was composed at a single sitting that lasted from a
quarter to ten in the evening till nine o'clock the following morning.
As one revolves these and other names of eminent men who actively
helped to make the Review what it has been, it would be impossible to
omit the most eminent of them all. Time has done something to impair
the philosophical reputation and the political celebrity of J.S. Mill;
but it cannot alter the affectionate memory in which some of us must
always hold his wisdom and goodness, his rare union of moral ardour
with a calm and settled mind. He took the warmest interest In this
Review from the moment when I took it up, partly from the friendship
with which he honoured me, but much more because he wished to
encourage what was then--though it is now happily no longer--the only
attempt to conduct a periodical on the principles of free discussion
and personal responsibility. While recalling these and others who are
no more, it was naturally impossible for me to forget the constant
and valuable help that has been so freely given to me, often at much
sacrifice of their own convenience, by those friends and contributors
who are still with us. No conductor ever laid down his _bâton_ with a
more cordial and sincere sense of gratitude to those who took their
several parts in his performance.

One chief experiment which the Review was established to try was that
of signed articles. When Mr. Lewes wrote his Farewell Causerie, as I
am doing now, he said: "That we have been enabled to bring together
men so various in opinion and so distinguished in power has been
mainly owing to the principle adopted of allowing each writer perfect
freedom; which could only have been allowed under the condition of
personal responsibility. The question of signing articles had long
been debated; it has now been tested. The arguments in favour of
it were mainly of a moral order; the arguments against it, while
admitting the morality, mainly asserted its inexpediency. The question
of expediency has, I venture to say, been materially enlightened
by the success of the Review." The success of other periodicals,
conducted still more rigorously on the principle that every article
ought to bear its writer's signature, leaves no further doubt on the
subject; so that it is now almost impossible to realise that only
fifteen or sixteen years ago scarcely anybody of the class called
practical could believe that the sacred principle of the Anonymous was
doomed. One of the shrewdest publishers in Edinburgh, and also himself
the editor of a famous magazine, once said to me while Mr. Lewes was
still editor of this Review, that he had always thought highly of our
friend's judgment "until he had taken up the senseless notion of
a magazine with signed articles and open to both sides of every
question." Nobody will call the notion senseless any longer. The
question is rather how long the exclusively anonymous periodicals will
resist the innovation.

Personally I have attached less stern importance to signature as an
unvarying rule than did my predecessor; though, even he was compelled
by obvious considerations of convenience to make his chronique of
current affairs anonymous. Our practice has been signature as the
standing rule, occasionally suspended in favour of anonymity when
there seemed to be sufficient reason. On the whole it may be said that
the change from anonymous to signed articles has followed the course
of most changes. It has not led to one-half either of the evils or of
the advantages that its advocates and its opponents foretold. That
it has produced some charlatanry, can hardly be denied. Readers are
tempted to postpone serious and persistent interest in subjects, to a
semi-personal curiosity about the casual and unconnected deliverances
of the literary or social star of the hour. That this conception has
been worked out with signal ability in more cases than one; that it
has made periodical literature full of actuality; that it has tickled
and delighted the palate--is all most true. The obvious danger is lest
we should be tempted to think more of the man who speaks than of the
precise value of what he says.

One indirect effect that is not unworthy of notice in the new system
is its tendency to narrow the openings for the writer by profession.
If an article is to be signed, the editor will naturally seek the name
of an expert of special weight and competence on the matter in hand. A
reviewer on the staff of a famous journal once received for his week's
task, _General Hamley on the Art of War_, a three-volume novel, a work
on dainty dishes, and a translation of Pindar. This was perhaps taxing
versatility and omniscience over-much, and it may be taken for granted
that the writer made no serious contribution to tactics, cookery,
or scholarship. But being a man of a certain intelligence, passably
honest, and reasonably painstaking, probably he produced reviews
sufficiently useful and just to answer their purpose. On the new
system we should have an article on General Hamley's work by Sir
Garnet Wolseley, and one on the cookery-book from M. Trompette. It is
not certain that this is all pure gain. There is a something to be
said for the writer by profession, who, without being an expert, will
take trouble to work up his subject, to learn what is said and thought
about it, to penetrate to the real points, to get the same mastery
over it as an advocate or a judge does over a patent case or a suit
about rubrics and vestments. He is at least as likely as the expert to
tell the reader all that he wants to know, and at least as likely to
be free from bias and injurious prepossession.

Nor does experience, so far as it has yet gone, quite bear out Mr.
Lewes's train of argument that the "first condition of all writing is
sincerity, and that one means of securing sincerity is to insist on
personal responsibility," and that this personal responsibility
can only be secured by signing articles. The old talk of "literary
bravoes," "men in masks," "anonymous assassins," and so forth, is out
of date. Longer experience has only confirmed the present writer's
opinion, expressed here from the very beginning: "Everybody who knows
the composition of any respectable journal in London knows very well
that the articles which those of our own way of thinking dislike
most intensely are written by men whom to call bravoes in any sense
whatever would be simply monstrous. Let us say, as loudly as we
choose, if we see good reason, that they are half informed about some
of the things which they so authoritatively discuss; that they are
under strong class feeling; that they have not mastered the doctrines
which they are opposing; that they have not sufficiently meditated
their subject; that they have not given themselves time to do justice
even to their scanty knowledge. Journalists are open to charges of
this kind; but to think of them as a shameless body, thirsting for the
blood of better men than themselves, or ready to act as an editor's
instrument for money, involves a thoroughly unjust misconception."

As to the comparative effects of the two systems on literary quality,
no prudent observer with adequate experience will lay down an
unalterable rule. Habit no doubt counts for a great deal, but
apart from habit there are differences of temperament and peculiar
sensibilities. Some men write best when they sign what they write;
they find impersonality a mystification and an incumbrance; anonymity
makes them stiff, pompous, and over-magisterial. With others,
however, the effect is just the reverse. If they sign, they become
self-conscious, stilted, and even pretentious; it is only when they
are anonymous that they recover simplicity and ease. It is as if an
actor who is the soul of what is natural under the disguises of his
part, should become extremely artificial if he were compelled to come
upon the stage in his own proper clothes and speaking only in his
ordinary voice.

The newspaper press has not yet followed the example of the new
Reviews, but we are probably not far from the time when here, too, the
practice of signature will make its way. There was a silly cry at one
time for making the disuse of anonymity compulsory by law. But we
shall no more see this than we shall see legal penalties imposed
for publishing a book without an index, though that also has been
suggested. The same end will be reached by other ways. Within the last
few years a truly surprising shock has been given to the idea of a
newspaper, "as a sort of impersonal thing, coming from nobody knows
where, the readers never thinking of the writer, nor caring whether
he thinks what he writes, so long as _they_ think what he writes."
Of course it is still true, and will most likely always remain true,
that, like the Athenian Sophist, great newspapers will teach the
conventional prejudices of those who pay for it. A writer will long
be able to say that, like the Sophist, the newspaper reflects the
morality, the intelligence, the tone of sentiment, of its public, and
if the latter is vicious, so is the former. But there is infinitely
less of this than there used to be. The press is more and more taking
the tone of a man speaking to a man. The childish imposture of
the editorial We is already thoroughly exploded. The names of all
important journalists are now coming to be as publicly known as the
names of important members of parliament. There is even something over
and above this. More than one editor has boldly aspired to create
and educate a public of his own, and he has succeeded. The press is
growing to be much more personal, in the sense that its most important
directors are taking to themselves the right of pursuing an individual
line of their own, with far less respect than of old to the supposed
exigencies of party or the _communiqués_ of political leaders. The
editor of a Review of great eminence said to the present writer (who,
for his own part, took a slightly more modest view) that he regarded
himself as equal in importance to seventy-five Members of Parliament.
It is not altogether easy to weigh and measure with this degree of
precision. But what is certain is that there are journalists on both
sides in politics to whom the public looks for original suggestion,
and from whom leading politicians seek not merely such mechanical
support as they expect from their adherents in the House of Commons,
nor merely the uses of the vane to show which way the wind blows, but
ideas, guidance, and counsel, as from persons of co-equal authority
with themselves. England is still a long way from the point at which
French journalism has arrived in this matter. We cannot count an
effective host of Girardins, Lemoinnes, Abouts, or even Cassagnacs and
Rocheforts, each recognised as the exponent of his own opinions, and
each read because the opinions written are known to be his own. But
there is a distinctly nearer approach to this as the general state of
English journalism than there was twenty years ago.

Of course nobody of sense supposes that any journalist, however
independent and however possessed by the spirit of his personal
responsibility, tries to form his opinions out of his own head,
without reference to the view of the men practically engaged in public
affairs, the temper of Parliament and the feeling of constituencies,
and so forth. All these are part of the elements that go to the
formation of his own judgment, and he will certainly not neglect to
find out as much about them as he possibly can. Nor, again, does the
increase of the personal sentiment about our public prints lessen the
general working fidelity of their conductors to a party. It is their
duty, no doubt, to discuss the merits of measures as they arise. In
this respect any one can see how radically they differ from the Member
of Parliament, whose business is not only to discuss but to act. The
Member of Parliament must look at the effect of his vote in more
lights than one. Besides the merits of the given measure, it is his
duty to think of the wishes of those who chose him to represent them;
and if, moreover, the effect of voting against a measure of which
he disapproves would be to overthrow a whole Ministry of which he
strongly approves, then, unless some very vital principle indeed were
involved, to give such a vote would be to prefer a small object to
a great one, and would indicate a very queasy monkish sort of
conscience. The journalist is not in the same position. He is an
observer and a critic, and can afford, and is bound, to speak the
truth. But even in his case, the disagreement, as Burke said, "will
be only enough to indulge freedom, without violating concord or
disturbing arrangement." There is a certain "partiality which becomes
a well-chosen friendship." "Men thinking freely will, in particular
instances, think differently. But still as the greater part of the
measures which arise in the course of public business are related to,
or dependent on, some great leading general principles in government,
a man must be peculiarly unfortunate in the choice of his political
company if he does not agree with them at least nine times in ten."
The doctrine that was good enough for Burke in this matter may be
counted good enough for most of us. Some of the current talk about
political independence is mere hypocrisy; some of it is mere vanity.
For the new priest of Literature is quite as liable to the defects of
spiritual pride and ambition as the old priest of the Church, and it
is quite as well for him that he should be on his guard against these
scarlet and high-crested sins.

The success of Reviews, of which our own was the first English type,
marks a very considerable revolution in the intellectual habits of the
time. They have brought abstract discussion from the library down to
the parlour, and from the serious student down to the first man in
the street. We have passed through a perfect cyclone of religious
polemics. The popularity of such Reviews means that really large
audiences, _le gros public_, are eagerly interested In the radical
discussion of propositions which twenty years ago were only publicly
maintained, and then in their crudest, least true, and most repulsive
form, in obscure debating societies and little secularist clubs.
Everybody, male or female, who reads anything serious at all, now
reads a dozen essays a year to show, with infinite varieties of
approach and of demonstration, that we can never know whether there be
a Supreme Being or not, whether the soul survives the body, or whether
mind is more and other than a mere function of matter. No article
that has appeared in any periodical for a generation back excited so
profound a sensation as Mr. Huxley's memorable paper On the Physical
Basis of Life, published in this Review in February 1869. It created
just the same kind of stir that, in a political epoch, was made by
such a pamphlet as the _Conduct of the Allies_ or the _Reflections on
the French Revolution_. This excitement was a sign that controversies
which had hitherto been confined to books and treatises were now to be
admitted to popular periodicals, and that the common man of the world
would now listen and have an opinion of his own on the bases of
belief, just as he listens and judges in politics or art, or letters.
The clergy no longer have the pulpit to themselves, for the new
Reviews became more powerful pulpits, in which heretics were at least
as welcome as orthodox. Speculation has become entirely democratised.
This is a tremendous change to have come about in little more than a
dozen years. How far it goes, let us not be too sure. It is no new
discovery that what looks like complete tolerance may be in reality
only complete indifference. Intellectual fairness is often only
another name for indolence and inconclusiveness of mind, just as love
of truth is sometimes a fine phrase for temper. To be piquant counts
for much, and the interest of seeing on the drawing-room tables of
devout Catholics and high-flying Anglicans article after article,
sending divinities, creeds, and Churches all headlong into limbo, was
indeed piquant. Much of all this elegant dabbling in infidelity has
been a caprice of fashion. The Agnostic has had his day with the fine
ladies, like the black footboy of other times, or the spirit-rapper
and table-turner of our own. What we have been watching, after all,
was perhaps a tournament, not a battle.

It would not be very easy for us now, and perhaps it would not be
particularly becoming at any time, to analyse the position that has
been assigned to this Review in common esteem. Those who have watched
it from without can judge better than those who have worked within.
Though it has been open, so far as editorial goodwill was concerned,
to opinions from many sides, the Review has unquestionably gathered
round it some of the associations of sect. What that sect is, people
have found it difficult to describe with anything like precision. For
a long time it was the fashion to label the Review as Comtist, and
it would be singularly ungrateful to deny that it has had no more
effective contributors than some of the best-known disciples of Comte.
By-and-by it was felt that this was too narrow. It was nearer the
truth to call it the organ of Positivists in the wider sense of that
designation. But even this would not cover many directly political
articles that have appeared in our pages, and made a mark in their
time. The memorable programme of Free Labour, Free Land, Free Schools,
Free Church had nothing at all Positivist about it. Nor could that
programme and many besides from the same pen and others be compressed
under the nickname of Academic Liberalism. There was too strong a
flavour of action for the academic and the philosophic. This passion
for a label, after all, is an infirmity. Yet people justly perceived
that there seemed to be a certain undefinable concurrence among
writers coming from different schools and handling very different
subjects. Perhaps the instinct was right which fancied that it
discerned some common drift, a certain pervading atmosphere, and
scented a subtle connection between speculations on the Physical Basis
of Life and the Unseen Universe, and articles on Trades Unions and
National Education.

So far as the Review has been more specially identified with one set
of opinions than another, it has been due to the fact that a certain
dissent from received theologies has been found in company with new
ideas of social and political reform. This suspicious combination at
one time aroused considerable anger. The notion of anything like an
intervention of the literary and scientific class in political affairs
touched a certain jealousy which is always to be looked for in the
positive and practical man. They think as Napoleon thought of men of
letters and savans:--"Ce sont des coquettes avec lesquelles il faut
entretenir un commerce de galanterie, et dont il ne faut jamais songer
à faire ni sa femme ni son ministre." Men will listen to your views
about the Unknowable with a composure that instantly disappears if
your argument comes too near to the Rates and Taxes. It is amusing, as
we read the newspapers to-day, to think that Mr. Harrison's powerful
defence of Trades Unions fifteen years ago caused the Review to be
regarded as an incendiary publication. Some papers that appeared here
on National Education were thought to indicate a deliberate plot for
suppressing the Holy Scriptures in the land. Extravagant misjudgment
of this kind has passed away. But it was far from being a mistake to
suppose that the line taken here by many writers did mean that there
was a new Radicalism in the air, which went a good deal deeper than
fidgeting about an estimate or the amount of the Queen's contribution
to her own taxes. Time has verified what was serious in those early
apprehensions. Principles and aims are coming into prominence in the
social activity of to-day which would hardly have found a hearing
twenty years ago, and it would be sufficient justification for the
past of our Review if some writers in it have been instrumental in the
process of showing how such principles and aims meet the requirements
of the new time. Reformers must always be open to the taunt that they
find nothing in the world good enough for them. "You write," said a
popular novelist to one of this unthanked tribe, "as if you believed
that everything is bad." "Nay," said the other, "but I do believe that
everything might be better." Such a belief naturally breeds a spirit
which the easy-goers of the world resent as a spirit of ceaseless
complaint and scolding. Hence our Liberalism here has often been
taxed with being ungenial, discontented, and even querulous. But such
Liberals will wrap themselves in their own virtue, remembering the
cheering apophthegm that "those who are dissatisfied are the sole
benefactors of the world."

This will not be found, I think, too lofty, or too thrasonical an
estimate of what has been attempted. A certain number of people have
been persuaded to share opinions that fifteen years ago were more
unpopular than they are now. A certain resistance has been offered to
the stubborn influence of prejudice and use and wont. The original
scheme of the Review, even if there had been no other obstacle,
prevented it from being the organ of a systematic and constructive
policy. There is not, in fact, a body of systematic political thought
at work in our own day. The Liberals of the Benthamite school surveyed
society and institutions as a whole; they connected their advocacy of
political and legal changes with carefully formed theories of human
nature; they considered the great art of Government in connection with
the character of man, his proper education, his potential capacities.
Yet, as we then said, it cannot be pretended that we are less in need
of systematic politics than our fathers were sixty years since, or
that general principles are now more generally settled even among
members of the same party than they were then. The perplexities of
to-day are as embarrassing as any in our history, and they may prove
even more dangerous. The renovation of Parliamentary government; the
transformation of the conditions of the ownership and occupation of
land; the relations between the Government at home and our adventurers
abroad in contact with inferior races; the limitations on free
contract and the rights of majorities to restrict the private acts
of minorities; these are only some of the questions that time and
circumstances are pressing upon us. These are in the political and
legislative sphere alone. In Education, in Economics, the problems are
as many. Yet ideas are hardly ripe for realisation. We shall need
to see great schools before we can make sure of powerful parties.
Meanwhile, whatever gives freedom and variety to thought, and
earnestness to men's interest in the world, must contribute to a good

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