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public opinion, and must receive, not communicate, the impulse of general thought. France is irrecoverably gone down the gulf
. All the checks either on arbitrary or popular power have been completely destroyed by the insane ambition of its populace; and its capital has been transformed into a vast arena, where two savage wild beasts, equally fatal to mankind—despotic power and democratic ambition—fiercely contend for the mastery, but where the fair form of Freedom is never again destined to appear. Spain and Portugal are torn by the same furious passions : a Vendean struggle is maintained with heroic constancy in the north; a Jacobin revolution is rapidly spreading in the south; and amidst a deadly civil war, and the confiscation of church and funded property, the democratic and despotic principles are rapidly coming into collision, and threaten speedily there, as elsewhere, to extinguish all the securities of real freedom in the shock.
It is not merely, however, in the political world that the symptoms of a vast organic change in Western Europe are to be discerned. Manners and habits evince as clearly the prodigious, and, as we fear, degrading transition which is going on amongst us. We are not blindly attached to the customs of former times, and willingly admit that, in some respects, a change for the better has taken place; but in others how wofully for the worse, and how prodigious, at all erents, is the alteration, whether for better or worse, which is in progress! With the feeling of chivalry still giving dignity to the higher ranks, and a sense of loyalty yet elevating the lower ; with religion paramount in all the influential classes, and subordination as yet unshaken among the industrious poor, a state of manners ensued, a degree of felicity was attained, a height of national glory was reached, to which the future generations of Europe will look back with the more regret that, once lost, it is altogether irrecoverable. We do not despair of the fortunes of our country, still less of the human race; but we have no hope that those bright and glorious days can ever return. Vigour, indeed, is not awanting; activity-restless
, insatiable activity, is in profusion ; talent is as yet undecayed ; but where are the elevated feelings, the high resolves, the enduring constancy, the religious inspiration, the moral resolution, which gave dignity
and grandeur to the past age? These qualities, doubtless, are still found in many individuals ; but we speak of the general tendency of things, not the character of particular
Even where they do occur, are they not chiefly to be discerned in those of a certain standing in life ? and are they not remarked by the rising generation as remnants of the former age, which are fast disappearing, and will soon be totally extinct ?
Look at education,-above all, the education of the middle and lower orders, -and say whether a vast and degrading change is not there rapidly taking place ? It is there, more than anywhere else, that “coming events cast their shadows before.” Elevating or ennobling knowledge, moral and religious instruction, purifying and entrancing compositions are discarded. The arts, the mechanical or manufacturing arts, alone are looked to; nothing is thought of but what can immediately be turned into money. The Church, and all the institutions connected with it, are considered as not destined to any lengthened endurance, and therefore classical learning is scouted and abandoned. The philosopher's stone is alone sought after by the alchemists of modern days; nothing is studied but what will render the human mind prolific of dollars. To purify the heart and humanise the affections; to improve the understanding and dignify the manners; to provide not the means of elevation in life, but the power of bearing elevation with propriety; to confer not the power of subduing others, but the means of conquering one's self; to impress love to God and goodwill towards men, are deemed the useless and antiquated pursuits of the monks of former days. Practical chemistry and sulphuric acid, decrepitating salts and hydraulic engines, algebraic equations and commercial academies, mercantile navigation and double and single book-keeping, have fairly, in the seminaries of the middle ranks, driven Cicero and Virgil off the field. The vast extension of education, the prodigious present activity and energy of the human mind, the incessant efforts of the middle ranks to elevate and improve their worldly situation, afford, we fear, no reasonable grounds for hoping that this degrading change can be arrested ; on the contrary, they are the very circumstances which afford a moral certainty that it will continue and increase.
That the energy, expectations, and discontent now generally prevalent among the labouring classes, and appearing in the feverish desire for social amelioration, and the ready reception of any projects, how vain soever, which promise to promote it, will lead to great and important changes in the condition both of government, society, and manners, is too obvious to require any illustration. The intense and feverish attention to worldly objects which these changes at once imply and produce, the undue extension of artificial wants among the labouring poor which they generate, the severe competition to which all classes are in consequence exposed, the minute subdivision of labour which such a high and increasing state of manufacturing skill occasions, the experienced impossibility of rising in any department without a thorough and exclusive attention to its details, are the very circumstances of all others the most fatal to the improvement of the understanding, or the regulation of the heart. Amidst the shock of so many contending interests, the calm pursuits of science, which lead not to wealth, will be abandoned; the institutions which as yet maintain it will be sacrificed to the increasing clamour of democratic jealousy; literature will become a mere stimulant to the passions, or amusement of an hour; religion, separated from its property, will sink into a trade, in which the prejudices and passions of the congregations of each minister will be inflamed instead of being subdued. Every generous or ennobling study will be discarded for the mere pursuits of wealth or animal enjoyment; excitement in all its forms will become the universal object; and in the highest state of manufacturing skill, and in the latest stages of social regeneration, our descendants may sink irrecoverably into the degeneracy of Roman or Italian manners.
The extension and improvement of the mechanical arts -the multiplication of railroads, canals, and harbours—extraordinary rapidity of internal communication-increasing craving for newspapers, and excitement in all its forms; the general spread of comfort, and universal passion of luxury, afford no antidote whatever against the native corruption of the human heart. We may go to Paris from London in three hours, and to Constantinople in twelve ; we may communicate with India, by the telegraph, in a forenoon,
and make an autumnal excursion to the Pyramids or Persepolis in a fortnight, by steam-boats, and yet, amidst all our improvements, be the most degraded and corrupt of the human race.
Internal communication was brought to perfection in the Roman empire, but did that revive the spirit of the legions, or avert the arms of the barbarians ?-did it restore the age of Virgil and Cicero? Because all the citizens gazed daily on the most sumptuous edifices, and lived amidst a forest of the noblest statues, did that hinder the rapid corruption of manners, the irretrievable degeneracy of character, the total extinction of genius ? Did their proud and ignorant contempt of the barbarous nations save either the Greeks or the Romans from subjugation by a ruder and more savage, but a fresher and a nobler race?
Were they not prating about the lights of the age, and the unparalleled state of social refinement, when the swords of Alaric and Attila were already drawn? In the midst of all our excursions, have we yet penetrated that deepest of all mysteries, the human heart? with all our improvements, have we eradicated one evil passion or extinguished one guilty propensity in that dark fountain of evil?
Alas ! facts, clear undeniable facts, prove the reverse. With the spread of knowledge, and the growth of every species of social improvement, general depravity has gone on increasing with an accelerated pace, both in France and England, and every increase of knowledge seems but an addition to the length of the lever by which vice dissolves the fabric of society. * It is not simple knowledge, it is knowledge detached from religion, that produces this fatal result ; and unhappily that is precisely the species of knowledge which is the present object of fervent popular desire. The reason of its corrupting tendency on morals is evident—when so detached it multiplies the desires and passions of the heart without any increase to its regulating principles ; it augments the attacking without strengthening the resisting powers, and thence the disorder and license it spreads through society. The invariable charac
The curious tables of M. Guerrin prove that in every department of France, without exception, general depravity is just in proportion to the extension of knowledge. “ At one throw," says the candid Mr Bulwer," he has bowled down all our preconceived ideas on this vital subject.”—See Bulwer's France, vol. i., Appendix.
teristic of a declining and corrupt state of society is a progressive increase in the force of passion, and a progressive decline in the influence of duty; and this tendency, so conspicuous in France, so evidently beginning amongst ourselves, is increased by nothing so much as that spread of education without religion which is the manifest tendency of the present times.
What renders it painfully clear that this corruption has not only begun, but has far advanced amidst a large proportion of our people, is the evident decline in the effect of moral character upon political influence. It used to be the boast, and the deserved boast of England, that talents the most commanding, descent the most noble, achievements the most illustrious, could not secure power without the aid of moral virtue. These times are gone past. Depravity of character, sordidness of disposition, recklessness of conduct, are now no security whatever against political demagogues wielding the very greatest political influence, nay, to their being held up as the object of public admiration, and possibly forced upon the Government of the country.
. What has the boasted spread of education done to exclude such characters from political weight? Nothing--it is, on the contrary, the very thing which gives them their ascendency. The time has evidently arrived when the commission of political crimes, the stain of guilt, the opprobrium of disgrace, is no objection whatever with a large and influential party to political leaders, provided they possess the qualities likely to insure success in their designs. “It is the fatal effect,” says Madame de Stael, “of revolutions to obliterate altogether our ideas of right and wrong, and instead of the eternal distinctions of morality and religion, to apply no other test, in general estimation, to political actions but success.” This affords a melancholy presage of what may be expected when the same vicious and degrading principles are still more generally embraced and applied to the ordinary transactions, characters, and business of life. M. de Tocqueville has well explained how this melancholy progress is hastened by the triumph of democracy :
"If absolute power were re-established amongst the democratic nations of Europe, I am persuaded that it would assume a new form, and appear under features unknown to our forefathers. There was a time in Europe, when the laws and the consent of the people had invested princes with