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Title: Social Rights And Duties - Addresses to Ethical Societies Vol II
Author: Stephen, Leslie, 1832-1904
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 "Social Rights And Duties - Addresses to Ethical Societies Vol II" ***

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_The Volumes of the Series already Published are_:--

     +Civilisation of Christendom, and other Studies.+ By BERNARD
     BOSANQUET, M.A. (Oxon.), Hon. LL.D. (Glasgow). 4s. 6d.

     +Short Studies in Character.+ By SOPHIE BRYANT, D.Sc. (Lond.). 4s.

     +Social Rights and Duties.+ By LESLIE STEPHEN. 2 vols., 9s.

Other Volumes to follow by--

Professor A. SIDGWICK, Professor D. G. RITCHIE, and
J. H. MUIRHEAD, Esq. (the Editor).

The Ethical Library






[Illustration: Logo]




The following chapters are chiefly a republication of addresses
delivered to the Ethical Societies of London. Some have previously
appeared in the _International Journal of Ethics_, the _National
Review_, and the _Contemporary Review_. The author has to thank the
proprietors of these periodicals for their consent to the republication.

L. S.


HEREDITY,                            1

PUNISHMENT,                         55

LUXURY,                             95

THE DUTIES OF AUTHORS,             137




I found, the other day, that an address upon Heredity had been
announced, of which I was to be the deliverer. I admit that I was fully
responsible for the statement, although, for reasons with which I need
not trouble you, I was not quite prepared for it in this form. I mention
this fact in order simply to say that the title may possibly give rise
to false expectations. I am quite incompetent to express any opinion of
the slightest scientific value upon certain problems suggested by that
rather ugly word "heredity". The question as to the precise relationship
between any organism and its parents or remoter ancestors, is one of the
highest interest. The solution, for example, of the problem, whether is
it possible for a living being to transmit to its descendants qualities
which have only been acquired during its own lifetime, has an important
bearing upon the general theory of evolution. But I have nothing
whatever to suggest in regard to that problem. I simply take it for
granted that there is some relation between parents and children: and a
relation, speaking in the most general way, such that the qualities
with which we start in life, resemble more or less closely those of our
ancestors. I may also assume that, in some form or other, the doctrine
of evolution must be accepted: and that all living things now in the
world are the descendants, more or less modified, of the population
which preceded them. I proceed to ask whether, as some people appear to
believe, the acceptance of this doctrine in the most unqualified form,
would introduce any difficulty into our primary ethical conceptions. I
will also at once give my answer. I do not believe that it introduces
any difficulty whatever. I do believe that the general theory of
evolution tends in very important ways to give additional distinctness
to certain ethical doctrines; although, to go at all fully into the how
and the why would take me beyond my present purpose. All that I have to
argue to-day is, that a belief in "heredity" need not be a
stumbling-block to any reasonable person.

I cannot doubt that the popular mind is vaguely alarmed by the doctrine.
I read, the other day, a novel by a well-known author, of which, so far
as I can remember, the main substance was as follows: A virtuous doctor
(his virtue had some limitations) studied the problem of heredity, and
had read Darwin, and Herbert Spencer, and Weissmann, and all the proper
authorities. His own researches are carefully described, with the
apparent assumption that they were both profound and of tremendous
significance. He had, it appears, accumulated a vast amount of material;
and his method was to cut out slips from newspapers, whenever they
recorded any events in his own family history, and to preserve them in a
mysterious cabinet. These investigations proved that there was a decided
family likeness running through the descendants of a common ancestor. As
a general rule, they had all belonged to the class "blackguard". From
this result he inferred that there was no God and no soul. His relations
were dreadfully scandalised: one was converted to his views; but the
others contrived diabolical plots for setting fire to these marvellous
collections and so stopping the contagion of these dreadful doctrines at
their source. It struck me, I confess, that instead of burning the
collections, they would have done better to ask him what was the
connection between his premisses and his conclusions. What was this
terrible, heart-paralysing truth which the poor man had discovered? Has
any human being ever doubted, since mothers were invented, that children
are apt to resemble their parents? I do not personally remember the
fact, but I should be prepared to bet, if the point could be settled,
that, before I was a month old,--and in those days neither Darwin nor
Weissmann had published a line,--my nurse and my mother had affirmed
that the baby was like his papa. That, at any rate, is a remark, the
omission of which would show more originality than the assertion. If I
desired, again, to produce classical authority for the importance of
race, I should not have to extend my researches beyond the Latin
Grammar. If, once more, we look into the writings of famous theologians,
we meet it everywhere. I take the first that comes to hand. "Good men,"
says Calvin, "and beyond all others, Augustine, have laboured to
demonstrate, that we are not corrupted by any adventitious means but
that we derive an innate depravity from our very birth." The denial of
this was an instance of consummate impudence--reserved, as Calvin shows,
for such wicked heretics as Pelagius. The doctrine of heredity, in
short, in a theological version, is essentially involved in the dogmatic
foundations of the orthodox creed. I have no doubt that an investigation
of the reasonings of Augustine and others would exhibit much affinity to
modern controversy, though in a very different terminology. Whatever we
may think of its merits, the doctrine of original sin implies that a
depraved nature may have been transmitted to the whole human race; and,
if the commonly alleged cause of the original depravity strikes us as
insufficient, it is, at least, a very familiar argument of divines,
that the doctrine corresponds to undeniable facts. Why should it startle
us in a scientific dress? If we can transmit depravity, why not genius
and bodily health? In one respect, modern theories tend rather to limit
than to extend the applicability of the principle. No one ever doubted,
nor could doubt, that the child of a monkey is always a monkey; and that
the child of a negro, or even of a Mongol, has certain characteristics
which distinguish it from the child of a European. But the difference is
that, whereas it used to be held that there was an impassable barrier
between the monkey and the man, it is now widely believed that both may
be descendants from a common ancestor. Should this belief establish
itself, we shall have to admit that, in spite of heredity, organic forms
are capable of much wider variation than was believed by our fathers to
be even conceivable.

Let us try, then, to discover some more plausible explanation of the
fear excited by the doctrine. Now, I wish to give as wide a berth as
possible to that freewill controversy which perplexes so many minds, and
is apt to intrude at this point. I will try to assume,--though it is not
my own position,--the doctrine of the freedom of the will in the widest
sense that any reasonable person can devise. No such person will deny
that there is a close connection--the terms of which have not yet been
defined--between the physical constitution and the moral or intellectual
character. The man plainly grows out of the baby. If the baby's skull
has a certain conformation it can only be an idiot; with another skull
and brain it may be developed into a Shakespeare or a Dante. The
possibilities ranging between those limits are immovably fixed at birth.
And what determines the constitution with which the child is born?
Surely it can be nothing but the constitution and circumstances of its
parents. Whether I can be a great man, or cannot be more than a
commonplace man, or a fool,--nay, whether I shall be man or monkey or an
oak,--is settled before I have had any power of volition at all. Now, it
is curious how, even at this early period, we are led to use delusive
language. The difficulty is quaintly indicated in a remark by Jonathan
Swift. The dean "hath often been heard to say" (says a fragment of
autobiography) "that he felt the consequences of his parents' marriage,
not only through the whole course of his education, but during the
greater part of his life". If they had not married, he apparently
implies, he would have been born of other parents, and certainly would
have felt it for life. What the word "he" means in that connection, is a
puzzle for logicians. I fell into the difficulty myself, the other day,
when I had occasion to say that a man's character had been influenced,
both by his inheritance of certain qualities and by the later
circumstances of his education. Having said this, which, I think, aimed
at a real meaning, it occurred to me that the phrase was grossly
illogical, and I shall be still obliged if any one will put it straight
for me. The difficulty was, that I had used the same form of words to
indicate the influence of a separable accident, and to describe one
aspect of the essential character. To say that a man is influenced by
his education is to say that he would have been different had he gone,
for example, to another school. That is intelligible. But to say that
"he" would have been different if he had been born of other parents is
absurd, for "he" would not have been "he". He would not have existed at
all. "He" means the man who has grown out of the baby with all its
innate qualities; and not some, but all those qualities, the very
essence of the man himself, is, of course, the product of his
progenitors. Such phrases, in short, suggest the fancy that a man had a
pre-existence somewhere, and went about like Er the Pamphylian in
Plato's myth, selecting the conditions of his next stay upon earth. In
that case, no doubt, there might be some meaning in the doctrine. The
character of the future incarnation would depend upon the soul's choice
of position. But as we know nothing about any pre-existent soul, we must
agree that each of us starts as the little lump of humanity, every
characteristic of which is determined by the characteristics of the
parents, however much its later career may be affected by the
independent powers of thought and volition which it develops. So much,
it seems to me, must be granted on all hands, and is perhaps implicitly
denied by no one.

But granting this very obvious remark, what harm does "heredity" do us?
It is the most familiar of all remarks that you and I and all of us
depend upon our brains in some sense. If they are pierced, we die; if
they are inflamed, we go mad; and their constitution determines the
whole of our career. A grain of sand in the wrong place, as the old
epigrams have told us,--in Cæsar's eye, for example,--may change the
course of history. That unlucky fly, which, as Fuller remarks, could
find no other place to creep into in the whole patrimony of St. Peter
except the Pope's throat, choked the unlucky man, and, for the time at
least, altered the ecclesiastical order of Christendom. In other words,
we are dependent at every instant upon elements in the outside
world,--bacteria, for instance,--and the working of our own physical
organism. But, that being so, what conceivable difference does it make
whether the brain, which we certainly did not ourselves make, has a
fixed resemblance to that of our parents, or be, if it be possible, the
product of some other series of processes? It is important, no doubt, to
recognise the fact; it would be of the highest importance if we could
define the exact nature of the fact; but the influence upon any general
ethical doctrine of the recognition of the bare fact itself seems to be
precisely nothing at all. It is part of the necessary data of all
psychological speculation, and has been recognised with more or less
precision from the very first attempts to speculate.

Trying, once more, to discover what it is that alarms, or is said to
alarm, some people, we are reminded of certain facts, which again are of
profound interest in some respects. I take a special instance,--not,
unfortunately, a rare or at all a strange instance,--to illustrate the
point. Many years ago I knew a clergyman, a man of most amiable
character and refined tastes. One morning he shocked his friends by
performing the Church service in a state of intoxication, and within a
few months had drunk himself to death. The case was explained,--that is,
a proper name for it was found,--when we learnt that more than one of
his nearest relations had developed similar propensities, and died in
much the same way. Then we called it an instance of "hereditary
dipsomania," and were more or less consoled by the classification. We
were not, I think, unreasonable. The discovery proved apparently that
the man whom we had respected and admired was not a vulgar debauchee,
who had been hypocritically concealing his vices; but that he had really
possessed the excellent qualities attributed to him, only combined with
an unfortunate constitutional tendency, which was as much a part of his
original nature as a tendency to gout or consumption. Now this, as I
think, suggests the problem which puzzles us at times. A man develops
some vicious propensity, for which we were quite unprepared. In some
cases, perhaps, he may show homicidal mania or kleptomania, or some of
the other manias which physicians have discovered in late years. They
say, though the lawyers are rather recalcitrant, that a man suffering
from such a mania is not "responsible"; and if asked, why not? they
reply, because he was the victim of a disease which made him unable to
resist the morbid impulse. But then, we say, are not all our actions
dependent upon our physical constitution? If a man develops homicidal
mania, may not a murderer of the average type excuse himself upon the
same ground? You have committed an action, we say, which shows you to be
a man of abnormal wickedness. You are a bloodthirsty, ferocious,
inhuman villain. Certainly, he may reply; but if you could examine my
brain you would see that I could not be anything else. There is
something wrong about its molecular construction, or about the shape of
the skull into which it was fitted, which makes bloodthirstiness quite
as inevitable in me as a tendency to drink is in others, or perhaps as
the most ardent philanthropy may be in some. In short, I am a murderer;
but wickedness is so natural to me that you must in all fairness excuse

This is, of course, a kind of excuse which would not free a man from the
gallows. It would simply suggest that punishment should not be
considered from the moral, but, if I may say so, from the sanitary point
of view. We should hang the murderer--not to satisfy our sense of
justice, but to get rid of a nuisance. I will not now inquire what may
be said upon that undoubtedly difficult problem; but I must touch upon
the previous question which is raised by the argument. Would our
supposed murderer make out a good case for himself? Is there no
difference between him and the maniac; or, rather, what is the nature of
the difference which we clearly recognise in practice? In the extreme
case which our ancestors took as the typical case, the madman kills
because he is under some complete illusion: he supposes that he is only
breaking a glass when he is really taking a life, and so forth. He is
therefore not wicked, but accidentally mischievous. We have now come to
recognise the existence of many states of mind intervening between this
and complete sanity. Among them, for example, is the state of mind of
the homicidal monomaniac, whose propensity is considered to be the cause
of his actions, and which may be consistent with his being in many other
respects capable of acting upon the ordinary motives and judging
reasonably in most of the affairs of life. What, then, is the meaning of
the statement that he is a madman, and therefore excusable? The
contention must, of course, be, in the first place, that his character
is in some way abnormal. He is not governable by the ordinary motives
which determine human action. But, beyond this, it is evident that the
abnormality is taken to mean something more than the mere deviation from
the average. A man may be abominably wicked, and yet not in the least
abnormal in the sense here required. He may be deficient in the higher
motives, and the more brutal passions may be unusually developed; and
yet we do not hold that he therefore deviates from the type. So, in a
different sphere, we may have one man possessing enormous strength and
another exceedingly feeble, one very active and another very clumsy;
and yet they may all be perfectly normal, they are free from physical
disease, and all their physical functions may be performed according to
the normal system. Entire freedom from disease, in short, is perfectly
compatible with exceedingly wide deviations from the average, with
capacity for walking a thousand miles in a thousand hours, or with
inability to walk a single mile; and yet such deviations do not imply a
departure from a certain common type. To say precisely what symptoms
indicate mere differences within the normal type, and what imply an
actual deviation from the type, is exceedingly difficult, if not
impossible; and yet that such a distinction exists has to be constantly
recognised. "So-and-so is delicate, but not diseased; feeble, but not
deformed," has a definite meaning, though we may be unable to define the
precise meaning of our words, or to decide which statement is true in
particular cases.

The great difficulty in the case of insanity corresponds to this. The
physician tells us that the madman's mind works abnormally, but not
abnormally in the sense merely of having some faculties weaker and
others stronger than is common; but in such a way as to indicate
disease, and, moreover, a particular kind of disease, or one, perhaps,
of several particular kinds of diseases. The vagueness of this statement
provokes lawyers, who have a natural love of definite external tests to
govern their decisions; and it has led to a number of delicate
discussions, upon which I need not enter. The legal problem seems
essentially to be, what tests should guide us in determining whether a
man should be regarded as a normal human being, or as a being so far
differing from the normal type that he should be treated exceptionally,
and especially put under the guidance of other persons, and excused from
legal responsibility, that is, liability to punishment.

I have to do with the moral problem alone. It is a still more difficult
problem; but it has this advantage, that we do not require so definite
an answer. We have not, happily, to decide whether our fellows shall go
to heaven or to hell, though we have to decide whether they shall be
hanged or locked up; and we must be content as a rule with very vague
estimates as to their moral character. What we practically have to take,
more or less roughly, into account is simply this: that our inference
from conduct to character has often to be modified by the existence of
these abnormal cases. A man is drunk on an important occasion; I infer,
as a rule, that he has all the qualities which go with low sensuality;
but in some cases the inference is wrong; the man may be really a person
of most admirable feelings; but one of his instincts has suddenly taken
an abnormal development, owing to a set of causes entirely different
from the usual causes. Another man suddenly and causelessly kills a
friend. The natural inference that he must be a bloodthirsty brute is
erroneous, if it turns out that he has acted from impulses not generated
by any habitual want of benevolence, but from some special defect in the
constitution of his brain. In other words, our moral judgment must vary
in the two cases, and may vary so much that the same action may rightly
suggest only pity in one case and abhorrence in the other; although, in
many cases, where it may be very difficult to say what is the precise
implication as to character, the judgment must, if we are properly
diffident, remain obscure. The moral problem always depends ultimately
upon this: What is the character implied by this conduct? If the moral
conduct shows malignity within the normal type, it justifies
condemnation; if it shows only a blind instinctive impulse, due to a
deflection from the type, it may justify no other feelings than those
which we have for the poor maniac who fancies himself a king, and takes
his limbs to be made of glass.

If we hold that such responsibility implies free will we shall argue
that the madman is deprived of free will, or that his freedom of will is
more or less restricted, and that he is therefore irresponsible. In my
own opinion, that proposition would be by no means an easy one to
establish. I fancy that a man may be insane and yet capable, within very
wide limits, of being good or bad, and that therefore we must at any
rate hold that he has still some power of free will. The bearing of this
upon the question of moral responsibility brings us within sight of some
delicate problems. But, however this may be, the criterion by which we
shall have to judge whether we are believers in free will or
determinists will be the same. The problem is essentially, is this man
accessible to the motives by which normal men regulate their conduct? or
does he so far deflect from the typical constitution, however that
constitution may be precisely defined, that his conscience or his
affections or his intellectual powers are unable to act according to the
general laws of human nature?

Having said so much, I think that I may proceed to this conclusion, that
the theory of heredity can make no real difference whatever to our
problem. There is a difficulty for the metaphysician--the difficulty
which is involved in discussions between materialists and idealists,
determinists and believers in free will. I do not deny the existence of
that difficulty. I only say that the question of heredity is altogether
irrelevant to the difficulty. The desire to treat ethical problems by
the methods of science may predispose a thinker to materialism, and may
at the same time lead him to attach particular importance to the
doctrine of heredity. But that doctrine only takes note of facts which
every theory has to state in its own phraseology, and do not alter the
ultimate problem.

Let us, in fact, go back to our murderer. I am not responsible, he says,
because I am determined by the processes in my brain. I am a mere
machine, grinding out one set of actions or another as external
accidents set my wheels and pulleys in motion. If that argument be fatal
to moral responsibility, or to the belief that any truly moral action
exists (a point which I do not argue), it will no doubt remove the moral
element from the treatment both of murderers and madmen. They might
still require different measures, just as we treat a machine differently
when we consider that it is not of the normal construction, or that its
various parts have somehow got out of gear, so that we can no longer,
for example, expect that the mainspring will transmit its motion to the
wheels. But, in any case, if the dependence upon the body be a fatal
objection to morality in the highest sense, the circumstance that the
body is made upon the plan of previously existing bodies makes no
additional difficulty. If we could suppose every brain to be started
afresh by a fortuitous concourse of atoms, the difficulty would be
neither increased nor diminished. The problem, are we automatic? and the
validity of the inference, is morality meaningless? are questions
altogether independent of the question, what particular kind of automata
are we? and do we or do we not resemble a previous generation of

If, however, we reply to the criminal that he is not a machine or an
automaton, but a responsible, reasoning, and thinking being, we do not
get away from the facts. We then assert that he is responsible because
he possesses a certain moral constitution. But whatever words we may use
to express the facts correctly, we must still allow that there is such a
correlation between soul and body (if those old-fashioned words be
admissible) that the health of his moral constitution depends at every
instant upon the health of his nervous system and his brain. It may be
shattered or destroyed by an injury; and, if this be so, what does it
matter whether the injury--say the defective shape of the skull, which
causes pressure on the brain--is due to some accident or to a connate
malformation due to his parents? The difficulty, if it be difficulty, is
that the want of responsibility is due to some cause, accidental
relatively to him; and it matters not whether that cause be in his
parents' constitution or in some other combination of circumstances. In
any case, we have to suppose, whatever the relation of mind and body, we
must at least assume that a man is born with some character. Like
everything that exists, he has certain definite qualities which he did
not make for himself, and upon which his subsequent development depends.
And, if that be once admitted, the whole difficulty still occurs, and
the question as to whether the origin of these innate qualities be
derived from his parents or from a something else is a mere matter of

In fact, the confusion seems to me to arise from the vague phraseology
which induces us to accept, virtually at least, the mental attitude of
Dean Swift in Er the Pamphylian. We speak as if the man were an
independent entity, lying somehow outside the chain of cause and effect,
and arbitrarily plunged into it; nay, as if even his inner constitution
were something superinduced upon his nature. It is really an absurd
abstraction to distinguish between the man and his character, as though
he meant a something existing without a character, and afterwards run
into a mould by fate. The character is the man in certain relations, and
he can never exist without it, any more than a piece of matter can be
outside of all particular times and places. If the doctrine of free will
and moral responsibility be so interpreted as to imply our acceptance
of such fallacies, I can only say that it appears to me to be
irreconcilable with the most undeniable facts. But I am very far from
supposing that any intelligent supporter of the doctrine would state it
in such a form. He would admit as fully as I do the facts, and, if they
can be admitted and reconciled to the doctrine of moral responsibility,
certainly the doctrine of heredity can be so reconciled. The only
peculiarity of the doctrine is, that it has called attention to an order
of facts which must in any case be recognised by every philosopher; and
that it helps, therefore, to disperse a fallacy which only requires
articulate statement to show its radical want of logic or even
conceivability. We are, beyond all doubt, affected somehow, and affected
profoundly, by our environment; and this particular form of relation to
other beings has no more bearing upon the problem than the other forces
which have been recognised ever since speculation began.

There is, however, another side from which I must briefly consider the
question of heredity; and it is a side which, I think, is really more
important, because it involves issues of facts, and has suggested some
more reasonable prejudices. It is, undoubtedly, very common that when a
theory has obtained a certain currency it should be applied rashly
beyond its proper limits. When the speculations of Darwin encouraged us
to believe that the natural selection might be analogous to artificial
selection, that different species of animals have been produced as
varieties of dogs and pigeons have been produced by breeders, it was, at
least, tempting to apply the same formula directly to other cases. Some
men of science have endeavoured to show that genius or criminality is
hereditary; and that, if one man writes a great poem and another picks a
pocket, it is always in virtue of their hereditary endowment. Within
certain limits, this statement is not surprising, and I shall be very
glad when men of science can tell us what those limits may be. Without
being a man of science, I fully believe that our congenital
characteristics form, as I have said, certain impassable limits to our
development. One baby is a potential Shakespeare, and, probably, only
one in a million. The qualities with which he starts, again, are, no
doubt, derived from his parents, though we do not, as yet, understand in
what way; whether, for example, we should infer that Shakespeare's
parents had more than usual capacity, or were especially healthy, or had
some peculiar form of one-sided development which generated the disease
called poetical genius; or whether he may have inherited qualities from
a remote ancestor, which had remained latent for several generations.
In any case, he was at birth only a potential Shakespeare. He might have
died of the measles, or been made stupid by a sunstroke, or have taken
to drink in bad company, or have run away to sea, or been sent to the
University and become a mere bishop or professor of casuistry; in short,
though he could not easily have done very much better work than he did,
he might have done inconceivably less. That is to say, his congenital
qualities implied certain powers; but what he would do with them
remained to be partly determined by an indefinite variety of external
circumstances acting upon him in various ways. Hence, we have always the
complex problem, what, given certain raw material in the shape of
new-born babies, will be the characteristics of the finished product in
the shape of a grown-up population? If the social state is determined
from the inherited qualities directly, we should be able, for example,
to infer from a given proportion of criminals, that a certain number of
children were born with a corresponding physical constitution, with
"foreheads villainous low," and prognathous jaws, and with the other
peculiar signs which mark the felon from his birth. In that case, again,
we should infer, I suppose, that the only possible means of improving
the social state would be by somehow improving the breed; perhaps, by
appointing some of the inspectors who play so great a part in modern
society, to examine infants, and get rid of those who were thus
distinguished, by the means now adopted in the case of superfluous
puppies. One objection to this system is, of course, that men of science
have not yet shown that they are qualified for exercising such a
supervision; and there are other difficulties upon which I need not
dwell. This much, indeed, we may grant without any scientific
prepossessions whatever. It is clearly very desirable that every
generation should raise up for its successors as many children with
sturdy bodies and vigorous brains as possible; and it is to be hoped
that the objection to transmitting disease and imbecility may be more
generally recognised, and, in some shape or other, have an influence
even upon the strongest passions. But I am only concerned with the
general theory, which, if I understand it rightly, would appear to imply
that the characteristics of a society are irrevocably fixed by the
characteristics of the children born into it; and, whether this theory
be true or false, we must admit that it has a considerable bearing upon
morality. If, in fact, we hold it to be rigidly true, we should have to
suppose that no serious improvement can be produced in society at large,
except by breeding a superior race of men. This, again, is a
discouraging prospect. Let me quote what has been said by an authority
who expresses, I believe, the accepted scientific view. "There can be no
doubt," says Professor Huxley, "that vast changes have taken place in
English civilisation since the days of the Tudors. But I am not aware
that there is a single particle of evidence in favour of the conclusion
that this evolutionary process has been accompanied by any modification
of the physical or the mental characters of the men who have been the
subjects of it. I have not met with any grounds for suspecting that the
average Englishmen of to-day are sensibly different from those that
Shakespeare knew and drew." The statement, I imagine, might be very much
extended. I do not suppose that the average cockney of to-day is a
superior animal, physically or morally, to the average Athenian of the
days of Pericles, or even, it may be, to the pre-historic savages who
made flint implements for the amusement of our antiquaries. Briefly,
whatever change has taken place, within historical period, has been a
social change, not a change in the structure of the individual. This is
surely conceivable. We need only consider, for example, how vast a
change has been made in all the conditions of life by the modern
applications of practical science. Whether, in other respects, we are
better or worse than our forefathers, we have an enormously greater
aggregate of wealth now than we had, say, two centuries ago; we can
support four times the population, though the condition of the lowest
stratum may not be better. And this amazing advance of wealth is not due
to the fact that Englishmen of to-day have better brains for mathematics
than the Englishmen of Newton's time; but to the accumulation of
capital, the improvement of the natural conditions of the soil, the
turning to account of vast masses of material, previously neglected; to
the invention of machinery, and so forth; all of which imply, not
necessarily the very slightest improvement of natural capacity, but
simply the growth of knowledge, and the fact that each generation has
preserved more than it has consumed. What we call progress or
civilisation, which means, whatever else it may or may not mean, a
gigantic increase in the power of man over nature, is due, therefore, to
the one fact that man can accumulate. He can modify the earth in such a
way as to facilitate the labours of the coming generations; he can make
tools which last beyond his own time, and which themselves become, as it
were, the ancestors of incomparably superior tools; he can, moreover,
accumulate and transmit knowledge, not merely the knowledge of facts,
but the knowledge of scientific laws and of useful inventions, and of
the right methods of investigating facts. When Newton made a discovery,
he made it for all the following generations; and, though it may well be
that no superior or even equal intellect has since arisen to carry on
his work, the dwarf now stands on the shoulders of the giant. It is not
simply that we know more facts. The modes of mathematical inquiry differ
as much from those which Newton could employ, as the latest steam engine
from the crude fire machine before the time of Watt; and an average
undergraduate can solve with ease problems which once puzzled the
greatest intellects that ever appeared among men. Man, then, can
accumulate; and that simple fact enables every generation enormously to
surpass its predecessors. Accumulation, again, is, of course, a form of
inheritance. We are born heirs to the intellectual as well as to the
material fortunes of our ancestors. But, it is obvious, this is
something very different from heredity. It supposes an alteration, not
in the man, but in his surroundings or his education in the widest
sense; not in his intellectual capacity, but in the knowledge which it
can attain and the rules which it has worked out. In order that a man
may be capable either of bequeathing or inheriting, he must have certain
faculties; he must be an observing, remembering, reasoning animal; but
he may become indefinitely richer, not from any improvement in his
powers of observing and remembering and using, but simply from the
change in his position. People's memories, it is sometimes suggested,
have been weakened by the invention of printing. But, weakened or not,
we have an incomparably greater knowledge of the past than was formerly
possible, because we can now keep our memories upon our bookshelves, in
the form of histories and encyclopædias, and know every fact that we
want to know when we want it, without troubling ourselves to fill our
minds with all the knowledge that may ever be possibly useful. A library
is an external and materialised memory. But without illustrating so
plain a point any further, I simply take note of what it implies: that
is, that, as Professor Huxley has pointed out, all that distinguishes
the present state of things from the state of things in the time of
Elizabeth, or, perhaps, at the time of remote Egyptian dynasties, may be
due, not to any change in the individual, but to what is called the
social factor. The inference from the individual to the society, or from
the society to the individual, is, therefore, rigidly impossible,
because, given the man, the position in which he is placed and the stage
of development of the society to which he belongs, are relevant facts
which exercise an incalculably great influence.

If this be true, what follows? We remark, in the first place, that the
evolution of which we speak in regard to natural history, the process by
which the present population of the globe has gradually grown out of the
population of remote geological epochs, is slow. The changes which it
may produce are not sensible within a generation--for, indeed, the very
nature of the case implies that they must take many generations--not
perhaps even within such a period as is covered by all authentic
history. It is not, of course, on that account to be overlooked for
scientific purposes. Monkeys must have grown into men before they could
begin to accumulate capital, either material or spiritual. The faculty
of accumulating must itself have been developed. Only when once it was
developed, another process would begin, the process of social evolution,
which, however it may resemble the other, or possibly be in some sense
its continuation, proceeds, at least, at a totally different rate. The
difference is comparable, one may say roughly, to the difference between
the speed of an express train and the speed of a four-wheeled waggon.
Beneath the surface, it may be, the slower process is still continuing;
men, for anything I can say to the contrary, may be acquiring larger
brains and more sensitive bodies; and it is further possible, or rather
obvious, that if we can do anything to facilitate this proceeding, to
behave so as to give nature a better chance of turning out better work,
we ought to do so. Only nature is pretty sure to take her time about it.
How far, again, one process is to be considered as a continuation of the
other, or as a modification, or even as in opposition to it, is a point
which I cannot now touch. What I have to say is simply this: that if we
take any two periods of society, the present, for example, and that of a
thousand or five thousand years ago, we shall find enormous or
incalculably great differences in the social structure, in the amount of
knowledge, in the character of the ethical, religious, and philosophical
beliefs, and in the relations between the individuals of which the
society is constructed; but between the individuals at the two periods
we may find hardly any definable difference whatever. For anything we
can say, we should be able, if we could move people about in time as
well as in space, to exchange a thousand infants of the nineteenth
century A.D., for a thousand of the nineteenth century B.C., and nobody
would be able to detect the difference which would result.

Hence it follows, in my opinion, that the evolutionary process with
which moralists and political philosophers have practically to deal, is
what I have called the social, and not the individual process. We
inherit thoughts as we inherit wealth; we inherit customs and laws and
forms of worship, and indeed our whole mental furniture; we can add
enormously to our inheritance, and can transmit the augmented fund to
our descendants. But the other process of inheritance, to which the word
"heredity" is taken to apply, is not, immediately at least, cumulative.
We inherit the old faculties, bodily and mental, unaltered, or with
infinitesimal alterations, though we live in a different environment,
and are ourselves as much altered as our environment. The modern social
organism is built up, if I may say so, of cells almost identical in
their properties with those of the old organism, although the mode of
combination gives entirely new properties to the whole, and brings out
new actions and reactions among the constituent cells themselves.

I have been touching the edge of certain problems of great interest but
enormous complexity, and I shall venture to indicate the difference
between these views and some which have recently attracted much
attention. Mr. Kidd's work upon "Social Evolution" has made the phrase
popular; but, instead of using it in my sense, he speaks as though
"social evolution" involved what I have called individual evolution. In
order to keep within limits, I will confine myself to one case upon
which he lays great stress. It will show sufficiently why I hold his
mode of reasoning to be inconclusive. Mr. Kidd has achieved success by
very excellent qualities, by remarkable literary ability, and by his
uniformly high tone of moral feeling. I should, therefore, be very sorry
to speak of him otherwise than respectfully. Mr. Kidd, however, chooses
to maintain a thesis in which he has certainly no personal
interest,--the thesis, namely, that a little stupidity may be a very
good thing. This view is, perhaps, intelligible when we observe that he
also maintains that the progress of the race depends upon its holding
"ultra-rational," which I think he would find it hard to distinguish
from "irrational," beliefs. In support of this view he writes a chapter
to prove that "progress is not primarily intellectual". The argument of
which I have spoken is part of this proof. The Greeks, he tells us, were
a race intellectually superior to ourselves. They were, so Mr. Galton
informs him, two degrees above modern Englishmen in the scale of
intelligence, and as superior to us as we are to the negro. And yet,
says Mr. Kidd, this marvellous race died out, and no trace of its blood
is now to be found in the present population of the world. Let us look
shortly into the logic of this argument, and consider how far it is
entitled to be regarded as scientific reasoning.

First of all, I should ask, what precisely is meant by "the Greeks"? The
argument is founded partly on the number of great thinkers, poets, and
artists, in proportion to the population. Now, it is obviously essential
to a scientific statement that we should know what is the population
indicated. If we compare the number of great men at Athens in its best
period with the number of free Athenians, we shall get one ratio; if we
admit the Athenian slaves, or add Boeotia and other Greek States to our
population, we get quite a different ratio. And the difference is of
immense importance. The smaller the population, the higher the
excellence indicated by a given number of great men; but, also, the
smaller the population, the less is the wonder that it should have died
out or been swallowed up in the whirlpools of political, religious, and
social convulsions. A similar remark applies in regard to the period
during which this race flourished. When did they begin and when did they
cease to be superior to other people? Till the statement is more precise
we do not even know what are the phenomena to be explained; and the case
is susceptible of any number of explanations. Did the superior race
cease to be prolific; or was it prolific, but of inferior descendants;
and, if so, was it because it was mixed with races of an inferior stamp;
or was it because its position exposed it to the attacks of more
numerous enemies; or because its energy led it to attempt impossible
feats? Has it died out, or has it been swamped by other races? To answer
such questions is absolutely necessary before we can say positively that
the higher organisation was the cause of the decay, or that it did not
cause the decay by some indirect process due to the special combination
of circumstances. But to answer such questions, if they be answerable at
all, would require the investigations of a lifetime, and a mastery of a
whole series of studies, historical, statistical, ethnological, and so
forth, in which I am an absolute ignoramus. But I cannot perceive that
Mr. Kidd claims more than second-hand information.

But, secondly, there is another obvious question to which an answer is
necessary. Mr. Kidd and Mr. Galton deduce their view about Greek
intellect, first, from the proportion of great men. Does, then, the
occurrence of a group of great men at a certain period prove a superior
organisation in the race? That leads to a very familiar problem: What
were the causes of what we may call the flowering times of arts and
sciences? We are all familiar with the phenomenon; with the sudden
display of astonishing excellence at Athens, at Florence, or in the
England of Elizabeth. It seems to be the rule that processes which may
have been going on quietly for centuries suddenly culminate; that
artistic, poetic, or philosophic excellence becomes unprecedentedly
common for a generation or two, and that the impulse then dies away as
rapidly. It is the kind of problem which is satisfactorily solved by the
authors of university prize essays, which somehow fail to convince the
world or to be republished by their writers. Are we, then, entitled to
argue from the great works an organic superiority in the race? Must we
suppose, for example, that Englishmen at the time of Shakespeare and
Bacon and Spenser and Raleigh were an abler race than their descendants,
because, when there was a very much smaller number of educated men, they
produced more first-rate authors than have been produced by generations
much more numerous and more generally cultivated? This seems to me at
least to be a very rash hypothesis; and some of the obvious remarks made
in our university essays seem to me to indicate considerations which,
though not conclusive, cannot be neglected. It is clear, for example,
that particular stages of intellectual progress are abnormally
stimulating; that, as the last step to a pass in the mountains suddenly
reveals vast prospects, while a hundred equally difficult steps before
made no appreciable change, so there are mental advances which, as at
the time of Bacon, seemed suddenly to disclose boundless prospects of
knowledge. It is the Pisgah sight of the promised land which causes a
burst of energy. Or, again, a certain social condition is obviously
required; philosophers and poets may exist potentially among barbarous
tribes, but they cannot get a chance to speak, and they have no
opportunity of communication with other thinkers. The intellect may be
impelled in various directions, some of which leave no trace of a
tangible kind. The amount of intellectual power implied in building up
the Roman Empire may have been as great as that implied in developing
Greek art; and in America, as we are often told, intellect turns to
dollar-making, instead of book-writing. So, conversely, the outburst of
power may indicate, not greater faculties, but special opportunities, or
special stimulus, applied to already existing faculties. Everybody who
has written an æsthetic treatise has pointed to all manner of conditions
which were in this sense favourable to the Greeks. How far such
conditions were sufficient I cannot even guess; but at least an
allowance must be made for them before we can argue from the
achievements to the intrinsic power of the race which achieved. I do not
see that it is even "proved" that the average Athenian was in the least
superior in this sense to the average Englishman. It would require a
lifetime of study to pronounce any opinion worth having. I fully confess
that, so far as a vague impression is worth anything, it is the most
obvious impression, after looking at the Elgin marbles, that the Greeks
were possessed of a finer organisation than ourselves. Still, I cannot
accept as certain the quasi-mathematical formula that the Greek is to
the Englishman as the Englishman to the negro.

This, however, suggests another and very difficult series of problems.
Mr. Kidd is arguing against intellectual superiority. He, of course,
does not argue that the general superiority of a race leads to its
disappearance; but that a one-sided superiority--an improvement of one
set of faculties at the expense of others--may have that result. This at
once suggests a whole series of psychological problems. The intellect
and the emotional nature are not two separate organs, each capable of
independent development. Every mental process involves both, and neither
faculty can be developed without reference to the other. Mr. Kidd
accepts the conclusion that certain primitive races were as clever as
ourselves, because their brains were as large. If the argument be sound,
it proves equally that their emotional nature was as well developed as
ours; for no one can doubt that the brain is the physical condition of
feeling as well as of thought. Even the most abstract thought, as he
elsewhere notices, implies certain moral qualities. Newton remarked that
he was superior to other men, not because his intellect was clearer,
but because he attended more persistently to his problems. The
statement, I think, involves a fallacy. Newton himself, no doubt, did
better the longer he kept a problem before him. He inferred,
unjustifiably, that of two different men, the one who could keep up his
attention longest would be the best. That does not follow. The
difference may indeed be moral as well as intellectual; and it is quite
true that a power of sustained attention is of the highest importance in
mathematics, and that that power supposes a moral quality; but,
conversely, the power of attention probably implies also the power of
clear intellectual vision. A muddle-headed man would find attention
useless. This is, of course, still clearer in the case where the mind is
exercised upon questions of human interest. The statesman and the
dramatist both depend upon their power of sympathy and the strength of
their emotions, as much as upon their logical capacity. To feel for
others I must imagine their position: if I imagine it, I can hardly
avoid feeling for them. "Altruism" is the product, in other words, of a
process both intellectual and moral.

Now, remembering this, we see the difficulty of pronouncing upon the
nature of the Greek organisation. Perhaps the commonest of all remarks
upon Greek work is the symmetry and harmony, the "all-roundness," if I
may say so, of the development implied. Poetry and philosophy, art and
science seem to be so blended in their work that we cannot tell which
faculty is predominant. What, then, is the inequality of development
which is essential to Mr. Kidd's argument? They were wanting, he seems
to answer, in "altruism". What does this mean? The astonishing power of
the Greeks was certainly as conspicuous in poetry and art as in anything
else; and that power surely implies development of the emotional as well
as of the intellectual nature. By a defect of "altruism," I take him to
mean that these emotions did not flow along the channel of general
philanthropy. They were wanting then, as I should put it, rather in
cosmopolitanism than in altruism. If altruism means care for something
outside yourself, where could we find better examples of altruism than
at Thermopylæ or Marathon? Was it not due to Greek altruism in this form
(some historians would say) that Mr. Kidd is not now living under the
rule of a Persian Satrap? The altruism, no doubt, meant an intense and
patriotic devotion to a small State, or an interest in Greek as against
barbarian, and was compatible with much brutality to individuals and
acquiescence in slavery. But this does not indicate an absence of the
emotions themselves, but simply their confinement within narrow limits,
by the conditions under which they were placed. Slavery, for example, is
abominable; but I see no reason for supposing that the slave-holders in
America were worse men by innate constitution than their opponents. They
were corrupted by their position.

This, in any case, leads to another problem. Were the Greeks more or
less altruistic than other races? If you could show that altruistic
races had survived while the Greeks perished, there might be a
presumption that the want of altruism was the cause of their decay. But
this again does not seem to be the case. Hardly one of the ancient
races, indeed, has survived unvaried. The Romans were at least as brutal
as the Greeks, and, one would say, as far from "altruistic". Yet they
overpowered the Greeks. How, then, can it be inferred that the Greeks
perished because of defective altruism? The struggle for existence was
between races equally defective to all appearance in that quality; and
it must be a sophistry to signalise its absence in one as the cause of
its disappearance. There is, indeed, one race to which every one would
turn as the most prominent example of survival, namely, the Jews. The
Jews have enormous merits and great intellectual endowments; but can
anybody say that they were altruistic in the sense of being
cosmopolitan? Are they not conspicuous, beyond any race, for the
narrower forms of altruism, rejection of a cosmopolitan creed, even when
it arose among them, and exclusive devotion to the welfare of their own
people? I think that it would be perfectly easy to argue that the Greeks
died out just because of their cosmopolitan and therefore dispersive
tendencies, and that the Jews have held out from a judicious adherence
to narrower views of self-preservation. But personally I regard all such
"arguments" as really belonging to the extra-scientific regions of
rhetorical illustration.

This suggests one other point which requires consideration. Mr. Kidd
regards it as proved that progress has been due to the Christian
religion, which revealed the new moral doctrine. The Christian religion
introduced, it seems, that belief in the supernatural which is essential
to altruism. It seems to me to be inconsistent with his own principles,
that he should attribute progress to what is essentially, on his own
showing, an intellectual change: that is, to a change in belief and even
to a change which, in comparison with the old polytheism, was distinctly
sceptical and rationalistic. But one point is clear. The introduction
of Christianity may be interpreted more consistently in a totally
different way. The Greek who became a Christian was not provided with a
new set of emotions, but his emotions were directed into new channels.
He ceased to care for Athens, because Athens had ceased to be an
independent State; he began to be cosmopolitan when he was forced to be
part of a cosmopolitan empire. The important distinction was no longer
the distinction between Athenian and Spartan, but between the different
classes in the world-wide system. That is to say, the "altruism" which
came in with Christianity was not the product of a new dogma suddenly
dropped from heaven; but of the new social condition, which made it
inevitable that the forces which previously stimulated a local
patriotism should now exert themselves nearer a cosmopolitan
organisation. This is, of course, a commonplace; but, for that reason,
it should not be simply ignored. It suggests one other consequence of
Mr. Kidd's theory. It is proved, he says, that the progress of the
Western world is due to Christianity. His "proof," as I suppose, is that
the States which have sprung out of the old Empire of the West have been
Christian and have progressed. How, then, about the Empire of the East?
If the great Kingdoms of the West are the unique example of progress,
what is the unique example of decay? Surely, the regions where
Christian dogmatic theology was defended by Athanasius and Chrysostom.
If you wish to point out a region where the race has actually gone
backwards, you would refer to the Turkish Empire. Why, if Christianity
was the sole cause of progress in one quarter, was it comparable with
complete decay in the other? Does the Eastern theory about the
_filioque_ explain it? Or were the Mohammedans more "altruistic" than
the Christians? Or is it that it is absurd, especially upon Mr. Kidd's
own doctrine, to assign the dogmatic creed of a race as the sole cause
of its character and its success in the struggle for existence?

I do not lay any stress upon the argument, except in a negative sense. I
do not see, that is, how Mr. Kidd can make his theory fit the facts. But
I infer one other remark. It is impossible to divine the causes of the
rise and fall of empires, the success or decay of a race, from any of
these sweeping generalisations about ill-defined qualities. If we ask
why the Greeks died out, we should have to take into account another and
a totally different set of considerations: what I may call the accidents
of their position. We should have to consider all the arguments by which
historians have tried to explain the events; the facts of physical
geography, for example, which account for the division into small
separate States; the relations of the Greeks to the Eastern races on the
one side, and to the Romans on the other; and, briefly, to all the
material conditions, those different from the intrinsic character of the
race, by which the whole course of political development and of the
conflict between different peoples, is moulded and directed into
particular courses. I do not say, for I cannot guess, what would be the
result of such an inquiry; but I think it just as possible that it would
lead us to wonder at the persistence of the Greek States for so long a
period, as that it would lead us to wonder at their disappearance. Our
conclusion might be, that nothing but the astonishing intellectual
powers of the Greeks enabled them to play so great a part in the world's
history, not that their intellectual superiority was the cause of their

I consider, therefore, that the alleged fact is stated so vaguely that
we have no distinct problem set before us; that we don't know what is
the process to be explained; that the suggested intellectual superiority
is doubtful, at least in degree: that the excess of intellectual above
other development, which the superiority is supposed to have created, is
not proved, and, still less, that such excess was more conspicuous among
the Greeks than among their rivals; that, even if it existed, it is not
proved that it would have produced the effect ascribed to it; and,
finally, that the other causes which undoubtedly operated, are simply
overlooked. I confess, therefore, that the whole argument seems to me to
illustrate the danger of rashly applying certain scientific
formulæ,--themselves, perhaps, still doubtful,--to new and exceedingly
complex questions. If Darwin had reasoned in this light-hearted way, no
one would have been moved by his conclusions.

But I must still add, what brings me back to my point, that even if the
proposition were proved, it would not establish the conclusion. It may
be, that races of abnormal intellectual development are at a
disadvantage in the struggle for existence. That does not prove that
"progress is not primarily intellectual". Buckle, who argued that
progress was due to intellectual causes exclusively, always assumed that
human nature was constant, or that the faculties did not change. Though
I do not accept his view, any more than Mr. Kidd's, I do not see that he
was inconsistent. I take the most obvious case to illustrate the point.
No one can doubt that one of the most important influences in modern
social evolution was the set of mechanical contrivances devised by
Arkwright and Watt and their contemporaries. Without them, the enormous
development of great cities, of a population of artisans, and of the
bringing together of all quarters of the globe, would have been
impossible. The inventions, again, were due to no moral purpose in the
inventors. They wanted to make money, and represented what is called (I
do not say justly) the most egoistic impulse of modern times. One
condition, then, of the great social change was essentially
intellectual. This does not mean that Watt was a cleverer man than
Archimedes. I don't know whether he was or not; but it does mean that
the mechanical sciences had improved; and, consequently, that Watt,
though not possessed of intrinsically greater powers, was, in this
direction, a more intellectual person. He had inherited the truths
discovered by Archimedes and many generations of successors. That
science should be efficient, it is not required that men should be
greater geniuses than their predecessors; but simply that they should
know more of the facts and laws of nature, and have, so to speak, better
intellectual tools. Mr. Kidd thinks that the inability of a savage to
count three does not prove him to be stupid, only to be without certain
rules discovered by the higher races. Yet, he will not deny that by the
help of arithmetic we can work out sums inconceivable to the savage; and
that our power affects our whole social position. Does not the existence
of a currency affect mankind; and if we could not count, could we make
use of it?

I therefore hold that in many cases the causes of progress are
"primarily intellectual". The mechanical discoveries of which I have
spoken have revolutionised the whole world. I agree, indeed, fully, that
the causes are not exclusively intellectual. A certain social
condition--the existence, to say nothing more, of peace and order over
wide regions--was as necessary as the intellectual condition to the
development of commerce and manufactures. This, of course, implies the
growth of corresponding sentiments, including, no doubt, what Mr. Kidd
means by altruism. But the change may, and, I fancy, generally does,
originate in intellectual movements. The new ideas shake the world.
Reason, says Mr. Kidd, is the great disintegrating and egoistic force. I
should say that reasoning is essentially altruistic: my discoveries are
mentally discoveries for you; I cannot keep a truth for my private
consumption, as I can keep a material product. But it is true, to use
eulogistic instead of dyslogistic language, that reason is the great
force of movement, and breaks up the old social conditions, not only by
getting rid of the ultra-rational, but by spreading the power of the
rational; and therefore it inevitably brings about a state of things in
which the old moral impulses have to run in new channels; a narrow
patriotism, to widen into a regard for the interests of other races; and
the class distinctions which repose upon no reasonable ground, to
disappear in favour of a wider humanity. When we are arguing about an
organism, it is surely a mistake to fix our minds upon one aspect of the
problem: to deny with Buckle the moral evolution, and with Mr. Kidd to
disparage the intellectual evolution.

Mr. Kidd's doctrine appears to me, though, of course, not to him, to be
eminently discouraging. If he worked it out logically, his argument, I
think, would come to this: that the progress of mankind has resulted
from the accidental, that is, inexplicable, appearance of a quality
called altruism, which gave to those who possessed it an advantage in
the struggle for existence. It would be far more consistent to say that
the religious dogma was determined by this new element, than that it was
the cause. Altruism, again, was only produced in effect on this
hypothesis by the slow results of a process necessarily lasting through
many generations; and our only hope must be in a slow organic change of
the primary characteristics of mankind. Now, it is, of course, true that
those characteristics, whatever they may be, impose definite limits
upon our progress. The raw material limits the product; and the new-born
baby is the raw material of society, as wool is of cloth: you cannot
convert it into tissue of gold. So much is undeniable. We, it is said,
have been developed out of an arboreal animal, and I have sometimes
regretted that we were not developed out of a flying animal. The course
of civilisation would have been very different if we had not been forced
to come into contact by crawling and swimming, instead of the much freer
methods of aerial travelling. However, as things were, the choice was
apparently between wings and hands; and if we could not have both,
perhaps hands were preferable, and may in time lead to flying machines.
The speculation, it may be, borders upon the fanciful. I mention it only
by way of illustrating the unevitable conditions imposed upon us by
"heredity". We have to be content with walking instead of flying; and
similarly we have to be content with having only the five senses of our
forefathers, and the various old-fashioned apparatuses for eating,
drinking, digesting, and so forth, which they unconsciously elaborated.
No material change can possibly be made in this system within any period
to which we can look forward. To regret these limitations is just as
idle as to regret that we cannot fly, or that we cannot extend our
voyages to the moon. They are part of the primary data of the problem
with which we have to deal; and to regret that that problem was not
differently contrived is to propose to set about reconstructing the
universe. But when we go on to ask how far this limits any possibilities
of achieving really desirable, because distinctly conceivable results, I
say that we have ample room for hopes large enough to animate our
loftiest desires. We inherit, it is true, certain faculties which
scarcely alter, or do not perceptibly alter, for the better. We do not
see or smell or hear better than the savage, and in some of these
faculties we are surpassed by the dog. We inherit also certain
intellectual powers, and, if they improve, the improvement is so slow as
to be perceptible only after many generations. But then this intellect
carries with it another power,--the power of inheriting thoughts,
beliefs, methods of reasoning and rules of conduct. And, therefore, to
the organic evolution is added the social evolution, which enables us to
accumulate our vast spiritual inheritance. The inheritance is
everything, or almost everything, that makes the distinctions between
the civilised races of to-day and the wandering savages who roamed the
fens and the forests which were supplanted by fields and towns. And
this, I think, makes room enough for all reasonable aspirations, though
it certainly does not open any prospect that we shall ever become gods
or angels.

Thus, for example, we look with sorrow, sometimes with something like
despair, upon the masses of the criminal or degraded population which
grovels at the base of modern society. If we were bound to say, the
crime and the stupidity are the necessary expression of the shape of the
skull and the organisation of the brain; if we had therefore to infer
that the only possible remedy is by so modifying the struggle for
existence that the inferior forms may be killed off and a better breed
of humanity take the place of the present; we should certainly feel that
we were confined within very narrow limits. I do not for a moment say,
that such considerations may not point to important practical
conclusions. I should be very glad to hear of any practical suggestions
for so applying these doctrines as to increase the probability that the
next generation may be stronger, healthier, and more intelligent than
the present. But I also assert that the most obvious facts also show
that there are enormous possibilities of progress without supposing any
such organic transformation. If all that makes the difference between
the England of to-day and the England of two or three centuries back is
the presence of the social factor, not of the organic change, it shows
in the most striking way the vast educability of mankind, even without
any ultimate change of human nature. We must all, I think, have been
impressed lately by one of the most singular phenomena which have ever
taken place in history. We have ourselves seen the transformation of the
Japanese--whom we so recently regarded as semi-barbarians--acquire
almost at a bound all the arts of Western civilisation, and able not
only to use with singular effect that most complex and delicate piece of
machinery which forms a modern warship, but to adopt systems of military
organisation and the strategy of a Moltke. That is not because the
Japanese have changed any one of their physical characteristics, for
they are the very same men who the other day were chiefly known to us as
performing the "happy despatch". They have changed simply because they
were able to assimilate European results. Now, if that be a perfectly
possible result, consistently with all the so-called laws of heredity,
the same laws cannot be inconsistent with changes of a similar character
within ourselves. You take a thorough ruffian,--a drinking, rowdy,
fighting brute, who has stamped his wife or his friend into a jelly.
You say that he is an illustration of slavism, or the reproduction of an
ancient type which once had its place among his ancestors. The fact may
be quite true; that he is, for example, acting-still in the spirit of
those ancient Vikings who have been idealised by our romantic writers;
but who, when they landed in an old British village, behaved pretty much
as the modern roughs or some of those noble blackguards who are
described in Mr. Rudyard Kipling's novels. But if you mean that he is
divided from civilised beings by an impassable gulf, and is doomed to be
a scoundrel by the shape of his skull, I venture to dispute the
assumption. The Viking in a generation or two became the Norman knight,
capable of the highest cultivation of his time; and even the rough,
according to Mr. Rudyard Kipling, is capable, under judicious
discipline, of developing some very fine qualities, chiefly, it is true,
in the shape of devotion to his colours. To wean him from some of his
weaknesses it is probably necessary to catch him rather younger. All,
however, that I desire to say, for the present, is this--as it seems to
me--very undeniable fact: that the difference between a civilised man
and a barbarian, between the highest types of modern life and the
apparently irreclaimable brutes who are exhibited in our police-courts,
is not dependent upon the mark of the beast irreclaimably fixed upon
them at their birth; but to certain later influences, which may or may
not be brought to bear upon them effectually. There is nothing, for
example, in the doctrine of heredity inconsistent with the belief that
if such influences could be properly directed, the standard, say, of
sobriety and prudence among the lowest classes might be improved, as
much as the standard of the same virtues has been improved in classes
above them. The consequences of such a change would, I suspect, be
incomparably greater than the consequences of whole systems of laws
regulating the hours of labour and whole armies of official inspectors.

But into this I need not go; and I have only one thing to say in
conclusion. I have spoken of the enormous results of what we call
progress and civilisation. That they are in one sense enormous is, I
suppose, undeniable. That the power which we generally describe as the
command of man over nature has been immensely increased is too palpable
a fact to be denied; that there has been a corresponding change in many
political and social respects is a fact which I only mention without
seeking to say how far it has been in all respects a change for the
better. Further, I urge that this change, whatever it is, has not been
due to a change in the individual constitution, but to a change in the
social factor. And, this being so, I simply suggest that, considering
how vast is the total change thus effected, we may reasonably hope, or,
at the very least, we may reasonably endeavour to justify the hope, that
a change of great magnitude may be brought about in those directions
where we all have to regret the survival or even the development of so
much that is melancholy: of regeneration going on alongside of
amelioration. I think that the doctrine of heredity is sometimes
interpreted in such a way as to suggest the hopelessness or at least the
extreme difficulty of introducing any sensible improvement within any
limited time; and what I have tried to urge is that, if properly
understood, it does not in the least degree tend to justify such
forebodings, or to imply that we are to abandon ourselves to a
demoralising fatalism.


I invite you to consider a rather dry problem. I ventured to select this
topic because it has lately been my duty to occupy myself with certain
legal writings, which, perhaps, took me a little beyond my depth. They
touched, however, problems which are common to the lawyer and to the
moralist. Although not a lawyer, I am interested in some moral problems
which have also a legal aspect: What I propose to do this evening is, to
consider certain questions which lie in the region common to both
provinces of inquiry, and especially this question: What is the true
ethical theory of punishments inflicted by the criminal law? How, and in
what sense, are they to be regarded as just? There is, obviously, a
relation between the two codes--moral and legal. Murder is both a sin
and a crime: a breach of the moral law, and of the laws of every
civilised country. Yet, there is one broad and deep distinction between
the two systems of law. The moral law is essentially concerned with a
man's motives. To say that a man's conduct is wicked, is necessarily
also to say that it is the action of a bad man, or due to evil passions.
Murder is wicked, as it is the manifestation of the murderer's hatred of
his neighbour. The criminal law, on the other hand, has to deal, in the
first instance, with the external facts. It contemplates, primarily,
what a man does, not what he is. It does not attempt to punish every man
who hates his neighbour, but every man who has, in fact, killed, whether
the action springs from hatred or some other motive. Every one who
deliberately kills, unless the act falls under certain definite
exceptions, is guilty of murder. This, of course, does not imply that
the moral aspect is of no account. The exceptions are so arranged that
the legal classification corresponds roughly to the moral
classification. Under certain exceptions, killing is regarded as
justifiable homicide, and under others, it is only manslaughter, and,
therefore, receives none, or a slighter penalty. The coincidence between
the codes may thus be very close. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred
the action condemned by the criminal law will be condemned by the
moralist. The man who is legally guilty of murder is also, almost
invariably, guilty of a great moral offence. Although, again, the moral
law applies to large classes of conduct, which are not within the
cognisance of the criminal law, it is, at least, plainly desirable that
the criminal law should condemn nothing which is not also morally wrong.
The sway of the moral law is universal; it applies to all conduct, and,
of course, to the conduct of legislators and judges: they and the law
which they define and apply should be consistent with the general law of
right and wrong. They and all of us are bound not to make virtue more
difficult nor vice easier.

But, further, the questions as to the relations between the two codes
arise in various directions. It is obvious that the criminal law has to
employ very rough and ready methods. It cannot estimate, with any
accuracy, the degree of immorality implied by any given action. It
cannot, and it does not attempt to, look closely into the secrets of a
man's heart. It cannot inquire, as a rule, how far a man's crime is the
result of bad education or bad surroundings; how far it implies thorough
corruption or only superficial faults of temper, or a misunderstanding
of some fact or doctrine. It cannot take into account a number of
metaphysical or psychological considerations which are connected with
the theory of moral responsibility. To settle such points you would have
to empanel a jury of philosophers, and the only thing of which you could
be certain would be, that such a jury would never agree upon a verdict.
Again, there are whole classes of virtues and vices with which the
criminal law is not concerned. Ingratitude, to take the common example,
is a grave vice, but one which it would be absurd to punish legally. Not
only would such an attempt involve impossible inquiries, but the attempt
would be self-defeating. If the duty of gratitude to a benefactor were
turned into a legal obligation, gratitude proper would cease to exist.
To confer a benefit would be the same thing as to acquire a right to
repayment. A man who allows his best friend to starve, or to go to the
workhouse, may be, morally, far worse than a thief; but you could not
punish him legally, without adopting a principle which, even if
practicable, would, so far as it operated, be destructive of all
disinterested friendship. The law, again, can deal only with criminals
who are found out. What proportion they may bear to the whole class of
moral offenders is not discoverable; but it is, at least, safe to say
that, for every man whom you convict of a crime, you must leave
unpunished, because undetected, another sinner who is equally deserving
of punishment. And, finally, it is apparently impossible to say, upon
any intelligible grounds, what should be the proportion between crime
and punishment. How many years' imprisonment does a man deserve for
putting out his neighbour's eye? I do not see how such a rule of three
can be stated. The good old theory of an eye for an eye and a tooth for
a tooth, seems to suggest a possible criterion. But it was difficult to
carry out. Deloraine, in the _Lay of the Last Minstrel_, has, as he
points out, killed Musgrove's brother; but, on the other hand, Musgrove
has killed Deloraine's nephew, and, besides, got a thousand marks ransom
out of Deloraine himself. Is the account to be regarded as accurately
balanced? Is one brother just equal to a nephew plus a thousand marks?
The theory, of course, is an application of an inappropriate analogy. If
we regard crime simply as a case of private injury, we may say that it
is fair that the wrong-doer should restore the thing that he has taken,
and so put matters where they were before. But this is obviously to take
a view which is quite inapplicable in most cases, and in all cases
becomes inadequate when we take the moral view, and regard crime as an
offence against society--not simply as a wrong to another individual.

For such reasons, it is apparently impossible to say that a legal
punishment can be just, in the full sense in which the moralist would
use the words. No doubt we may say,--and we wish that we could always
say,--that a man "deserves" what he has got; and that implies that we
recognise as desirable some satisfaction to our sense of justice. And,
of course, too, we demand that justice should be done in another sense
of the word; that the case, for example, should be impartially
investigated; that a man should not be punished severely because he is
poor, or because he is unpopular, or let off easily because he is a
private friend of the judge. Such demands mean that justice should not
be perverted by applying irrelevant considerations; but they leave our
previous questions untouched. The criminal law, from its nature, cannot
impose equal penalties upon all men who are equally wicked; but only
upon those who have made themselves liable: and that always involves
elements of accident; it cannot take into account at all some of the
elements upon which the depth of moral depravity essentially depends;
and it is, at least, very difficult to say what specific meaning can be
given to the proportion between crime and the suffering imposed upon the

If, then, the legislative action must, of necessity, be very imperfect
from the moral point of view, we may try what will be the effect of
dismissing the moral question altogether, or, at least, reducing it to a
secondary place. We may, that is, consider crime not in so far as
immoral, but in so far as mischievous. Here we have the doctrine worked
out very consistently by Bentham and his followers. Pain, they said, is
an evil, the only evil; pleasure, a good, and the only good. To inflict
needless pain--pain which does not cause a balance of pleasure--upon any
one, be he a good man or be he a bad man, is, so far, wrong. For the
same reason, it is justifiable, and, indeed, right, to inflict pain, so
far as it prevents some greater evil. Hence, you should punish criminals
just so far as the pain which you inflict is less than the pain which
you prevent. It is wrong to give a single useless pang even to the worst
of men. If (according to a sentiment attributed to Bentham) a fine of
five shillings would prevent a man from committing murder, it would be
wrong to fine him seven shillings and sixpence. This gives a
justification of punishment, in so far as deterrent. It is obviously
connected with another doctrine. A man is the best judge of his own
pleasures and pains. Therefore, in so far as a man's actions affect
himself alone, they are not to be forbidden by the law. We may think
them bad or degrading; but so long as they do not affect others, the
fact that a man chooses them is a proof that they give him pleasure; and
we shall, therefore, only diminish the sum of happiness by interfering.
Now, it is plain that this distinction does not draw the line between
what is morally bad or good. Every habit which affects a man's own
character, affects, also, his capacity to fulfil his duties to others.
But this theory overlooks immorality, except so far as it happens to
involve certain extraneous consequences. We are, upon this showing, to
punish a criminal precisely in the same spirit as we are to abate a
nuisance. The thief is to be suppressed, as we are to extirpate a
mischievous weed, and to be suppressed by just as much severity as is
required for the purpose. The drunkard, so long as he confines himself
to making a beast of himself in his own room, does his neighbours no
direct injury, and must be left to enjoy the pleasure which is shown,
because he chooses it, to be a pleasure to him. Of this theory, it may,
I think, be said that, however imperfect, it is tolerably consistent,
and, moreover, that it undoubtedly does express one legitimate end of
punishment. There can be no doubt, that is, that the punishment of
murderers may be rightly defended, among other grounds, at any rate, on
the ground that it discourages the practice; though we may not fully
agree with the famous saying of the judge, "You are not hanged for
stealing sheep, but hanged in order that sheep may not be stolen". And,
further, though there are various difficulties about the distinction
between "self-regarding" and "extra-regarding" conduct, we must also, I
think, allow, in general terms, that the fact that a man's conduct has a
direct and assignable influence upon his neighbour's happiness, must
always be one reason, and, frequently, the only sufficient reason, for
suppressing it by legal penalties.

This doctrine of simple deterrence, however, seems, to most critics, to
be insufficient. It omits the moral element too completely. When a man
is punished for some revolting offence, we are not simply providing him
and his like with reasons for abstaining in future. We are, as a fact,
exposing him to infamy, sometimes more painful to bear than the
immediate penalty, and are thus, in fact, invoking the sanction of the
moral sentiment. Therefore, it is urged, we must still, whether we like
it or not, be moralists. The purely utilitarian argument has omitted one
element of the calculation. The punishment not only deters offenders,
but gratifies the feeling of resentment to moral indignation, which has
been approved by many moralists. Hence, it is urged, besides the
deterrent theory, we must make room for the vindictive theory. It is
legitimate and right to hate crime, and, therefore, to hate criminals;
and legal punishments are defensible, not merely as adding to the
motives for refraining from crime, but as gratifying the desire for
revenge, which, in early ages, was assumed in the rude modes of putting
down violence, and which, even now, should be not eradicated but
confined within legal channels and directed towards the desirable ends.

Postponing, for the present, a consideration of this proposed
emendation, let us consider, a little more closely, the objection made
to the theory of deterrence. In what way does it come into direct
conflict with a moral theory of punishment? It looks upon immorality as
mischievous, or as diminishing happiness; and upon the utilitarian view
immorality means the diminution of happiness. Now, without discussing
ultimate moral questions, I may assume that, for practical purposes,
this seems to be a sufficiently tenable position. After all, we admit,
to whatever school we belong, that crime is mischievous, and, whatever
deeper meaning may be assigned to it, may be considered in that light by
the legislator. He cannot--certainly he ought not to--forbid actions
which do no harm to anybody, or which nobody, at the time and place,
feels to be injurious to happiness. Even, therefore, if utilitarianism
be unsatisfactory as an ultimate theory, it may represent adequately the
point of view of the practical legislator. He tries to suppress violence
and fraud because, as a fact, they cause what their victims unanimously
agree to be painful consequences; and he need not look any further for a
reason. People, it is said, have very different standards of pleasure.
Still, we all dislike having our throats cut or our pockets picked; and
that fact supplies a sufficient ground upon which to base the whole
criminal law. When we go a little further, a point of divergence may be
noticed, a short consideration of which may help to clear the case. Let
us assume the legitimate end of all punishment to be deterrence. It will
follow, that we must annex as a consequence to crimes an adequate
counterpoise, and a counterpoise not more than adequate to the
criminal's motives. The fine to be paid must be just sufficient to
prevent the transgression. Now, it has been urged, this necessarily
implies a conflict with morality. The degree of moral guilt implied in a
given crime varies inversely as the temptation. The greater the
inducement to the offence, the less the wickedness shown in committing
the offence. A man may have enough virtue to refrain from a gratuitous
injustice, although he has not virtue enough to resist a large bribe, or
the threats of a man in power. But, if the legislator is to provide
simply a counterpoise, he will have to follow the opposite rule. The
greater the temptation, the greater must be the force of the motive
which must be added to counterbalance the temptation. If there be a
crime by which a man might make a million of money, you must, if you
would prevent it, hold out the prospect of such pains as would, in his
estimation, be cheaply avoided at the sacrifice of a million; or, making
allowance for the uncertainty of detection, by the sacrifice of more
than a million. But if, by the same crime, he only got a five-pound
note, the prospect of paying a hundred pounds in case of detection might
be a sufficient preservative of his honesty. Yet, the man who is tempted
by the million gives less proof of dishonesty than the man who commits
the same crime for a paltry five pounds. Therefore the punishment must
be increased, as the wickedness is less.

I must first set aside one ambiguity which perplexes this argument. When
we speak of a temptation as varying, we may mean one of two very
different things. To say that I am more "tempted" than you to commit a
given crime, may mean that the gain expected by me is itself greater;
or, it may mean that I am more predisposed to the crime. I may be more
tempted, let us say, to poison my uncle than you are to poison yours.
That may mean that my uncle is a rich old sinner and I am his heir,
whereas your uncle is a poor saint and you will get nothing by his
death. Or it may mean that I am more tempted because, our uncles being
alike, I am spiteful, and you affectionate, by nature. In the first
case, to say that I am under the stronger temptation would, perhaps,
tend to alleviate the gravity of my crime; in the second, it would
simply be another way of saying that I was the greater brute. In both
cases, of course, it is true that the greater temptation would require
the greater counterpoise. In one case, this only means that the worse
the man, the stronger the restraints which he requires; and, if you
could make different laws for bad men and good, it would follow that the
bad would require the heaviest penalties. But this does not conflict
with the moral view. It is no excuse for a murderer to say, "I am so
bloodthirsty that I really could not help murdering". No contradiction
to morality arises from punishing his crime more severely. In the other
case alone,--the case in which we made distinctions founded upon the
difference of surrounding circumstances,--it is true that we should,
from the point of view of simple deterrence, require heavier penalties
where the temptations were greater, and, therefore, the intrinsic
malevolence proved to exist less.

For most purposes, this argument seems to have very little practical
application. The law is made for people in general; we cannot have one
law for bad men and another for good; partly because good and bad people
do not carry about tangible marks of their quality written upon their
faces. No doubt, indeed, the atrocity of a crime is recognised, if not
by the general law, by the nature of the sentence. An assault may show
unnatural ferocity or merely a rather excessive warmth of temper; and,
though the offence may be forbidden under the same clause of the
criminal law, the judge may be empowered to give sentences of varying
severity, varying more or less according to the moral depravity implied.
So far, the worst offences (in a moral sense) get the heaviest
punishment; and the deterring influence is rightly exerted by
proportioning the penalty to the temptation, that is, to the
predisposition to crime. The other case, again, requires some
qualification. It is not true, as an absolute proposition, that the
criminality is always, or generally, diminished, in proportion to the
greatness of the temptation; for we must remember that both the
temptation and the crime will generally be greater in proportion to the
amount of mischief inflicted. It is more tempting, no doubt, to
appropriate a thousand pounds than a shilling; but we cannot infer that
the man who takes the larger sum is, therefore, less wicked; that he has
a conscience which would have kept him honest under the smaller
temptation, and has only yielded to the greater. Compare, for example,
the case of the petty pilferer who appropriates my watch, with the case
of the man of business who appropriates securities worth many thousand
pounds and ruins widows and orphans by the dozen. We should all agree, I
imagine, that the perpetrator of the more gigantic fraud would require
the stronger deterring motive to be kept straight. He is playing for
heavy stakes, and we cannot hold out too strong a threat of infamy and
suffering, if our aim is simply to prevent the crime. But neither, if we
consider him from the purely moral point of view, would it be fair to
argue that he was a better man than the pickpocket, because the plunder
which tempted him was greater. The opposite, I fancy, would be true. He
shows a callousness to human suffering, and an amount of deliberate
hypocrisy and treachery which proves him to be not only the more
dangerous, but the more thoroughly corrupt of the two. The two ends of
providing a sufficient counterpoise and of punishing the worst men most
severely, would, therefore, coincide in this case also; and the argument
that the greater temptation implies less wickedness is plainly

Without going further into this, which may briefly indicate some of the
perplexities involved, I may mention certain cases in which there seems
to be a real divergence of the two principles. There are cases in which
the temptation may be fairly held to lessen guilt, and in which
punishment has, notwithstanding, been made severer in consequence. The
criminal law of the last century, for example, imposed a penalty of
death upon persons who stole certain kinds of property left in specially
exposed positions. The ease of taking it would very possibly tempt to
theft men who would elsewhere be honest; and it was sought to compensate
for the strength of the temptation by more savage punishment of those
who yielded to it. Or, again, there are certain problems of a similar
kind connected with political offences. A man who gets up a rebellion
from sincere political motives is generally far better morally than the
man who gets up a rebellion for the sake, say, of simple plunder. Ought
the motive to be allowed as an extenuation of the offence? It ought, it
may be said, from a moral point of view; but, from the point of view of
simple deterrence, we might rather consider that the patriotic rebel is
the more dangerous person of the two, and, therefore, requires the
prospect of at least as heavy a punishment to keep him quiet. So, again,
it has been asked, whether it should be admitted as an excuse for a
rioter, that he has joined in violent courses under threats from the
riotous mob. This is, of course, an excuse from the moralist's point of
view; the man is only attacking the police in order to save his own
house from being burnt, not from a disorderly or disaffected spirit. But
it is replied, from the deterring point of view, that, if such an excuse
be allowed, you are ceasing to threaten at the precise moment when the
threats are most required. If the law is not to press from one side,
all the pressure will come from the other, and every argument will be in
favour of joining the side of disorder. Hence, it is argued, we ought to
proportion the punishment, not to the offence, but to the temptation.

Now, I may say, very briefly, that such a divergence of the two
principles appears to me to be possible; and, further, that cases may be
put in which it might be necessary to deter, at all hazards, even to the
neglect of moral considerations. A general who is defending a town must
sometimes burn the houses of innocent people, without stopping to
consider whether they can ever be compensated; and I think that there
may be analogous cases even in regard to law, where the consideration of
the absolute necessity of putting down mischievous conduct may override
the normal moral considerations. But the general answer is, I think,
different, and may help to clear the principle. The law to which I have
referred, for the protection of exposed property, obviously suggests one
remark. The true remedy for the evil would have been not to increase the
penalty, but to increase the protection. You ought to have provided more
watchmen, or to have forbidden owners to put temptation in the way of
their neighbours, and not to have tried to make the hangman do the work
of the policeman. So our ancestors erred when they protected their
fields, not by putting up fences, but by setting mantraps to mutilate
occasional trespassers. In that, as in other cases, the mistake is to
confuse between the deterring influence of punishment and the preventive
influence of protective measures. Arguments, questionable when used on
behalf of punishment considered as deterring, are perfectly applicable
to the preventive measures. It is obviously right that such measures
should be proportioned to the temptation. When a starving man steals a
loaf, he is not so bad as a man who steals when he is not starving. We
should, therefore, think it morally wrong to punish him as severely.
But, if we thought that he ought not to have the loaf, we should take
stronger precautions in proportion to the probable temptation. If, for
example, we were sending supplies to relieve a starving district, it
would be clearly right to send such a force with them as might prevent
their appropriation by the strongest, or the first comers. But, at the
same time, we should also think it right to save the men from
temptation, by providing as much as possible against the danger of
starvation. So, again, it would be monstrous to punish a poor man more
severely than a duke, for stealing a watch; but, as a matter of
prudence, I should take more precautions if I were dining in a poor
public-house, than if I were dining in a ducal palace.

This suggests the true application of another doctrine, about the
responsibility of society. Society, it is sometimes said, has no right
to punish, because it ought to have suppressed the causes of crime. This
doctrine is often stated very illogically, and would sanction a great
deal of false sentimentalism. If society includes many corrupt and
dangerous elements, that is no reason at all for not suppressing them by
all available means. But, no doubt, it is a very good and sufficient
reason for trying, as far as possible, to remove the cause as well as
the effects; for getting rid of the temptations to crime, and training
people so as to make them less disposed to crime, instead of simply
punishing more severely those who have yielded to temptation and given
play to instincts which have not been properly disciplined. This applies
conspicuously to the case of the political criminal. It is generally
essential to the welfare of a nation, that order should be preserved by
a settled government. It is the duty of every government, not only to
crush resistance, but to take such precautions as will make resistance
hopeless. But a correlative duty is suggested when a rebellion actually
occurs, and especially a rebellion which excites the sympathy of
otherwise moral people. Such a case, that is, affords the strongest
presumption that there are real grievances to be redressed, and that the
rebel should not be confounded with the vulgar criminal. It may be, and
often is, quite necessary to shoot him down, so long as he is actively
attacking authority; but, when he is disarmed, he cannot be regarded
simply as a thief or murderer, but as a man who has given a useful,
though a disagreeable, hint that the times are out of joint.

I have gone so far into these questions--which might lead to a great
many other problems of legal casuistry--with the desire of bringing out
one essential part of the question. The difficulties which have arisen
point, I think, to the impossibility of treating the problem
exclusively, from a simple consideration of the deterring influence of
punishment. That, however, remains an essential element. If the sole
reason for punishing a sheep-stealer be not the prevention of
sheep-stealing, that is, at least, a very excellent reason as far as it
goes. But it seems to me an insufficient reason from the moral point of
view, and, in particular, to fail in assigning a sufficiently distinct
ground for determining the desirable degree of punishment. The principle
was advocated as limiting the severity of the old laws; but it is not
quite easy to define the limit suggested. There is a necessary
clumsiness about the method. A punishment only becomes operative in the
cases in which the threat has failed to deter. The fact that a man has
committed a crime demonstrates the inadequacy of the system in his case;
we have not given him a sufficient motive for abstaining. When Bentham
says, that if a fine of five shillings would prevent a murder, you ought
not to fine the murderer seven and sixpence, he says what is, in a
sense, obviously true. If I could prevent a murder, or, indeed, achieve
any other desirable object, for a given sum, why should I throw away
another penny? But the fine is not inflicted till somebody has committed
a murder, and, in that case, the threat of fining has obviously failed.
The question arises, therefore, how far am I to go? Am I to go on
raising the tariff till murder becomes altogether obsolete? But we have
already got as far as capital punishment, without achieving that result.
And, if we consider the case upon this method, we begin to find a
difficulty in the method of calculation. We are to compare the pain
inflicted upon the criminal with the pain saved to the victim. But the
greater the pain inflicted, the smaller, according to the assumption
made, will be the number of criminals, and the greater the number of
victims saved. If we could adopt the Draconic system, and be sure of
punishing every crime with death, crime ought to disappear; for hardly
anybody would break the law if he were quite certain of the gallows.
But, in that case, the pain, both of the criminal and the victim, would
disappear, for there would be no one in either class. The result,
therefore, would be a pure gain: no crime and no punishment. Against
this practical conclusion, indeed, Bentham was one of the first to
protest; and he uses one very sound argument. Punish all crime equally,
he says, and you put a premium on the worst crimes. If both robber and
murderer are to be hanged, the robber will have a good reason for
destroying evidence, by adding the murder to the plunder of his victims.
But, though the argument is very much to the purpose, it seems to make
our calculations rather difficult. We cannot look simply to the
deterring influence of a given punishment, but have to consider its
place in the general tariff, and its influence in inducing people to
prefer one variety of crime to another. And if we try to find our way
out of this difficulty, we shall have, I think, to find that the mode of
reasoning requires some modification.

The theory on which the calculation goes may, perhaps, be represented
thus: It is supposed that by hanging a murderer, you prevent, say, ten
murders which would otherwise happen. The suffering saved to the ten
victims is greater than the actual suffering of the single criminal.
Therefore, the infliction of the penalty gives a balance on the side of
happiness. The argument seems to me to be sound as far as it goes, and,
in some cases, it would, I think, be sufficient. If, for example, it
were proved that the use of a certain remedy, such as inoculation,
caused a certain number of deaths, while, on the other hand, it
prevented ten times as many, we should consider that a good case had
been made out for its adoption. And, similarly, if we attended simply to
the number of executions and to the number of crimes, and could make the
necessary arithmetical comparison, we should be able to estimate the
balance of good or evil in terms of pain and pleasure. But this mode of
considering the case is obviously inadequate; and, indeed, Bentham
(though I cannot now go into his teaching) feels and makes allowance for
its inadequacy. For, to say nothing else, the mere deterrence of a
certain number of crimes is an entirely insufficient measure of the
effect of the law. The one obvious remark is that, by suppressing
violence, you not only save a certain number of lives, but you secure an
essential condition of all civilised life. I came here to-night without
a revolver in my pocket; and I am not aware that I showed any particular
courage by doing so. But it would have been foolhardy to have shown the
same negligence, a few years ago, in some of the Western States of
America. If I had lived in such conditions, I should not only have taken
a revolver, but have, very possibly, thought it a duty to join a
vigilance committee, with a view to the suppression of crimes of
violence. There are still regions where the fact that a man lives in a
neighbouring village is a sufficient justification for shooting him down
as soon as he comes in sight, for the simple reason that, otherwise, he
would shoot you. So, when private war was still part of the regular
custom, there was an obstacle which had to be crushed before any
progress could be made in industrial development, which presupposes
peaceful intercourse and mutual confidence. The formation of all that is
meant by social order, the bringing about of a state of things in which
men can meet habitually without fear or precaution, counting with
complete confidence upon the absence of any hostile intention, is,
obviously, an essential condition of everything that makes life worth
living in a civilised country. The fact is too obvious to require much
illustration; but it requires notice, for it is very imperfectly
recognised when you regard murder, for example, simply as a kind of
sporadic disease, which breaks out here and there, and can be kept
within limits by killing some murderers, and so frightening other
would-be murderers. The criminal law, no doubt, includes that
consideration; but it includes infinitely more. It is a necessary
corollary of that state of social relations which alone gives a secure
base for every conceivable kind of satisfactory social relation. It
might, perhaps, serve as a sufficient defence of the old system, when,
in the absence of any settled order, the system of private vengeance, of
blood-feuds, and so forth, served to restrain the prevalence of actual
violence. But it is a totally insufficient measure of the real advantage
gained by enforcing order. We have to compare, not only the number of
murders and the number of victims which would exist in a given social
order, supposing the penalty to be inflicted or not inflicted; but to
compare two radically different social states, and to ask, whether it is
better to live in a society where peace is the almost invariable rule,
and violence the rare exception, or in one in which there is a chaos of
little societies, each of them being in constant fear of all its
neighbours. The construction of a central authority which will keep the
peace is a necessary part of the process of civilisation, and the
criminal law is involved in the process. For, of course, it follows
that, so long as anti-social elements exist within the borders of
society, and some people resort to the old methods of the knife or the
bludgeon, they must be put down; and the hangman and the jailer, clumsy
as the action may be, represent the only kind of machinery which has
hitherto been invented for the purpose.

It follows that we must understand "deterrence" in a wider sense than
we have hitherto given to it. When we speak of punishment as deterring
from crime, we must consider, not merely the effect upon the individual
of the prospect of punishment following detection, but the total effect
of a systematic adherence to the law upon the preservation of a peaceful
state of society at large. We do not simply wish to provide a sufficient
motive to decide the individual who is asking himself, shall I steal or
not steal? but to maintain an organisation under which property shall be
normally respected, and stealing become as exceptional as we can make
it. This, in turn, involves much more than a simple execution of the
criminal law; it involves the support of agencies for prevention,
education, and reformation; though it does, also, involve an inflexible
adherence to the criminal law. The law has to use rough means, and
cannot possibly affect to adhere precisely to the moral deserts of
individual cases. But it is justified by the simple ground that the only
alternative is a chaos of barbarism. If you ask, therefore, in what
sense is a criminal law just? we must confess that, in certain respects,
it is impossible that it should be strictly just; it must deal with the
found-out exclusively and with those who are found out in certain
definite cases of criminality, and it must, therefore, impose penalties
which do not precisely correspond to the degree of criminality implied.
But the relation to morality is, nevertheless, intimate. For the growth
of the social order depends upon the growth of the corresponding social
instincts; or rather, the two processes are correlative. If I love my
neighbour I shall not wish to cut his throat; and, in order that I may
love him, I must be pretty sure that he does not mean to cut mine. The
external framework provides a protection under which the primary moral
instincts can expand; and the expansion of the instincts supposes a
correlative modification of the external framework. The moral
requirement in regard to the criminal law is, therefore, essentially,
that it should be such a law as is favourable, when considered in
connection with the whole order, to the strength and development of the
existing morality. If the criminal asks, How do you justify yourself for
punishing me? the reply must be, Because the inflexible administration
of the law is an essential precondition of the whole system, under which
alone progress is possible. A society in which peace and order are
preserved is superior, in morals as in other respects, to a society in
which peace and order are made impossible by violence; and the
suppression by punishment of offenders is involved in the system. The
advantage of belonging to such a society is not to be measured by
counting up the working of individual cases; but by the whole
characteristics of the social state, taken as a whole, and including, as
one essential part, the administration of criminal law in such a way as
to be in conformity with the conditions of healthy social development.
The difficulty, I think, though I can only indicate the argument
briefly, results from a common illusion, which is illustrated by the
once famous social contract theory. You suppose a number of independent
individuals, agreeing to join and expecting to receive a precise
equivalent for every sacrifice that they make in consequence. The reply
is, that the individual is the product of the society, and it is a mere
fiction to consider him as possessing any antecedent rights whatever.
His rights are to be deduced from, not to supply the premisses for
deducing, the social order. The only considerations which are relevant
are those which affect the welfare of the social organism, taken as a
whole; and we must regard them as determined, before we come to the
distribution of benefits and burdens among its constituent facts.
Otherwise, we should be falling into the same fallacy as if we argued
about the health of separate bodily organs, legs, and arms, and
stomachs, as though they were independent things, fastened together to
make a single machine. Since the leg implies the stomach, any
consideration of the leg's separate rights would be absurd. So the
individual member of a political society cannot be regarded as though he
had existed outside society somewhere, and was entitled to a precise
equivalent for the sacrifice of his independence. The doctrine involves
impossible considerations. I have to contribute to certain sanitary
regulations, though I may be stronger or weaker than my neighbours, and
therefore less or more in need of them. Or, I have to pay a school-rate,
whether I have a dozen children or none at all. Do those facts give me a
right to complain if I am taxed equally with my neighbours? If so, every
benefit which I receive from society must be set down as a separate item
in an account to be balanced by itself. Obviously, the advantage which I
receive in such cases is the whole advantage received from living in a
healthy place or among educated people; and it is essentially impossible
to cut that up into a number of different bits of happiness conferred in
return for separate payments on account. If I use the contract formula,
I must interpret it to mean that amenability to various regulations,
including the criminal law, is part of the whole bargain, which would
have been made, if it had ever been real, when I decided, if I ever had
decided, to join the society. The instinct for punishing criminals
guilty of violence is one of the fundamental instincts of civilisation,
and we must accept it just as we accept any other fundamental instinct.

The question of justice, however, is not a whit the less essential
because it presupposes this social characteristic instead of supplying
the primary axioms from which it is to be deduced. It is undoubtedly of
the highest importance that every difference in our method of treating
different classes should have its sufficient reason, to be assigned as
clearly as possible. The preservation of the peace is essential; but
that does not settle the methods by which it is to be preserved.

On what ground, then, are we to deal with the problem of justice as
regards different classes of crime? If the calculation of pain and
pleasure, as already stated, seems to be unsatisfactory, what is the
right principle of proportioning punishment to offence? I have noticed
one argument which Bentham applied, and, as I think, with very good
reason. To punish crimes equally, he said, is virtually to put a premium
upon the worst. The "in for a penny in for a pound" maxim becomes at
once applicable. Moreover, as every one now admits, the old brutal
system is condemned by experience. To punish a great number of offences
with death led to a mixture of excessive brutality with excessive
uncertainty. The cruel punishment of some criminals was balanced by the
complete escape of others. But this practical failure clearly resulted,
in great measure, from an obscure sense of justice. It was grossly
unjust, it seemed, to hang a man for stealing a loaf, when you could
only hang another for the brutal murder of his wife. The penalty in the
first case, was, it was felt, altogether out of proportion to the
offence. This instinctive sentiment was, as I think we all feel,
substantially right. In any case, it would have to be taken into account
by the legislator, for the obvious reason that punishments which outrun
public opinion, tend to make martyrs of criminals. They are either not
inflicted, or they set the sympathy of the people on the side of the
offender. But to say this, is not to prove the sentiment to be just,
only to take account of its existence. And the question, therefore,
remains, how it is to be logically justified, for it may seem to imply
the theory to which I have objected--the hypothesis of a sort of debtor
and creditor account--of the old "eye for an eye" doctrine, which, as I
have argued, involves a misconception of the true doctrine. My reply
would be, in general terms, that the doctrine requires restatement, and,
if properly stated, will not lose but acquire new forces.

Let us consider the consequences of my previous statements. The
essential condition of social development is enforcement, where
necessary, of peace and order by adequate means. The criminal law
corresponds to one part of this process. The whole social system
includes machinery for prevention, for reformation and for education, as
well as for punishment; and it is only when taken in its relation to
other parts of the system, that we can give the full justification. Its
methods are, as I have said, obviously full of imperfections, from the
purely moral point of view. If we consider it as an isolated fact,
comparably to the interference of a quasi-supernatural power, which
clutches an offender here and there, and punishes him simply to frighten
others, the arbitrary and unequal nature of the proceeding assumes an
air of injustice. In fact, if you take the extreme individualist view,
according to which each man is an independent unit, while society
represents a force impinging upon him from without, it always becomes
difficult to introduce the conception of justice without ending in the
approval of anarchy. When, however, we consider the social organisation
as including all the means of civilising society, of strengthening the
general spirit of order, as well as acting upon the fears of the
disorderly, we have to take wider considerations into account. We become
sensible, in the first place, of the importance of the principle that
punishment should never be substituted for prevention. Wherever it is
possible to remove temptations, or take precautions which make crime
impossible, we can have no excuse for adopting the blundering and
unsatisfactory system of punishing those who have committed it. We
admit, that is, that the criminal law, though absolutely necessary, is
an essentially clumsy contrivance, to be used only when other methods
fail. When certain punishments have been condemned as brutalising, it
has been replied that the persons punished were already so brutal that
it is impossible to make them worse. But the brutalising influence is
even more objectionable as it applies to the legislator than as it
applies to the criminal. To make up for neglect of appropriate
precautions by severity against the offender, is to adopt the
necessarily arbitrary method in which chance must always play a part in
place of more effective and civilising methods. Frugality in applying
punishment is desirable as a guarantee that we are acting in the proper
spirit. An Indian official was asked why the native police were disposed
to use torture for the detection of crime. The cause was, he said,
mainly from laziness: it was so much easier to sit in the shade, rubbing
red pepper in a poor devil's eyes, than to go about in a hot sun
collecting evidence. So, it would be very much easier to inflict cruel
punishment than to try to remove the causes of crime; and a resolution
never to use the more brutal methods is not, as I think, to be regarded
as a proof of weak sentimentalism, but as a judicious self-denying
ordinance, imposed upon society by itself, as binding it always to
adopt, as far as it possibly can, what is at once the more humane and
the more scientific method. The same principle involves the careful
graduation of punishment. There are, indeed, as I believe, though I
cannot give reasons, cases in which crimes ought to be punished with
death. There are persons of whom we may say that it would have been
better, especially for their neighbours, if they had never been born. "I
am worth inconceivably more for hanging than for any other purpose,"
said the heroic John Brown; and the words may be applied, in a very
different sense, to some of the wretches who occasionally make their
appearance in the courts. To hang such a man is to act upon the
assumption that murderers represent elements which are entirely and
radically anti-social. The only remedy for them is extirpation. But, if
this be admitted, it suggests a sufficient reason for not applying it to
the cases of less gravity, in which such radical incompatibility has not
been demonstrated. Punishment by death, even if necessary, is certainly
a confession of impotence. We are admitting that we can do nothing
better with the man than convert him into a scarecrow for the benefit
of his like. What more, it may be asked, can we do with a criminal? The
obvious reply would be, reform him. Although no one can doubt that
reformation would be an extremely good thing, wherever practicable, it
may be urged that the enterprise is exceedingly difficult; that, in many
cases, it is hopeless; and that we might spend our money and our efforts
to better purpose upon more hopeful materials. And yet, I think that the
answer is the true one, if properly understood, and will suggest the
right meaning to be given to the word "deterrence". So long as we
consider the individual case alone, and merely mean that we are giving
motives to bad men for refraining from particular lines of conduct, the
results, however desirable, are of limited value. But if we consider
deterrence as including or coinciding with reformation, as indicating a
part of the general system of moral pressure by which the classes
exposed to temptation may be gradually raised in the scale of
civilisation, we recognise an acceptable meaning. In fact, if we ask
what is the deterring influence of punishment, we must observe that at
one extreme it will always fail, or only induce a bad man to take
precautions against detection; and that, at the other end of the scale,
there are a great many cases in which it does not come into active
operation at all. You and I, I hope, are not in the least disposed to
assault each other, even though no policeman is present. The bare
thought of resorting to violence, pelting me, say, with rotten eggs, has
not even suggested itself to you, even though I may be making a very
provoking use of my tongue. But there is also an intermediate class of
people upon whom the possibility of having to appear in a police court,
and the strong sense of shame attached to such appearances, is an active
restraining force, tending to limit, and, in cases where the proper
conditions exist, gradually to narrow, the sphere of violence. We, the
peaceable and law-abiding citizens, have gained a right to those
epithets, because we have lived in a sphere where the law has been
habitually enforced. We have ceased to carry deadly weapons about us,
and have established a general condition of good order. The deterring
influence of the criminal law acts, or ought to act, by gradually
spreading that state of mind through a steadily widening circle. The
classes which are still in need of such a support to their moral
instincts are clearly capable of reformation, whatever may be the case
of some of the individuals who break the law. A fighting tribe, which
has been in the habit of resenting every injury by the use of the knife,
may learn, in a very short time, that a court of law settles disputes
more agreeably than a free fight; and may become a most admirable and
efficient part of the society to which it belongs. And the same may be
said of large classes in our own society, which are perfectly capable of
being converted into good citizens, though they may retain certain
propensities developed under a rougher and more brutal system. To employ
excessive and brutalising punishments in order to suppress small
offences, is, therefore, to abandon the aim of civilising, to declare
internecine war against the class, and to regard them simply as a
nuisance to be abated. The effect might be, if the law could be carried
out, to prevent a certain number of crimes; but it must also be to
generate a more dangerous spirit in the class which you regard simply as
dangerous, instead of regarding it as the possible raw materials of a
more civilised and orderly society. Without attempting to dwell upon a
familiar argument, I merely say that this view of the case implies that
the governing power should be regarded, not simply as a machinery for
catching and killing noxious criminals, but as a great civilising
influence, suppressing all temptations to crime, where possible;
preferring prevention, in every practicable case, to punishment, and
making use of the clumsy, though necessary, weapons in the last resort;
and acting by a steady and regulated pressure upon all anti-social
elements. It is only possible to give a satisfactory theory of the jail
and the gallows, when you take them as a subordinate part of the system
which includes reformatories and schools, and due precautions for the
regular preservation of order. The ultimate criterion of justice is not
to be found in any attempt to form a debtor and creditor account between
the government and the individual; but in the civilising influence of
the system, taken as a whole.

And, finally, I come back to the other theory which I have noticed. To
supply the defects of the simply deterrent theory, it has been found
necessary, as I said, to invoke the vindictive theory. We should go, it
was suggested, upon the theory that a criminal is hateful, and,
therefore, that it should be a pleasure to punish him. The feelings of
resentment and moral indignation are parts of our nature, to which the
punishment of the offender affords them a legitimate gratification. Now,
to this, I should reply that, in the first place, I do not admit that
the desire for revenge, as usually understood, can ever be legitimate.
Revenge, as I understand the word, implies a personal feeling. It is
taking pleasure in giving pain to a man because he has given pain to me.
According to my view of morals, any pleasure in causing pain is, so far,
wrong; and the public punishment should be free from all personal
motive. I quite agree with Bentham that we ought not to take a positive
pleasure in the sufferings, even of the worst criminal; and to admit the
legitimacy of such pleasure is to admit an element of pure sentiment to
which it is difficult to assign any precise limits. If you allow
yourself to hate a man so as to take pleasure in his sufferings, you
might justify the infliction of superfluous torture and the old methods
of hanging, drawing, and quartering. To do so is precisely to approve
the ferocious old treatment, to which, as I conceive, the theory of
simple deterrence was an excellent corrective, in so far as it at least
implied a definite limit to the indulgence of fiercer passions. There
is, however, I think, an element of truth in the doctrine. I admit, that
is, that the punishment of a criminal should carry a moral approval, and
not be regarded purely as a measure of convenience. Successful crime
should be regarded with abhorrence. If a man convicted of a grave
offence should be allowed to go without punishment, we should be rightly
aggrieved. It is not, however, that we should take pleasure in his
suffering, but that we should be pained by an example of the practical
impunity of anti-social conduct. The escape of a murderer would, as we
should feel, be a blow to the security of all innocent people. In that
sense, we may take pleasure in his punishment, not in the sense of
positive enjoyment, but, certainly, in the sense of relief from positive
sense of evil. It is, and should be, painful to see the rogues flourish
and honest men droop, and to observe "captive good attending captain
ill". But the pleasure of seeing the necessary equilibrium restored is
different from the pleasure of dwelling upon the sufferings of the
disturber. The practical difference is that, while we regard the
infliction of suffering as necessary, we admit it to be a necessary
evil, and are keenly alive to the inability of keeping it within the
limits fixed by the general necessities of the law.


Professor Sidgwick has been discussing the ethics of luxury, and,
according to his wont, has been giving fresh interest to a well-worn
topic. I do not wish to dispute anything that he has said, nor do I hope
to clear up problems which he professedly left unsolved. In one sense,
they obviously cannot be solved precisely. Luxury is a relative term,
which cannot be defined in absolute terms. A luxury, in the first place,
is distinguished from a necessary. But, then, one man's necessary may be
another man's luxury. My very existence depends upon conditions with
which another man can dispense. If, again, we admit that there are many
things which, though not absolutely necessary, may rightly be used, if
they can be used without injuring others, we see that we must also take
into account the varying social conditions. If we use luxury, in what
Bentham called the dyslogistic sense, we must distinguish between
necessaries and superfluities, and then divide superfluities into
comforts which may be rightfully enjoyed, and luxuries which cannot be
enjoyed without incurring some degree of moral censure. But the
dividing lines are always shifting. Scott tells somewhere of a
Highlander sleeping on the open moor in a winter night. When he tried to
roll the snow into a pillow his companion kicked it away, as a proof of
disgraceful effeminacy. Most of us would come to a speedy end if we
lived in a social state where such a standard of hardiness was rigidly
enforced. We admit that some kind of pillow may be permitted, if not as
absolutely necessary, as, at least, a pardonable comfort. We shall
probably agree, also, that nobody is to be blamed for using clean sheets
and securing a certain amount of warmth and softness--as much, at least,
as is desirable for sanitary reasons. But if we endeavour to prescribe
precisely how much may be allowed in excess of the necessary, how often
we are to send our sheets to the wash, whether it is right to have lace
upon our pillows, and so forth, we get into problems where any attempt
at precision is obviously illusory. We are the more perplexed by the
question, whether the provision of a bed for ourselves causes other
people to go without a bed, and, perhaps, without supper, or how far we
are bound to take such consequences into account. Without aiming,
therefore, at an impossible precision, I shall try to consider--not what
objects should be called luxuries, or comforts, or necessaries, but what
are the really relevant considerations by which we should endeavour to
guide our judgments.

Luxury is, as I have said, a well-worn topic. Saints and philosophers in
all ages, have denounced the excessive love of material enjoyments, and
set examples of a more or less thorough-going asceticism. It was--to go
no further back--one of the favourite topics of our ancestors, in such
papers as the _Spectator_ and the _Rambler_. Addison, in his _Cato_,
described the simple Numidian, whose standard appears to have resembled
that of Scott's Highlander. The Numidian, he says, rests his head upon a
rock at night, and, if next day he chances to find a new repast or an
untasted spring, "blesses his stars and calls it luxury". General
Oglethorpe quoted this passage, in an argument about luxury, to Johnson,
and added, "let us have _that_ kind of luxury, sir, if you will".
Johnson himself put down all this declamation as part of the cant from
which we ought to clear our minds. No nation, he said to Goldsmith, was
ever hurt by luxury. "Let us take a walk from Charing Cross to
Whitechapel, through the greatest series of shops in the world: what is
there in any of these shops (if you except gin-shops) that can do any
human being any harm?" "I accept your challenge," said Goldsmith. "The
next shop to Northumberland House is a pickle-shop." To which the
excellent Johnson replied, first, that five pickle-shops could serve
the whole kingdom; secondly, that no harm was done to anybody either by
making pickles or by eating pickles. I will not go into the ethics of
pickles. I only quote this to remind you that this was one of the stock
questions of the period; and not without reason. The denunciation of
luxury was, in fact, the mark of a very significant tendency. Goldsmith
had expressed the prevalent sentiment in the _Deserted Village_, as in
the familiar passage beginning:--

     Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
     Where wealth accumulates and men decay.

And Goldsmith, like many contemporaries, was only versifying the
sentiments uttered most powerfully by Rousseau in his famous exaltation
of the ideal man of nature above the man of a corrupt civilisation. The
theory has some affinity to the ancient doctrine already expounded by
classical writers, according to which each form of government includes a
principle of decay as well as of life. One stage in the process of
corruption of Plato's ideal republic is marked by the appearance of the
drones, people who take a surfeit of unnecessary pleasures, and, to
obtain satisfaction, associate themselves with the fierce and rapacious.
In Rousseau's time, this view became connected with the growing belief
in progress and "perfectibility". It was a symptom of warning to the
drones of his day. It showed that the thoughtful classes were becoming
dimly sensible that something was wrong in the social organisation; and
that a selfish and indolent aristocracy should be called upon to put its
house in order. The denunciation of luxury meant, in short, that the
rich and powerful were accused of indulgence in pleasures which they had
not earned by services, but by the rigid enforcement of class
privileges. Considered from this point of view, as the muttering of a
coming storm, as the expression of a vague foreboding that the world was
somehow out of joint, we may see more meaning than appears at first
sight, in the old-fashioned commonplaces of our great-grandfathers. The
language has changed its form; but the discontent at the misuse of
wealth in various forms has certainly not diminished since that time.

Obviously, then, the question of luxury is connected with very wide and
deep problems as to what is the proper use of wealth, and might lead us
into ultimate questions as to the justification of the right to private
property at all. I shall try, however, to keep as closely as may be to
the particular aspect of such problems, which is immediately relevant to
this particular question. And for this purpose, I think it will be
convenient to take two points separately. The objections to luxury may
be stated either with reference to the individual or with reference to
the society. That is to say, that if we consider a man by himself, we
may ask with Johnson, whether expenditure upon pickles is injurious to
the constitution, or at what point it becomes injurious. And, in the
next place, we may ask whether, if we see our way to decide that pickles
are wholesome as well as agreeable, some of us may not be getting more
than our fair share of pickles, and so diminishing the total sum of
pleasure, by inordinate consumption. First, then, I discard, for the
moment, all social considerations. I take for granted, for the sake of
argument, that my indulgence does no harm to any one else; that I am not
depriving others of a means of enjoyment, but simply adding to my own;
or, at any rate, that I am not, for the moment, to take into account
that set of consequences. How far, on this hypothesis, or, say, setting
aside all question of duty to my neighbour, should I be prudent in
accumulating wealth? I sometimes amuse myself with the problem, How rich
should I like to be, supposing that I were perfectly wise in that sense
in which wisdom is compatible with thorough-going egoism, or with what
is called enlightened self-interest? The obvious answer is that, in that
case, there would be no limits to my desires. An imaginative American,
we are told, defined competence as "a million a minute and all your
expenses paid". The suggestion is fascinating, but not, to my mind,
quite satisfactory. It recalls a doctrine which used to be put forward
by the old political economists. They had to meet the theory--a
preposterous theory enough--of the danger of a universal glut; the
danger, that is, that a nation might produce so much that nothing would
have any value, and, therefore, that we should all be ruined by all
becoming enormously rich. To meet this, it was often urged--along with
more satisfactory arguments--that human desires were illimitable; and,
therefore, that however rich a man might become he would always wish to
become a little richer.

According to this doctrine, the desire for wealth cannot be satiated.
The millionaire would still choose an extra half-crown rather than
refuse it, although the half-crown brings him incomparably less
additional pleasure than it brought him when his pockets were empty. But
it is also true that long before we were millionaires, the pleasure
obtainable by additional wealth may be infinitesimal, or absolutely
non-existent. The simple desires may be easily saturated. Pope asks,
"What riches give us, let us then inquire". And he replies, "Meat, fire,
and clothes--what more? Meat, clothes, and fire." This is, in fact, a
pithy summary of our most elementary and necessary wants. Now, our
demand for meat is obviously strictly limited. As soon as we have eaten,
say, a pound of beefsteak, we do not want more; by the time we have
eaten, say, three pounds we do not only not want more, we loathe the
very thought of eating. So, when we are clothed sufficiently for comfort
and decency, more clothing is simply a burden; and we wish only for so
much fire as will keep our thermometer within certain limits; a heat
above or below would mean death either by burning or by freezing. Our
ultimate aim, therefore, in regard to desires of this class, is not to
increase the stimulus indefinitely, but to preserve a certain balance or
equilibrium. If we want more food after our appetites are satisfied, it
must either be with a view to our future consumption, which is still
strictly finite, or else with a view to exchanging the food for
something else, in which case it is desired, not as food, but as the
means of satisfying some other desire. If, then, Pope's doctrine were
really sound, which actually amounts to saying, if our desires were
really limited to the physical conditions necessary to life, we should
very soon reach the state in which they would be completely glutted or
saturated. It may be worth while to note the circumstance which rather
obscures our recognition of this fact. We may distinguish between the
wealth which a man actually uses and that which remains, as I may say,
only potential. A man may desire an indefinite quantity of wealth,
because he may wish to have rights which he may yet never turn to actual
account. There is a certain satisfaction, no doubt, in knowing that I
have a vast balance at my banker's, though I have no desire to use it. I
may want it some time or other; and, even if I never want it, I may
enjoy the sense of having a disproportionate barrier of money-bags piled
up between me and the yawning gulf of actual poverty. Therefore, though
a very limited amount may be enough to satiate all our existing desires,
we may like to know that there is more at our disposal. If possession
carried with it the necessity of using our property, if we could not
have potential as distinguished from actual wealth, we should be so far
from desiring an indefinite increase of wealth that we should regard the
increase beyond a certain limit as only one of two intolerable

The question, therefore, How rich should I wish to be? requires an
answer to the previous question, How rich can I be? A man, even if on
the intellectual level of a savage, can be indefinitely rich in
potential wealth: he may, that is, have a right to millions of pounds or
be the owner of thousands of acres; but in order to use them he must
have certain capacities and sensibilities. It is a curious question,
for example, how much of the wealth of a country would cease to be
wealth at all if the intelligence of the possessors were lowered certain
degrees in the scale? A large part of the wealth of England consists, I
suppose, of machinery. If nobody knew more of machines than I do--and my
whole notion of a machine is that it is something that goes round
somehow if you happen to turn the right handle--all this wealth would
become as useless as an electric telegraph in the possession of a hairy
Ainu. And if nobody had any better artistic perception than mine, and we
were therefore unable to see the difference between a Raphael and the
daub in an advertising placard, the pictures in the National Gallery
would have an average value, say, of eighteen-pence. A man, therefore,
who is at the lower levels of intelligence is simply unable to be
actually rich, beyond a narrow limit. The fact is occasionally forced
upon us by striking examples. I heard the other day a story--I am afraid
we all hear such stories too often--of a man who had become enormously
rich by a freak of fortune. His only idea of enjoyment happened to be
gin. He could, therefore, only use his wealth by drinking himself to
death; a proceeding which he accordingly felt to be only a proper
tribute to his improved social position. A similar result happens
whenever a sudden rise of wages to an insufficiently civilised class
leads to the enrichment of publicans, instead of increased indulgence in
refined and innocent pleasures. The man, in short, whose idea of
pleasure is simply the gratification of the physical appetites in their
coarser forms is incapable of becoming actually rich, because a small
amount of wealth will enable him to saturate his desires by providing a
superfluity of the material means of gratification. It is, perhaps, here
that we may take into account the remark so often made by moralists, by
Adam Smith among others, as Professor Sidgwick reminds us, that
happiness is more evenly distributed among different classes than we
suppose. The king, according to Shakespeare, cannot--

                       With all the tide of pomp
     That beats upon the high shore of this world ...
     Sleep so soundly as the wretched slave
     Who with a body filled and vacant mind
     Gets him to rest, cramm'd with distressful bread.

The "body filled" and the "vacant mind" make up for the "distressful
bread". It is as well, that is, to have no wants except the want of mere
physical comfort, as to have higher wants and the means of gratifying
them, and yet to be saddled with the anxieties and responsibilities
which the higher position involves. The doctrine, "I am not really
better off than you," is, indeed, not a very graceful one from those
who are actually better off. There was some excuse for the fox who said
the grapes were sour when he could not get them; it argued a judicious
desire to make the best of things: but if he made the remark while he
was comfortably chewing them, by way of pacifying the grapeless foxes,
we should have thought him a more objectionable hypocrite. The pauper
may fairly reply, "If you really mean that your wealth brings no
happiness, why don't you change places with me?" I will, therefore, not
defend the statement, considered as an exhortation to content; but I
accept it as a recognition of the obvious fact, that if happiness means
a satisfaction of all our desires, a man of small means may be as happy
as the man of the greatest means, if his desires are limited in
proportion. But is it for our happiness to increase them?

Does our principle hold when we suppose a man to have the necessary
sensibilities for the actual enjoyment of wealth? If he acquires the
tastes which imply greater intellectual cultivation, a power, therefore,
of taking into account sources of pleasure more complex and more distant
in time and space, does it then become true that his power of using
wealth will be indefinite? I should reply, in the first place, that we
must still admit the same psychological truth. Any desire whatever,
that is, is capable of yielding only a strictly finite amount of
enjoyment; the pleasure which we can derive from it must be limited both
by the necessity of gratifying other desires and by the fact that no
desire whatever is capable of an indefinite increase by increased
stimulation. After a certain point of excitement is reached, we cannot
get more pleasure by any accumulation of internal conditions. We assume
for the present that our aim is simply to extract the greatest possible
amount of gratification out of life. We must then take for our data our
actual constitution, capacities, sensibilities, and so forth, and
calculate how much wealth could be actually applied in order to keep us
moving always along the line of maximum enjoyment. This would be to
study the art of life on purely hedonistic principles. We should ask,
what career will on the whole be fullest of enjoyment? and then, what
material conditions can enable us to follow that career? I imagine that
the amount requisite would vary indefinitely according to our
characters. Suppose, for example, that a man has strong intellectual
tastes, a love of art or science or literature. He will require, of
course, enough wealth to enable him to devote himself without anxiety to
his favourite pursuits, and enough, moreover, to train himself in all
requisite knowledge. But granting this, the material conditions of
happiness will be sufficiently fulfilled. I think it was Agassiz who
observed when he was devoting himself to science that he had not time to
get rich. Wealth to him would have been rather an impediment than an
advantage. A man like Faraday, who placed his whole happiness in the
extension of scientific knowledge, and who was not less honoured because
he lived upon a modest income, would not have had a greater amount of
that kind of happiness had he possessed the wealth of a Rothschild. A
man whose pleasure is in reading books, or contemplating works of art,
or listening to music, can obtain the highest enjoyment at a very
moderate price, and could get very little more if he had the most
unbounded wealth at his disposal. If we inquired what men possessing
such tastes had derived from them the greatest happiness, we should, I
fancy, find ourselves mentioning men comparatively poor, whose
enjoyments were even comparatively keen, because they had to devote a
certain amount of care and contrivance to obtaining full play for their
capacities. Charles Lamb, plotting and contriving to get an old volume
from a bookstall, possibly got more pleasure from his taste than if he
had been the possessor of a gigantic library. The sociable man, again,
the man whose pleasure in society is the genuine delight in a real
interchange of thought and sympathy, who does not desire magnificent
entertainment, but the stimulus of intimate association with congenial
friends, would probably find the highest pleasure in comparatively
simple social strata, where the display of wealth was no object, and men
met, as Johnson met his friends at the club, to put mind fairly to mind,
and to stimulate intellectual activity, instead of consuming the maximum
of luxury. Milton's sonnet to Lawrence gives perhaps a rather severe but
a very fascinating ideal of refined luxury:--

     What neat repast shall feast us, light and choice,
     Of Attic taste with wine, whence we may rise
     To hear the lute well touched, or artful voice
     Warble immortal notes and Tuscan air?
     He who of these delights can judge, and spare
     To interpose them oft, is not unwise.

Nor need we be accused of inordinate boasting if we should say that we
would rather have made a third at such a feast than have joined a dozen
rowdy courtiers at the table of Charles II.

There are, however, pleasures which undoubtedly suppose an indefinite
capacity for using wealth. There is, for example, such a thing as the
pure love of splendour, which is represented so curiously in some of
Disraeli's novels. One of his heroes, if I remember rightly, proposed to
follow the precedent actually set by Beckford, who built at Fonthill a
tower 300 feet high--not because it was wanted for any other purpose,
but simply for the sake of building a tower. Of course, if one has a
taste for towers 300 feet high, there is no particular limit to the
quantity of wealth which may be found convenient. One of the gentlest
and most delicate satirists of modern society, Mr. Du Maurier, has given
us admirable illustrations of a more vulgar form of the same tendency in
his portraits of Sir Gorgius Midas. When that worthy denounces his
servants because there are only three footmen sitting up till two
o'clock to save him the trouble of using a latch-key, we may admit that
his pleasures, such as they were, were capable of finding gratification
in any quantity of expenditure. It might be a question, indeed, if we
had time to ask it, whether the pleasure derived from such expenses by
the millionaire be really so great as the pleasure which he had when he
first turned the proverbial half-crown, with which he must have come to
London, into his first five shillings; and it is certainly also a
question whether his expenditure was ethically right. But at present we
are only considering facts, and we may admit that there would be no
filling such a gulf of desire by any dribble of bullion; and, further,
that there are pleasures--not, on the face of them, immoral--in
procuring which any quantity of money may be spent. If a man is simply
desirous of obtaining influence, or, in some cases, political power; or
if he decides to muddle away his money upon charity, there are no limits
to the sums he may spend, especially if he has no objection to
corrupting his neighbours.

Before saying anything upon this, however, I must pause to deduce a
conclusion. Keeping still to the purely hedonistic point of view, I ask,
At what point does expenditure become luxurious in a culpable sense?
meaning by "culpable" not morally culpable, but simply injudicious from
the point of view of enlightened self-interest. To this I think that one
answer is already suggested, that is to say, that since, on the one
hand, a certain finite quantity of wealth will enable us to keep to the
happiest or most philosophic career; and since, on the other hand, a man
may possess a quantity of superfluous wealth which he can only use on
penalty of deviating from that career, he becomes foolish, if not
immoral--upon which I say nothing--when he tries to use more. That
people frequently commit this folly is undeniable. Wealth ought to be (I
mean would be by a judiciously selfish person) regarded as a means of
enjoyment. Therefore the superfluous wealth should be left in the
potential stage--as a balance at his banker's or accumulating in the
funds. But though the possession does not imply a necessity of using,
it does generally imply a sort of tacit feeling of
responsibility--responsibility, that is, to a man's self. I have got so
much money; surely it is a duty to myself to use it for my pleasure. So
far as a man yields to such an argument, he becomes the slave instead of
the master of his wealth. What ought to be machinery for furthering an
end, becomes an end in itself: and, at that point of conduct, I think
that we are disposed to call a man's life luxurious in a distinctly bad
sense. The error, as I have suggested, is perhaps at bottom much the
same as that which leads a poor man to spend an increase of wages at a
gin-shop. But we do not call the gin-drinker luxurious, but simply
vicious. For luxury seems to apply less to conduct which we can
distinctly call bad in itself, than to conduct which only becomes bad or
foolish as implying a disproportion between the end attained and the
expense of attaining it. It applies when a man has, as we say, so much
money that he does not know what to do with it. We speak of luxuries in
the case of Sir Gorgius, where the prominent fact is that the man has
been gorged with excessive wealth, and is yet too dull to use it in any
manner which would increase the happiness of a reasonable or refined
being. So it is generally regarded as characteristic rather of the
upstart or newly-made millionaire than of the man born to higher
position, whose life is perhaps as selfish and hardly superior morally.
But the nobleman by birth has inherited a certain art of life; he has
acquired traditional modes of arranging his pleasures, which give him
the appearance, at least, of possessing more judicious and refined
tastes; and we are less shocked than by the man who has obviously wealth
which he knows not how to use, and which he, therefore, deliberately
devotes to coarse and vulgar ostentation. The upstart may not be more
selfish at bottom; but he dashes in your face the evidence of his
selfishness, and appeals for admiration on the simple ground that he has
a larger income than his neighbours. Luxury means, on this showing, all
such expenditure as is objectionable, not because the pleasure obtained
is intrinsically bad, but because we are spending for the sake of
spending, and could get more real enjoyment at a lower sum. I need not
dwell upon the fact that men of moderate means may fall into the same
error. The fault of exaggerating the importance of machinery is not
confined to those whom we call rich. Thackeray's discourses upon Snobs
are full expositions of the same weakness in the middle classes. When we
read, for example, of Colonel Ponto being miserable because he tries to
make an income of a thousand a year support the pomp accessible to
persons with ten thousand, we see that he has as false a view as Sir
Gorgius of the true ends of life. And I refer to the same great satirist
for abundant illustrations of the weaknesses which too often make
society a machinery for wasting money on display, and entirely oblivious
that it should be a machinery for the promotion of intellectual and
refined pleasures.

Now, if I have given a fair account of luxury as considered simply from
the point of view of an enlightened selfishness, I may proceed to the
ethical question. So far, I have only asked, in substance, at what point
our expenditure upon pickles becomes foolish. But, of course, the more
important question arises, at what point it becomes selfish. A man may
be silly for spending money upon erecting towers; but if he does no harm
to his neighbours we hardly call him wicked. We cannot say that it is
unconditionally wrong to build a tower. We must inquire, therefore, how
far luxury necessarily involves a wrong to others. Here we must begin by
listening to all the philosophers and divines of whom I spoke at
starting. Any number of wise and good men will tell us, in various
dialects, that pleasure is in itself bad, or, at least, that all the
pleasures obtainable by wealth are bad, or, at any rate, beneath the
notice of the higher spirits. There are the thorough-going ascetics, who
strive, not to regulate, but to suppress all except the absolutely
necessary physical instincts, and think that even those desires savour
of evil; who consider the best man to be the man who lives upon bread
and water, and, if possible, upon mouldy bread and ditch-water. There
are, again, spiritually-minded people, who consider all happiness to be
worthless, except such happiness as results from aspirations to another
world; who regard all riches as chains binding the soul to earth; who
take the words "Blessed are the poor" in the most literal sense, as
defining the true aim of life. We should seek, they say, for happiness
elsewhere than in this transitory stage of existence, remember that the
world is a mere screen hiding the awful realities of heaven and hell;
and despise even such pleasures as are generally called intellectual
pleasures, the pleasures, for example, of art or science, for they, too,
belong really to the sphere of illusion, and are simply more subtle
temptations than those of the flesh. And, besides these, we have the
philosophers, who would have us live in the world of pure intellect, and
tell us that the true moral of life is to make ourselves independent of
external circumstances by suppressing all the corresponding desires.
Renunciation, therefore, is the first lesson to be learned by the wise
man; and the practical rule, as has been said, is that we should
endeavour not to increase our numerator but to lessen our denominator. I
cannot now discuss such doctrines. I am content to say that I regard
them not as simply false, but as distorted views of truth. For my part,
I am content to say that, even as a moralist, I wish to see people as
happy as possible; that being, after all, a poor utilitarian after my
own fashion, I desire--however erroneously--the greatest happiness of
the greatest number; and, in particular, that I should like to see, not
a feebler, but a much keener appreciation of all the pleasures derivable
from art, or science, or literature, or rational society, even, if I may
say so, from good cookery and athletic sports. Briefly, the ideal
society seems to me to be one in which even our lower instincts should
not be suppressed, but regulated; and the typical man of the future to
be one whose whole faculties and their corresponding sensibilities
should be cultivated to the utmost possible degree. What is the
application of this to our special question? I do not know that I can do
better than refer to the writings of Bernard Mandeville, who in his
_Fable of the Bees_--one of the cleverest books in the
language--succeeded by the help of much paradox, and under a cloak of
cynicism, in stating the problem with singular vivacity. Private vices,
that was his way of putting it, are public benefits. His meaning, put
less paradoxically, was this: accept, on the one hand, the ascetic
doctrine that pursuit of pleasure is intrinsically vicious, and you
condemn all the impulses by which the structure of society, especially
the industrial structure, has been built up. Accept, on the other hand,
the doctrine that civilisation is, on the whole, a good thing, and you
admit that the instincts, which, upon this hypothesis, correspond to
private vices, are the only means of producing a public benefit. In
other words, if we took the language of theologians in its natural
sense, and really regarded the world as worthless, we should have no
industry, no trade or commerce, and be still living in swamps and
forests, digging up roots with our nails, living upon acorns and
shell-fish, and scarcely even painting ourselves blue, for to the savage
blue paint was a luxury. Now, apart from any question as to the fairness
of this version of theological doctrine, we may ask, What is the real
underlying difficulty--or that aspect of it which is still worth
considering? We may grant, in the first place, to Mandeville, that, in
point of fact, the construction of a civilised society presupposes the
development of numerous desires, many of which are more or less
condemned by severe moralists. If the savage comes to value blue paint,
he may take to planting something to exchange for it, instead of simply
lying on his back to digest his last handful of acorns; and, in so
doing, he makes the first step towards the development of an industrial
system. The desire for wealth is, of course, implied in all stages of
progress if men are to create wealth; and we can partly answer
Mandeville's paradox by throwing over the ascetic and declaring that a
desire for good meat, and fire, and clothes, even for pictures, and
books, and music, or for such comforts as most of us enjoy, is not in
itself immoral; and that, on the contrary, the more there is of such
enjoyment the better for men's bodies and minds, and therefore, on the
whole, the better for their morality. But the moral difficulty returns
in a new shape. The desire for wealth, let us say, is not in itself bad;
it is simply natural--it is a desire for one essential condition of a
tolerably happy life. But is it not bad, in so far as it is selfish? Do
not the desires which have been the mainspring of all modern development
imply a desire of each man to get rich at the expense of others? Have
they not been the source of all that division between rich and poor
which makes one side luxurious and the other miserable? Has not Dives
become rich and bloated by force of the very same process which has made
Lazarus a mass of sores and misery? Suppress the desire for wealth, and
we should still be savages "running wild in woods". But was not even the
noble savage better than the pauper who now hangs on to the fringes of
society? and is his existence compensated by the existence of other
classes who have more wealth than they can use? And so the old problem
comes back; and we have, as of old, the most contradictory answers to
the problem.

I am, I confess it, one of those old-fashioned people who believe in
progress, and hold that their own century is distinctly better than any
which preceded it; who would on no account go back, if they could, to
the days of the noble savages or even to the brutalities and
superstitions of the ages of faith. But I do not think that I need argue
that question for our present purpose. We have got to this century
somehow, and we can only get out of it by living till the twentieth.
Meanwhile, we should make the best of the interval. I will, therefore,
only permit myself one remark. If we suppose, with Mandeville, that the
instincts which have developed modern society have been, to a great
extent, selfish desires, that is, for the personal comfort of the agent,
irrespectively of consequences to others, it does not follow that the
corresponding development has been mischievous. Good commonplace
moralists have been much in the habit of condemning the selfish passions
of kings and conquerors. What can be an easier mark for denunciation
than such a man, for example, as Louis XI. of France, and the wily and
cruel rulers of past ages, whose only aim was to enlarge their own
powers and wealth? And yet, if we consider the matter historically, we
must admit that such men have rendered enormous services to mankind. A
ruler, let us say, had for his only object the extension and
concentration of his own authority. Still, it was by the conflicts of
rulers that the great nations have been formed out of a chaos of
struggling clans; that peace and order, therefore, have been substituted
for violence, throughout broad territories; that law has taken the place
of private war; moreover, that the privileges of selfish orders have
been suppressed through the development of a larger and more civilised
national organisation; and that, although the immediate victory was won
by the selfish ruler, the ultimate benefit has accrued to the people
upon whom he was forced to rely for support against the oppressive
subordinate powers. The ruler, perhaps, did not look beyond his own
interests; but his own interest forced him to find allies among the mass
of the population, and so gradually led to the formation of central
organs, representing not the personal interest of the king, but the
interest of the whole nation in which they had arisen. We may make a
similar remark upon industrial development. The great merchant and
capitalist and inventor of new methods and machinery has not looked, it
may be, beyond his own interest; but, intentionally or not, he was
helping to construct a vast organisation, which, whether it has, on the
whole, improved the world or not, has, at least, made it enormously
richer. Perhaps Watt, when he was improving the steam-engine, thought
only of the profits to be derived from his invention. But the profit
which he gained after a laborious life was but an infinitesimal fraction
of the enormous increase of efficiency which resulted to the national
industry. We cannot doubt that the whole gigantic system which at least
maintains a population several times multiplied, which maintains part of
it in wealth and a large proportion in reasonable comfort, has been due
to the labours of many men, each working for his own interest and
animated chiefly by the desire of wealth. So much remains true of the
economist's doctrine of the natural harmony between individual and
public interest. In this case, as in the case of governments, we may,
perhaps, say that men acted from motives which must be called selfish,
in this sense at least, that they thought of little but their own
interests; but that, at the same time, their own interests compelled
them to work in a direction which promoted, more or less, the interests
of others. I add, briefly, that these are only instances of what we may
call the general rule: namely, that morality begins from an external or
unrecognised conformity of interests, and ends by recognising and
adopting, as motives, the consequences which, in the earlier stage,
seemed to be internal or accidental consequences. I begin by helping a
man because circumstances make it useful to myself, and I end--and only
become truly moral when I end--by doing what is useful to him, because
it is useful to him. When, indeed, I have reached that point, my end
itself is profoundly modified; it becomes much wider, and yet only
regulates and directs to new channels a great deal of the corresponding

The consideration of this modification--of the change which should take
place when a man not only pursues such conduct as is beneficial on the
whole to a country, but pursues it with a view to the beneficial
consequences--brings us back to the question of luxury. The bare pursuit
of wealth as the end of existence implies, of course, indifference to
the means by which it is produced; an equal readiness, for example, to
grow rich by cheating my neighbour, or by actually producing a greater
quantity of useful produce. It is consistent with a simple desire to
enlarge my business without reference to the effect upon the persons I
employ, as when manufacturers enriched themselves by cruel exploitation
of the labour of infants. But if we hope for a state of things in which
an employer should consider himself as essentially part of the national
organism, as increasing his own wealth only by such means as would be
also advantageous to the comfort of the nation generally, the pursuit of
wealth would become moralised.

Here, in fact, we must once more consider Mandeville's paradox. Desire
for wealth, he substantially says, must be good because it stimulates
industry. When your lazy barbarian, who has no pleasure but gorging
himself with food, comes also to desire fine clothes, he is not only a
degree more refined in his tastes, but his increased industry leads him
to produce enough food to support his tailor, and provision is made for
two men instead of one. But desire for wealth, it is replied, is bad,
because it leads our barbarian not only to consume the product of his
own labour, but to consume that of somebody else. Mandeville gained
piquancy for his argument by confusing the two cases. Since the desire
is good, all its manifestations must be good. Extravagance, for example,
is good, and, as he put it, the fire of London was a benefit to industry
because it set up a greater demand for the services of carpenters and
bricklayers. I need not say how frequently an argument substantially the
same has been adopted by good writers, and simple extravagance been
praised because it was supposed to be "good for trade". Political
economists have been forced to labour the point that extravagant
consumption does not increase wealth; but the only curious thing is that
such a point should ever have required demonstration. The conclusion,
which is sufficient for our purpose, is simply that an absolute
denunciation or an absolute exaltation of the desire for wealth is
equally impossible; for the desire may have contrary effects. In one
shape it may stimulate to enjoyments which actually diminish wealth in
general, or, at any rate, to those which lead to the actual exploitation
of the many for the benefit of the few; and, on the other hand, to
denounce it, simply would be to denounce all the springs of action which
raise men above the barbarous state of society. When we look at the
contrasts between the rich and the poor, we must rightfully desire a
greater equality of distribution; but we may be tempted to approve too
easily any means which may lead to such equality. It is, indeed, obvious
that if all the national resources which are now applied to producing
superfluities could be turned to the production of necessaries, we could
support the same population in a greater comfort, or support a much
greater population at a point just above starvation level. But it does
not at all follow that a society in which every man's labour was devoted
entirely to the task of providing necessaries would in fact be either
more comfortable or more numerous. Historically speaking, the fact is
the very reverse. The only societies in which there is such an equality
are societies in which the level is one of uniform misery, and whose
total industrial efficiency is incomparably smaller than that of the
more civilised races. It has been only in so far as a nation has been
able to support classes with sufficient means to devote themselves to
science and art, and the cultivation of the higher faculties generally,
that it has acquired the vast powers of production which enable some to
be disproportionately rich, but which also enable numerous masses to
support themselves in tolerable comfort where there were once a few
wandering barbarians. That the more cultivated classes have sought only
their own advantage instead of the general benefit, may be too true; but
the conclusion is, not that they should cease to have the desires which
entitle a man to be called a civilised being, but that these desires
should be so regulated and moralised as to subserve directly and
necessarily the ends which they have only promoted indirectly and
accidentally. A society which has grown rich by mechanical discoveries
and industrious organisation has acquired the power of greatly raising
the average level of comfort. If, in point of fact, its power has been
greatly misused, if a great development of poverty has taken place side
by side with a great development of industrial efficiency, the proper
inference is not that we should denounce the desires from which the
efficiency is derived, but that we should direct them into such channels
as may lead to the more universal distribution of the advantages which
they create.

It is, I think, from this point of view that we can best judge of the
moral objection to luxury. For, as I previously suggested, luxury begins
when a man becomes the slave instead of the master of his wealth; when
that which ought to be a mere machinery becomes an end in itself; and
when, therefore, there is a tendency to cultivate and stimulate to
excess those lower passions which, though necessary within limits, may
beyond those limits distort and lower the whole character, and make the
pursuit of worthy objects impossible. We know that the king who had the
reputation of being the wisest of mankind, after building a splendid
temple and a gorgeous palace, and filling them with vessels of gold, and
importing ivory and apes and peacocks, could find nothing better to do
with the rest than to take 700 wives and 300 concubines--a measure which
hardly increased his domestic felicity, but no doubt got rid of a good
deal of money. Although few men have Solomon's opportunities of
affording a typical instance of luxury, many of us show ourselves
capable of weakness similar at least in kind. I need not multiply
examples. The great mystery of fashion is perhaps a trifling but a
significant example. When people, instead of considering dress as a
means of displaying the beauty of the human frame, consider their bodies
as mere pegs upon which to display clothes, and are ready to distort
their own forms to fill arbitrary shapes, changed at short intervals to
increase the cost, they are clearly exemplifying the confusion between
means and ends. When a young gentleman spends a fortune upon the turf,
or upon gambling, he shows that he has no more conception than the poor
boy who plays pitch-and-toss with halfpence of the ways in which wealth
might be made conducive to undertakings worthy of absorbing human
energy. When, on pretence of cultivating society, we invent a whole
cumbrous social apparatus which makes all rational conversation
impossible, we know that the display of wealth has become an end to
which we are ready to sacrifice our ostensible purpose. Now, I suggest
that such luxury, such exaltation of the machinery above the ultimate
good, corresponds pretty nearly to the distinction between the desires
which lead to the rightful use and those which lead to the shameful
misuse of wealth in a social sense. Human nature, indeed, is singularly
complex, and it is impossible to deny that the hope of acquiring such
luxuries may incidentally lead to that increase of industry and
development of national resources which, as we have seen, is the ground
upon which it is defended. The industrious apprentice may have been
stimulated to become Lord Mayor by the odours from his master's
turtle-soup; Arkwright, perhaps, was induced to invent the machinery
which revolutionised the cotton manufactures by the hope of becoming Sir
Richard, and rivalling the coarse luxury of some stupid Squire Western.
But we cannot doubt that upon a large scale the love of the grosser
indulgences is bad, even from its purely economical point of view. If,
incidentally, it encourages industry, it far more directly and
necessarily encourages wasteful expenditure. If a rich man can only
spend his thousands at a gambling-table, the poorer man cannot be blamed
for gambling with a thimble-rigger. When Solomon set up his domestic
establishment, every shopkeeper in Jerusalem might be encouraged to
marry an extra wife. If a rich man, who has enough to saturate a healthy
appetite, tries how much money he can spend, like the old classical
epicures, upon new dishes of nightingales' tongues, you can hardly
expect the poorer man to refrain from an extra glass of gin. Briefly, so
far as the resources of a nation are spent upon the mere
ostentation--which we call vulgar, to imply that it is spending for the
sake of expense, foolishly trying to get more pleasure for an appetite
already gorged to excess, by simply increasing the stimulus--it is
encouraging all the forces which make rather for waste than increased
productiveness, and justifying the natural jealousy of the poorer. So
far, that is, as a desire for wealth means a desire to consume as much
as possible on supersaturating the lower appetites, the commonest
argument against private property in general is not only plausible but
justified. I should say, then, that luxury in a bad sense begins
wherever in expenditure it indicates an insufficient sense of the
responsibility which attaches to all wealth. This does not condemn an
expenditure which may seem, from some points of view, luxurious; though,
as I have said, I cannot profess to draw any distinct line in what is
essentially a question of degree and of actual possibilities, I can only
suggest in general that a man is _primâ facie_ justified in all such
expenditure as tends to the highest possible cultivation of his
faculties and of the faculties of those dependent upon him. I hold it to
be a matter of the highest importance that there should be a thoroughly
civilised class--a class capable of all intellectual pleasures; loving
the beauties of art and nature; studying every possible department of
knowledge, scientific and historical; maintaining all such modes of
recreation and social enjoyment as are naturally appropriate to such a
class. And I do not call any man luxurious for maintaining his position
in such a sphere, or for enabling his children to follow in his steps. I
believe that, as things are, the existence of such a class is a
necessary condition of national welfare and of the preservation and
extension of the whole body of cultivation which we have received from
our ancestors. What is requisite is, that the class should be not only
capable of refined enjoyment, but of discharging its functions
relatively to the nation at large, and spreading a higher standard of
enjoyment through the whole community. So far as the richer class
maintains certain traditions, moral and intellectual--traditions of
personal honour and public spirit, of artistic and literary
cultivation--it may be discharging an invaluable function, and its
existence may be a necessary means of diffusing a higher civilisation
through the masses who have not the same advantage. Whatever employments
of wealth contribute to make a man more efficient as an individual
member of society, to strengthen his understanding and his perceptions,
to widen his intellectual horizon and interest his sympathies, and the
enjoyments which correspond to them, are not to be condemned as
luxurious. They are, at present, only within the reach of the richer
classes, ardently as we may hope that the power of partaking them may be
extended as rapidly and widely as possible. But the growth of luxury, in
the bad sense, is the indication that the class which should act as the
brain of the social organism is ceasing to discharge its functions, and
becoming what we call a survival. It is a kind of moral gout--an
aristocratic disease, showing that the secretions are becoming
disordered for want of a proper application of the energies. It was in
that sense, as I said before, that our grandfathers denounced the luxury
which proved that the ruling classes, especially in France, had retained
their privileges while abandoning the corresponding duties. If in
England we escaped so violent a catastrophe, it was because, with all
their luxuries and levities and shortsightedness, the aristocratic
classes were still playing an active part, and, if not governing well,
doing whatever was done in the way of governing. But every class, and
every member of a class, should always remember that he may be asked
whether, on the whole, he and his like can give any sufficient reason
for his or their existence, and that he ought to be prepared with a
satisfactory answer. When he has to admit that his indulgences are in
the main what may be called luxuries in the bad sense, he may consider
that he is receiving notice to quit.

This may suggest the last remark that I need make. It is impossible, I
have said, to say definitely this is, and that is not, a luxury: and, in
general, that is not the way in which the question presents itself. We
have rather to decide upon our general standard of life, and to adopt a
certain scale of living more or less fixed for us by our social
surroundings. We can all do something towards rationalising the habitual
modes of expenditure, and adapting the machinery to such ends as are
worthy of intelligent and cultivated beings. So far as inclination is in
the direction of vulgarity, of ostentatious habits, of multiplying idle
ceremonies and cumbrous pomposities, we can protest by our own conduct,
at least, in favour of plain living and high thinking. But so far as
social life is really adapted to the advancement of intellect, the
humanising and refinement of our sympathies, it promotes an improvement
which cannot but spread beyond the immediate circle. Even such pursuits,
it is true, may incidentally become provocative of an objectionable
luxury. A man who is a lover of art, for example, occasionally shuts
himself out all the more from the average sympathies, and indulges in
pleasures, less gross but, perhaps, even more enervating than some which
we should call distinctly sensual. The art, whether literary or
plastic, which is only appreciable by the connoisseur, is an art which
is luxurious because it is on the way to corruption. Nothing is clearer
in the vague set of guesses which pass for æsthetic theory, than this:
that to be healthy and vigorous, art must spread beyond cliques and
studios, and express the strongest instincts and emotions of the society
in which it is developed. This, I think, is significant of a general
principle. Luxury is characteristic of a class with narrow outlook, and
devoted to such enjoyments as are, by their nature, incapable of
communication. Whenever the enjoyments are such as have an intrinsic
tendency to raise the general standard, as well as to heighten the
pleasure of a few, they cannot be simply stigmatised as luxurious. The
old view of the responsibilities of wealth was chiefly confined to the
doctrine that the rich man should give away as many of his superfluities
as possible, to be scrambled for by the poor, in order to appease the
Fates. We have come to see that charity, though at present a necessary,
should be regarded as a degrading necessity; and, therefore, not in the
long run a possible alternative to luxury. Too often it is itself a kind
of luxury as mischievous as selfish disregard to the natural
consequences of our expenditure. The true direction of our wishes should
rather be to direct social energies into such channels as have a
natural affinity to public spirit. A man who really loves art because he
has a keen sense of beauty, not because he wishes to have the reputation
of a skilful collector, would surely try to beautify the world in which
we all live, to get rid of the hideous deformities which meet us at
every turn, and not simply to make a little corner into which he may
retire for simple self-indulgence. A lover of truth should not be
content, as some philosophers were forced to be content, with discussion
in an esoteric circle, but should endeavour, now that thought is free,
to stimulate the intellectual activity of all men, confident that the
greater the number of investigators, the more rapid will be the advance
of truth. I do not venture to suggest what special direction should be
taken by those who have the privileges and responsibilities of great
wealth. I have never had to consider that problem in any practical
reference. Still, considering how vast a part they actually play in
social development, how great is their influence, and how many people
and enterprises seem to be in want of a little money, I cannot help
fancying that a rich man may find modes of expenditure other than
reckless charity or elaborate pampering of his personal wants, which
would be not only more useful to the world, but more interesting to
himself than many of the ordinary forms of indulgence. But I am only
speaking of general tendencies, and have disavowed any capacity for
laying down precise regulations. If I have stated rightly what is the
evil properly attacked when we speak of luxury as vicious, it will, I
think, come mainly to this: that the direction in which we should look
for improvement is not so much in directly prescribing any Spartan or
ascetic system of life, as in cultivating in every one who possesses
superfluities, the sense of his implicit responsibility to his fellows,
which should go with every increase of wealth, and the conviction, not
that he should regard pleasure as in itself bad, but that he should
train himself to find pleasures in such conduct as makes him a more
efficient member of the body corporate of Society. If, indeed, there
should be any man who feels that he has no right to superfluities at
all, while so many are wanting necessaries, and should resolve to devote
himself to the improvement of their elevation, I should say, in the
first place, I fully and heartily recognise him to be one of the very
large class which I regard as my superiors in morality; although, in the
next place, I should insinuate that he is one of those heroes who, while
they deserve all honour, cannot be taken as models for universal
imitation, inasmuch as I cannot help thinking that the ultimate end is
not the renunciation but the multiplication of all innocent happiness.


I propose to speak to you to-day upon a subject which, though I may
perhaps be tempted to exaggerate its importance, possesses some real
importance. I have undertaken to speak upon the duties of the class to
which I belong. I make, however, no claims to the position of censor. I
have no such claim, except, indeed, the claim of possessing some
experience. There are two ways, I may observe, in which a man may
acquire a sense of the importance of any moral law. One is by keeping
the law, and the other is by breaking it. In some ways, perhaps, the
systematic offender has acquired the most valuable experience. No one
can speak more feelingly about the evils of intemperance than the
reformed drunkard, unless it be the drunkard who has not reformed. The
sober gentleman who has never exceeded can realise neither the force of
the temptation nor the severity of the penalty. On the other hand, I
must admit that some writers upon ethical questions have been men of
fair moral character. I only make the statement by way of explaining
that, in speaking of the duties of authors, I do not assert, even by the
most indirect implication, that I personally have either observed or
disregarded the principles which I shall discuss. Whether I am a model
for imitation or an example of the evils to be avoided, matters nothing
to this discourse; though the question to which of these classes I
belong has a certain interest for myself.

There is one other matter which I can deal with very briefly. I have
said that the subject has a certain importance. Upon that it is needless
to dilate; for, in the first place, authors have been engaged for
generations, and never more industriously than in this generation, in
preaching the vast importance of authors to mankind. I could not hope to
add anything to their eloquence upon a topic with which they are so
familiar. We may, however, assume that the enormous mass of literature
which is daily produced, whether its abundance be a matter of regret or
exultation, is at least a proof that a vast number of people read
something, and are, we may suppose, more or less affected by what they
read. It cannot be indifferent to inquire what are the duties of those
who undertake to provide for this ever-growing demand.

One matter has been lately discussed which may serve as a starting-point
for what I have to say. A French author who came the other day to
observe our manners and customs, was impressed by the fact that so much
of our writing is anonymous. The public, that is, reads without knowing
who are its instructors, and the instructors write without incurring any
definite personal responsibility. The problem is naturally suggested,
whether such a system be not morally objectionable. Ought not a man who
undertakes to speak as an authority let us know who he is, and therefore
with what authority he speaks? The question could hardly be answered
satisfactorily without some study of the facts; and especially of the
way in which the system has grown up. I can only notice one or two
obvious reflections. A century ago we boasted--and we had reason to
boast--that the English Press was the freest in Europe. It was already a
very important factor in political life. But at that period the
profession of letters was still regarded as more or less disreputable.
The great author--the poet, divine, or historian--was indeed fully as
much respected as he is now; but to write for money or to write in
periodicals was held to be not quite worthy of a gentleman. Byron, for
example, refused to take money for his poetry, and taunted others for
taking money, until so much money was offered to him that he swallowed
his scruples. Burns, though as much in need of money, had shortly
before refused to write for money; and Wordsworth held that his high
calling imposed upon him the duty of rather repelling than seeking the
popularity by which money is to be won. We have changed all this, and
the greatest modern authors are less apt to disavow a desire for pay,
than to complain that their pay is insufficient. The employment--it can
hardly be called the profession--of periodical writing, again--the only
kind of writing which could make literature a source of a regular
income--was long regarded as a kind of poor relation of the respectable
or so-called learned professions, clerical, legal, and medical. Jeffrey,
whose fame now rests upon his position as the editor of _The Edinburgh
Review_, was for a long time anxious to conceal his employment as not
exactly creditable. In the year 1809 the benchers of Lincoln's Inn
passed a resolution that no one should be called to the Bar who had
written for money in a newspaper. Writers in newspapers since that time
have frequently risen to the Bench, and have been not the least honoured
of Cabinet Ministers. Yet the sentiment which involved a certain stigma
has only disappeared in this generation. And the historical cause seems
to be obvious. The newspaper Press had gradually grown up in spite of
authority. It had first been persecuted, and writers had escaped
persecution by consenting to be spies or dependants upon great men.
Half the hack-authors aspired to subsidies from the secret-service
money, and the other half were looking for a reward when their patrons
should have a turn in the distribution of good things. The Press was
freer than elsewhere, for the English system of government gave
importance to public discussion. Both Ministers and Opposition wished to
influence voters through the papers. But the authors were in the
position of dependent auxiliaries, prosecuted for libel if they went too
far, and recompensed by pensions for the risks they had to run; they
were despised, even by those who used them, as a set of mercenary
guerillas, employed to do dirty work and insinuate charges which could
not be made by responsible people, and ready, as was supposed, to serve
on whichever side would pay them best. According to a well-known
anecdote, two writers of the eighteenth century decided by the toss of a
halfpenny which should write for Walpole and which should write for his
adversary Pulteney; but the choice was generally decided by less
reputable motives. Now, so long as the Press meant such a class it was
of course natural that the trade should be regarded as discreditable,
and should be carried on by men who had less care for their character
than for their pockets. In England, where our development has been
continuous and traditions linger long, the sentiment long survived; and
the practice which corresponded to it--the practice, that is, of
anonymity--has itself survived the sentiment which gave it birth.

I do not, indeed, mean to insinuate that the practice may not have
better reasons than that which led to its first adoption. The mask was
formerly worn by men who were ashamed of their employment, and who had
the same reasons for anonymity as a thief or an anarchist may have for a
disguise. It may now be worn even by men who are proud of their
profession, because the mask has a different significance. When a
journalist calls himself "we" instead of "I," the word really represents
a fact: the fact that he speaks not simply as an individual, but as the
mouthpiece of a corporation, which itself claims to be the organ of a
party. The plural covers whatever additional weight may be due to this
representative character. To consider the value of this justification
would take me too far. I have spoken of this historical fact because I
think that it illustrates a more general problem.

For, in the first place, I think that there were some elements in the
older sentiment which deserved respect. When an author was as anxious to
disavow the charge of writing for money as an author at the present day
is to claim his reward, I cannot, for my part, simply set him down as
silly. "My songs," said Burns, "are either above price or below price,
and, therefore, I will accept nothing." I respect his feelings. He may
not have been quite logical; but he was surely right in the belief that
the poet whose inspiration should come from his breeches-pocket would
never write true songs or embody the very spirit of a nation. I do not
doubt that authors ought to be paid; but I certainly agree that a money
reward never ought to be the chief aim of their writing. And I confess
that some utterances about copyrights in these days have jarred upon me,
because they seem to imply that the doctrine is not disavowed so
unequivocally as it should be by our leaders. I am, indeed, happy to
believe, as I fully believe, that there has never been a time at which
more good work has been done for pure love of the work, independently,
and even in defiance, of pecuniary considerations. But I cannot help
thinking that in their desire to establish a right to the profits of
their work, authors have condescended at moments to speak as if that
reward constituted their sole motive to work, instead of being
desired--as it may most properly be desired--simply as the means of
enabling them to work. The old contempt was aristocratic, and in these
days we have come to use aristocratic as a term of abuse. My own
impression is that we ought to be just even to aristocrats; and in that
contempt for all such work, I think that there was a genuine element of
self-respect. The noble despised the poor scribe who had to get his
living by his pen. We, my lords, as Chesterfield put it, may thank
Providence that we do not depend upon our brains. It is wrong, no doubt,
to despise anybody; and especially mean to despise a man for poverty.
But the sentiment also included the belief--surely not so wrong--that
the adventurer who joined the ranks of a party for the sake of the pay
was so far contemptible, and likely to join the party which paid best.
The misfortune, no doubt, was that the political state involved such
dependence; and the desirable solution that every one should become
independent. Till that solution was more or less reached, the
corresponding sentiment was inevitable, and not without meaning.

Well, the literary class has had its declaration of independence. An
author has long ceased to need a patron, and he is in little danger of
the law of libel. The question occurs: What are the qualities by which
we should justify our independence? Have we not still a certain stoop of
the shoulders, a kind of traditional shamefacedness, an awkwardness of
manner, and a tendency to blush and stammer, which shows that we are not
quite at ease in our new position? Or have we not--it is a more serious
question--exchanged dependence upon the great for dependence upon the
public, rather than learnt to stand upon our own feet? Have we made
ourselves, and, if we have not, how can we make ourselves, worthy of our
position as free men? We boast that the Press does part of what used to
be done by the priesthood, that we enlighten and encourage and purify
public opinion. There is a whole class which depends upon us for
intellectual culture; which reads nothing that is not in newspapers and
magazines. Do we give them a wholesome training, provide them with sound
knowledge, and stimulate them to real thought? Are we such a priesthood
as is really raising the standard of human life; or such a priesthood as
is clinging to power by echoing the superstitions of its congregations?
Nature is ruled by obeying her; and what is called ruling public opinion
is too often servilely following its dictates. There is an old story
which tells how a certain newspaper used to send out an emissary to
discover what was the common remark that every one was making in
omnibuses and club smoking-rooms, and to fashion it into next morning's
article for the instruction of mankind. The echo affected to set the
tune which it really repeated. Now, there is nothing more flattering
than an echo. "This must be an inspired teacher, for he says exactly
what I thought myself," is a very common and effective argument. To
reproduce the opinions of the average reader; to dress them so skilfully
that he will be pleased to see what keen intelligence is implied in
holding such opinions; to say just what everybody wishes to have said a
little more neatly than everybody could say it, or, at the outside, to
say to-day what every one will be saying to-morrow, is one path to
success in journalism. There is, I am afraid, much so-called education
which tends to nothing better than a development of this art. I was
consulted the other day by a young gentleman who was proposing to put
himself under a professor of journalism. So far as I could gather from
his account, the professor did not suggest that the pupil should study
any branch of serious knowledge: that he should become, for example, a
good political economist, or read ancient or modern history, or make
himself familiar with continental affairs or bimetallism, or other
thorny and complex subjects. The aim was precisely to enable him to
dispense with all study, and to spin words out of absolute mental
vacuity. If such an art can really be acquired, it is scarcely an art to
be recommended to ingenuous youth. And yet, as I understand, it is an
art which is more or less countenanced even at our universities. A
distinguished classman learns much, but the last thing he learns is the
depth of his own ignorance. He is too often practised in the power of
beating out his gold or his tinsel to cover the largest possible
surface; he becomes an adept in adopting the very last new fashion of
thought; he can pronounce dogmatically upon all previous thinkers after
reading not their own works, but the summary given in the last
text-book. Success in the art of passing examinations requires the same
qualities which enable a man to write off-hand a brilliant leading
article upon any side of any subject. I have often heard remarks upon
the modern diffusion of literary skill. Ten people, it is said, can
write well now for one who could write well fifty years ago. No doubt
the demand for facile writing has enormously increased the supply. But I
do not think that first-rate writing--the writing which speaks of a full
mind and strong convictions, which is clear because it is thorough, not
because it is shallow--has increased in the same proportion, if, indeed,
we can be sure that it has increased at all. Perhaps there are ten times
as many people who can put other men's thoughts into fluent phrases; but
are there ten times as many, are there even as many, who think for
themselves and speak at first hand? The practice of anonymous writing
affords, of course, obvious conveniences to a superficial omniscience.
The young gentleman who dogmatises so early might blush if he had to
sign his name to his audacious utterances. His tone of infallibility
would be absurd if we knew who was the pope that was promulgating
dogmas. The man in a mask professes to detect at a glance the absurd
sophistries which impose upon the keenest contemporary intellects; but
if he doffed the mask and appeared as young Mr. Smith, or Jones, who
took his degree last year, we might doubt whether he had a right to
assume so calmly that the sophistry is all on the other side. I am,
however, quite aware that this is only one side of the question of
anonymity. Were the practice abolished, the journalist who was forced to
appear in his own character might abandon not his superficiality, but
whatever power of blushing he retains. The more fluent phrase-monger
might take himself even more seriously than he now does, and might
persuade other people to take him seriously too. The charlatan, in
short, might have a better chance, and use his notoriety as a
stepping-stone to more mischievous ambition.

I refrain from discussing this question: the rather because it is
obvious that such changes must work themselves out gradually, and that
we may assume, for the present, that the position will not be materially
changed. I am, therefore, content to infer that the journalist should at
least bear in mind one obvious criterion. He should never say anything
anonymously to which he would be ashamed to sign his name. I do not mean
merely that he should not be libellous or spiteful--I hope and believe
that the underhand assassin of reputations, who at one period was common
enough, has almost ceased to exist,--but rather that he should refrain
from that pompous assumption of omniscience which would he ludicrous in
a simple individual. He should say nothing when he speaks in the plural
which would make him look silly if he used the first person singular.
Now, this modest requirement involves, I think, a good deal. I will try
to say what it involves by an example, of which I frequently think. I
remember a young gentleman, who, in my hearing, confessed, in answer to
a question from Carlyle, that he did a certain amount of journalistic
work. The great man thereupon said, with his usual candour, and, I must
add, without any personal discourtesy, that, in his opinion, the
journalism of the period was just so much ditch-water. What should be a
well of English undefiled poured forth streams little better than a
public sewer. The phrase, like some other prophetic utterances, sounded
a trifle harsh, but was all the more calculated to set me thinking. My
thinking naturally led me to reflect upon Carlyle's own example. I was
invited some time afterwards to sign a little testimonial presented to
him upon his eightieth birthday, in imitation of the gift which he had
himself forwarded to Goethe. In this it was said, and said, I think,
most truly, that Carlyle was himself an example of the heroic life in
literature. And why? A good many epigrams have been levelled at Carlyle,
and he has more than once been ridiculed as the philosopher who preached
the virtues of silence in thirty volumes. Now, Carlyle's utterances
about silence may not have been unimpeachable; but I think that, stated
in a commonplace way, they substantially come to this: that idle talk, a
mere spinning of phrases, is a very demoralising habit, and one great
mischief of the present day; but that the serious and careful utterance
of real thought and genuine knowledge must be considered rather as a
mode of action than of talk, and deserves the cordial welcome of all
men. A Goethe affects action as much as a Napoleon. Carlyle did not
really mean to draw the line between an active and a literary life; for
he knew as well as any man that literature may at once require the most
strenuous activity, and be the source of life and vigour in active men;
but between frivolity and earnestness, between the mere waste and
dissipation of energy and its concentration upon some worthy purpose.
Judged by such a standard, Carlyle's words were also deeds. He wrote a
good deal, for he lived a long time, and had for many years to live by
his pen. I could, I think, mention several professional authors who
habitually provide as much copy in a month as Carlyle ever achieved in a
year. But, luckily for them, their works are not collected. Carlyle
appears to be voluminous because he never wrote anything which was not
worth preservation, and that because he never wrote an essay without
making it as good as his abilities permitted. He did so, although he was
till middle life hard pressed for money, and helping to support his
family out of his narrow earnings. He stuck indomitably to his own ideal
of what was best, though he had slowly to form a public which could
appreciate him. And through long years of struggle and hardship he never
condescended to make easy gains at the price of inferior workmanship, or
to lower his standard of excellence in order to meet the immediate
demands of editors. In that sense, if in no other, I call Carlyle a
worthy hero of literature, and I reverence his example a great deal
more, I fear, than I have imitated it.

Perhaps, indeed, a man must have an unusually, even unreasonably, strong
conviction of the truth and importance of his mission before he can make
such sacrifices in order to discharge it worthily. To most of us the
question occurs whether it can possibly be worth while to do so.
Perhaps, if I devoted myself exclusively to delivering my message to
mankind as forcibly as I could, and to making all necessary
preparations, it might be rather more effective than the second-hand
twaddle which I actually produce. But would the game be worth the
candle? I have, it may be, a family to support. Should I not, as an
honest man, think first of my butcher and my baker and of paying the
collector of rates, before I undertake to become an immortal author?
Probably, at the best, my immortality would be a very short one, for
there is not one author in a thousand who can make his voice audible at
the distance of a generation. Is it not better and wiser to earn an
honest living by innocent small talk, than to aim at a great success and
let my children go barefoot and lose their schooling? That low man, says
Browning's Grammarian--

     That low man goes on adding one to one,
       His hundred's soon hit:
     This high man, aiming at a million,
       Misses an unit.

Is it not better to hit your hundred than to aim at your million and
miss it? That is a problem which I do not think it possible to answer by
a general rule. We rightly honour the Carlyle or the Wordsworth who has
forced the public to admire him in spite of critical gibes and long
obscurity; but we must not forget that even success does not
necessarily justify the audacity which has won it, and that a good many
people who fancied themselves to be capable of enlightening the world
have been empty-headed impostors who would have done better to take the
critic's advice: drop their pens and mind their gallipots. Devotion to
an ideal, like other high qualities, may be misplaced or counterfeited
by mere personal vanity. But leaving each man to decide by the concrete
circumstances of his own case, I still hold that at least we should try
in this respect to act in Carlyle's spirit. I cannot blame the author
who, under certain conditions, feels that his first duty is to pay his
weekly bills, so long, of course, as he does not earn the money by
pandering to the bad passions of his readers; for there are modes of
making a livelihood by the pen to which starvation or the workhouse
would be preferred by any high-minded man. But we will not judge harshly
of the author who lives by supplying innocent, if rather insipid, food
for public amusement. He might be capable of better things; but, then,
he might certainly be doing much worse. Yet in any case, I say that, to
have a tolerably comfortable conscience, an author should try to look a
little farther than this. The great mass of mankind has to devote most
of its energies to employments which require nothing more than honest
work; and yet even the humblest can do something to maintain and elevate
the moral standard of his surroundings. The author, so far as he is
simply a journeyman, a reporter of ordinary events and speeches, for
example, does his duty so far as he reports them honestly; and we have
no more to say to him. But the author who takes part in political and
social or religious discussions has a responsibility which involves
something more. Probably he feels--I am sure enough that I feel--that
his performance makes remarkably little difference to mankind in
general; and that he is playing only an infinitesimal part in the great
processes by which the huge world blunders along, struggling into some
approximation to a more tolerable order. He may compare himself to one
of the myriads of insects building up one square yard on the coral reef
which stretches for hundreds of leagues. Yet even the coral reef depends
on the units, and if the insect's powers are small it concerns him to
make the best of them. Now, to make the best of them implies some
genuine interest in his work; something that makes the reader perceive
that he is being addressed by a human being, not a mere machine for
vamping up old materials. I have been struck in reading newspaper
articles, even my own, by the curious loss of individuality which a man
seems to suffer as a writer. Unconsciously the author takes the colour
of his organ; he adopts not only its sentiment but its style, and seems
to become a mere transmitter of messages, with whose substance he has no
more to do than the wires of the electric telegraph which carries them.
But now and then we suddenly come across something fresh and original;
we know by instinct that we are being addressed by another man, and are
in a living relation to a separate human being, not to a mere drilled
characterless unit of a disciplined army; we find actually thoughts,
convictions, arguments, which, though all arguments are old, have
evidently struck the writer's mind, and not merely been transmitted into
his pen; and then we may know that we are in the presence of a real
force, and meeting with a man who is doing his duty. I refrain from
mentioning, though I easily could mention, living modern instances. But
on looking to the history of the past, it is curious to notice how rare
the phenomenon is, and how important it is when it occurs. Think for a
moment, for example, of old Cobbett, agricultural labourer and soldier,
with nothing to help him but his shrewd mother-wit and his burly English
strength. He wrote much that was poor and clumsy enough; much, too, that
was pure claptrap, and much that was dictated by personal motives and
desire for notoriety. But in spite of this the untaught peasant became
one of the great political forces, more effective than the ninety and
nine elegant _Edinburgh_ and _Quarterly_ reviewers, who had all the
advantages which he lacked. Why? Partly, no doubt, because he was a
really strong man; but also because he had at least one genuine and
deeply-rooted conviction, springing out of his profound desire for the
welfare of the class which was both the largest and the most helpless of
the England of his day. He is, therefore, one example, and there are
many others, of the singular power which is exercised in journalism by a
man, under whatever disadvantages, who possesses, or rather who is
possessed by, some master-thought, and utters it in season and out of
season with perhaps disproportionate intensity, but with perfect
sincerity. Now, though Cobbett would be in some respects a bad model, I
only refer to him in this sense. When my young friends consult me as to
the conditions of successful journalism, my first bit of advice comes to
this: know something really; at any rate, try to know something; be the
slaves of some genuine idea, or you will be the slaves of a newspaper--a
bit of mechanism instead of a man. You can carry on the business with
self-respect--whatever your success--if it is also something more than a
business; if, for example, you can honestly feel that you are helping on
the propaganda of sound principle, denouncing real grievances, and
speaking from genuine belief. No man has a right to lay down the law to
statesmen as though he were in possession of absolute knowledge, or as
though he were a man of science talking to a class of ignorant
schoolboys. But every man ought to believe that truth is attainable, and
to endeavour with all his power to attain it. He should study the great
problems of the day historically: for he must know how they have arisen;
what previous attempts have been made to solve them; how far recent
suggestions are mere reproductions of exploded fallacies; and so qualify
himself to see things in their true relations as facts of a great
process of evolution. He should endeavour to be philosophical in spirit,
so far, at least, as to seek to base his opinions upon general
principles, and to look at the events of the day from a higher point of
view than that of personal or party expediency. And he must, though upon
this it is hardly necessary to insist, be familiar with the affairs of
the day: for no one can apply principles to politics effectively without
a genuine first-hand knowledge of the actual currents of political life.
Unless a man can take up his calling in some such spirit, he can be but
a mere retailer of popular commonplaces, and must live from hand to
mouth or upon the chance utterances of people as thoughtless as
himself, increasing the volume of mere noise which threatens to drown
sense. But if he seriously cultivates his powers, and enriches his mind,
he may feel sure that even in journalism he may be discharging one of
the most important functions which a man can undertake. He may be right
or wrong in the particular doctrines which he supports. Indeed, the
first and most obvious result of any attempt to take wider views of
politics is the admission that wisdom (and as certainly, nonsense) is
not the exclusive possession of any party in politics, literature, or
philosophy. But something is done whenever a man of trained intellect
and genuine conviction lifts popular discussion to a higher plane. At
such times it rises above the region of personal invective or pure
platitude, and involves a conscious reference to great principles and to
the remote conditions of the little bit of history which we are actually
transacting. When John Stuart Mill became a member of the House of
Commons, and was accepted as a philosopher coming among practical men,
he said much that displeased his hearers; but it was observed by
competent judges at the time, that the tone of parliamentary debates was
perceptibly raised. Members of Parliament were forced to reflect for the
moment, not only how their speeches would tell in next day's reports,
and what traps they were setting for opponents, but also for a brief
instant, how their arguments would stand the test of impartial logic.
Mill tells a significant story in his autobiography, which, perhaps,
indicates one source of his influence. When he appeared upon the
hustings he was asked whether he had not said that the English
working-classes were generally liars. He replied simply, "I did," and
the reply was, he says, received with "vehement applause". The incident,
he adds, convinced him that the working-classes valued nothing more than
thorough straightforwardness, and honoured a man for daring to tell them
of their faults. I hope that it is so: I believe, in point of fact, that
no quality is more heartily honoured than unflinching political honesty.
And I confess that I have often wondered why it is that where the reward
is so clear, so few people take the plain road which leads to it. It
seems equally clear that moral courage pays better than any other
quality in politics, and that it is the rarest of all qualities even to
be simulated. We are all anxious to show how profound is our affection
for the masses; but how many candidates for their favour dare to give
Mr. Mill's proof of genuine respect? No doubt you must make it clear
that you possess some other qualities before you can hope to conciliate
the respect of a class by accusing it openly of habitual lying. Indeed,
this might be taken as a test of genuine independence. Till you can
tell men of their faults without being suspected of spite or bad
temper--till you can praise them without being suspected of unworthy
flattery--you are not really in a position worthy to be called
independent. How many journalists--I say nothing of statesmen--stand
firmly enough on their own legs to speak out without giving offence? We
are often told of a great revolution of opinion, and especially of the
abandonment of the old prejudice against government interference. That a
great change has taken place in the opinions which men profess is
undeniable; though how far that change has been due to unbiassed
scientific reflection, and how far to a change in the conditions of
popularity, is a very different question. I see, for example, a
statement by an honourable gentleman that he approves of the Eight Hours
Bill because the principle of non-interference with adult labour is
obsolete. It is too late to avow it. If the honourable gentleman means
to say that experience has proved the principle to be erroneous, he is,
of course, justified in abandoning it. But, if his meaning be simply
that the principle has gone out of fashion, what is this but to admit
that you will abandon any doctrine as soon as it ceases to be popular?
Do we really mean to assert that a fallacious doctrine can never get the
upper hand; that the beliefs of to-day are always better than the
beliefs of yesterday; that every man who has dared to stick to an
opinion condemned by a majority must necessarily be a fool for his
pains? That really seems to be a common opinion. We hear a great deal at
the present day about "mandates," and a mandate seems to be regarded not
simply as a declaration of the will of a majority which must, in point
of fact, be obeyed, but as the official utterance of an infallible
church which cannot in point of logic be erroneous. Now, I confess that
I have always had a weakness for the faithful Abdiel. I believe that a
man is often doing invaluable services who resists the dominant current
of opinion, who denounces fallacies when they are growing and
flourishing, and points out that a revolution in belief, even though it
be inevitable for the time, and even though it contain an element of
right reason, may yet contain errors and hasty judgments and deviations
from the true line of progress, which require exposure the more
unsparing in proportion to their temporary popularity. Is not the
ordinary journalist's frame of mind singularly unfavourable to his
discharge of this function? and is it not inevitable that it should be
so as long as the journalist's only aim is to gain a hearing somehow? It
matters not which side he takes. He denounces some new doctrine, but
only in the name of the current prejudices which it happens to shock.
He advocates it, but only because it is the last new fashion of the day.
In either case he falls into the ordinary party vice of imagining that
his opponents must be fools or knaves, that their opinions are directly
inspired by the devil or a judicial blindness inflicted by Providence,
simply because he will not take the trouble to understand them. The man
who would try to raise himself above the position of the mere pander to
passing antipathies must widen his intellectual horizon. He must qualify
himself to take broad views; he must learn that his little list of
commonplaces does not represent real thought, but is often the
embodiment of mere prejudice, or perhaps the deposit of words left by
thinkers of past generations; he must learn to do more than merely dish
them up with a new sauce; he must concentrate his abilities upon
definite problems, consider how they have arisen, and what is their
relation to the past and the future. To do so requires some
disinterestedness: some love of truth for its own sake; and a capacity
for answering your opponent by explaining him, instead of a mere
quickness for taunting him personally. It requires, no doubt, serious
and prolonged application. Even such a training will not enable a man to
unlock all the puzzles of the day; but it may help towards the
desirable consummation in which a solution is at least sought in
connection with established principles, and with a constant reference to
the organised experience which also can be a safe guide to more
reasonable conclusions. Even the attempt to do so may strengthen a man
against the temptation to take short cuts to notoriety, and seek a
momentary sensation at the sacrifice of permanent effect. We owe
gratitude to all who have acted upon such principles and won the
influence which comes at last, though it comes slowly, to honest work,
bestowed even upon such shifting materials as political and moral

I have dwelt so far chiefly upon political journalism, because it is so
characteristic a part of modern literature, and illustrates so clearly
some obvious tendencies of the time. I must say something, however, of
another department of literature, which is sometimes said to have
nothing at all to do with morality. The poet or the novelist, it is
suggested, has no duties except that duty which Scheherazade discharged
at the risk of her neck,--the duty of keeping her master amused. If,
instead of telling him stories about genii, she had read him every
morning an orthodox sermon or an ethical discourse, the one thousand and
one nights would have been diminished by one thousand. Am I to tell our
modern Scheherazades to forget the _Arabian Nights_, and adopt for our
use passages from the homilies of Tillotson? Some religious persons have
taken that horn of the dilemma, and perhaps with some plausibility. When
the world is heaving with the throes of a social earthquake, what right
have you or I to be lounging on sofas, telling silly stories about young
ladies' and gentlemen's billings and cooings? Perhaps the condemnation
should be extended to recreations less obviously frivolous. Your
philosopher who tries to distinguish or to identify "is" and "is not,"
and to draw the true line between object and subject, has a very
fascinating plaything, but is perhaps as far from influencing the world.
Judging from the history of past philosophical cobwebs, he might as well
be framing conundrums, or learning how to throw grain through the eye of
a needle.

I only refer to this to say that I am not in favour of suppressing
either art or philosophy. I have a kind of hankering after them in some
forms myself. I assume, without further argument, that Shakespeare, and
Milton, and Wordsworth, and Fielding, and Scott, and Dickens, did well
in devoting themselves to literature, and probably did more to make the
world happier and better than if they had composed sermons or systems of
philosophy. I must, as I said, refrain from pronouncing any set eulogy
upon the services rendered by authors. This only I take for granted. No
one, I think, of any intellectual capacity can remember the early days
when his faculties were ripening, when he wandered, for the pure delight
of wandering, in the enchanted world of the great imaginative writers,
saw through their eyes, and unconsciously caught the contagion of their
sympathies, without feeling a deep gratitude to the men who not only
gave him so much innocent pleasure, but who incidentally refined his
taste and roused his enthusiasm, and quickened his perception of
whatever is beautiful, or heroic, or pathetic, in the moral or the
natural world. The highest literature embodies the instincts by which a
cultivated people differs from the barbarous, and the classes are in a
true sense civilised, which enjoy and appreciate the ennobling as
distinguished from the coarser pleasures, and rise above the merely
brutal life. One who aspires to be a leader, or to follow the steps of
the leaders, in this band of crusaders against barbarism, must surely
have some corresponding duties. I am here upon the edge of certain
troublesome controversies which I shall refrain from discussing at
length. This only I need say. Some great authors explicitly accept the
function of preaching. Milton, and, in later days, Wordsworth,
identified the offices of the prophet and the poet, and set themselves
deliberately to expound an ideal of life, and justify the ways of God to
man. And Milton gave the principle in his famous saying, that he who
would write well hereafter of laudable things must be himself a true
poem. Yet men equally great have impressed readers by their apparent
indifference to such considerations. They accept the new commandment
which, as Emerson tells us, the Muse gave to her darling son, "Thou
shalt not preach". Shakespeare and Scott did not consciously and
deliberately write to set forth any ideal; they even wrote, more or
less, to make money; they were magnificent opulent geniuses, who poured
out their imaginative wealth liberally and spontaneously, without a
thought of any particular moral, simply because their minds were full to
overflowing of great thoughts and vivid images, which they diffused as
liberally as the rose gives its scent. Are we to say that they were
wrong or morally inferior, even if artistically superior, to those who
wrote, like Milton or Dante, with a more definite aim? Must I condemn
Scott because he did not write, like the excellent Miss Edgeworth, or
even like Dickens in some of his stories, to preach consciously that
honesty is the best policy, or that selfishness is a vice; and, if so,
must I not condemn a man from whom I have not only received an
incalculable amount of innocent enjoyment, but imbibed--it is my own
fault if I have not imbibed--many thoughts that have strengthened and
stimulated the best elements of my nature? If I insist upon the moral
influences, am I not confounding the poet and the preacher, and falling
under the lash of I know not how many critical connoisseurs? If I
renounce the preachers, I am renouncing some of the greatest artists,
and indirectly sanctioning even such art as is worthy only of Holywell
Street, and panders to the worst passions.

I will say what I think. Great writers, it seems to me, may be great in
two ways; and the greatest is he who combines them most thoroughly. The
first-rate writer, in the first place, must--to use a frequently
misapplied word--be a thorough realist. He is great in proportion to the
width and depth of the truths which he grasps, and to which he gives the
most perfect expression. When we read Shakespeare at his best, what
strikes us is that he has expressed once for all some home-truth about
human nature and the world, round which all inferior writers seem to
have been blundering without ever achieving a complete utterance. More
generally, every great period of our literature has been marked in one
shape or other by a fresh realism, or what is called the desire to
return to Nature: to get rid of the phrases which have become
conventional and unreal, and express the real living ultimate truth.
Shakespeare and the great men of his time were inspired by such a
passion; they were animated by the desire to "hold the mirror up to
Nature" and to portray real vivid human passion, for they had burst
through the old mediæval chains of theological dogma, and were aroused
to a sudden fresh perception of the beauties which had been unrecognised
and misconceived by ascetic monks. The men of Pope's time, again,
believed in what they, too, called the "religion of Nature," and tried
to hasten the day when enlightened reason should finally crush what
Berkeley called the "pedantry of courts and schools". Wordsworth and his
followers inaugurated a new era by proposing a return to "Nature,"
because the language, which with Pope expressed a real meaning, had
again become the conventional language of a narrow class of critics and
the town. It is in all ages one great function of the imaginative
writers to get rid of mere survivals; to forego the spectacles used by
their ancestors as helps, which have now become encumbrances; to destroy
the formulas employed only to save the trouble of thinking, and make us
see facts directly, instead of being befooled by words. In that sense it
is their great service that they break up the old frost of dreary
commonplace, and give life and power, in place of an acceptance of mere
ossified or fossilised remnants of what once was thought. Briefly, they
teach us to see what is before us. So far the function of the poet
resembles that of the scientific and philosophic observer. He differs
radically in method, because he proceeds by intuition instead of
analysis; shows us the type, instead of cataloguing the attributes of a
class; and gives us a real living man--a Falstaff or a Hamlet--instead
of propounding a psychological theory as to the relations of the will,
the intellect, and the emotions.

I take it, therefore, that realism in this sense is one essential
characteristic of great imaginative power. I hold it to be more than
ever necessary; more necessary because scientific methods of thought are
more developed. It is less possible for a serious writer to make use of
the merely fanciful symbols which were perfectly legitimate as long as
they represented real beliefs, but are now fitter for only the lighter
moods. The greatest writers have to dispense with fairies and fighting
gods and goddesses, and the muses, and to show us a direct portraiture
of the forces by which society is actually moved. But the functions of
the great writer, though they involve a perception of truth, are not
adequately defined by the simple condition of truthfulness. He has to
be--may I say it?--a preacher; he cannot help it; and, so far as he
cannot help it, his preaching will be elevating in proportion as it is
truthful. He does not preach in the sense in which a moralist preaches,
by arguing in favour of this or that doctrine, or expounding the
consequences of opinions. It is not his business to prove, but to see,
and to make you see. But, in another sense, he cannot help preaching,
because his power over you is founded upon sympathy, upon his personal
charms, upon the clearness with which he sees and the vividness with
which he portrays the real nature of the instincts which make men
lovable or hateful. What are really the most fascinating books in the
language? I was impressed the other day by discovering that perhaps the
most popular of all English books, judging by the number of editions, is
Goldsmith's _Vicar of Wakefield_. To what does it owe its popularity?
Obviously to the exquisite keenness of Goldsmith's perception of the
moral beauty of a simple character, which is always saved from the
charge of being unctuous or sentimental by the constant play of gentle
and yet penetrative humour. Do we not love Charles Lamb for a similar
reason? Why, again, do we love Scott, as all men ought to love him? Is
it not because his Jeanie Deans and his Dandie Dinmont, and a hundred
more characters, show the geniality, the manliness as well as the
shrewd common-sense of their creator, and his vivid perception of the
elements which ennoble the national character which he loved so well?
Why does the British public love Dickens so well? For his incomparable
fun, no doubt; but also because the fun is always associated with a keen
perception of certain moral qualities which they regard with, it may be,
excessive admiration. But to give no more examples, I am content to say
that the enduring power of every great writer depends not merely on his
intellectual forces, but upon the charm of his character--the clear
recognition of what it really is that makes life beautiful and
desirable, and of what are the baser elements that fight against the
elevating forces. We are under intellectual obligations to the man of
science who will tell us, for example, how mountain chains have been
raised and carved into their present shape. But we are grateful to the
great poets and prose writers, to Wordsworth and Mr. Ruskin, for
interpreting and stimulating the emotions which make the vision of the
great peaks a source of pure delight. We may, in the same way, thank the
psychologist who can make more intelligible the principle of association
of ideas, or trace the development of the moral sense or the social
affections. But we love the man who, like Goldsmith, and Lamb, and
Scott, and Wordsworth, has revealed to us by actual portraits of
typical characters, the sweetness and tenderness and truthfulness which
may be embodied in humble characters. Love, says Wordsworth, of his
shepherd lord--

     Love had he found in huts where poor men lie,
       His daily teachers had been woods and rills;
     The silence that is in the starry sky,
       The sleep that is among the comely hills.

The power of discovering and of making us discover such thoughts in the
huts of poor men and in natural scenery is the true prerogative of the
poet, and it is to that power that he owes his enduring place in our

I have said this much because I think that it is in a perversion of
these principles that we shall find some of the temptations to which the
author is in these days most liable. I can only glance at them briefly.
One perversion, for example, is indicated by the common use of the
phrase "realism". This word has various meanings; but the commonest,
perhaps, would not be misrepresented by saying that it involves a
confusion between the functions of the man of science and the poet. In a
scientific sense, it is a sufficient reason for setting forth any theory
that you believe it to be true. The facts which you describe may be
hideous and revolting: it is not the less desirable that they should be
accurately known. The poet and novelist may be equally justified in
taking hideous and revolting facts into account. That, for example, is
the duty of a satirist; and I am not at all concerned to say that satire
is illegitimate--I think it perfectly legitimate. I should be the last
to assert that a writer should confine himself to such facts as can be
discussed with decency in presence of a young ladies' school. On the
contrary, I think that, if not the most enviable privilege, it is
sometimes a duty of the novelist to set forth vice and crime, and even,
it may be, to set them forth in impressive and startling shapes. It is
his duty to represent them truly and to make them intelligible; to show
how they may be natural, and not to misrepresent even a villain. All I
say is, that he should also recognise the fact that they are hideous and
revolting. And, therefore, this is no excuse for the man who really
dwells upon such facts, not because they are facts, but because he knows
that such descriptions are the easiest way of attracting morbid tastes;
and that he can get a readier market by being irreverent and indecent
than by other expedients. To defend such work on the excuse of realism
is simply to indulge in a bit of contemptible humbug, too transparent to
need exposure. The purpose of an artist, you say, is to give pleasure,
not to preach. That is perfectly true; but to give pleasure to whom? If
it is to give pleasure to the prurient, to the cynical, to the
debauchee, to give the kind of pleasure which, to a pure-minded man, is
pain, and of which even the blackguard is ashamed, then I will not
quarrel over words, and ask whether it can be truly artistic, but I will
simply reply that I should have a greater respect for a man who lived by
picking pockets. But, you reply, it requires a great deal of skill. So
does picking pockets, and so do some other kinds of human energy which I
need not particularise. If the ethical judgment be really irrelevant
æsthetically, the æsthetic judgment must be irrelevant ethically. If
that doctrine be true, we are, therefore, quite at liberty to say that a
thing may be beautiful and at the same time blackguardly and beastly. I
will, however, express my own conviction, that what is disgusting to a
right-minded man cannot be really beautiful, and that the sentiments
which it offends cannot be put out of court simply because they are
called moral. They have as good a right to be considered as any others.

There is a temptation of the opposite kind: the temptation to what I may
briefly call sentimentalism. The virtue of idealism is as necessary as
the virtue of realism; and every great writer shows his greatness by
combining the two. The contradictory of the real is not properly the
ideal, but the unreal--which is a very different thing. For idealism
means properly, as I take it, that quality in virtue of which a poem or
a fiction does not represent merely the scientific or photographic
reproduction of matters of fact, but incarnates an idea and expresses a
sentiment. A great work imparts to us the impression made upon a mind of
unusual power, reflectiveness, and emotional sensibility by some aspect
of the world in which we all live, but which he can see more vividly
than others. To be really impressive, therefore, it must correspond to
facts and be the genuine product of experience. The erroneous idealism
is that which perverts the truth in order to gain apparent emphasis;
which deals in the impossible, the absurd, and the exaggerated; and
supposes a world which cannot even be better than the actual, because it
cannot exist; which, therefore, has the defect of being arbitrary and
inconceivable. So political Utopias are interesting in proportion as
they suggest a legitimate construction, based upon actual facts and
observed laws of human nature. As soon as we see that they presuppose a
world of monstrosities, of impossible combinations of incompatible
qualities, they become mere playthings. And the same is true of every
work of imagination; as soon as it ceases to have a foundation in
truth--to be other than realistic--it loses its real hold upon our
sympathies. You solve no problem when you call in a god to cut the
knot. This is the tendency of the sentimentalist, who refuses to be
bound by the actual conditions. His creations are ephemeral because only
plausible, even to the imagination, so long as the illusions to which
they are congenial survive. And he probably falls into the further error
that the emotion which he utters becomes as factitious as the laws which
he invents. The man who weeps because he is melted at the sight of
misery, touches us; but when he weeps because he finds it pleasant, or
because he wishes to make a public exhibition of his tenderness of
heart, we find him out by degrees and call him a humbug and a
sentimentalist. Sham feelings and moral facts are the staple of the
sentimentalist and the cause of his inevitable decay.

These remarks may serve to suggest the temptations which most beset the
author in our days, though peculiar to our day only in the degree in
which authorship has become more professional. For the ideal author is
the man who, having discovered truth, desires to reveal it to his
fellows, or, being full of perceptions of beauty, cannot resist the
impulse to embody them in words or outward symbols. But when he desires
also to live by his powers, he is at once in a position of which all
authors know the peril. He becomes self-conscious; for he has a
perpetual poultice of public favour or enmity applied to soften his
fibres, and to make him feel, even in his study, that an eye is upon him
and that he must so act as always to preserve attention. He is tempted
to produce sensation at any cost--to shock and startle by horrors if he
cannot move the sympathies by gentle arts: for a man who cannot command
the pathetic, can, at least, always be disgusting. He can turn our
stomachs if he cannot move our hearts. He is tempted, at least, to
caricature--to show how keen is his perception by crude and glaring
colours, and to indulge in the grotesque as an easy substitute for the
really graphic; he can affect a facile cynicism to show how profound is
his penetration, and display that marvellous knowledge of the world and
the human heart, and that power of discovering the emptiness of all
apparent virtues which is so common an endowment of young gentlemen upon
their first initiation into real experience of life. There is nothing
which the author affects so easily at his first start as the world
weariness which comes from long experience and years of disappointed
hope. And when a man has once gained applause for his sentiment, he
finds himself his own covert rival, and is forced to substitute for the
first "sprightly runnings" a fanciful pumping up of the last dregs of
his old feelings. Nothing, unfortunately, is more common, or could be
more easily illustrated by examples of good writers, than the spectacle
of the veteran trying to reproduce in cold blood the effects which he
struck out spontaneously and unconsciously in youth. And, then, at every
instant the poor author feels that he must keep up with the fashion; he
lives in fear of that verdict which will come some day, that he is an
old fogey, and that he is transgressing those eternal principles which
were discovered by some ingenuous youth a fortnight ago.

Some such danger is, indeed, shared by others than the author. It is the
misfortune of his calling that success with him is intrinsically
associated with notoriety. A man may do good work in many departments of
life, of which no one will ever hear beyond a narrow circle. I hold, for
my part, that the greatest part of the good work which is done in the
world is actually of that kind, and that the best is done for the pure
love of work. The world knows nothing of its greatest men, and as
little, perhaps, of its best. But what would be the good of writing even
a _Hamlet_ or a _Divine Comedy_ if nobody was to read it? Some great
writers, I know, have prided themselves on finding fit audience and few;
and I fully agree that a man who could really influence a few seminal
minds might be well content with such a result of his labours. But,
after all, the genuine aim of a great author must be, directly or
indirectly, to affect the world in which he lives, whether by changing
its beliefs or stimulating its emotions. And, as a rule, he cannot do so
without becoming known, and even known to vast numbers of readers. Some
religious writers, the author, for example, of the _Imitation of
Christ_, have influenced many generations, while absolutely concealing
their identity. Even they must, at least, have desired that their works
should be known; and the case is a rare one. For the author generally,
success of the worthiest kind, success in enlightening, encouraging, and
stimulating his fellow-men, is inextricably connected with success of a
lower kind, the success measured by fame and popularity. That, of
course, is equally the case with statesmanship: a statesman has to
appeal to crowds, and is too apt to be fascinated by thunders of
applause; public oratory, even in the pulpit, is a terrible stimulant to
unworthy vanity. The author only differs in this, that his very function
presupposes a temperament of more than average sensibility; that he does
not get that case-hardening which is administered to the statesman by
the opposition orator; and that publicity has a specially intoxicating
effect upon the man whose proper home is in his study, and who, perhaps,
leaves it only to mix with a circle of reverent admirers.

I have tried to indicate some of the obvious temptations of authors,
especially so far as they are strengthened by the practice of authorship
as a profession. They may be summed up by saying that they tend to
degrade the profession into a trade, and a trade which has as many
tricks as the least elevating kind of business. It would be, perhaps,
desirable to end by deducing some definite moral. But, in the first
place, I think that any such moral as I could give is sufficiently
indicated by the statement of the dangers. And, in the second place, I
do not think that there is any moral that can be regarded as peculiar to
authors. For an author, after all, is a man, and, as all men ought to
be, a workman. His power comes to this, that he is a man with a special
capacity for exciting sympathy. That he should be a good workman,
therefore, goes without saying; and it follows that he should have a
sense of responsibility in whatever department he undertakes; that he
should not bestow his advice upon us without qualifying himself to be a
competent adviser; nor write philosophical speculation without serious
study of philosophy; nor, if possible, produce poetry or even fiction
without filling his mind by observation or training it by sympathy with
the great movements of thought which are shaping the world in which we
live. It is a sort of paradox which cannot be avoided, that we must
warn a man that one condition of all good work is that it should be
spontaneous, and yet tell him that it should be directed to make men
better and happier. It seems to be saying that the conscious pursuit of
a given end would be inconsistent with the attainment of the end. Yet I
believe that this is a paradox which can be achieved in practice on the
simple condition of a reasonable modesty. The author, that is, should
not listen to those who would exaggerate the importance of his work. The
world can get on very well without it; and even the greatest men are far
more the product than the producers of the intellectual surroundings.
The acceptance of that truth--I hold it to be a truth--will help to keep
in check the exaggerated estimate of the importance of making a noise in
the world, which is our besetting sin, and help to make a regulating
principle of what is a theoretical belief, that a man who is doing
honestly good work in any department, whether under the eyes of a
multitude or of a few, will be happiest if he can learn to take pleasure
in doing it thoroughly rather than in advertising it widely. And,
finally, with that conviction we shall be less liable to the common
error of an author who grumbles at his want of success, and becomes
morbid and irritable and inclined to lower his standard, when in reality
he ought to remember that he is as unreasonable as a marksman who
should complain of the target for keeping out of the line of fire. "It
is my own fault" is often a bitter reflection, but a bitter may be a
very wholesome tonic.


When the Preacher exclaimed, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," he did
not exclude his own wisdom. "I communed with my own heart, saying, Lo, I
am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all that have
gone before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart hath great experience of
wisdom and knowledge. And I gave my heart to know wisdom and to know
madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. For
in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge
increaseth sorrow." The Preacher, whoever he may have been, has uttered
thoughts upon which many eloquent followers have expatiated. More than
two thousand years have passed since the words were written;
philosophies have risen and spread and decayed; and yet, in this year
1895, can we say that they have brought more than a multiplication of
doubt? Has the increase of knowledge as yet diminished sorrow, or
established any firm standing ground from which we may look upon the
universe and say that the eternal riddle is, I will not say solved, but
brought a step nearer to solution? A great poet--I can't tell whether
he lived in the twelfth or the nineteenth century, for the phrase is
equally characteristic of either Omar Khayyam or Edward
Fitzgerald--gives the same thought:--

     Myself, when young, did eagerly frequent
     Doctor and saint, and heard great argument
     About it and about: but evermore
     Came out by the same door as in I went.

What, indeed, are eight or twenty centuries in the life even of this
planet? There are moments at which we all have suddenly felt by flashes
the sensation of being suspended in vast abysses of space and time: when
we see, for example, a chart of the heavens which has been recently
revealed to us by astronomers, and find that spaces between the stars
shown to us by ordinary eyesight are filled in every direction with
world beyond world, vast systems of worlds, worlds in every stage of
evolution, growing out of nebulous vapour or sinking into eternal
coldness: while the imagination is staggered and bewildered by the
inconceivable vastness of the spaces indicated, and its own
infinitesimal pettiness. If we stroll into a museum and look at the
petrified bones of some grotesque monster, and after rejoicing, perhaps,
that there is an end of him, we are struck by the thought of the vast
lapse of ages during which he was being slowly hammered out of some
mere primitive form, and then slowly decayed, and was gradually elbowed
out of existence by monsters a degree less preposterous than himself,
and gain a new measure of the portentous lapse of time. The greatest of
poets has summed up the impression in the phrase which Carlyle was fond
of quoting: "we are such stuff as dreams are made of": and our little
speck of existence a vanishing quantity in comparison of the infinite
above and below and around us, which we dimly infer though we cannot
distinctly realise it. If in such a mood, common at times to all who can
think or feel, we take up some philosophical work, and find the writer
complacently setting forth a cosmogony or a theory of the Universe;
explaining how things came into being; what is the reason why they are
not better or worse; what is the end of the whole drama: are we not
justified in exclaiming with Carlyle:--

     The builder of this Universe was wise,
     He planned all souls, all systems, planets, particles:
     The plan he shaped all worlds and æons by
     Was--Heavens!--was thy small nine-and-thirty articles!

Carlyle has been, to some of us, the most stimulating of writers, just
because he succeeded in expressing, with unsurpassed power, the emotion
which I must be content with indicating--the emotion which is roused by
sudden revelations of the infinitudes, the silences and eternities that
surround us. We cannot keep it permanently before us; the present
absorbs us, and its little interests seem to be all that is important.
It is only at moments when, for example, we reflect that our action of a
minute ago is already a part of the mysterious past, sinking downwards,
and rapidly becoming invisible in the depths of the infinite ocean, that
we are startled by a momentary pang, and feel as though to live with a
constant sense of our insignificance would be to risk the paralysis of
all our powers of thought and action. That way, we are inclined to say,
lies madness. We shall lose our heads if we gaze too long into such
tremendous depths. Possibly we may restore our equilibrium by meditating
upon the infinitesimal, though possibly too we may rather feel that such
meditations only reveal another infinite. I intended to make a few
reflections suggested by such thoughts, when I found a guide, and, to a
great extent, an ally, in a writer who has lately taken up the ancient
parable. Mr. Balfour, in a book rather quaintly entitled _Foundations of
Belief_ has dwelt upon the vanity of all known philosophy, and has
shown, or appears to some of his readers to have endeavoured to show,
that it is hopeless to lay any sound foundations on the little film of
knowledge beneath which lie the great unknown abysses. He tries to
indicate some other basis, though, so far as I can understand him, the
foundations of his edifice are ingeniously supported by the
superstructure; and that is a kind of architecture which, to my mind,
lacks stability. Through a large part of his argument, however, I find
myself in the pleasanter position of an ally. He asserts, and I doubt
whether any competent thinker would materially differ from him, that
there does not, as a matter of fact, exist any established system of
philosophic truth--any system upon which we can rely, as we do, in fact,
rightly or wrongly rely, upon certain scientific doctrines. We no more
doubt the truth of the Newtonian system of astronomy than we doubt that
fire burns or that bread nourishes. But the briefest glance at the old
systems of philosophy shows us, as Mr. Balfour says, nothing but
imperishable ruins--imperishable æsthetically--but, logically, mere
crumbling fragments. We can still read Plato with delight; but the
delight is due to the beauty of style and exposition, not, certainly, to
the conviction produced by his reasoning. Aristotle's philosophy is a
marvel--for his time: but his theory of the Universe is no more tenable
than his Natural Science. The luxuriant growths of later Greek
philosophy are interesting only to the curious investigators of the
pathology of the human intellect. The vast development of scholastic
philosophy in the middle ages showed only how far unlimited ingenuity
and subtlety may lead in the wrong direction, if it starts with mistaken
principles. It ended by upsetting the doctrines which it attempted to
prove, and had finally to commit suicide, or fall before the
insurrection of living thought. The great men who revolted against its
tyranny in its later stages constructed new systems, which, to them,
seemed demonstrable, but which, to us, are already untenable. We cannot
accept Descartes, or Spinoza, or Leibnitz, or Bacon, or Hobbes, or
Locke, as giving satisfactory or even coherent systems, or as having
done more than lead to the thorough scepticism of Hume. If Kant
presented one solution of the difficulties in which philosophy was
landed, we have still to ask what precisely Kant meant; whether his
criticism was simply all-destructive, or really left anything standing,
and, if so, what it left standing; and who represents the proper line of
development. Shall we, with Schopenhauer, pronounce Hegel to be a
thorough impostor? and, if so, can we seriously accept Schopenhauer's
own system? If, here and there, some people accept his theories for
literary purposes, nobody will maintain that they rest upon any
permanently settled foundation. If, again, we believe in Hegel, we have
to make out what we mean by believing in Hegel, and to which school of
his followers we are to attach ourselves. I need not consider the
polemic which Mr. Balfour has directed against the writers who have
given a version of Hegelian principles in England. Personally, I agree
with his criticisms in a general way; but I fancy that even the
adherents of those principles would defend themselves mainly by
declaring that they do not make such pretensions as he ascribes to them.
They try, at most, to indicate a way of approaching, not of solving the
problems. But, at least, they would claim to have done one thing:
namely, to have proved the inadequacy of the rival system of empirical
philosophy, accepted by the English followers of Locke, and now mainly
represented for us by Mr. Herbert Spencer. I only add to this, that it
is not a question of the convictions of any individual thinker, however
eminent. Philosophies of every different variety have been not merely
accepted by those who first devised them, but have been taken up in good
faith by whole schools of disciples; they have been tested, on a large
scale, by systematic application to all relevant questions, and one
after the other has become bankrupt; has lost its hold on the world, and
confessed that it leaves the riddle as dark as it was before. All that
can be claimed for the greatest philosophers is, that they have, at
least, proved that certain paths which seemed to lead through the
labyrinth, end in a deadlock; that they have exposed certain fallacies
by the process of provisionally believing in them; and that they have
buoyed certain shoals, and demonstrated that no channel leads in what
seemed to be a promising direction. Is there any channel open?

Once more, I might follow--I might even, if I had time, expand Mr.
Balfour's argument in another direction. He has pointed out--not for the
first time certainly--how men's beliefs are due not to reasoning, but to
countless causes which prevent them from reasoning. The argument is too
familiar, indeed, to require much emphasis. Some one, arguing in the
days of the old orthodoxy upon the necessity of the true faith to
salvation, put the case of a couple of infants deserted by their
parents. One of them is carried off by a Mohammedan and the other by a
Christian. Each will, of course, adopt the faith of the party into whose
hands it has fallen; and the problem was, whether the infant seized by
the Mohammedan would be eternally damned, and the one taken by the
Christian go straight to heaven; and whether, on the whole, that would
satisfy our sense of justice. The argument implies the inevitableness of
error. Men not only do, but ought to hold, contradictory opinions. Take
a Scottish Davie Deans, brought up in the shadow of John Knox's pulpit;
a Tyrolese peasant, educated in the Catholic Church; and a Mohammedan,
living at Mecca; and, of course, it is plain, not only that each will
accept the creed which pervades what is for him the whole world known to
him, but that as a reasoning being each is probably in the right. That
is to say, the accessible evidence is in each case overwhelmingly in
favour of the doctrine, inasmuch as the supposed reasoner is entirely
unaware of the evidence which might be produced on the other side. But
what is true of the peasant is true of the philosopher. Measured on a
sufficient scale, the difference vanishes. This intellectual horizon is
just as much limited, though not so narrowly limited. No one but a bigot
would deny that a mediæval philosopher might accept on perfectly
reasonable grounds the dogmas of the Catholic Church. The historical
difficulties had not even been presented to his mind. He had no reason
for doubting innumerable assumptions as to fact which have since turned
out to be erroneous; and if the method of his reasoning was itself
fundamentally vicious, the fact only came to light gradually in the
process of working out the results. We--including in the "we" the
philosophers--have to approach truth by the help of assumptions, and by
trying how in point of fact they will work; it is so hard to remember
that they are only assumptions that we generally call them self-evident
truths. Considering how many assumptions are involved even in the very
structure of language itself; how we are led into all kinds of
difficulties by the essential instrument of thought, which has been
fashioned by the unconscious logic of our ancestors; it is not strange
that the best that can be said of philosophies is, that they represent
convenient working hypotheses. That, at least, seems to be a liberal
view of their logical value. In another sense they are really to be
considered as poetry, rather than as logic. They are modes of presenting
certain conceptions of the world by apparently logical formulæ, instead
of by concrete imagery; but, substantially, they represent the emotions
with which men regard their dwelling place, and are radically imperfect
if we insist upon considering them as providing us with correct plans
and drawings of its various arrangements.

Let us look for a moment at another set of reflections upon which Mr.
Balfour touches. What has been the influence of these systems upon men's
lives? Have these provisional constructions, these fluctuating,
conflicting, unstable combinations of pretentious formulæ, really
decided or directed the course of human history? It would seem so, if
you read certain histories of philosophy. They seem to suggest that the
hinge upon which all the course of human affairs ultimately turns is
the growth of certain metaphysical conceptions. There is a preliminary
difficulty in seeing how such pretensions can be established. The
philosopher in his study or his lecture room discusses problems in which
the enormously preponderating majority of the race has so little
interest, that it is not even aware that there are any such problems to
be discussed. He lays down dogmas so vague and unsatisfactory that half
his hearers give up the attempt to understand, or understand them in a
sense which the more intelligent half would utterly repudiate; and that
intelligent half is itself divided into different schools, interpreting
the dogmas in radically contradictory ways. Is it not hard to believe
that speculation leads to vast results, when for ninety-nine men out of
a hundred it is practically non-existent, and with the small minority it
amounts to providing new weapons for endless controversy? We must, of
course, admit that men's conduct is in some sense determined by their
thoughts. Change the radical beliefs, and you will certainly change the
whole constitution of society. And, again, it is obvious that in one
sphere of thought the progress of inquiry is of vast importance. Nobody
can deny that scientific and mechanical discoveries have, for good or
evil, materially affected our lives. The great inventions of modern
times, from gunpowder and printing to the steam-engine and electricity,
have changed things as much as if they had altered the physical
constitution of the world. They have indeed altered it for us, for they
have given us the means of applying forces previously dormant, and
therefore for practical purposes non-existent. Such beliefs have an
immediate bearing upon the practices of ordinary human beings. But if we
are to set down all philosophies as at once untenable and as absolutely
unknown to the enormous majority of mankind, it becomes difficult to
understand by what process they come to influence, or apparently to
influence, the position of the race. A philosopher frames his scheme of
the universe to his own satisfaction; but you and I hear nothing about
it, and do not trouble ourselves to understand it, and go on working
with our good old common-sense conceptions of things, leaving it to the
philosopher to construct or destroy the fanciful system which he somehow
supposes to lie beneath them. One answer is of course obvious. Religious
and ethical systems, it is said, presuppose a philosophy: no one denies
that men are profoundly affected by the gods whom they worship and the
rules of conduct which they adopt; and therefore the sceptic who is
burrowing at the base may be ruining the whole superstructure, although
his operations are no more obvious upon the surface than those of some
minute parasite. Accordingly, we are often told that revolutions are
ultimately produced by speculation; and that old systems fall with a
crash because some shrewd witness has been boring into the foundations
upon which they really repose. The French Revolution, according to one
familiar statement, was due to the freethinkers who had set about prying
into the ultimate grounds of the old faith, and had succeeded in shaking
the convictions necessary to social welfare.

That this argument expresses a truth is what I am so far from denying
that I should be most anxious to give it emphasis. But what is precisely
the truth expressed? Destroy the belief in a church as a social system,
and the organisation will crumble. But what is the real cause of the
loss of belief? Is it the logical argument that is effective? Does the
philosophical revolution underlie the political or religious revolution,
or is that to invert cause and effect? Let me take an example to
illustrate my meaning. The doctrine of the "rights of man," proclaimed
by the whole revolutionary school, was, it is said, the cause of the
revolution. The destruction of the old order was caused by the sudden
conviction which spread through Europe of the truth of this theory, and
the consequent decay of the old authority. Now we may proceed, if we
please, to trace the origin of this doctrine back through certain
speculations to the days of the Roman jurists, themselves influenced by
the Stoical philosophy. The view suggested is that the doctrine was a
kind of germ, a something which preserved its vitality through
centuries, like the bacteria of modern physiologists, and which,
somehow, developed a baleful or a beneficial activity about a century
ago, and changed all the conditions of social equilibrium. But, if this
be true, we naturally remark that the potency of the doctrine must have
been due, not to the doctrine itself, which lay dormant so long, but to
the conditions which suddenly made it effective. The doctrine, indeed,
is so obvious, in a sense, that it is not to be doubted that anybody who
once began to philosophise about laws and political constitutions, after
they had reached a certain stage, would hit upon it in one shape or
another. It is not comparable to those scientific discoveries which
require patient thought and a dexterous combination of arguments: but
one of the primary axioms which present themselves on the very threshold
of inquiry. The mediæval peasant who put the question:--

     When Adam delved, and Eve span,
     Who was then the gentleman?

was, probably, no great philosopher; but he was giving the essential
pith of the doctrine of liberty, fraternity, and equality. It may be
regarded as an obvious logical canon, converted by an illegitimate
process into a statement of fact. If I make any general statement
whatever about men or beasts or stones, I, of course, assume that there
is a corresponding class of things in respect of each of which the
proposition is equally true. As soon as I say anything, therefore, about
morality or politics, which is intended to be true of men in general, I
assume, in this sense, that men are so far equal that something may be
predicated, indifferently, of every member of the class man. It is very
natural and easy to convert this into the proposition that the concrete
men of whom I am speaking are, in some sense, actually equal. In doing
so, however, I am either making a false statement, or begging the
question. As a matter of fact, men are, in many respects, as far as
possible from being equal. The real question, therefore, is whether the
inequalities which undoubtedly exist are or are not relevant to the
political inequalities which I have to consider. As a matter of fact,
the inequalities which were challenged by the revolutionary writers
were, as I think, and as most of us think, entirely unjustifiable. At
any rate, they had, as a matter of fact, produced widespread discontent
and bitter antipathies between classes. It was the existence of these
antipathies to which the outbreak was due. The peasant, for example,
felt that he was forced to give up the fruit of his labour to the noble,
and that the noble was discharging no duty to justify his demands. The
peasant, probably, could not read; he was unaware that Rousseau or
Voltaire was laying down principles which would cover his case; he had
never even heard of philosopher or philosophy; only, when the time was
ripe, when the upper orders had become useless, and the lower classes
had accumulated a sufficient quantity of passion, of indignant or
vindictive feeling, an outraged sense of justice, the crash came, and
any formula which would cover the particular case was acceptable. The
doctrine then made its fortune; not because it was true, or because it
was demonstrable, but because it gave the shortest and simplest
expression to the prevailing sentiment. The philosophical dogma, which
had been lying idle for generations, doing no particular harm or good,
was, suddenly, converted into a war-cry, the more effective because the
real vagueness and uncertainty of its application enabled those who used
it to save themselves the trouble of thinking or arguing. Instead of
substituting particular grievances, and showing that this or that
inequality in general was useless and objectionable, they could, in half
a dozen words, denounce all inequality, and be perfectly satisfied with
a formula which was imposing for its generality, though true only in its
particular application.

I take this familiar case, not only as familiar, but because it seems to
me to be typical. Similar general remarks might, I fancy, be made about
any of the great religious movements which have, undoubtedly, most
profoundly affected human society. They are not due to the philosophers;
to the abstract meditations of refined thinkers upon ultimate
principles; but to great underlying social changes. Our Christian
apologists of the last century held the quaint belief that a new creed
was caused by the occurrence of certain miraculous facts, susceptible of
legal proof. It is sufficiently obvious to us that this is to invert the
process. Given the faith, and there is never any difficulty in supplying
the miracles. No quantity of assertions as to miraculous events would
have the slightest effect, unless there were a predisposition to accept
them. The same answer applies to the theory that a new religion owes its
success to the discovery of new moral truths. In the first place, there
are, properly speaking, no sudden discoveries in morality; and in the
next place, the mere statement of a moral doctrine, and even the
presentation of a lofty moral type, can have little importance unless
the soil is already prepared, and the doctrine is but the overt
utterance of the sentiments which are seeking for expression. The only
explanation that we can give of such events is the social explanation.
There are periods, that is in history, when the old order is out of
joint; when society has outgrown the institutions which were adequate at
a previous stage, and when, therefore, the beliefs associated with them
become oppressive, and can no longer pass without challenge; when
different races and nations have been brought into collision or
combination, and crushed together into new forms by conquest and
commerce; when, therefore, the several creeds are no longer supported by
the patriotism which has ceased to have a meaning; when a vast amalgam
of different faiths and modes of life has been formed out of many
heterogeneous elements; and thus a need is created for some wider and
more comprehensive system of belief corresponding to the general needs
of society. In that case the influence of the philosopher may be of some
importance, because he can do something towards suggesting the most
workable compromise, and of exposing superstitions which have lost their
old support, and the instinctive loyalty of their adherents. Even then
his voice will not be predominant. The creed will survive which is most
suited to the state of the average intellect; it will include a large
element of the ancient modes of thought, which still insist upon
finding some satisfaction, and which, indeed, have a strange vitality
beneath the surface, even when explicitly disavowed by the official
interpreters of the faith.

Now, if this be accepted as a rough sketch of the actual course of the
development of belief, what is the conclusion as to the philosopher's
function? Does it go to suggest that philosophy is but a vanity and
vexation of spirit, and does it reduce the philosopher to a humbler
position than is sometimes claimed for him? My answer would be, in the
first place, that the case against philosophy would have to be frankly
admitted if the criterion sometimes tacitly suggested be the true one.
Nothing could be more hopeless than the claim of any philosophy whatever
to have laid down a definitively satisfactory plan of things in general.
When Mr. Balfour observes that an Aristotle or Aquinas or Descartes has
not laid down a tenable theory of the universe, I can only add that the
very phrase--theory of the universe--conveys a sufficient refutation. It
is idle, or worse than idle, to imagine that we can lay down, or even
hope to lay down, anything of the kind. It needs only one of those
glances into the surrounding infinities which I have suggested, or the
briefest survey of the history of philosophy, to reveal the sheer
impossibility of the attempt. No one, perhaps, ever quite imagined that
his speculation could really lay bare the ultimate ground plan of things
in general. But, certainly, philosophers have, at times, thought, or
spoken as if they thought, that they could construct a body of first
principles which should be to knowledge in general what a science is to
some particular application,--the general theory of physics, for
example, to astronomy. Philosophy would then be a system of such
ultimate principles. The day for such systems has, I think, passed. We
have learnt that it is for ever impossible to spin real knowledge out of
pure logic. What the universe, or the little bit of it that we know,
actually is, can only be learnt by experience; and if experience
presupposes categories or forms of intuition, still, without experience,
they remain empty; as incapable of producing truth as a mill of grinding
flour without corn. Philosophers must admit that on such terms we get
only "brain cobwebs"; ingenious feats of intellectual legerdemain, where
the operator shows his skill by dexterously hiding away his assumptions,
and bringing them out at the end as triumphantly demonstrated
conclusions. The more modest ideal, which is now presented to us, is
what is called the unification of knowledge. That means, no doubt, that
we have to bring our theories into harmony and consistency; to get rid
of the hypothetical and conjectural elements which have intruded
themselves from earlier and cruder speculation; and so to analyse the
primary factors of thought and the most general conceptions, that we may
not have to assume in one relation what we dispute in another. Even this
process is, no doubt, exceedingly difficult; it is difficult partly
because the human mind has, generally speaking, to begin at the wrong
end; to proceed upon postulates which break down here and there and
leave inconvenient fragments remaining elsewhere; partly because some
philosophers are still open to the charge that they raise a dust and
then complain that they cannot see; and, briefly, because, in one way or
other, what with the dulness of the ordinary mind and what with the
over-subtlety of the acute, our thoughts and beliefs have got into
intricate tangles, which will require enormous patience and judgment to
wind off and weave into a satisfactory tissue. Genuine philosophers,
doubtless, will learn in time how to set about the work. It will
probably strike them that instead of evolving pretentious systems of
theology, and ethics, and politics, and art, each purporting to give an
exhaustive theory of the subject, and each destined to melt away,
leaving some infinitesimal residuum of real suggestion, they will have
to follow a slower method of gradual and tentative investigation. If
so, we must undoubtedly assign to philosophy a more modest position than
has sometimes been claimed for it. It must resign its claim to a vision
of transcendental realities, to a knowledge of things in themselves, and
of the ultimate groundwork of the universe. It has not, I hold, a
subject-matter peculiar to itself; it reveals no principles belonging to
a separate sphere of thought; it corresponds simply to the attempt to
correct and harmonise the cruder thoughts of the average human being,
and to state explicitly in their purity the principles which have been
all along implicitly involved in his ordinary observations. It is,
therefore, not a substantive, but an adjective; philosophy is not a
distinct department of thought, and cannot be defined by itself. All we
can say is, that we think philosophically in so far as we think rightly.
When our mode of conceiving the world includes no heterogeneous or
conflicting element, we shall be philosophers; but we shall not, in that
capacity, have a separate dominion of our own.

Now, it will probably do no harm to philosophers more than to other men,
to be impressed with a sense of modesty and a right appreciation of the
necessary limitations of their enterprise. You have been trying to soar
beyond the atmosphere, and you will make the better use of your wings
when you learn that they won't support you in a vacuum. Your failure is
not due to the want of aquiline powers of flight, but to the melancholy
truth that even an eagle can't do much in an air-pump. Is not that a
rather consoling reflection? But here the philosopher begins to be
recalcitrant. You are not lowering my pretensions, he says, but
attacking the power of man to attain truth upon any terms. All that is
given to us in experience is the effect of underlying causes; if the
causes vary the effects would vary; and, unless, therefore, you can get
back to the cause, your knowledge must remain empirical and radically
uncertain. Destroy all transcendental truths, and the phenomenal world
itself becomes a mere shifting phantasmagoria, on which we can trace
only coincidences and sequences, but are entirely unable to say that
they will ever recur again. The argument, of course, raises the
recollection of library upon library of controversy. I can only touch
one point. Practically, we do not trouble ourselves about this
difficulty. We are quite convinced that we know a great many things: we
are sure that the sun will rise and set to-morrow; we have no doubt as
to the properties of the ordinary objects, of trees and stones and
steam-engines; every action of our lives implies a certain confidence in
what is called the uniformity of nature; and it is plain enough that
even if our knowledge be, in some sense, only a knowledge of
probabilities, yet, from its effect upon conduct, it may be exactly the
same as a knowledge of certainties. There may be an indefinite distance
between the "necessary truth" that two and two make four and the
empirical truth that a stone will fall; but if all the evidence
attainable goes to prove that the stone will fall, I should be as
foolish not to act upon that hypothesis as not to assume the truth of
the arithmetical formula. Now, it is, of course, the growth within
recent generations of vast systems of such truths which has alarmed the
philosopher. He contrasts his own fluctuating and conflicting dogmas
with the steady growth and assured results and mutual confirmation of
the established physical sciences. He fears that they will obtain a
prestige which will enable them to crush him and sweep his pretended
knowledge into the limbo of alchemy and astrology and scholastic
logomachy. Here comes in the argument which is really the keystone of
Mr. Balfour's whole theory; and, as I cannot accept it, I must dwell
upon its true nature. It looks, at first sight, like a retort upon the
men of science. Your knowledge, he seems to say, is as vain as your
antagonist's. Your physics, and astronomy, and chemistry, and physiology
are mere empty shows, like the metaphysical theories that have gone to
their long home in histories of philosophy. But to say this would be to
accept complete scepticism, and a kind of scepticism which Mr. Balfour
would, I am sure, disavow. He believes, of course, just as strongly as
any one of us believes, in the astronomical theories of Newton and
Laplace; or in the mathematical theories of the great physical sciences.
That in which he disbelieves is a kind of bastard science called
"naturalism," which, as he tells us, leads to contradictory or
incoherent results. The naturalist, it appears, proposes to confine
himself to the evidence of the senses, and ends by accepting a view of
the world entirely inconsistent with the sensible perceptions. I see a
green field: an object which has visual and other properties recognised
by my organs of sense. No, says this misguided naturalist, you do not
see what you suppose; what really happens is, that there is a vast
whirlpool of atoms impinging upon each other and setting up vibrations,
the last set of which is communicated to another set of atoms, called my
optic nerve. These atoms, by their very nature imperceptible to the
senses, are the only realities. We thus start from the senses and we get
a world beyond the senses, a world which is a mere dance of infinite
multitudes of bits of matter performing all manner of extraordinary
gyrations and evolutions. The sensible impressions of colour, sound, and
so forth, are mere illusions, somehow arising in a figment called the
mind. This mind is a mere phantom--an unreal spectator of things and
events, among which it has no place, and upon which it exercises no

Now, let me say first that I agree with Mr. Balfour that the doctrine
thus imputed to the "naturalist" is absurd. I do not believe, for I
cannot believe, that I am only a dance of atoms. I "cannot" believe, I
say, for the words are to me meaningless. My sensations and emotions are
to me the typical realities. I cannot doubt the real existence of pain
and pleasure, grief and joy, whatever else I may doubt. I believe, for
example, that my toothache is a reality; and nobody will ever persuade
me that it is merely a set of molecular changes in my tooth. That it, in
some way, is dependent upon such changes I fully believe; but that is
quite a different statement. And, secondly, I agree with Mr. Balfour (or
with what I take to be Mr. Balfour's belief) that the scientific
doctrines which are reached by help of these atoms are established
truths. I believe those doctrines, not because I am convinced by the
arguments, which I may not have examined or be capable of examining; nor
simply because I trust, though I do trust, in the ability and the
candour of the scientific reasoners; but because the doctrines can be
and have been independently verified. I believe, that is, in modern
astronomy because it has enabled modern astronomers to predict eclipses,
and enabled Adams and Leverrier to discover Neptune. That is the
conclusive proof; for it is impossible to suppose that the power of
prediction should be a result of erroneous belief, and such proofs are
verifiable by anybody who can observe the phenomena.

Here, then, we have the difficulty, the difficulty upon which the whole
of Mr. Balfour's argument depends. Solve it, and the whole sceptical
argument crumbles. The naturalistic theory, we both say, is incredible.
The scientific doctrines based upon it are, as we both admit,
unassailable. How is this? I reply, first, because the atoms represent
nothing more than a logical scaffolding which enables us to infer one
set of sensible phenomena from another. We start from phenomena and we
end with phenomena. When we have discovered the so-called "law"--the
connecting formula--we can remove the hypothesis as the engineer can
remove the provisional supports when he has once got the keystone into
his arch. That this is so appears, I think, from the whole scientific
procedure. How is the atomic theory obtained? Not by any direct
observation of atoms themselves. They are, as Mr. Balfour says, not only
not objects of observation, but incapable by their nature of ever being
directly observed. The man of science begins by saying, _if_ the
phenomena of light correspond in some way to a vibration of atoms, the
atoms must vibrate in such and such ways. He finds, again, that the laws
so discovered will give the law of other phenomena of light; and he
argues quite correctly that his hypothesis is for his purpose verified.
That is, it has enabled him to discover a verifiable and verified
formula. In order to do this he has assumed from the very first the
theory which of course appears in his conclusions. All physical science
consists ultimately in giving definite formulæ in terms of space and
time. It is therefore assumed that the atoms are to have no qualities
except those which are definable in terms of space. We exclude any other
quality because our whole purpose is to obtain purely geometrical
measurements. We have asked how those atoms, infinitesimal bits, so to
speak, of solid space, arranged in certain positions, must move in order
to correspond to the law given by observation, and we have therefore, of
course, predetermined that our answer must come out in terms of atoms.

But, now, what is the error of the "naturalist"? Simply that he has
converted the scientific doctrine into an ontological doctrine. He
really knows nothing, and cannot possibly know anything, about his
atoms, except just this, that they give the law of the phenomena. He
has nothing whatever to say to them in any other relation. If he
proceeds, as Mr. Balfour says that he proceeds, to declare that nothing
exists except atoms, that they are the ultimate realities, that they are
"things in themselves," or objects independent of any subject, he is
going beyond his tether, passing from science to transcendental
metaphysics, and getting into hopeless confusion. In fact, after he has
done his worst we may still follow Berkeley and deny the existence of
matter, or declare with Clifford that atoms are only bits of mindstuff,
or adopt any other metaphysical theory we please. The atoms at most are
things which we judge from the analogy of the senses; and it is a pure
illusion to suppose that they can ever take us into an extra-sensible
world. They represent not only a convenient but an indispensable
contrivance for enabling us to formulate scientific laws, such as those
of light and heat; but they take us no further.

In a remarkable passage, Mr. Balfour sketches an analogy, which gives
the application of this to philosophical or theological questions; and I
will venture to give my own interpretation of the argument because it
seems to lead to the real point. We believe, he says, in a scientific
theory of heat, although our view of the "realities" has changed. People
once thought that heat was a substance. They now hold it to be a mode
of motion. Yet our "scientific faith" (our faith, I suppose, that things
are hot, and that their heat varies according to certain assigned laws)
remains unaffected. On the other hand, he says, if we cease to believe
in the Christian doctrine of the atonement, we cease also to have that
"sense of reconciliation" between God and man which the doctrine was
intended to explain. This he seems to regard as a kind of melancholy
paradox. Why is the scepticism harmless in science and fatal in
theology? First, what are the admitted facts? A man of science propounds
a theory of heat. If his theory does not give us the observed laws, we
reject it and adopt a more successful theory. In any case, we, of
course, continue to believe in heat. We may know facts without knowing
their causes; as, for example, the fact of gravitation, which is not the
less certain because it is at present an ultimate fact. Otherwise our
knowledge would be limited indeed; for even if the cause (in the
scientific sense) were given, we should still have to ask, what is the
cause of that cause? If heat is due to certain systems of atoms, we
might still inquire how the atoms came to occupy their places, and
possess the properties which they actually have. An effect "depends
upon" a cause, as we naturally say; but it does not follow that the
knowledge of the effect depends upon the knowledge of the cause. Now,
what are the facts which correspond to the facts of heat in the theory
of the atonement? If we believe in a certain being, an anthropomorphic
deity, who will punish us or reward us, it is, of course, obvious that
if we cease to believe in him we shall cease to desire to be reconciled
to him. So if I believed that the warmth of my house depended upon a
fire next door, and then discovered that no such fire existed, I should
of course cease to care about lighting it. In this there is nothing
which wants explanation. I suppose, therefore, that what Mr. Balfour
means is, that if men have certain emotions,--remorse, for example, or
what is called a conviction of sin,--and then learn to reject the theory
by which these emotions were explained, they cease also to feel the
emotions. In fact, he emphatically accepts the view that, if we cease to
accept theology, we shall cease to be moral. The perversity of a few
wretched "naturalists" in continuing to be moral is explained as a case
of survival; the moral naturalist is the parasite who draws his
sustenance from the organism which he infests. Let us consider the
scientific analogy. I believe in heat, and I accept a scientific theory
just as far as it gives me verified laws of heat. I believe, too, in the
existence of conscience; that is, I believe that people have real
emotions, such as remorse and shame, which correspond to the name. I
hold that to be a fact of experience. It would have to be explained,
again, so far as explanation is possible, by psychology in the first
instance, as heat must be explained by scientific theories. Remorse is a
fact, as heat is a fact; and an explanation would consist in giving
accurately its place in the moral organism and the laws of its
operation. The explanation furnished by any given psychology, by
"association," for example, must be accepted or rejected in so far as it
explains or fails to explain the facts. If some theory about spiritual
"monads" enabled us to show what the conscience is, and how it is, in
fact, stimulated or suppressed, we should accept it in the same way as
we accept the physical theory of heat. As yet, I need hardly say, no
such result has been achieved; and psychology is still far too vague to
offer any definite laws of the emotional nature. But in any case, how
can a theory about facts make the facts themselves vanish? Would not
grief be real just as pain would be real if we could clearly explain how
and why it occurred? Why should the "sense of reconciliation" vanish
because we show the conditions of its existence? The reason of Mr.
Balfour's difficulty, I think, appears from what I have said. In the
physical theory we can draw the line clearly between the scientific and
the philosophical spheres. Mr. Balfour can accept the scientific truth,
though he does not accept the doctrine which results from translating it
into ontology. But the boundary between psychology and philosophy is far
less distinct. We constantly confound questions about the constitution
of man, as known to us by experience, with questions about supposed
intuitions of ultimate truth. The fact that sin causes remorse is
interpreted as meaning that remorse actually is a knowledge of an
avenging deity; and when the emotion is thus identified with the belief,
it becomes easy to suppose that to destroy the belief is also to destroy
the emotion. I think, indeed, that fallacies of that kind are among the
commonest in philosophical writings. Now, of course, psychology has
something to say in this matter. It may help, and I think that it has
helped us to explain how men come to believe in anthropomorphic deities,
and to invest them with the attributes of human rulers. But in that way
it tends to show not that the conscience is caused by the belief, but to
show how, under certain conditions, it has given rise to a belief by
other than logical grounds. It suggests no probability that the
conscience will disappear with the fallacy, but only that it will act
differently when enlightened by a different logic. Conscience
disappears no more than heat disappears, when both are explained; though
the conduct which the emotions or the sensations determine will, of
course, be affected.

And now, I can say what I take to be the difficulty, and the escape. Mr.
Balfour draws a kind of parallel between the scientific creed, which is,
as he would put it, "based upon" a metaphysical doctrine, and the
theological creed, which has a similar foundation. If the metaphysical
foundation is so uncertain in both cases, must not the scientific be as
uncertain as the theological? If we know nothing about atoms, or, on the
other hand, about souls, we must be either sceptical in both cases, or
credulous in both. There are the same underlying difficulties, and if we
manage to overlook them in the case of science, why not overlook them in
the case of theology? Conversely, if we elect to be sceptics in
theology, how can we escape from scepticism in science? And, as a
thorough-going scepticism is, doubtless, an impossible state of mind in
practice, the conclusion of many people will be to accept belief in
spite of certain gaps in our logical foundations. This, no doubt, is
eminently convenient for the "constructive" process adumbrated by Mr.
Balfour, which I certainly regard as extra-logical. But is any such
dilemma really offered to us? The obvious answer is, that scientific
truth, as Mr. Balfour admits, is not "based upon" metaphysical theory.
The astronomical doctrine of a Newton remains equally valid, whatever is
the ultimate nature of space or laws or atoms; whether we are
materialists or empiricists or idealists. The philosophical "basis" is
not really a set of truths which we must know before we can know the
astronomical theory; but simply a set of hypotheses which have to
conform to the truths given by experience. The unassailable truths are
just the facts which we observe, and which science enables us to
describe accurately and state systematically. If a metaphysical doctrine
has any bearing upon these facts, which seems to be doubtful, it must
conform to the facts, and not the facts to it. So long as no such theory
is proved, we can afford to remain metaphysically sceptical without
losing our hold upon the scientific truth. Now, I should say, what is
true of the physical sciences is true of all our knowledge. We may study
the moral sciences as we can study the physical sciences. We can observe
and colligate the facts of emotion and volition, as we can observe the
position of the stars and the laws of heat. Therefore, in so far as
theology is an attempt to give a theory of the universe in general, we
must accept or deny the doctrines just in so far as they serve to
explain or fail to explain the facts. But, in any case, the facts will
remain unaltered, and will not vanish because we may be unable to
understand them. But theology corresponds, also, not to the scientific
method, but to the ontological inquiries which are represented by Mr.
Balfour's "naturalism". Both doctrines, as I should say, lead to
incoherence, to contradictions covered by ambiguous language, and to
hopeless difficulties, which, in theology, are described as inscrutable
mysteries. I am, therefore, quite ready, with Mr. Balfour, to reject
naturalism, but, on the same grounds, I also reject the transcendental
theology. Attainable truth is equally independent of all such theories;
and were it otherwise, we should be doomed to hopeless scepticism. Mr.
Balfour's analogy, therefore, apparently upsets his conclusion. I
believe in heat, and I believe in the conscience. I reject the atoms,
and I reject the doctrine of atonement. I reject it, if it be meant for
science, because, so far from explaining the facts, the facts explain
how the false doctrine was generated. I reject it, if it is meant for
philosophy, because, like other transcendental theories, it leads to
hopeless controversies, and appears to me to be incredible as soon as
any such theology as is tenable by a philosopher is substituted for the
crude theology of a savage.

We are driven to scepticism, then, if we first declare that scientific
knowledge depends upon metaphysical theory; and then that all
metaphysical theory is moonshine. I do not accept the first principle;
and I hold that the danger to morals from metaphysical difficulties is
pretty much the same as the danger that the stars will leave their
courses if we adopt a wrong theory of an astronomy. We fancy that when
we are explaining facts, we are, somehow, creating them; as the
meteorologist in _Rasselas_ observed the clouds till he came to think
that he caused the rain. The facts upon which morality depends are the
facts that men have certain emotions; that mothers love their children;
that there are such things as pity, and sympathy, and public spirit; and
that there are social instincts upon the growth of which depends the
vitality of the race. We may, of course, ask how more precisely these
emotions act, and what functions they discharge. We may make historical
and psychological and metaphysical inquiries; and we may end, if ever we
reach such a consummation, by establishing what we may call a science of
ethics. But the facts do not depend upon the explanation. The illusion
of their dependence is easily produced. You make your theory of
morality, and then you define morality as a belief in the object
required by your theory. It follows, of course, that morality will
disappear with the belief--or else that your theory is wrong. Morality,
said some people, is a belief in future rewards and punishments. If that
belief disappears, morality--that is, their morality--must disappear
too. But that morality--taken as the actual sentiment which they have
erroneously defined--should disappear also, no more follows than it
follows that heat will disappear when we discover that there is no such
thing as the old imaginary substance of heat. The doctrine is now more
generally urged in a different form. Theology, it is said, is essential
to morality. Such bold assertions may be best met by a dogmatic
assertion of the inverse case. Theology, as I hold, is not the source of
the moral instincts, but, under certain conditions, derives its real
power from them. Theology, in the first place, is a word including not
only heterogeneous but contradictory meanings,--Baal and Jehovah, the
Mumbo-jumbo of the negro and Spinoza's "ens absolute infinitum". To the
enormous majority of the human race, the more metaphysical conception is
hopelessly unintelligible. When a savage expresses his crude sense of
duties to the tribe under the form of belief in an ancestral ghost, is
the morality made by the belief, or the belief generated by the
incipient moral emotion? Does he believe in God or really in a man like
himself, and respected precisely because he is like himself? Is not the
truth tacitly acknowledged by the more philosophical religions? Their
adherents admit that the God of philosophy is too abstract a Being to
excite any emotion; he fades into Nature or the Unknowable, and it is
impossible to love one whom, by his very definition, you can neither
benefit nor injure and whose omnipotence makes even justice a mockery.
Therefore, they make a God out of a man, and by boldly combining in
words two contradictory sets of attributes, make what in theology is
called a mystery, and in common sense called by a different name. Does
not that amount to confessing that the true source of morality is in the
human affections of like for like, and not in that sentiment towards a
transcendental object of which you have chosen to make your definition?
And, finally, if we ask what is the relation of theology to morality,
from a historical point of view, we see the same result. Undoubtedly,
theology has been a bulwark of morality in one way. It has expressed the
veneration of mankind for the most deeply-seated customs of the race. It
has been the form through which, though not the cause owing to which,
men have expressed the importance of adhering to certain established
institutions of the highest importance to mankind. Briefly, therefore,
it represents the conservative instincts. But, for that reason, it has
naturally lagged behind an advancing morality. The newer religions have
been precisely protests against the objectionable conduct of the
old-fashioned deities who retained the manners and customs of a more
barbarous period; and have, therefore, been regarded by the older faith,
sometimes with justice, as atheistic. Without referring to the familiar
cases, I am content to appeal to the present day. What are the relative
positions of the theologian and his opponent during the modern phase of
evolution? The theologian has, in the main, maintained the sanctity of
old institutions and customs; and I do not doubt that he has rendered a
useful service. But the demand for justice, for the abolition of
slavery, of the hardships of the poor and oppressed, the desire to
construct society upon a wholesomer ideal, has been generated, not by
theological speculation, but by the new relations into which men have
been brought and the new sentiments developed. It has been accepted most
fully by men hostile to all theology, by the free-thinker, the atheist,
and the materialist, whom the orthodox denounces as criminal. Doubtless
the denouncer has excuses: the reformer may err in the direction of
excessive demolition; but the very survival of the older creeds depends,
as we all see, upon their capacity for assimilating and finding
utterance for the moral convictions which have arisen outside of their
limits, and, generally, in defiance of their authority. To say,
therefore, that the morality depends upon the survival of the
metaphysical theory, seems to me to be inverting the true relation.

I end by suggesting what is to my mind the true moral of these
speculations. The vanity of philosophising means the vanity of certain
philosophical pretensions; of the chimerical belief that the philosopher
lays down the first principles of belief in ethics or in other
departments of life, in such a sense that the destinies of the race or
of knowledge depend upon accepting and applying his principles. His
function is a humbler one, though one of vast importance. The great
philosophical systems have vanished, though they have cleared the air.
They were primitive attempts at construction; results of the fact that
we have to act before we can think; and to assume postulates which can
only be verified or falsified by the slow experience of ages. But the
process by which truth is advanced is not confined to the philosopher;
or perhaps we should rather say that some sort of crude philosophy is
embedded even in the feeblest and earliest speculations of mankind. Our
thoughts are guided by an implicit logic long before we have even a
conception of logic in the abstract, or have the least thought of
codifying and tabulating its formulæ. So every savage who begins to
make a tool is exemplifying some mechanical principle which will not be
put into accurate and abstract language till countless generations have
passed. Every one at the present day who is using his wits is
philosophising after a fashion, and is contributing towards the
advancement of philosophy. He is increasing the mass of still more or
less chaotic knowledge, the whole of which is to that philosopher what
the particular set of facts is to the student of physical science. The
philosopher has not to evolve first principles out of himself, so much
as to discover what are the principles which have been unconsciously
applied; to eliminate the obsolete elements; to bring the new into
harmony; to verify them, or describe how they may be verified; and so to
work towards the unification and systematisation of knowledge in
general. Probably he will make a great many blunders in his task; but it
may be some comfort to reflect that even blunders are often useful, and
that he is not in the terribly responsible position of really framing
laws for the universe or for man, but only of clearing up or codifying
the laws which are already in operation.


I was reading not long ago some remarks[A] which impressed me at the
time, and upon which, as it came to pass, I have had reason to reflect
more seriously. The writer dwelt upon the vast services which have been
rendered to the race by men of whom all memory has long since faded
away. Compare, he said, the England of Alfred with the England of
Victoria; think of the enormous differences which have been brought
about in thirty generations; and then try to estimate how large a share
of all that has been done in the interval should be put to the credit of
thousands who have long sunk into oblivion, and whose achievements, by
the very necessity of the case, can never be properly estimated. A few
great names mark every period; the great statesmen, the great churchmen
and warriors, are commemorated in our official histories; they are
placed upon exalted pedestals; and to them is attributed everything that
was done in their time, though, but for the co-operation of innumerable
nameless fellow-labourers, they would not have been provided even with
the foundations upon which their work was necessarily based.

This remark recalls the familiar discussion about the importance of the
individual. Is the hero whom we are invited to worship everything, or is
he next to nothing? Is it true, as some writers put it, that had
Cleopatra broken her nose, or had a cannon ball gone a hair's breadth
further to the right or left when Napoleon was directing the siege of
Toulon, "the whole course of history would have been changed"? Or is it
rather true that, as some philosophers would say, no man is
indispensable, nor even any man very important: that, if any even of the
greatest of men had died of the measles in his infancy, we should have
carved a different set of letters upon the pedestals of our statues, but
the course of affairs would have run in much the same channel? I will
not seek to discuss that old theme, to which it is evident that no very
precise answer can be given. It is clearly a question of degree. Nobody
can deny that a great man has an influence in the spheres of action and
of thought; but to attempt to say how great an influence he has, how far
he depends upon others or could be replaced by others, involves
considerations lying in the unprofitable region of vague conjecture.
This only I wish to note. It seems often to be suggested that there is
something degrading or ungenerous in taking a side against the
importance of the hero. It raises a suspicion that you are a valet,
capable of supposing that men are distinguished by the quantity of lace
on their coats, and not by the intensity of the fire in their souls.
And, moreover, the view is fatalistic: it supposes that the destinies of
the race are determined by what are denounced as blind "laws," and not
by the passions and aspirations which guide their energies. To me it
seems that it would be easy enough to retort these imputations. I cannot
feel that a man of generous sympathies should be therefore inclined to a
doctrine which would tend to make the future of the race a matter of
chance. The more you believe in the importance of the great men, the
more you have to admit that our progress depends upon the innumerable
accidents which may stifle the greatest as easily as the smallest
career. If some great social change was so absolutely dependent upon the
leader who first put into words the demand upon which it is based, or
who led the first forlorn hope which made victory possible, that his
loss would have been the loss of his cause, it follows that the cause
might have been lost if a crust of bread had gone the wrong way. It
ought surely to be pleasanter if we are entitled to hold that we have a
stronger ground of confidence; that the great victories of thought and
action prove the diffusion of enthusiasm and courage through a wide
circle; and that the fall of the chief is sure to make room for a worthy
successor. The wider and deeper the causes of progress, the more
confidently we can derive hope from the past, and accept with
comparative equanimity even the most painful catastrophes.

Nor can I agree that such a view implies any want of susceptibility to
the claims of the hero. I do not think that we can pay homage too
cheerfully to the great men who form landmarks in history. I admit, most
gladly, that the admiration which we feel for such men; the thrill which
stirs us in reading of the great patriots and martyrs of the past; the
reverence which we are now and then able to pay to a contemporary--to a
Lincoln, proving that political action may represent real faiths, not
party formulæ; to a Gordon, impersonating the sense of duty; or a Father
Damien, sacrificing his life for the lepers--is one of the invaluable
elements of moral cultivation. But I do not see the connection between
this and the desire to exalt the glory of the great man by ignoring the
unknown who followed in his steps, and often made them possible. I have
not so far attained to the cosmopolitan point of view that my blood is
not stirred by the very name of Nelson. Nay, however cosmopolitan I
might become, I hope that my sympathies would never blind me to the
greatness of the qualities implied in his patriotic devotion. My
cosmopolitanism would rather, I hope, lead me to appreciate more
generously the similar qualities in his antagonists, and, also, the
similar qualities in the "band of brothers" whom he was proud to lead. I
should be sorry so to admire Nelson as to forget the sturdy old race of
sea dogs who did their duty, and helped him to do his in a memorable
way, some ninety years ago. I would rather believe than not that, had
Nelson been killed at the Nile, there were many among his followers who,
had the chance come to them, would have led the _Victory_ at Trafalgar,
and have made England impregnable. "I trust we have within this realm
five hundred good as he" is surely the more heroic tone. But, to drop
the old-fashioned appeal to patriotic spirit, is it not true that, in
every department of life, it is more congenial to our generous feelings
to remember the existence and the importance of those who have never won
a general reputation? This has come to be a commonplace in the sphere of
scientific discovery. We find, over and over again, that the great
discoverer has been all but anticipated by his rivals; that his fame, if
not his real greatness, depends upon the circumstance that he has just
anticipated by a year, or, perhaps, in extreme cases, by a generation,
results to which a comparatively second-rate thinker would have been
competent a few years later. The winner of the race is apt to monopolise
the glory, though he wins only by a hair's breadth. The familiar
instance of Darwin and Mr. Wallace is remarkable, not because the
relation of the two thinkers was unique, but because, unfortunately, the
generosity with which each acknowledged the merit of the other was
exceptional. A great discovery is made when the fertile thought is
already going through the process of incubation in a whole circle of
intelligent minds; and that in which it first comes to the birth,
claims, or, at least, receives, the whole merit, by a right of
intellectual primogeniture not much more justifiable than the legal
right. Admitting, again, in the fullest sense, the value and the
difficulty of that last step which has to be made in order to reach the
crowning triumph, it would surely be ungenerous to forget the long
series of previous explorations by which alone it was made possible.
There must have been countless forgotten Newtons and Descartes', who, in
their day, had to exert equal powers in order to discover what are now
the most familiar truths; to invent the simplest systems of arithmetical
notation, or solve the earliest geometrical problems, without which
neither a Newton nor a Descartes would have been possible. And what is
true in science is, surely, equally true of activities which touch most
of us more nearly. Of all undeniable claims to greatness I suppose the
most undeniable to be the claim of the founders of religions. Their
disciples are so much impressed by their greatness that they regard them
as supernatural beings, or, in other words, as beings who are the sole
and indispensable causes of all the consequences attributed to the
prevalence of their doctrines. We are told, constantly, and often as
though it were too obvious to need proof, that every moral improvement
which has taken place in the world since the origin of Christianity, is
due to Christianity, and that Christianity itself is entirely due to its
founder. Human nature was utterly corrupt until the Deity became
incarnate in the form of a Jewish peasant; and every social or moral
step which has since been made in advance--and not one of the
unfortunate backslidings by which the advance has since been
trammelled--is a direct consequence of that stupendous event. This is
the theory of the importance of the individual, raised, so to speak, to
its very highest potence. We not only attribute the most important and
far-reaching of all changes to a single agent, but declare that that
agent cannot have been human, and indeed cannot have been less than the
first cause of all changes. I shall not, of course, discuss the
plausibility of a doctrine which, if accepted, breaks the whole chain of
cause and effect, and makes the later history of the world not an
evolution of previously operative process, but the result of an abrupt,
mysterious interference from without, incommensurable with any other set
of spiritual forces. I am content to say that to my mind the doctrine
becomes daily more impossible to any one who thinks seriously and tries
to picture to himself distinctly the true nature of the great world
processes. What is to my purpose is, that it seems to me to be not only
infinitely more credible, but also more satisfactory and more
generous--if there be properly a question of generosity--to do justice
to the disciples as well as to the master--to believe that the creed was
fermenting in the hearts and minds of millions of human beings; and
that, although the imperfect and superstitious elements by which it was
alloyed were due to the medium in which it was propagated, yet, on the
other hand, it succeeded so far as it corresponded to the better
instincts of great masses of men, struggling blindly and through many
errors to discover rules of conduct and modes of conceiving the universe
more congenial than the old to their better nature, and prepared to form
a society by crystallising round the nucleus which best corresponded to
their aspirations. When so regarded, it seems to me, and only when so
regarded, we can see in the phenomenon something which may give us solid
ground for hopes of humanity, and enable us to do justice to countless
obscure benefactors. The corruption of human nature, as theologians
sometimes tell us, expresses a simple fact. Undoubtedly, it expresses a
fact which nobody, so far as I know, ever thought of denying--the fact
that there are bad instincts in human nature; that many men are cruel,
sensual, and false; and that every man is more or less liable to succumb
to temptation. But the essential meaning of the old theological dogma
was, I take it, something different. It meant that man was so corrupt
that he could only be made good by a miracle; that even his apparent
virtues are splendid sins unless they come from divine grace; and, in
short, that men cannot be really elevated without supernatural
interference. If all that is good in men comes from their religions, and
if religions are only explicable as inspirations from without, that, no
doubt, logically follows. I prefer, myself, to believe that, though all
men are weak, and a good many utter scoundrels; yet human nature does
contain good principles; that those principles tend, however slow and
imperfect may be the process, gradually to obtain the mastery; and that
the great religions of the races, while indicating the intellectual and
moral shortcomings of mankind, indicate also the gradual advance of
ethical ideals, worked out by the natural and essential tendencies of
the race. And thus, as it seems to me, this conception of the mode of
growth of religions and of morality, which gathers strength as we come
to take a more reasonable view of the world's history, is closely
connected with the doctrine that, instead of ascribing all good
achievement to the hero who drops from heaven, or springs spontaneously
from the earth, we should steadily remember that he is only possible,
and his work can only be successfully secured, by the tacit co-operation
of the innumerable unknown persons in whose hearts his words find an
echo because they are already feeling after the same ideal which is in
him more completely embodied.

In our judgment of such cases there is, then, an injustice so far as we
make a false estimate of the right distribution of praise and gratitude.
It would be an injustice, in a stricter sense, to the persons ignored,
if we regarded such gratitude as the appropriate and main reward of a
noble life. I need not repeat the commonplaces of moralists as to the
real value of posthumous fame, nor inquire whether it implies an
illusion, nor how far the desire for such fame is, in point of fact, a
strong motive with many people. This only I will note--that obscurity is
a condition, and by no means an altogether unpleasant condition, of
much of the very best work that is done. The general or the statesman is
conspicuous in connection with successful enterprise in which his
subordinates necessarily do a great part of the labour. It is impossible
for the outside world to form a correct judgment in such cases; and,
therefore, there is no hardship to the particular persons concerned, if
they are simply ignored where they would, certainly, be misjudged; and
if they, therefore, work in obscurity, content with the approval of the
very few who can estimate their merits. There is a compensation, as we
see, when we reflect upon the moral disadvantages of conspicuous
station. Literary people, for example, must be very unobservant if they
do not notice how demoralising is the influence of public applause, and
the constant inducement to court notoriety. It is unwholesome to live in
an atmosphere which constantly stimulates and incites the weaknesses to
which we are most liable. And many of our first writers must, I should
fancy, feel pangs of self-humiliation when they contrast the credit
which they have got for popular work with the very scanty recognition
which comes to many who have applied equal talents to the discharge of
duties often far more beneficial to mankind, but, from their nature,
performed in the shade. "I," such a man, I fancy, must sometimes say to
himself, "am quoted in every newspaper; I am puffed, and praised, and
denounced; not to know me is to write yourself down a dunce; and, yet,
have I done as much for the good of my kind as this or that humble
friend, who would be astonished were his name ever to be uttered in
public?" Some such thought, for example, is inspired by Johnson's most
pathetic verses, when the great lexicographer, the acknowledged dictator
of English literature, thought of the poor dependant, the little humble
quack doctor, Levett, who was content, literally, to be fed with the
crumbs from his tables. But the obscure dependant, as the patron felt,
had done all that he could to alleviate the sum of human misery.

     His virtues walked their narrow round,
       Nor made a pause, nor left a void;
     And, sure, the Eternal Master found
       The single talent well employed.

Have I not, Johnson seems to have felt, really done less to soothe
misery by my _Dictionary_ and my _Ramblers_ than this obscure labourer
in the back lanes of London, of whom, but for my verses, no one would
have heard even the name?

A full answer to questions suggested by these thoughts would, perhaps,
require an estimate of the relative value of different aims and
different functions in life; and, for such an estimate, there are no
adequate grounds. In one of Browning's noblest poems, Rabbi Ben Ezra--of
whom I must say that he strikes me as being a little too
self-complacent--puts a relevant question. "Who," he asks, "shall

       Ten men love what I hate;
     Shun what I follow, slight what I receive;
       Ten who, in ears and eyes,
       Match me; we all surmise,
     They this thing and I that: whom shall my soul believe?

And he answers or suggests one condition of a satisfactory answer, by
saying that we are not to take the coarse judgment of the world, which
goes by the work achieved. We must remember--

       All instincts immature,
       All purposes unsure,
     That, weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's account;
       Thoughts hardly to be packed
       Into a narrow act;
     Fancies that broke through language and escaped;
       All I would never be,
       All men ignored in me,
     That I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped.

If it were proper to treat a poetical utterance of this kind like a
deliberate philosophical theory, I might wish to argue the point a
little with the rabbi. But, at any rate, he points to considerations
which show how little any one can judge of merit by any tangible and
generally accessible test. I am content to say that this sentiment gives
one--and a very impressive--answer to a problem which presses upon us
the more as we grow older. It is natural for a man who feels that he has
done most of his work, that the night is coming, and, as it seems,
coming with accelerated speed; who feels, too, that whatever he has done
or may do, he can no longer have the approval of those whose approval
was dear to him as his breath;--it is natural for such a man to look
back, to take stock more or less of his own performances perhaps, and at
any rate to endeavour to estimate at their true worth the services which
he has received from others. What, he may ask, has he done with his
talents? what little fragment has he achieved of what might once have
been in his power? The answer is pretty sure to have a very melancholy
side to it; and it will lead to the question, what part of that fragment
was really worth doing? What were the few really solid services which he
may set off as some satisfaction to his self-esteem, against his
countless errors and his wanderings in wrong directions, and his
attempts to achieve the impossible, and the waste of energy upon the
trifling and the worthless in which he is pretty sure to have spent a
very large proportion of his time? When we try to return a verdict upon
such issues, we feel painfully to how many illusions we are subject.
When we are young we naturally accept the commonplaces, and do not
question the ideals amid which we happen to have grown up; we are not
conscious of the movement which we share. As long as we are floating
with the current, we are not even aware that any current exists. We take
our own little world to be the fixed base, quite unconscious that it is
all the time whirling and spinning along a most complex course. And so
it is difficult, even if the thought of making the attempt ever occurs
to us, to try to occupy the position of a bystander looking on at life
from outside, and endeavouring to pronounce some general opinion as to
its merits or defects--its happiness or misery as a whole. "What a queer
place this is!" I remember a man once saying to me abruptly; and I
thought that he was referring to the steamboat on which we were
fellow-passengers. I found that he had been suddenly struck by the
oddity of the universe in general; and it seemed to me that there was a
great deal to be said for a remark which seldom occurs to those people
who take things for granted. We are roused sometimes by a philosopher
who professes pessimism or optimism, to ask and to try to answer such
questions. The answers, we know, are apt to be painfully discordant. Is
the world on the whole a scene of misery, of restless desires, proving
that we are miserable now, and doomed never to obtain satisfaction? is
it our only wisdom to give up the will to live; to hope that all this
visible and tangible scenery is so much illusion, and to aspire to sink
into Nirvana? Shall we try to conquer all earthly appetites by a
thorough-going asceticism, and cultivate those spiritual emotions which
can only find full satisfaction in another and a better world? Or shall
we agree that, after all, the love of the true and the beautiful, or, it
may be, the physically pleasurable, gives a real solid comfort for the
time, which it would be idle to drop for a shadow? Is the world a scene
of probation, in which we are to be fitted for higher spheres beyond
human ken by the hearty and strenuous exertion of every faculty that we
possess? or shall we say that such action is a good in itself, which
requires to be supplemented by no vision of any ulterior end? Shall we
say that this is the best of all possible worlds because the fittest
always tends to prevail, or that it is the worst because even the
greatest wretchedness which is compatible with bare existence can still

Philosophers, no doubt, contradict each other, because even philosophers
are not exempt from the universal weakness. The explanation that
pessimism means a disordered liver, and the counter remark that
optimism means a cold heart and a good digestion, are too familiar to
need exposition. Each man's macrocosm is apt to be related to his
microcosm, as the convex to the concave of a curve. To say the world is
disagreeable, means that I find it disagreeable; and that may be either
my own fault or the world's. Nor is it easy to correct the personal
error by observation, for the observer carries himself and his illusions
with him. Has such-and-such a life been a happy one? How are we to
decide? We are often subject to what may be called the dramatic
illusion. We judge by the catastrophe, by the success or failure of the
assumed end. We see a noble young man struck down by some accident, and
we think of his career sadly, because the promise has not been
fulfilled. Is it not equally reasonable to say that the promise was
itself a blessing? that the man we regret had his twenty or thirty years
of hopefulness, confidence, and happiness, and that that was a clear
gain even if we lose the result which we might have anticipated? Or we
are impressed by the more exciting incidents of a life, the blows which
crushed a man at intervals; and we forget all the monotonous years of
tranquil happiness which, if we apply an arithmetical test, may have
occupied by far the greater part of his existence. Southey, for example,
argues that although we remember Cowper chiefly for his terrible mental
suffering, we shall find, if we add up the moments of happiness and
misery, that he probably had, on the balance, a life of much more
enjoyment than torture. So, when we speak of the misery of a nation at
the time of some great trouble--the French Revolution, for example--it
is difficult to remember how small was the proportion of actual
sufferers; how many thousands or millions of children were enjoying
their little sports, utterly ignorant of the distant storm; how many
mothers were absorbed in watching their children; and how many quiet
commonplace people were going about their daily peaceful labour, pretty
much as usual, and with only a vague--and possibly
pleasurable--excitement at the news, which occasionally drifted to them,
of the catastrophes in a different sphere. Carlyle, in one of his most
vivid and famous passages, has incidentally drawn the contrast. Or, if
we try to form an estimate of the balance of happiness and misery
through any portion of the race, and appeal to experience for an answer,
we must certainly remember how limited is the field of observation, even
of the best informed, and the most impartial; how rigidly they are
confined for their direct knowledge to one little section of one part of
the race; and how the vast majority--the thousand millions or so who are
altogether beyond their ken--are known to them only by statistical
tables or the casual reports of superficial observers.

As there are so many difficulties in forming an estimate, as we are not
agreed as to the true ends of human life, nor as to the degrees in which
those ends are actually attained, nor as to the efficacy of the various
causes which determine the success or failure of the means employed, it
becomes any one to put forward his own opinion upon the topics to which
such considerations apply, with all modesty. And, yet, I think that I
may dwell upon some truths which may be admitted by those who differ
upon these difficult problems, and, as I fancy, deserve more weight than
they generally receive, even though they have become commonplaces. The
main condition of human happiness, say some people, is physical health.
A man whose organs are all working satisfactorily cannot fail to be
happy under any but very abnormal conditions; as, conversely, a grain of
sand in the wrong place will make any life a burden. No one will dispute
the truth contained in such _dicta_; and, perhaps, as we realise more
distinctly the importance of sound health to our neighbours and to our
descendants, as well as to ourselves, we shall lay greater stress upon
the conduct which is conducive to its preservation. We shall see that
what is, apparently, a mere dictate of personal prudence, has, also,
its ethical aspect. But, without dwelling upon this view, we may apply
the analogy to society. Whatever morality precisely means, and whatever
happiness means, it clearly indicates what we call--and I think that it
is no mere metaphor--a healthy state of society. This, again, implies,
first of all, the health of those domestic relations which are as the
ultimate molecular forces which bind together the social tissue. The
society, we may say without hesitation, in which the reciprocal duties
of husbands and wives, parents and children, are instinctively
recognised and habitually observed, has, so far, secured the most
deeply-seated and essential condition of happiness and virtue; the
society in which the union of married people normally produces harmony,
and the absolute identity of interests and affections, in which children
are brought up in a pure home atmosphere, with an embodiment of the
beauty of domestic love always before their eyes, imbibing unconsciously
the tradition of a high moral standard, and so prepared to repay, in due
time, to others the services lavishly and ungrudgingly bestowed upon
them by their elders,--so far represents perfectly sound health. The
degree in which any ethical theory recognises and reveals the essential
importance of the family relation is, I think, the best test of its
approximation to the truth. An unworthy view of domestic happiness may
lead to the ascetic view which sets up a sham and Quixotic ideal; or to
the cynical view which regards it as a mere case of selfish indulgence.
I do not deny that the relation, like all other human relations, may
require modification as circumstances change. Difficulties arise, as
when we notice the great social changes which have broken up ancient
ties, and have tended to weaken the family bond by facilitating
desertion, and increasing the floating population. And many socialist
schemes appear at first sight to be, and sometimes are, consciously
designed to weaken the sense of responsibility of parents. I, of course,
cannot now discuss a point which is, undoubtedly, of the highest
importance; but I am certainly convinced that the merits of any change
must be tested by its tendency to preserve, and, if possible, intensify
the strength of this underlying bond upon which the welfare of society
depends far more intimately than upon any other human relation.

If this be true, it follows also that to those activities which knit
families together, which help to enlarge the highest ideal of domestic
life, we owe a greater debt than to any other kind of conduct. And to
this I add that, as I believe, the highest services of this kind are
rendered by persons condemned, or perhaps I should say privileged, to
live in obscurity; whose very names will soon be forgotten, and who are
entirely eclipsed by people whose services, though not equally valuable,
are by their nature more public. To prove such an assertion is, of
course, impossible. I give it only as my personal impression--for what
it is worth, after any deductions you may please to make upon the score
of the great fallibility of such impressions; and only because, correct
or otherwise, it may serve to bring out aspects of the truth which we
are apt to neglect. I have lived long enough to have had opportunities
of seeing many eminent men and women. I have insensibly formed some kind
of estimate of the services which they have rendered to me and my like;
and I record, as far as I can, the result upon my own convictions. I
will put aside for the moment the half-dozen men of really first-rate
eminence,--the men whose names are written upon all the great
intellectual and social movements of the century. I will think for the
present only of those who may be placed in the second rank; of those who
do not profess to have originated, but only to have diffused, important
thoughts; who have acted as lieutenants to the great leaders, and become
known to their contemporaries, with little prospect of filling any
important place in the memory of their successors. Yet even such men
bulk far more largely in our eyes than multitudes of men and women
whose names will never be known outside their own little parish, or even
their family circles. And then I ask myself, how far the estimate thus
formed corresponds to the real value of the services performed. I think
that I can speak most easily by deserting the line of abstract argument,
and endeavouring to draw a portrait or two, which you need not assume to
correspond too closely to particular facts. I mean to suggest
reflections which will really apply in many representative cases, and to
refer to typical instances of general truths. I will first mention one
such case which happened to strike me forcibly at the time, and which no
one here, I am quite certain, will be able to identify. Long years ago I
knew a young man at college; he was so far from being intellectually
eminent that he had great difficulty in passing his examinations; he
died from the effects of an accident within a very short time after
leaving the university, and hardly any one would now remember his name.
He had not the smallest impression that there was anything remarkable
about himself, and looked up to his teachers and his more brilliant
companions with a loyal admiration which would have made him wonder that
they should ever take notice of him. And yet I often thought then, and I
believe, in looking back, that I thought rightly, that he was of more
real use to his contemporaries than any one of the persons to whose
influence they would most naturally refer as having affected their
development. The secret was a very simple one. Without any special
intellectual capacity, he somehow represented with singular completeness
a beautiful moral type. He possessed the "simple faith miscalled
simplicity," and was so absolutely unselfish, so conspicuously pure in
his whole life and conduct, so unsuspicious of evil in others, so sweet
and loyal in his nature, that to know him was to have before one's eyes
an embodiment of some of the most lovable and really admirable qualities
that a human being can possess. He was a living exemplification of the
truth which some great humorists have embodied in their writings, the
truth that simplicity at which fools laugh may be venerable to wise
observers. Young men were not always immaculate in those days: I don't
know that they are now; some of them probably were vicious in conduct,
and might be cynical in the views which they openly expressed. But
whatever might be their failings, they were at the age when all but the
depraved--that is, I hope and fully believe, all but a very small
minority--were capable of being deeply impressed by this concrete
example. They might affect to ridicule, but it was impossible that even
the ridicule should not be of the kindly sort; blended and tempered
with something that was more like awe--profound respect, at least, for
the beauty of soul that underlay the humble exterior. The direct moral
addresses which took the form of eloquent sermons or of good advice
naturally gained an incomparably higher reputation for those who uttered
them. But, considering the facility with which the impressions so made
evaporate from the minds of the hearers, I often thought that this
obscure influence, the more impressive when one felt it because of its
entire unconsciousness, probably did far more to stimulate good feelings
and higher aspirations among his companions than all the official
exhortations to which they ever listened. He would have been unfeignedly
surprised to hear, what I most sincerely believe to be the truth, that
his tutor owed incomparably more to his living exemplification of what
is meant by a character of unblemished purity and simplicity, than he
owed to the tutor whose respectable platitudes he received with
unaffected humility.

The case--for various reasons--impressed me deeply; and I have often
thought of it and of the principle which it illustrates in later years.
I once knew, for example, a woman whose whole life was devoted to
domestic duties, and who confessed to me that she had sometimes felt a
touch of humiliation when she thought how narrow was her own sphere of
action, while her husband was daily deciding upon great questions of
high political importance. Some women would have drawn the conclusion,
that the exclusion of women from political activity was a grievance to
be abated; and such people might receive with scorn the suggestion that
the discharge of the domestic duty might possibly be as important as the
discharge of the more conspicuous function. The argument about the
proper sphere of women is now generally treated with contempt; and I am
perfectly ready to admit that it begs the question, and is often a mere
utterance of blind prejudice. No one, I hope, could assert more
willingly than I, that the faculties of women should be cultivated as
fully as possible, and that every sphere in which their faculties can be
effectively applied should be thrown open to them. But the doctrine
sometimes tacitly confounded with this, that the sphere generally
assigned to women is necessarily lower or less important than others, is
not to be admitted, because the contradictory may be misapplied. The
domestic influence is, no doubt, confined within narrower limits; but
then, within those limits it is incomparably stronger and more certain
of effect. The man or woman can really mould the character of a little
circle, and determine the whole life of one little section of the next
generation; when it may be very difficult to say whether the influence
which they can bring to bear upon a class or a nation is really
perceptible at all, or does not even operate in the direction opposite
to that intended. And I could not help thinking that a woman who was
bringing up sons and daughters ready to quit themselves like brave men
and women in the great struggle of life, might be doing something more
really important than her conspicuous husband, who was, after all, only
part of a vast and complicated machinery, nominally directed by him,
but, in reality, controlling all his energy, and, not impossibly,
working out the very results which he most disapproved.

It is, therefore, with no reference to any of the political theories of
women's rights, and so forth, that I venture to insist upon this topic.
I think that we habitually under-estimate the enormous value of the
services, whether of man or woman, done in the shade, and confined
within a very limited area. Let me attempt, again, to draw a portrait,
not all imaginary, which may explain, at least, what I often feel--the
contrast between the real worth of such lives and the recognition which
they can ever receive. Wordsworth, in one of those poems which show best
how true and tender were his moral instincts, has described one who

     A perfect woman, nobly planned
     To warn, to comfort, and command;
     And yet a spirit too, and bright
     With something of an angel light.

The words have often come to me of late, till I fancy that I could
supply a commentary. The woman of whom Wordsworth speaks was, when he
first saw her, a "phantom of delight," an embodiment of feminine beauty,
and, as such, possessing a characteristic perhaps superfluous from a
moral point of view. I have known and know women, not exactly beautiful,
before whom I would gladly bow as deeply as I would if they were
beautiful as Helen of Troy. But a poet must be allowed to take pleasure
in beauty, and we may grant to it a certain place that it deserves among
higher qualities. For it does so when the possessor is absolutely--not
unaware of the fact, for that is hardly possible, nor, perhaps,
desirable--but absolutely untouched by any vanity or self-consciousness.
The beauty, one may say, gives, at least, an opportunity for displaying
a quality which otherwise would not have so good an occasion of
manifestation. And, moreover, there is a beauty of the rarest and most
exquisite, which, if not the product, is, or at least seems to be, the
spontaneous accompaniment of nobility of mind and character. Some
persons, by a singular felicity, possess beauty as one of their
essential attributes; it seems to be not an accident or an addition,
but a part of their essence, which must mould every detail, which shines
through body as well as soul, and is but the outward and visible sign of
all that is sweet and elevated. Wordsworth's ideal woman is--

     Not too bright or good
     For human nature's daily food,
     For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
     Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears and smiles:

and yet displays equally--

     The reason firm, the temperate will,
     Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill.

We cannot, even in our thoughts, separate the artistic homage which we
pay to the external appearance, and that which we pay to the inner
qualities, of which they are apparently the inevitable and predestined
symbol. We have before us the ideal--the type which reconciles all the
conditions of human life, physical and moral--the "perfect woman," who
is also the fitting vehicle of the angel light.

But it is, of course, upon the qualities symbolised and not upon the
outward symbols that we must insist. I will, therefore, say, that the
inward beauty, whether fully represented or not by the outward form,
implies, in the first place, the absence of all those qualities which
tend to lower and vulgarise life. What we call the worldly view, for
example, of love and marriage, is simply unintelligible to such a
nature. Love means, to it, an absolute self-surrender, and the complete
fusion of its own life with the life of the beloved object. It can only
be granted in return for a reciprocal surrender; and becomes the mutual
passion by which fear and distrust are utterly cast out; and the
intensity proves not liability to weak illusions, but the sure insight
of the lofty instincts which cannot fail to recognise corresponding
instincts in others. To the lower mind, such a character appears to be
too highly strung, too impassioned, romantic, and careless of the solid
advantages which secure at least comfort. To those of more or less
congenial sentiment, it will rather appear to imply a spirit which,
because it breathes a higher element than that at which men habitually
live, perceives also more distinctly what are the truest and deepest
sources of all that deserves to be called real happiness. To live in an
atmosphere of the strongest and most unqualified affection, to have the
very substance of life woven out of the unreserved love of a worthy
object, is its ideal; and that ideal represents, I am convinced, the
highest and purest happiness that can be enjoyed in this world.

Suppose, now, that one so endowed is struck by one of those terrible
blows which shiver the very foundations of life; which make the outside
world a mere discordant nightmare, and seem to leave for the only
reality a perpetual and gnawing pain, which lulls for an instant only to
be revived by every contact with facts. Sorrow becomes the element in
which one lives and moves. Consolation, according to the familiar
phrase, is idle; for the vulgar notion of consoling is that which Sir
Walter Scott attributes to one of his characters: it is to try to prove
that the very thing for which we offer consolation has not happened--in
other words, to undertake an enterprise which is obviously hopeless and
illusory. Yet the greatest test of true nobility of character is its
power of turning even the bitterest grief to account. The lofty and
simple nature sorrows; it does not attempt to shut its eyes to the full
extent of the calamity, nor seek to distract itself by a forgetfulness
which might obscure its most sacred visions of the past; nor, on the
other hand, to make a parade of its sensibility, or try to foster or
stimulate enervating emotions. It knows instinctively that grief,
terrible as it is, is yet, in another sense, an invaluable possession.
The sufferer who has eaten his bread with herbs learns, as the poet puts
it, to know the heavenly powers. For he or she acquires a deeper and
keener sympathy with all who are desolate and afflicted; and the natural
affections become blended, if with a certain melancholy, yet with that
quick and delicate perception of the suffering of others which gives the
only consolation worthy of the name--the sense of something soothing and
softening and inspiring in the midst of the bitterest agony. Grief, so
taken, may be stunning and deadening for the time; it may make life a
heavy burden, from which hope and eager interest have disappeared:
"weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable"; but by slow degrees it undergoes
a transmutation into more steady and profound love of whatsoever may
still be left. The broken and mangled fibres imperceptibly find new
attachments; and the only solution of the terrible dilemma is reached
when time, which heals the actual laceration, enables the sufferer to
feel that the new ties do not imply infidelity to the objects still
beloved, but are a continuous development of the indelible emotions, and
that the later activities are but a carrying on of the old duties, made
more sacred and solemn by the old grief and its associations.

A lofty nature which has profited by passing through the furnace
acquires claims not only upon our love but upon our reverence. It
becomes perhaps within the little circle with which it is familiar the
obvious and immediate resort whenever some blow of sorrow or sickness
has fallen upon one of its fellows. The figure which I attempt truly to
describe is happily not unfamiliar. We have all, I hope, known some one
who is instinctively called to mind whenever there is need of the loving
kindness which seems so obvious and spontaneous that it does not even
occur to the bestower to connect the conduct with self-sacrifice. Such
persons appear to be formed by nature for ministering angels, and move
among us unconscious of their claims to our devotion, and bringing light
into darkness by their simple presence with as little thought that they
deserve our gratitude as that they ought to emerge from obscurity.
Happiness, peaceful and contented at least, if not the old bright and
confident happiness, may come in time; and new spheres be bound together
by the attractive force of a character which, if it is not more
intrinsically lovable, has gained a more pathetic charm from its
experience. The desire to relieve suffering has become a settled
instinct; and, even when there is no special appeal to it, is
incessantly overflowing in those "little, nameless, unremembered acts of
kindness and of love" which, according to Wordsworth again, are the
"best portion of a good man's life". Whether that be quite true I know
not; but in so far as such acts seem to testify most unequivocally to
the constant flow of a current of sympathetic tenderness, always ready
to seize upon every occasion of giving happiness, on a child's birthday
as on the parent's deathbed, they perhaps speak to us most convincingly
of an all-pervading sweetness of character. An assiduous and watchful
desire to show kindness, which makes a perpetual succession of such
little attentions a part of the practical religion of the doer, may
generate a corresponding love even more forcibly than the sacrifices
made in obedience to a more conspicuous appeal for help.

The value of such a life as I have tried imperfectly to indicate is not
to be estimated by the number of good actions performed, or by any
definite list of the particular consequences achieved. It may be hard to
say how many pangs have been soothed, how much happiness has been added
in special cases, by one who goes through life absorbed in such
activities. But above and beyond all the separate instances, such a
person,--the object only to a few, perhaps, of love and reverence, but
to those few the object of those feelings in the most unreserved and
unequivocal form,--is something far more than a source of any number of
particular benefits. To reckon up and estimate the value of such
benefits is a conceivable undertaking; but we cannot attempt to
calculate the value of a spiritual force which has moulded our lives,
which has helped by a simple consciousness of its existence to make us
gentler, nobler, and purer in our thoughts of the world; which has
constantly set before us a loftier ideal than we could frame for
ourselves; which has bestowed upon us an ever-present criterion of the
goodness or badness of our own motives by our perception of the light in
which they appear to a simple and elevated character; which has made
every cowardly and worldly thought shrink away abashed in the presence
of noble instincts; which has given us a sympathy so close and constant
that, as with the light of the sun, we are apt to be unconscious of its
essential importance to us until some accident makes us realise the
effect of its eclipse; and which, therefore, has in some sense become a
part of ourselves, a restraining and elevating and softening impulse, to
which we cling as to the worthiest and most indispensable of our

I am not speaking from imagination. I am trying to utter convictions
springing from my personal experience, and which I feel--most
painfully--that I cannot adequately express. I could not say more, even
if by saying more I could express myself adequately, without a sense of
a kind of profanity for uttering what should be kept for a few. But
though I speak for myself, I hope and I entirely believe that I am
therefore speaking for many others also. There are few who have the eyes
to see who have not recognised some such light shining upon their
lives, and as one main source of what they have done or said if least
unworthy. I fancy that the thought which naturally occurs to us when we
reflect upon such an influence will be: was I, could I, be worthy of it?
what am I that such goodness should have come to me? or, what, if
anything, have I done to transmit to others the blessings conferred upon
me? Such questions have various aspects, and I do not quite see how they
could be reduced to a form admitting of a bare logical answer. It now
seems to me almost unbecoming to dwell upon the comparison which I
contemplated at starting. I imagined a man who has made some such
impression upon the world as is recognised by public reputation, to
compare his own achievement with such achievements as these, which are
absolutely private, and neither seek nor desire any public reward. In
truth, the two things are, perhaps, strictly incommensurable. They must
be measured by different standards, and are of importance in different
spheres. And yet I must try to say this much. The achievements to which
I have referred as in their nature public and recognisable, should
certainly be considered with gratitude. Yet, when we attempt to estimate
their worth we are sensible of terrible drawbacks. I have passed, let us
say, a measure admirably useful, or written a book which has made a
mark. Certainly I have done a good action. But what if I had not done
it? Were there not hundreds of people who would have been only too glad
to take my place? I have been successful because I happen to have been
in the front rank, which was impelled by thousands of eager supporters.
I have said just a little better than my rivals what they were all
striving to say; and my highest reward will be that my name will be
attached in my own generation, and possibly even in the next, to some
particular opinion which yet would have come to the birth without me. I
have made a certain commotion on the surface for a moment or two, but
the ripple will die away in a few years; and, important as I may seem to
myself, I have only to look back for a generation to recognise the plain
fact that there have not been at any period more than one or two
conspicuous workers the products of whose activity can be distinctly
recognised at the present day. Even in regard to them, it is often
doubtful whether they did more harm or good; whether they did not direct
human energy along the wrong paths, and do as much in giving currency to
fallacies as in extending permanent truths.

Now, after making such deductions, which to me, at least, seem to be
essentially necessary, we can, I think, do justice to the truth which
is contained in Browning's poem. You are not, he seems to say, to
measure the worth of life by the amount of work done in it, by the
tangible and obvious results which can be tested by the world's coarse
finger and thumb. Rather, he suggests, the value depends upon the
excellence of the soul which is fashioned into "heaven's consummate cup"
by the stress of the potter's wheel; by the joys and sorrows, the trials
and triumphs, which have affected it in its passage through life. I
should prefer to say that the kind of dilemma so suggested is not really
to the purpose. The rabbi may seem to speak, as I said, with a little
too much complacency, if he be interpreted as sharing the feeling which
is often, however unjustly, attributed to Goethe--that his supreme end
was the cultivation of his own nature, and that he regarded himself as a
work of art, to be elaborated for its own sake, and enriched by
experience even at the cost of others. But in a better interpretation
this does not apply: for the very process by which the noble nature is
developed and cultivated, implies the closest and most active sympathy
with suffering, and an invariable reference to the highest aims of life.
It becomes perfect, that is, by constantly rendering invaluable services
to others; and there is, therefore, no meaning in drawing a distinction
between the services and the influence upon the soul itself. They are
parts of the same indivisible process. What is true and noble, as I
think, in the rabbi's doctrine, is that which I have already tried to
indicate: namely, that the worth of such a life is not exhausted by a
catalogue of the good deeds done, but that, beyond and above all them,
remains the inestimable value within its own circle of the very
existence of a natural symbol of the good and holy--by the "holy" I
understand that which is not only moral, but beautiful by reason of its
morality--and the incalculable benefits to it of the pure fountain of
all good influences which descend upon all within its reach. The
stimulus which is given to the beholders of such a life--by the clear
perception that morality does not mean a string of judicious
commonplaces, but can be embodied as the spring of a harmonious life,
and reveal itself as a concrete flesh-and-blood human being--is
something which transcends in value all the particular results which we
can tabulate and reckon up. We must think of it, not as the cause of so
many external benefits, but as the manifestation of a spiritual force
which modifies and raises the characters of all its surroundings. If the
sphere within which it distinctly operates is far narrower than that of
political or literary achievement, it is also incomparably purer, and
works without a single drawback. Every religion has its saints, and
honours them in various ways, not always altogether edifying. But that
man is unfortunate who has not a saint of his own--some one in whose
presence, or in the very thought of whom, he does not recognise a
superior, before whom it becomes him to bow with reverence and
gratitude, and who has purified the atmosphere and strengthened the
affections in a little circle from which the influence may be
transmitted to others. The saint will be forgotten all too soon--long
before less valuable, but accidentally more conspicuous, services have
passed out of mind--but the moral elevation, even of a small circle, is
a benefit which may be propagated indefinitely.

If we cannot hope to preserve the name, we can try to carry on the good
work; to maintain the ties which have been formed and propagate the
goodwill through widening circles. That, I think, is what every one
feels under the stress of the most terrible trials of life. We are
shocked by the sense of the inevitable oblivion that will hide all that
we loved so well. There is, according to my experience, only one thought
which is inspiring, and--if not in the vulgar sense consoling, for it
admits the existence of an unspeakable calamity--points, at least, to
the direction in which we may gradually achieve something like peace and
hopefulness without the slightest disloyalty to the objects of our
love. It is the thought which I can only express by saying that we may
learn to feel as if those who had left us had yet become part of
ourselves; that we have become so permeated by their influence, that we
can still think of their approval and sympathy as a stimulating and
elevating power, and be conscious that we are more or less carrying on
their work, in their spirit. We find, as Lowell says in his noble ode--

     We find in our dull road their shining track;
         In every nobler mood
     We feel the orient of their spirit glow,
     Part of our life's unalterable good,
     Of all our saintlier aspiration;
         They come transfigured back,
     Secure from change in their high-hearted ways,
     Beautiful evermore, and with the rays
     Of morn on their white shields of expectation.

Alas, he adds, even the best deeds will be hidden before long by "the
thoughtless drift of the deciduous years". Yes; they will be forgotten
before long, as we too shall be forgotten--the incalculable majority
within a generation or two. The thought may be painful, but the
reasonable conclusion is, I think, not that we should fret over the
inevitable; rather that we should purify our minds from this as from
other illusions, and feel ashamed of the selfish desire that our own
names should be preserved when we know that so many who were far better
and nobler than ourselves will inevitably be forgotten, and were better
and nobler without the stimulus of any such paltry desire. Gratitude to
the obscure is, in this sense, I take it, a duty, which we cannot
practise without a proportional moral benefit. It enables us to rise
above the constant temptation to seek for notoriety at any price, and to
make our ultimate aim the achievement of good work, not the chorus of
popular applause which may be aroused. Thoroughly to conquer that
temptation is, I take it, one of the objects which every man should set
before himself. And nothing, I think, helps one more than a vivid and
enduring consciousness of the enormous debt which we owe to men and
women who lived in obscurity, who never had a thought of emerging out of
obscurity, and whose ennobling influence has yet become a part of every
higher principle of action in ourselves. I may or I may not have formed
too low an estimate of the services of the few heroes who stand
conspicuously above the ordinary level; but I am certain that nothing
that I can say would exaggerate the importance of many who have no
claims to such a position. To cherish and preserve that influence by
every faculty we possess seems to me to be our plainest duty; and we may
comfort ourselves, if comfort be needed, by the reflection that, though
the memory may be transitory, the good done by a noble life and
character may last far beyond any horizon which can be realised by our



[A] See the "Wealth of Nature," in _Essays by a Barrister_ [Sir
James Fitzjames Stephen].


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