« EdellinenJatka »
to agree to a duty on cotton goods to uphold the navy, or the Irish in Ulster to agree to a rate to save their countrymen in Connaught from dying of famine, or the Scotch lairds to agree to a tax for a rural police, to preserve the peace and safety of their counties. We should rejoice if men, as a body, could be brought to act for the advantage of the country, from pure and honourable motives only; but, taking them as they are, we are thankful for any system which brings the selfish motives round to the side of patriotism, and causes parliamentary influence to save us from the Russian knout or French requisitions.
One of the most interesting and original parts of Mr Macaulay's work is the account he has given, in the first volume, of the manners and customs, habits of the people, and state of society in England, prior to the Revolution, compared with what now exists. In doing so, he has only exemplified what, in his admirable essay on history in the Edinburgh Review, he has described as a leading object in that species of composition ; and it must be confessed that his example tends greatly to show the truth of his precept. This part of his work is learned, laborious, elaborate, and in the highest degree amusing. It is also in many respects, and in no ordinary degree, instructive. But it has the same fault as the other parts of his work—it is one-sided. It exhibits, in the highest degree, the skill of the pleader, the brilliancy of the painter, the power of the rhetorician ; but it does not equally display the reflection of the sage or the impartiality of the judge. It savours too much of a brilliant party essay in the Edinburgh Review. Mr Macaulay's object is to write up the present times, and write down the past; and we fully admit he has done so with the greatest ability. But we are thoroughly convinced his picture, how graphic soever, is in great part deceptive. It tells the truth, and nothing but the truth, but not the whole truth. It represents the ludicrous and extreme features of society as its real and average characteristics ; it bears, we are convinced, the same relation, in many respects, to the real aspect of the times of which it treats, which the burlesques of Mrs Trollope do to the actual and entire features of Transatlantic society. These burlesques are very amusing; they furnish diverting drawing-room reading ; but would a subsequent historian be justified in assuming them as the text-work of a grave and serious description of America in the nineteenth century ? We have no doubt Mr Macaulay could produce an authority from a comedy, a tract, or a satire, for every fact he advances ; but we have just as little doubt that hundreds of other facts, equally authentic and true, might be adduced of an opposite tendency, of which he says nothing; and therefore his charge to the jury, how able soever, is all on one side.
His object is to show that, in every respect, the present age is incomparably happier and more virtuous than those which have preceded it-a doctrine which has descended to him, in common with the whole Liberal party of the world, from the visions of Rousseau. We, who have a firm belief in human corruption, alike from Revelation and experience, believe such visions to be a perfect chimera, and that, after a certain period of efflorescence, decay and degradation are as inevitable to societies as to individual men. In some respects, Mr Macaulay is right. The present age is far richer, more refined, and more luxurious than any which has preceded it. In a material view, the liigher and middle classes enjoy advantages, and are habituated to comforts, unknown in any former age. The chances of life have increased over the whole
population twenty-five, in the higher classes at least forty per cent. Humanity has made a most cheering progress : the barbarity of former days is not only unknown, but seems inconceivable. A British tradesman is better clothed, fed, and lodged, than a Plantagenet baron. So far all is true ; but audi alteram partem. Are we equally disinterested, magnanimous, and brave, with the nations or ages which have preceded us? Are the generous affections equally victorious over the selfish ? Are the love of gain, the thirst for pleasure, the passion for enjoyment, such very weak passions amongst us, that they could be readily supplanted by the ardour of patriotism, the self-denial of virtue, the heroism of duty ? Would modern England have engaged in a crusade for the deliverance of the holy sepulchre ?
Would the merchants of London set fire to their stock-exchange and capital, as those of Numantia or Saguntum did, to save it from the spoiler? Will Free-trade Hall ever overflow with patriotic gifts, as the Bourse at Moscow did in 1812 ? We have laid out a hundred and fifty millions on railways, in the hope of getting a good dividend in this world : would we lay out one million in building another York Cathedral, or endowing another Greenwich Hospital ?
Have we no experience of an age
“When wealth accumulates and men decay ?"
These are the questions an impartial judge will ask himself after reading Mr Macaulay's brilliant diatribe on the past in his first volume.
He tells us that the country gentlemen before the Revolution were mere ignorant country bumpkins, few of whom could read or write, and who, when they for once in their lives came up to London, went staring about on Holborn or Ludgate Hill, till a spout of water from some impending roof fell into their mouths, while a thief was fumbling in their pockets, or a painted denizen from some of the neighbouring purlieus decoyed them into her bower.
Be it so. It was these country bumpkins who gained the battles of Cressy, Poitiers, Azincour, and Flodden ; they built York Cathedral and St Paul's; their sons gained the victories of Sluys and La Hogue, of Ramilies and Blenheim ; they were ennobled by the devotion and sufferings of the Cavaliers. We hope their well-fed, long-lived, and luxurious descendants would rise from their beds of down to do the same. He tells us the clergy of the age of Charles II. were almost all drawn from the very humblest classes, that their education was very imperfect
, that they occupied so low a place in society that no lady's-maid, who had hopes of the steward, would look at them; and that they were often glad to take up with a damsel whose character had been blown upon by the young squire. Be it so : that age produced the Clarkes and the Cudworths, the Barrows and the Tillotsons, the Taylors and the Newtons, the Halls and the Hookers, of the Church of England; and their efforts stemmed the torrent of licentiousness which, in reaction against the cant of the Covenanters, deluged the country on the accession of Charles II. The schools and colleges in which they were bred had produced Milton and Spencer, Shakspeare and Bacon, John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton. We hope that the labours of their “honourable and reverend” successors, who have
been so highly educated at Oxford and Cambridge, and are so successful in attracting the regard of the high-born damsels who have failed at the Opera, Rottenrow, and Almacks, may be equally successful in eradicating the prevailing vices of the present age, and that, after the lapse of a century and a half, their works will occupy as high a place in general estimation.
To illustrate our meaning, we shall extract two paragraphs from a manuscript work on Contemporary History, which recently passed through our hands, and ask Mr Macaulay himself whether he can gainsay any fact it advances, and yet whether he will admit the justice of the picture which it draws.
“The British empire, from 1815 to 1848, exhibited the most extraordinary social and political features that the world had ever seen. No former period had presented so complete a commentary on the maxim, 'extremes meet.' It immediately succeeded the termination of a desperate and costly war, in the course of which the most herculean efforts for the national defence and the interests of the empire had been made ; and it witnessed the abandonment of them all. Twenty years of desperate hostility had bequeathed to it untouched a sinking fund of fifteen millions annually ; thirty-five years of unbroken peace saw that sinking fund extinguished. Protection to industry-support of the colonies-upholding of the navy, had been the watch words of the nation during the war. Free trade, disregard of the colonies, cheap freights, became the ruling maxims during the peace which it had purchased. The only intelligible principle of action in the people seemed to be to change everything, and undo all that had been done. The different classes of society during this divergence became as far separated in station and condition as in opinion. The rich were every day growing richer, the poor poorer. The wealth of London, and of a few great houses in the country, exceeded all that the imagination of the East had conceived in the Arabian Nights: the misery of Ireland, and of the manufacturing towns, outstripped all that the imagination of Dante had figured of the terrible. The first daily exhibited during the season all the marvels of Aladdin's palace; the last, at the same period, presented all the horrors of Ugolino's prison.
“ Undeniable statistics proved the reality and universality of this extraordinary state of things, which had become so common as to cease to attract attention. The income tax returns established the existence of £200,000,000 annual income above £150, in Great Britain alone, by far the greater part of which was the produce of realised wealth ; while the poor-law returns exhibited in the two islands four millions of paupers, or a full seventh of the population subsisting on public charity. The burden of the poor-rates in the two islands rose, before the close of the period, to £8,000,000 a-year, besides £1,300,000 for county rates. Population had increased fast, but crime far faster: it had, during forty years, advanced ten times as fast as the numbers of the people. General distress prevailed during the period among the working classes, interrupted only by occasional and deceptive gleams of sunshine. So acute did it become in 1847 that a noble grant of £10,000,000 from the British Parliament alone prevented two millions of Irish dying of famine; as it was, 250,000 in that single year perished from starvation, and as many, in that year and the next, were driven into exile from the United Kingdom. The people in Liverpool returned thanks to God when the inundation of Irish paupers sank to 2000 a-week. Glasgow, for two years, suffered under the infliction of above a thousand weekly, which in that short time raised its poor-rates from £20,000 to, £200,000 a year. During this protracted period of suffering, the feelings of the different classes of society became as much alienated as their interests had been. Rebellion broke out in Ireland ; the West Indies were ruined, and the Chartists numbered their millions in England. The Treasury shared in the general distress. It had become impossible to raise funds from the nation adequate to its necessary expenses; and, at length, so pressing did the clamour for a reduction of taxation become, that it was seriously proposed, and loudly approved by a large and influential portion of the community, to sell our ships of war, disband our troops, and surrender ourselves unarmed to the tender mercies of the adjoining nations, when war with unwonted fierceness was raging both on the continent of Europe and in our Eastern dominions.
“Nor was the aspect of society more satisfactory in its social conditionthe manners of the higher, or the habits of the lower orders. Intoxication, seemingly purposely encouraged by Government by a large reduction of the duties on spirits, spread the most frightful demoralisation through our great towns. Licentiousness spread to an unparalleled extent in the metropolis, and all the principal towns; and the amount of female corruption on the streets, and at the theatres, exceeded anything ever witnessed since the days of Messalina or Theodora. The drama was ruined: it was supplanted, as always occurs in the decay of nations, by the melodrama; the theatre by the amphitheatre. Drury Lane was turned into an arena for wild beasts, Covent Garden into an Italian Opera. The magnificent attractions of the opera exceeded anything ever witnessed before; but the warmth of its scenes, and the liberal display of the charms of the danseuses, did not prevent it from being nightly crowded by the whole rank, beauty, and fashion of the metropolis. A universal thirst for gain or excitement had seized the nation. No danger, however great, no immorality, however crying, was able to stop them, when there was the prospect of a good dividend. At one period, a hundred and fifty millions were wasted in loans to “healthy young republics," as the Foreign Secretary himself admitted in Parliament; at another, a still larger sum was laid out on domestic railways, not one half of which could ever produce anything. Three guineas a-night were habitually given for a single stall-seat at the opera, to hear a Swedish singer, during the railway mania: but then the occupant was indifferent—he put it down to the railway, and came there, reeling from the champagne and hock drank at a neighbouring hotel, at its expense. Most of these railways were mere bubbles, never meant to go on ; when the fortunate projectors had got the shares placed at a premium in the hands of the widow and the orphan, they let the scheme go to the bottom.
"There was a great talk about religion, but the talkers were not always exclusively set on things above. Fine ladies sometimes asked a sly ques. tion on coming out of their third service on Sunday, or their second on Friday, what was the price of Great Westerns, or whether the broad or the narrow gauge was likely to carry the day. The reading of men was chiefly confined to the newspapers ; of women to novels, or occasional morsels of scandal from scandalous trials. There was great talk about the necessity of keeping up the tone of public morality ; but it was appearances, not realities, which were chiefly aimed at. •Not to leave undone, but to keep unkuown,' was the maxim of the London, as it had been of the Venetian dames; the delinquents who were punished were chastised, like the Spartan youths, not for what they had done, but for what they had let be discovered. So capricious was public opinion in this particular, in the very highest circles, that it was stated by the most popular author of the day, in the Edinburgh Pericu, that