III: a word more about America.
when I was at Chicago
last year, I was asked whether Lord Coleridge would not write a book about America
I ventured to answer confidently for him that he would do nothing of the kind.
Not at Chicago
only, but almost wherever I went, I was asked whether I myself did not intend to write a book about America
For oneself one can answer yet more confidently than for one's friends, and I always replied that most assuredly I had no such intention.
To write a book about America
, on the strength of having made merely such a tour there as mine was, and with no fuller equipment of preparatory studies and of local observations than I possess, would seem to me an impertinence.
It is now a long while since I read M. de Tocqueville
's famous work on Democracy in America
I have the highest respect for M. de Tocqueville
; but my remembrance of his book is that it deals too much in abstractions for my
taste, and that it is written, moreover, in a style which many French writers adopt, but which I find trying — a style cut into short paragraphs and wearing an air of rigorous scientific deduction without the reality.
Very likely, however, I do M. de Tocqueville
My debility in high speculation is well known, and I mean to attempt his book on Democracy again when I have seen America
once more, and when years may have brought to me, perhaps, more of the philosophic mind.
Meanwhile, however, it will be evident how serious a matter I think it to write a worthy book about the United States
, when I am not entirely satisfied with even M. de Tocqueville
But before I went to America
, and when I had no expectation of ever going there, I published, under the title of “A word about America
,” not indeed a book, but a few modest remarks on what I thought civilization in the United States
might probably be like.
I had before me a Boston newspaper article, which said that if I ever visited America
I should find there such and such things; and taking this article for my text I observed that from all I had read and all I could judge I should for my part expect to find there rather such and such other things, which I mentioned.
I said that
of aristocracy, as we know it here, I should expect to find, of course, in the United States
the total absence; that our lower class I should expect to find absent in a great degree, while my old familiar friend, the middle class, I should expect to find in full possession of the land.
And then betaking myself to those playful phrases which a little relieve, perhaps, the tedium of grave disquisitions of this sort, I said that I imagined one would just have in America
our Philistines, with our aristocracy quite left out, and our populace very nearly.
An acute and singularly candid American, whose name I will on no account betray to his countrymen, read these observations of mine, and he made a remark upon them to me which struck me a good deal.
Yes, he said, you are right, and your supposition is just.
In general, what you would find over there would be the Philistines, as you call them, without your aristocracy and without your populace.
Only this, too, I say at the same time: you would find over there something besides, something more, something which you do not bring out, which you cannot know and bring out, perhaps, without actually visiting the United States
, but which you would recognize if you saw it.
My friend was a true prophet.
When I saw
the United States
I recognized that the general account which I had hazarded of them was, indeed, not erroneous, but that it required to have something added to supplement it. I should not like either my friends in America
or my countrymen here at home to think that my “Word about America
” gave my full and final thoughts respecting the people of the United States
The new and modifying impressions brought by experience I shall communicate, as I did my original expectations, with all good faith, and as simply and plainly as possible.
Perhaps when I have yet again visited America
, have seen the great West
, and have had a second reading of M. de Tocqueville
's classical work on Democracy, my mind may be enlarged and my present impressions still further modified by new ideas.
If so, I promise to make my confession duly; not indeed to make it, even then, in a book about America
, but to make it in a brief “Last word” on that great subject — a word, like its predecessors, of openhearted and free conversation with the readers of this review.
I suppose I am not by nature disposed to think so much as most people do of “institutions.”
think and talk very
much of their “institutions;” I am by nature inclined to call all this sort of thing machinery
, and to regard, rather, men and their characters.
But the more I saw of America
, the more I found myself led to treat “institutions” with increased respect.
Until I went to the United States
I had never seen a people with institutions which seemed expressly and thoroughly suited to it. I had not properly appreciated the benefits proceeding from this cause.
Sir Henry Maine
, in an admirable essay which, though not signed, betrays him for its author by its rare and characteristic qualities of mind and style--Sir Henry Maine
, in the Quarterly Review
, adopts and often reiterates a phrase of M. Scherer
, to the effect that “Democracy is only a form of government.”
He holds up to ridicule a sentence of Mr. Bancroft
's History, in which the American
democracy is told that its ascent to power “proceeded as uniformly and majestically as the laws of being, and was as certain as the decrees of eternity.”
Let us be willing to give Sir Henry Maine
his way, and to allow no magnificent claim of this kind on behalf of the American
Let us treat as not more solid the assertion in the Declaration of Independence
, that “all men are created equal, and endowed
by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Let us concede that these natural rights are a figment; that chance and circumstance, as much as deliberate foresight and design, have brought the United States
into their present condition; that, moreover, the British
rule which they threw off was not the rule of oppressors and tyrants which declaimers suppose, and that the merit of the Americans
was not that of oppressed men rising against tyrants, but rather of sensible young people getting rid of stupid and overweening guardians who misunderstood and mismanaged them.
All this let us concede, if we will; but in conceding it let us not lose sight of the really important point, which is this: that their institutions do in fact suit the people of the United States
so well, and that from this suitableness they do derive so much actual benefit.
As one watches the play of their institutions, the image suggests itself to one's mind of a man in a suit of clothes which fits him to perfection, leaving all his movements unimpeded and easy.
It is loose where it ought to be loose, and it sits close where its sitting close is an advantage.
The central government of the United States
keeps in its own hands the functions which, if
the nation is to have real unity, ought to be kept there; those functions it takes to itself, and no others.
The state governments and the municipal governments provide people with the fullest liberty of managing their own affairs, and afford, besides, a constant and invaluable school of practical experience.
This wonderful suit of clothes, again (to recur to our image), is found also to adapt itself naturally to the wearer's growth, and to admit of all enlargements as they successively arise.
I speak of the state of things since the suppression of slavery,--of the state of things which meets a spectator's eye at the present time in America
There are points in which the institutions of the United States
may call forth criticism.
One observer may think that it would be well if the President
's term of office were longer, if his ministers sate in Congress, or must possess the confidence of Congress.
Another observer may say that the marriage laws for the whole nation ought to be fixed by Congress, and not to vary at the will of the legislatures of the several States.
I myself was much struck with the inconvenience of not allowing a man to sit in Congress except for his own district; a man like Wendell Phillips
was thus excluded, because Boston
would not return him. It is as if
could have no other constituency open to him if Rochdale
would not send him to Parliament.
But all these are really questions of machinery
(to use my own term), and ought not so to engage our attention as to prevent our seeing that the capital fact as to the institutions of the United States
is this: their suitableness to the American
people, and their natural and easy working.
If we are not to be allowed to say, with Mr. Beecher
, that this people has “a genius for the organization of states,” then at all events we must admit that in its own organization it has enjoyed the most signal good fortune.
Yes; what is called in the jargon of the publicists, the political problem and the social problem, the people of the United States
does appear to me to have solved, or Fortune has solved it for them, with undeniable success.
Against invasion and conquest from without they are impregnably strong.
As to domestic concerns, the first thing to remember is, that the people over there is at bottom the same people as ourselves,--a people with a strong sense for conduct.
But there is said to be much corruption among their politicians, and in the public service, in municipal administration, and in the administration of justice.
would lead us to think that the administration of justice, in particular, is so thoroughly corrupt, that a man with a lawsuit has only to provide his lawyer with the necessary funds for bribing the officials, and he can make sure of winning his suit.
themselves use such strong language in describing the corruption prevalent amongst them, that they cannot be surprised if strangers believe them.
For myself, I had heard and read so much to the discredit of American political life, how all the best men kept aloof from it, and those who gave themselves to it were unworthy, that I ended by supposing that the thing must actually be so, and the good Americans
must be looked for elsewhere than in politics.
Then I had the pleasure of dining with Mr. Bancroft
; and however he may, in Sir Henry Maine
's opinion, overlaud the pre-established harmony of American democracy, he had at any rate invited to meet me half a dozen politicians whom in England
we should pronounce to be members of Parliament of the highest class, in bearing, manners, tone of feeling, intelligence, information.
I discovered that in truth the practice, so common in America
, of calling a politician “a thief” does not mean so very much more than is meant in England
have heard Lord Beaconsfield called “a liar,” and Mr. Gladstone
, “a madman.”
It means, that the speaker disagrees with the politician in question, and dislikes him. Not that I assent, on the other hand, to the thick-and-thin American patriots, who will tell you that there is no more corruption in the politics and administration of the United States
than in those of England
I believe there is
more, and that the tone of both is lower there; and this from a cause on which I shall have to touch hereafter.
But the corruption is exaggerated; it is not the wide and deep disease it is often represented; it is such that the good elements in the nation may, and I believe will, perfectly work it off; and even now the truth of what I have been saying as to the suitableness and successful working of American institutions is not really in the least affected by it.
Furthermore, American society is not in danger from revolution.
Here, again, I do not mean that the United States
are exempt from the operation of every one of the causes — such a cause as the division between rich and poor, for instance — which may lead to revolution.
But I mean that comparatively with the old countries of Europe
they are free from the danger of revolution; and I believe that the good
elements in them will make a way for them to escape out of what they really have of this danger also, to escape in the future as well as now — the future for which some observers announce this danger as so certain and so formidable.
Lord Macaulay predicted that the United States
must come in time to just the same state of things which we witness in England
; that the cities would fill up and the lands become occupied, and then, he said, the division between rich and poor would establish itself on the same scale as with us, and be just as embarrassing.
He forgot that the United States
are without what certainly fixes and accentuates the division between rich and poor,--the distinction of classes.
Not only have they not the distinction between noble and bourgeois, betweeen aristocracy and middle class; they have not even the distinction between bourgeois and peasant or artisan, between middle and lower class.
They have nothing to create it and compel their recognition of it. Their domestic service is done for them by Irish
, Germans, Swedes, negroes.
Outside domestic service, within the range of conditions which an American may, in fact, be called upon to traverse, he passes easily from one sort of occupation to another, from poverty to riches, and from riches
No one of his possible occupations appears degrading to him or makes him lose caste; and poverty itself appears to him as inconvenient and disagreeable rather than as humiliating.
When the immigrant from Europe
strikes root in his new home, he becomes as the American
It may be said that the Americans
, when they attained their independence, had not the elements for a division into classes, and that they deserve no praise for not having invented one.
But I am not now contending that they deserve praise for their institutions, I am saying how well their institutions work.
Considering, indeed, how rife are distinctions of rank and class in the world, how prone men in general are to adopt them, how much the Americans
themselves, beyond doubt, are capable of feeling their attraction, it shows, I think, at least strong good sense in the Americans
to have forborne from all attempt to invent them at the outset, and to have escaped or resisted any fancy for inventing them since.
But evidently the United States
constituted themselves, not amid the circumstances of a feudal age, but in a modern age; not under the conditions of an epoch favorable to subordination, but under those of an epoch of expansion.
did but comply with the form and pressure of the circumstances and conditions then present.
A feudal age, an epoch of war, defence, and concentration, needs centres of power and property, and it reinforces property by joining distinctions of rank and class with it. Property becomes more honorable, more solid.
And in feudal ages this is well, for its changing hands easily would be a source of weakness.
But in ages of expansion, where men are bent that every one shall have his chance, the more readily property changes hands the better.
The envy with which its holder is regarded diminishes, society is safer.
I think whatever may be said of the worship of the almighty dollar in America
, it is indubitable that rich men are regarded there with less envy and hatred than rich men are in Europe
Why is this?
Because their condition is less fixed, because government and legislation do not take them more seriously than other people, make grandees of them, aid them to found families and endure.
With us, the chief holders of property are grandees already, and every rich man aspires to become a grandee if possible.
And therefore an English country gentleman regards himself as part of the system of nature; government and legislation have invited him so
to do. If the price of wheat falls so low that his means of expenditure are greatly reduced, he tells you that if this lasts he cannot possibly go on as a country gentleman; and every wellbred person amongst us looks sympathizing and shocked.
An American would say, “Why should he?”
The conservative newspapers are fond of giving us, as an argument for the game laws, the plea that without them a country gentleman could not be induced to live on his estate.
An American would say, “What does it matter?”
Perhaps to an English ear this will sound brutal; but the point is that the American
does not take his rich man so seriously as we do ours, does not make him into a grandee; the thing, if proposed to him, would strike him as an absurdity.
I suspect that Mr. Winans
himself, the American
millionaire who adds deer-forest to deer-forest, and will not suffer a cottier to keep a pet lamb, regards his own performance as a colossal stroke of American humor, illustrating the absurdities of the British
system of property and privilege.
Ask Mr. Winans
if he would promote the introduction of the British
game laws into the United States
, and he would tell you with a merry laugh that the idea is ridiculous, and that these British follies are for home consumption.
The example of France
must not mislead us. There the institutions, an objector may say, are republican, and yet the division and hatred between rich and poor is intense.
True; but in France
, though the institutions may be republican, the ideas and morals are not republican.
not only are the institutions republican, but the ideas and morals are pre; vailingly republican also.
They are those of a plain, decent middle class.
The ideal of those who are the public instructors of the people is the ideal of such a class.
the ideal of the mass of popular journalists and popular writers of fiction, who are now practically the public instructors there, is, if you could see their hearts, a Pompadour or du Barry regime
, with themselves for the part of Faublas.
With this ideal prevailing, this vision of the objects for which wealth is desirable, the possessors of wealth become hateful to the multitude which toils and endures, and society is undermined.
This is one of the many inconveniences which the French
have to suffer from that worship of the great goddess Lubricity to which they are at present vowed.
Wealth excites the most savage enmity there, because it is conceived as a means for gratifying appetites of the most selfish and vile kind.
But in America
is no more the ideal than Coriolanus
Wealth is no more conceived as the minister to the pleasures of a class of rakes, than as the minister to the magnificence of a class of nobles.
It is conceived as a thing which almost any American may attain, and which almost every American will use respectably.
Its possession, therefore, does not inspire hatred, and so I return to the thesis with which I started — America
is not in danger of revolution.
The division between rich and poor is alleged to us as a cause of revolution which presently, if not now, must operate there, as elsewhere; and yet we see that this cause has not there, in truth, the characters to which we are elsewhere accustomed.
A people homogeneous, a people which had to constitute itself in a modern age, an epoch of expansion, and which has given to itself institutions entirely fitted for such an age and epoch, and which suit it perfectly — a people not in danger of war from without, not in danger of revolution from within — such is the people of the United States
The political and social problem, then, we must surely allow that they solve successfully.
There remains, I know, the human problem also; the solution of that too has to be considered; but I shall come to that
My point at present is, that politically and socially the United States
are a community living in a natural condition, and conscious of living in a natural condition.
And being in this healthy case, and having this healthy consciousness, the community there uses its understanding with the soundness of health; it in general sees its political and social concerns straight, and sees them clear.
So that when Sir Henry Maine
and M. Scherer
tells us that democracy is “merely a form of government,” we may observe to them that it is in the United States
a form of government in which the community feels itself in a natural condition and at ease; in which, consequently, it sees things straight and sees them clear.
More than half one's interest in watching the English
people of the United States
comes, of course, from the bearing of what one finds there upon things at home, amongst us English people ourselves in these islands.
I have frankly recorded what struck me and came as most new to me in the condition of the English
race in the United States
, I had said beforehand, indeed, that I supposed the American Philistine
was a livelier sort of Philistine than ours, because he had not that pressure of the Barbarians to stunt and distort him which befalls
his English brother here.
But I did not foresee how far his superior liveliness and naturalness of condition, in the absence of that pressure, would carry the American Philistine
I still use my old name Philistine
, because it does in fact seem to me as yet to suit the bulk of the community over there, as it suits the strong central body of the community here.
But in my mouth the name is hardly a reproach.
so clearly do I see the Philistine
's necessity, so willingly I own his merits, so much I find of him in myself.
The American Philistine, however, is certainly far more different from his English brother than I had beforehand supposed.
And on that difference we English of the old country may with great profit turn our regards for a while, and I am now going to speak of it.
Surely, if there is one thing more than another which all the world is saying of our community at present, and of which the truth cannot well be disputed, it is this: that we act like people who do not think straight and see clear.
I know that the Liberal newspapers used to be fond of saying that what characterized our middle class was its “clear, manly intelligence, penetrating through sophisms, ignoring commonplaces, and giving to conventional illusions
their true value.”
Many years ago I took alarm at seeing the Daily News
and the Morning Star
, like Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah, thus making horns of iron for the middle class and bidding it “Go up and prosper!”
and my first efforts as a writer on public matters were prompted by a desire to utter, like Micaiah, the son of Imlah, my protest against these misleading assurances of the false prophets.
And though often and often smitten on the cheek, just as Micaiah was, still I persevered; and at the Royal
Institution I said how we seemed to flounder and to beat the air, and at Liverpool
I singled out as our chief want the want of lucidity.
But now everybody is really saying of us the same thing: that we fumble because we cannot make up our mind, and that we cannot make up our mind because we do not know what to be after.
If our foreign policy is not that of “the British Philistine
, with his likes and dislikes, his effusion and confusion, his hot and cold fits, his want of dignity and of the steadfastness which comes from dignity, his want of ideas, and of the steadfastness which comes from ideas,” then all the world at the present time is, it must be owned, very much mistaken.
Let us not, therefore, speak of foreign affairs;
it is needless, because the thing I wish to show is so manifest there to everybody.
But we will consider matters at home.
Let us take the present state of the House of Commons.
Can anything be more confused, more unnatural?
That assembly has got into a condition utterly embarrassed, and seems impotent to bring itself right.
The members of the House
themselves may find entertainment in the personal incidents which such a state of confusion is sure to bring forth abundantly, and excitement in the opportunities thus often afforded for the display of Mr. Gladstone
's wonderful powers.
But to any judicious Englishman outside the House
the spectacle is simply an afflicting and humiliating one; the sense aroused by it is not a sense of delight at Mr. Gladstone
's tireless powers, it is rather a sense of disgust at their having to be so exercised.
Every day the House of Commons does not sit, judicious people feel relief; every day that it sits, they are oppressed with apprehension.
Instead of being an edifying influence, as such an assembly ought to be, the House of Commons is at present an influence which does harm ; it sets an example which rebukes and corrects none of the nation's faults, but rather encourages them.
The best thing to be done at present, perhaps,
is to avert one's eye from the House of Commons as much as possible; if one keeps on constantly watching it welter in its baneful confusion, one is likely to fall into the fulminating style of the wrathful Hebrew prophets, and to call it “an astonishment, a hissing, and a curse.”
Well, then, our greatest institution, the House of Commons, we cannot say is at present working, like the American
institutions, easily and successfully.
Suppose we now pass to Ireland
I will not ask if our institutions work easily and successfully in Ireland
; to ask such a question would be too bitter, too cruel a mockery.
Those hateful cases which have been tried in the Dublin Courts
this last year suggest the dark and ill-omened word which applies to the whole state of Ireland
that is the word which rises irresistibly in the mind as I survey Ireland
Everything is unnatural there: the proceedings of the English
who rule, the proceedings of the Irish who resist.
But it is with the working of our English institutions there that I am now concerned.
It is unnatural that Ireland
should be governed by Lord Spencer and Mr. Campbell Bannerman
; as unnatural as for Scotland
to be governed by Lord
and Mr. Heally
It is Unnatural that Ireland
should be governed under the Crimes Act
. But there is necessity, replies the Government
Well, then, if there is such an evil necessity, it is unnatural that the Irish newspapers should be free to write as they write and the Irish members to speak as they speak,--free to inflame and further to exasperate a seditious people's mind, and to promote the continuance of the evil necessity.
A necessity for the Crimes Act
is a necessity for absolute government.
By our patchwork proceedings we set up, indeed, a make-believe of Ireland
's being constitutionally governed.
But it is not constitutionally governed; nobody supposes it to be constitutionally governed, except, perhaps, that born swallower of all clap-trap, the British Philistine
themselves, the all-important personages in this case, are not taken in; our make-believe does not produce in them the very least gratitude, the very least softening.
At the same time, it adds an hundredfold to the difficulties of an absolute government.
The working of our institutions being thus awry, is the working of our thoughts upon them more smooth and natural?
I imagine to myself an American, his own institutions and his habits of thought being such as we have seen, listening
to us as we talk politics and discuss the strained state of things over there.
“Certainly these men have considerable difficulties,” he would say; “but they never look at them straight, they do not think straight.”
Who does not admire the fine qualities of Lord Spencer?--and I, for my part, am quite ready to admit that he may require for a given period not only the present Crimes Act, but even yet more stringent powers of repression.
For a given period
, yes!--but afterwards?
Has Lord Spencer any clear vision of the great, the profound changes still to be wrought before a staple and prosperous society can arise in Ireland
Has he even any ideal for the future there, beyond that of a time when he can go to visit Lord Kenmare, or any other great landlord who is his friend, and find all the tenants punctually paying their rents, prosperous and deferential, and society in Ireland
settling quietly down again upon the old basis?
And he might as well hope to see Strongbow come to life again!
Which of us does not esteem and like Mr. Trevelyan
, and rejoice in the high promise of his career?
And how all his friends applauded when he turned upon the exasperating and insulting Irish members, and told them that he was “an English gentleman!”
Yet, if one thinks of it, Mr. Trevelyan
was thus telling the Irish members simply that he was just that which Ireland
does not want, and which can do her no good.
, to be sure, has given Ireland
plenty of her worst, but she has also given her not scantily of her best.
has had no insufficient supply of the English
gentleman, with his honesty, personal courage, high bearing, good intentions, and limited vision; what she wants is statesmen with just the qualities which the typical English gentleman has not flexibility, openness of mind, a free and large view of things.
Everywhere we shall find in our thinking, a sort of warp inclining it aside of the real mark, and thus depriving it of value.
The common run of peers who write to the Times
about Reform of the House of Lords one would not much expect, perhaps, to “understand the signs of this time.”
But even the Duke
, delivering his mind about the land question in Scotland
, is like one seeing, thinking, and speaking in some other planet than ours.
A man of even Mr. John Morley
's gifts is provoked with the House of Lords, and straightway he declares himself against the existence of a Second Chamber at all; although — if there
be such a thing as demonstration in politics — the working of the American Senate demonstrates a well-composed Second Chamber to be the very need and safeguard of a modern democracy.
What a singular twist, again, in a man of Mr. Frederic Harrison
's intellectual power, not, perhaps, to have in the exuberance of youthful energy weighted himself for the race of life by taking up a grotesque old French pedant upon his shoulders, but to have insisted, in middle age, in taking up the Protestant Dissenters
too; and now, when he is becoming elderly, it seems as if nothing would serve him but he must add the Peace Society to his load!
How perverse, yet again, in Mr. Herbert Spencer
, at the very moment when past neglects and present needs are driving men to co-operation, to making the community act for the public good in its collective and corporate character of the State
, how perverse to seize this occasion for promulgating the extremest doctrine of individualism; and not only to drag this dead horse along the public road himself, but to induce Mr. Auberon Herbert
to devote his days to flogging it!
We think thus unaccountably because we are living in an unnatural and strained state.
We are like people whose vision is deranged by their looking through a turbid and distorting
atmosphere, or whose movements are warped by the cramping of some unnatural constraint.
Let us just ask ourselves, looking at the thing as people simply desirous of finding the truth, how men who saw and thought straight would proceed, how an American, for instance,--whose seeing and thinking has, I have said, if not in all matters, yet commonly in political and social concerns, this quality of straightness,--how an American would proceed in the three confusions which I have given as instances of the many confusions now embarrassing us: the confusion of our foreign affairs, the confusion of the House of Commons, the confusion of Ireland
And then, when we have discovered the kind of proceeding natural in these cases, let us ask ourselves, with the same sincerity, what is the cause of that warp of mind hindering most of us from seeing straight in them, and also where is our remedy.
The Angra Pequeña business has lately called forth from all sides many and harsh animadversions upon Lord Granville, who is charged with the direction of our foreign affairs.
I shall not swell the chorus of complainers.
Nothing has happened but what was to be expected.
Long ago I remarked that it is not Lord Granville himself who determines our
foreign policy and shapes the declarations of Government concerning it, but a power behind Lord Granville.
He and his colleagues would call it the power of public opinion.
It is really the opinion of that great ruling class amongst us on which Liberal Governments have hitherto had to depend for support,--the Philistines or middle class.
It is not, I repeat, with Lord Granville in his natural state and force that a foreign Government has to deal; it is with Lord Granville waiting in devout expectation to see how the cat will jump,--and that cat the British Philistine
When Prince Bismarck deals with Lord Granville, he finds that he is not dealing mind to mind with an intelligent equal, but that he is dealing with a tumult of likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, stock-jobbing intrigues, missionary interests, quidnuncs, newspapers;--dealing, in short, with ignorance
behind his intelligent equal.
Yet ignorant as our Philistine middle class may be, its volitions on foreign affairs would have more intelligibility and consistency if uttered through a spokesman of their own class.
Coming through a nobleman like Lord Granville, who has neither the thoughts, habits, nor ideals of the middle class, and yet wishes to act as proctor for it, they have every disadvantage.
He cannot even
do justice to the Philistine mind, such as it is, for which he is spokesman; he apprehends it uncertainly and expounds it ineffectively.
And so with the house and lineage of Murdstone thundering at him (and these, again, through Lord Derby as their interpreter) from the Cape, and the inexorable Prince Bismarck thundering at him from Berlin
, the thing naturally ends by Lord Granville at last wringing his adroit hands and ejaculating disconsolately: “It is a misunderstanding altogether!”
Even yet more to be pitied, perhaps, was the hard case of Lord Kimberly after the Majuba Hill
Who can ever forget him, poor man, studying the faces of the representatives of the dissenting interest and exclaiming: “A sudden thought strikes me!
May we not be incurring the sin of blood-guiltiness?”
To this has come the tradition of Lord Somers, the Whig
oligarchy of 1688, and all Lord Macaulay's Pantheon.
I said that a source of strength to America
, in political and social concerns, was the homogeneous character of American society.
An American statesman speaks with more effect the mind of his fellow-citizens from his being in sympathy with it, understanding and sharing it. Certainly, one must admit that if, in our country of classes, the Philistine middle class is
really the inspirer of our foreign policy, that policy would at least be expounded more forcibly if it had a Philistine for its spokesman.
Yet I think the true moral to be drawn is rather, perhaps, this: that our foreign policy would be improved if our whole society were homogeneous.
As to the confusion in the House of Commons, what, apart from defective rules of procedure, are its causes?
First and foremost, no doubt, the temper and action of the Irish members.
But putting this cause of confusion out of view for a moment, every one can see that the House of Commons is far too large, and that it undertakes a quantity of business which belongs more properly to local assemblies.
The confusion from these causes is one which is constantly increasing, because, as the country becomes fuller and more awakened, business multiplies, and more and more members of the House
are inclined to take part in it. Is not the cure for this found in a course like that followed in America
, in having a much less numerous House of Commons, and in making over a large part of its business to local assemblies, elected, as the House of Commons itself will henceforth be elected, by household suffrage?
I have often said that we seem to me
to need at present, in England
, three things in especial: more equality, education for the middle classes, and a thorough municipal system.
A system of local assemblies is but the natural complement of a thorough municipal system.
Wholes neither too large nor too small, not necessarily of equal population by any means, but with characters rendering them in themselves fairly homogeneous and coherent, are the fit units for choosing these local assemblies.
Such units occur immediately to one's mind in the provinces of Ireland
, the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland
, north and south, groups of English counties such as present themselves in the circuits of the judges or under the names of East Anglia or the Midlands.
No one will suppose me guilty of the pedantry of here laying out definitive districts; I do but indicate such units as may enable the reader to conceive the kind of basis required for the local assemblies of which I am speaking.
The business of these districts would be more advantageously done in assemblies of the kind; they would form a useful school for the increasing number of aspirants to public life, and the House of Commons would be relieved.
The strain in Ireland
would be relieved too, and by natural and safe means.
to be found, who, in desperation at the present state of their country, cry out for making Ire. land independent and separate, with a national Parliament in Dublin
, with her own foreign office and diplomacy, her own army and navy, her own tariff, coinage, and currency.
This is manifestly impracticable.
But here again let us look at what is done by people who in politics think straight and see clear; let us observe what is done in the United States
The Government at Washington
reserves matters of imperial concern, matters such as those just enumerated, which cannot be relinquished without relinquishing the unity of the empire.
Neither does it allow one great South
to be constituted, or one great West
, with a Southern Parliament, or a Western.
Provinces that are too large are broken up, as Virginia
has been broken up. But the several States are nevertheless real and important wholes, each with its own legislature; and to each the control, within its own borders, of all except imperial concerns is freely committed.
The United States Government intervenes only to keep order in the last resort.
Let us suppose a similar plan applied in Ireland
There are four provinces there, forming four natural wholes — or perhaps (if it should seem expedient to put Munster
and Connaught together)
The Parliament of the empire would still be in London
, and Ireland
would send members to it. But at the same time each Irish province would have its own legislature, and the control of its own real affairs.
The British landlord would no longer determine the dealings with land in an Irish province, nor the British Protestant
the dealings with church and education.
Apart from imperial concerns, or from disorders such as to render military intervention necessary, the government in London
would leave Ireland
to manage itself.
Lord Spencer and Mr. Campbell Bannerman
would come back to England
Dublin Castle would be the State House
Land questions, game laws, police, church, education, would be regulated by the people and legislature of Leinster
, of Ulster
, of Munster
and Connaught for Munster
The same with the like matters in England
The local legislatures would regulate them.
But there is more.
Everybody who watches the working of our institutions perceives what strain and friction is caused in it at present, by our having a Second Chamber composed almost entirely of great landowners, and representing the feelings and interests of the class of land.
owners almost exclusively.
No one, certainly, under the conditions of a modern age and our actual life, would ever think of devising such a Chamber.
But we will allow ourselves to do more than merely state this truism, we will allow ourselves to ask what sort of Second Chamber, people who thought straight and saw clear would, under the conditions of a modern age and of our actual life, naturally make.
And we find from the experience of the United States
, that such provincial legislatures as we have just now seen to be the natural remedy for the confusion in the House of Commons, the natural remedy for the confusion in Ireland
, have the further great merit, besides, of giving us the best basis possible for a modern Second Chamber.
The United States Senate is perhaps, of all the institutions of that country, the most happily devised, the most successful in its working.
The legislature of each State in the Union
elects two senators to the Second Chamber
of the national Congress at Washington
The senators are the Lords
— if we like to keep, as it is surely best to keep, for designating the members of the Second Chamber
, the title to which we have been for so many ages habituated.
Each of the provincial legislatures of Great Britain
would elect members
to the House of Lords.
The colonial legislatures also would elect members to it; and thus we should be complying in the most simple and yet the most signal way possible with the present desire of both this country and the colonies for a closer union together, for some representation of the colonies in the Imperial Parliament.
Probably, it would be found expedient to transfer to the Second Chamber
the representatives of the universities.
But no scheme for a Second Chamber will at the present day be found solid unless it stands on a genuine basis of election and representation.
All schemes for forming a Second Chamber through nomination, whether by the Crown or by any other voice, of picked noblemen, great officials, leading merchants and bankers, eminent men of letters and science, are fantastic.
Probably, they would not give us by any means a good Second Chamber.
But, certainly, they would not satisfy the country or possess its confidence, and therefore they would be found futile and unworkable.
So we discover what would naturally appear the desirable way out of some of our worst confusions, to anybody who saw clear and thought straight.
But there is little likelihood, probably, of any such way being soon perceived and fold
lowed by our community here.
And why is this?
Because, as a community, we have so little lucidity, we so little see clear and think straight.
And why, again, is this?
Because our community is so little homogeneous.
The lower class has yet to show what it will do in politics.
Rising politicians are already beginning to flatter it with servile assiduity, but their praise is as yet premature; the lower class is too little known.
The upper class and the middle class we know.
They have each their own supposed interests, and these are very different from the true interests of the community.
Our very classes make us dim-seeing.
In a modern time, we are living with a system of classes so intense, a society of such unnatural complication, that the whole action of our minds is hampered and falsened by it. I return to my old thesis: inequality is our bane.
The great impediments in our way of progress are aristocracy and Protestant dissent.
People think this is an epigram; alas, it is much rather a truism!
An aristocratical society like ours is often said to be the society from which artists and men of letters have most to gain.
But an institution is to be judged, not by what one can oneself gain from it, but by the ideal which it sets up. An aristocracy — if I may once
more repeat words, which, however often repeated, have still a value, from their truth — aristocracy now sets up in our country a false ideal, which materializes our upper class, vulgarizes our middle class, brutalizes our lower class.
It misleads the young, makes the worldly more worldly, the limited more limited, the stationary more stationary.
Even to the imaginative, whom Lord John Manners
thinks its sure friend, it is more a hindrance than a help.
says well: “Whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future, predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings.”
But what is a Duke of Norfolk
or an Earl
, dressed in broad-cloth and tweed, and going about his business or pleasure in hansom cabs and railway carriages, like the rest of us?
Imagination herself would entreat him to take himself out of the way, and to leave us to the Norfolks and Warwicks of history.
I say this without a particle of hatred, and with esteem, admiration, and affection for many individuals in the aristocratical class.
But the action of time and circumstance is fatal.
If one asks oneself what is really to be desired, what is expedient, one would go far beyond the substitution of an elected Second Chamber for
the present House of Lords.
All confiscation is to be reprobated, all deprivation (except in bad cases of abuse) of what is actually possessed.
But one would wish, if one set about wishing, for the extinction of title, after the death of the holder, and for the dispersion of property by a stringent law of bequest.
Our society should be homogeneous, and only in this way can it become so.
But aristocracy is in little danger.
“I suppose, sir,” a dissenting minister said to me, the other day, “you found, when you were in America
, that they envied us there our great aristocracy.”
It was his sincere belief that they did, and such probably, is the sincere belief of our middle class in general; or, at any rate, that if the Americans
do not envy us this possession, they ought to. And my friend, one of the great Liberal party which has now, I suppose, pretty nearly run down its deceased wife's sister, poor thing, has his hand and heart full, so far as politics are concerned, of the question of church disestablishment.
He is eager to set to work at a change which, even if it were desirable (and I think it is not), is yet off the line of those reforms which are really pressing.
Mr. Lyulph Stanley
, Professor Stuart
, and Lord Richard Grosvenor
are waiting ready to
help him, and perhaps Mr. Chamberlain
himself will lead the attack.
I admire Mr. Chamberlain
as a politician, because he has the courage — and it is a wise courage — to state large the reforms we need, instead of minimizing them.
But like Saul
, before his conversion, he breathes out threatenings and slaughter against the Church
, and is likely, perhaps, to lead an assault upon her. He is a formidable assailant, yet I suspect he might break his finger-nails on her walls.
If the Church
has the majority for her, she will of course stand.
But in any case, this institution, with all its faults, has that merit which makes the great strength of institutions — it offers an ideal which is noble and attaching.
Equality is its profession, if not always its practice.
It inspires wide and deep affection, and possesses, therefore, immense strength.
Probably the establishment will not stand in Wales
probably it will not stand in Scotland
, it ought not, I think, to stand.
In Scotland, I should regret its fall: but Presbyterian churches are born to separatism, as the sparks fly up-wards.
At any rate, it is through the vote of local legislatures that disestablishment is likely to come, as a measure required in certain provinces, not as a general measure for the whole
In other words, the endeavor for disestablishment ought to be postponed to the endeavor for far more important reforms, not to precede it. Yet I doubt whether Mr. Chamberlain
and Mr. Lyulph Stanley
will listen to me when I plead thus with them; there is so little lucidity in England
, and they will say I am priest-ridden.
One man there is, whom above all others I would fain have seen in Parliament during the last ten years, and beheld established in influence there at this juncture,--Mr. Goldwin Smith
I do not say that he was not too embittered against the Church
; in my opinion he was. But with singular lucidity and penetration he saw what great reforms were needed in other directions, and the order of relative importance in which reforms stood.
Such were his character, style, and faculties, that alone perhaps among men of his insight he was capable of getting his ideas weighed and entertained by men in power; while amid all favor and under all temptations he was certain to have still remained true to his insight, “unshaken, unseduced, unterrified.”
I think of him as a real power for good in Parliament at this time, had he by now become, as he might have become, one of the leaders there.
His absence from the
scene, his retirement in Canada
, is a loss to his friends, but a still greater loss to his country,
Hardly inferior in influence to Parliament itself is journalism.
I do not conceive of Mr. John Morley
as made for filling that position in Parliament which Mr. Goldwin Smith
would, I think, have filled.
If he controls, as Protesilaos in the poem advises, hysterical passion (the besetting danger of men of letters on the platform and in Parliament) and remembers to approve “the depth and not the tumult of the soul,” he will be powerful in Parliament; he will rise, he will come into office; but he will not do for us in Parliament, I think, what Mr. Goldwin Smith
would have done.
He is too much of a partisan.
In journalism, on the other hand, he was as unique a figure as Mr. Goldwin Smith
would, I imagine, have been in Parliament.
As a journalist, Mr. John Morley
showed a mind which seized and understood the signs of the times; he had all the ideas of a man of the best insight, and alone, perhaps, among men of his insight, he had the skill for making these ideas pass into journalism.
But Mr. John Morley
has now left journalism.
There is plenty of talent in Parliament, plenty of talent in journalism, but no one in either to expound “the signs of this time” as these two men might have expounded
The signs of the time, political and social, are left, I regret to say, to bring themselves as they best can to the notice of the public.
Yet how ineffective an organ is literature for conveying them, compared with Parliament and journalism!
Conveyed somehow, however, they certainly should be, and in this disquisition I have tried to deal with them.
But the political and social problem, as the thinkers call it, must not so occupy us as to make us forget the human problem.
The problems are connected together, but they are not identical.
Our political and social confusions I admit; what Parliament is at this moment, I see and deplore.
Yet nowhere but in England
even now, not in France
, not in Germany
, not in America
, could there be found public men of that quality — so capable of fair dealing, of trusting one another, keeping their word to one another — as to make possible such a settlement of the Franchise and Seats Bills as that which we have lately seen.
says with most profound truth: “The map who would think to good purpose must be able to take many things into his view together.”
How homogeneous American society is, I have done my best to declare; how smoothly and naturally the institutions of the United States
clearly, in some most important respects, the Americans
see, how straight they think.
Yet Sir Lepel Griffin
says that there is no country calling itself civilized where one would not rather live than in America
, except Russia
In politics I do not much trust Sir Lepel Griffin
I hope that he administers in India
some district where a profound insight into the being and working of institutions is not requisite.
But, I suppose, of the tastes of himself and of that large class of Englishmen whom Mr. Charles Sumner
has taught us to call the class of gentlemen, he is no untrustworthy reporter.
And an Englishman of this class would rather live in France
, than in the United States
, in spite of our community of race and speech with them!
This means that, in the opinion of men of that class, the human problem, at least, is not well solved in the United States
, whatever the political and social problem may be. And to the human problem in the United States
we ought certainly to turn our attention, especially when we find taken such an objection as this; and some day, though not now, we will do so, and try to see what the objection comes to. I have given hostages to the United States
, I am bound to them by the
memory of great, untiring, and most attaching kindness.
I should not like to have to own them to be of all countries calling themselves civilized, except Russia
, the country where one would least like to live.
Cupples & Hurd
, the Algonquin press, Boston
civilization in the United States