Monday, 1 December 2014

CARLYLE'S LATTER-DAY PAMPHLETS.

  (From " The Times.")
 "THE New Downing-street" is a plan for reforming the Government offices. It proceeds on the hypothesis that the proper function of the holders of those offices "to guide men heavenward"—a function which Mr Carlyle justly considers them hitherto to have very inadequately performed. We, of course, demur at once to this assumption. Civil governors have a great deal in their hands. To choose them aright is a most important part of our duties as citizens and as men. Severe lessons might advantageously be read to us on this subject, even from the pulpit. But we deny that our progress heavenward as a nation, much more as individuals, depends on the amount of spiritual talent concentrated In Downing-street. We deny also the complement of Mr. Carlyle's theory which relates to nor choice of governors. It is not possible, and it it were possible it would not be desirable. to employ in the direct work of government "every gifted soul that is born to us," no matter of what description its gifts may be. Mr. Carlyle seems to imagine that there is in men of genius some mysterious and superhuman faculty, which is the same in all of them, and which qualifies them all alike to be rulers of mankind Shakpeare, Dante, Leibnits, Milton, Johnson, Goethe, Burns, and Rousseau, as well as Cromwell, Chatham, Mirabeau, and Napoleon. ought, according to his theory, to have been the kings of their respective ages. He appears to have no notion of specific talent, which would be marred by setting it to govern England instead of writing "Hamlet," or of intellectual gifts which are joined to utter feebleness of character and utter incapacity to curb and sway mankind. And then how false to imagine that if you will not acknowledge the "gifted soul" as your natural ruler, you most have it as your natural enemy ! Were Shakspeare and Milton the enemies of Elizabeth and Cromwell ? The most gifted souls of all are most unfit for rule, and would, most decisively disagree with Mr. Carlyle both as to their duty towards the world and the duty of the world towards them.
 Imagination has its laws, and no Utopia, however extravagant, is wholly a figment of the brain. They are all founded on some actual type of human society, which the dreamer conceives to be the best, and which his fancy sublimes to the ideal. Egypt was the type of Pythagoras, Sparta of Plato, savage life of J.J. Rousseau. The middle ages are the type of Mr. Carlyle. There, he thinks, human nobleness of all ranks and decrees was recognized, and raised to its proper place, and set to its right work through the monasteries and the priesthood. We have not space to quote the passages in which he panegyrizes the mediæval church, the mediæval polity, and medical education. But let us ask him, if the mediæval system was what he conceives it to have been, why it was ever to be overthrown, and why, having been overthrown, it should not immediatelty be restored ? The answer to the first question will involve a critical revision of the judgment which he has emphatically and dogmatically pronounced on the character of the Luthers, the Knoxes, and the Cromwells, whose hand smote down this beautiful hierarchy of heroes, and gave us our present anarchy instead. The second question is one of more practical import than Mr. Carlyle may imagine. At this very moment in the midst of English enlightenment and freedom, good and even great men are putting it in thorough earnest to themselves and to the world. It either has been answered or will have to be answered, by every man under 30; and it is not to be answered by saying that the religion of the middle ages, once true to all minds, has now by time and fate become false to all. To many minds—to many gifted minds—to whole nations—Catholicism has never ceased to be true; Some of the most gifted minds of this day have returned to it as to the truth. Mr. Carlyle can not read the signs of the times. He does not know the practical effect of his own teaching. He goes on preaching up Romanism in the full belief that it is dead, while men of less genius and more wisdom see that it is as living, if not as powerful, as when Popes trampled on the neck of Barbarossa or received the homage at Charlemagne.
 To analyze strictly, soberly, and impartially the religious, social, and political system of the middle ages, and to compare it with what has followed, is a laborious task. It is one which Mr. Carlisle must go through if he would speak seriously if he would speak honestly, on this grave subject. He will not act like a true teacher, or like on earnest man, if, without full knowledge and conviction, he persists in idealizing mediævalism, and pouring contempt on Protestant liberty. This is not the hour when such pastime can be indulged in with impunity, and he who does indulge in it commits high treason against philosophy and truth.
 Meantime we may express our doubt whether they dealt wisely with a "noble soul" who took from it its freedom, who closed against it the paths of knowledge, or made them the paths of sin, who doomed it to barrenness of mind and heart, and condemned it for ever to beat the narrow round of its own intellect, and struggle with hungry passions in its solitary cell. For cold and passive natures the monastic life may have been good. It may have been good for a nature so feminine and so absorbed in art as that of Fra Angelica. But what Mr. Carlyle would call "noble souls" are made of hot blood, fine nerves, and active brain. Such a man was once immured in the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt. What the monastic system did with him, and what he did with the monastic system, is not unknown to Mr. Carlyle. There are sadder and stranger things in the world than mute Miltons and inglorious Cromwells. The light of intellect is not wholly lost that shines upon the common paths of life. And were it otherwise, still nature's ends cannot be fulfilled by means abhorred of nature.
 We have no time to discuss with Mr. Carlyle the excellence of medieval learning, or of the moral character which the mediæval system formed. Both, however, are matters of history, and not of imagination. "Priesthood and high-priesthood" are valuable to the noble soul, provided it is to be the priest of truth. It would rather be a neatherd than the priest of Baal. The social system of the middle ages is also a matter, not of imagination, but of history; and in history we read of serfage, forest laws, burning of heretics and witches, uncontrolled lust and rapine, brutal cruelty and injustice, reckless, bloody, and desolating wars, of tyranny that entered into the soul of the slave, and which he repaid with "Jacqueries." Mr. Carlyle has confuted those who treat the French Revolution as a miracle of the powers of evil. He is himself as irrational as those whom he confutes in connecting it with Protestantism. It was the result—his great history shows it to have been the result— of a social and religious system which was essentially the same as that of the Catholic middle ages.
 And now we are upon the subject, we must enter a protest against Mr Carlyle's mode of dealing with history in general. He is not quite as wild as the French mystics. He does not ---- the "fable of the woman and the serpent" in the suicide of Cleopatra, or pronounce that the Papacy doomed itself to destruction by failing to recognize the Divine mission of Joan of Arc. But he certainly has fallen into a very loose and unreal way of interpreting history. His account of the mediæval church and polity to which we have just alluded is one instance, his account of mediaeval education in "Stump Orator" is an other. Does he suppose that it is a real account of the matter to say that the feudal baron, when he had acquired, by chivalrous training, "the practical gold bullion of human culture," went to a schoolmaster to be taught to utter what was in him? The present tracts supply some more examples. William Rufus's "Parliament" is one. William the Conqueror's "first-rate Home-office" is another. What, again, can be more absurd than to say that Chatham supported Frederic the Great because he was a brave man and King" likely to be borne down by "ignoble men and sham Kings." or to represent the unlucky Ignatius Loyola. not only as the author of the Jesuits, but of the vice of Jesuitism, and of all the Jesuitical proceedings that have taken place in Europe since his day ? But the strangest passage of all is that which attributes the fall of the Jewish nation to a mistake in the great article of hero worship, that mistake consisting in their preference of Barrabbas, who was the false hero, to Jesus, who was the true. Such are the results when Mr. Carlyle's theory of society is applied to the phenomena of history.
 There is another careless habit of Mr. Carlyle's, which we may notice here, and that is, his habit of disparaging all but spiritual truth and all but spiritual teachers. Political economy is a dry science, but it must be studied by any one who wishes to propose practicable reforms in our industrial system; and if it had been studied by Mr. Carlyle, he would perhaps have hesitated to propose his "Industrial Regiments" and Government organization of labour. Political economists have arrogated too much to their science; but they have never pretended, as Mr. Carlisle intimates, to bring a "last evangel," or to "cure the world's woes" by economical arrangements independently of moral reformation. Physical science has else where suffered the same unworthy treatment at his hands. He has invidiously contrasted it with the religious and political view of nature, as if the two things were not perfectly distinct and perfectly compatible with each other. These are matter-of-fact remarks. But then Mr. Carlyle is a philosopher, whose business it is in all things to keep the truth, and, on that condition, to be as eloquent and poetical as he pleases. His disparagement of science and political economy, like the rest of his misdirected satire, does the work of fanatics and sophists, with whom he will some day find find himself suddenly at death-gripes when he is reposing in the comfortable belief that they are extinct.
 We cannot go through Mr. Carlyle's account of Downing-street as it is to be, or of the revolutions in society and government which, in its ideal state, he destines it to effect. Then amount to a beneficent despotism or oligarchy of despots, turning its especial attention to the pauper and Irish questions, and organizing all labour, ultimately that of the "wise." The least of it implies a total change in our political system, and a preparatory revolution for which Mr. Carlyle makes no provision. We may remark, by the way, that colonial absolutism is an arrangement touching which the colonies themselves may have a word to say, and which, when tried in the case of America, did not answer well. And we will add, that Mr.Carlyle gently overrides the metaphor of the "mother country." and greatly exaggerates the question of the colonies altogether. Separation may be undesirable ; but it is not the same thing as "flinging our own children out of doors." And if it could be truly said of any mere extension of territory that it opened "unspeakable deliverance," it might be said of the colonies in a separate state as truly as in their present state of independence. The hero worshipper is humiliated when he admits that election to Colonial Parliaments ought to be restricted by a "high money qualification." which "in the present sad state of human affairs might be some help to you in selecting, though whether even that would quite certainly bring wisdom, the one thing indispensable, is much a question to me." This, indeed, is the "laws" of Plato after the "Republic."
 Pauperism is Mr. Carlyle's great evil; and he is right. But he is wrong, in part at least, as to the source, and he is wrong as to the remedy. There are other sources of pauperism, and sources that must be taken into account, besides " the sins and putrid unveracities, and God-forgetting greedinesses, and Devil serving cants and Jesuitisms that exist among us." All these things were as great, and some of them were greater, in the days of Charles II. and Walpole than they are now. Nor is the remedy to be found in anything so summary as a plan for reducing the whole people into a state of industrial bondage under a capitalist Government. Here again political economy would probably afford some light to those who think it worth their while to study it; and that Mr. Carlyle would think it worth his while to study anything that could relieve pauperism we cordially believe. For it is quite clear that on this subject, at least, he is intensely in earnest; though, owing to his carelessness and exaggeration, he is likely to do no more good than the idlest rhetorician.
 Everything is to be done by heroes. And therefore at last we naturally come to the question, "Who will begin the long steep journey with us; who of living statesmen will snatch the standard and say, like a hero on the forlorn hope of his country, 'Forward?'" Among living statesmen we number him no more; but the man called by Mr. Carlyle to take the lead of a vast political, social, and industrial revolution was the late Sir Robert Peel. Sir Robert Peel it was who was to take up the work of Cromwell in Church and State, and a great deal of work both in Church and State of which Cromwell never dreamt, and on which he never would have ventured. Sir Robert Peel was to be the contemner of political economists, emancipationists, and constitutionalists, and the putter-down of private enterprise, voluntary principle, and rights of capital. Sir Robert Peel was to organize labour into industrial regiments and to offer the people their choice between three courses— to work, to be flogged, or to be shot. Sir Robert Peel was to send dictators to the colonies, and make himself dictator there. Sir Robert Peel was to search for spiritual talent in the lowest classes of society, and to become the colleague of a Burns. Sir Robert Peel, was to change all the functions of the State, to abolish or revolutionize all the offices of Government, and to raise heroes to political power without the intervention of constituencies. Surely this is the "reductio ad absurdum" of Mr. Carlyle's gospel of hero worship.
 Of "Parliaments" we have not much to say. It is true that the House of Commons has become, under the cloak of a constitutional fiction, the supreme power in the State, and a function for which it was not originally intended, and that this change may suggest the expediency of some other correlative changes. It is quite true, also, that the deliberative functions of Parliament have been in great measure superseded by the press, and that this again suggests practical conclusions. These are facts to which, for some time past, few persons have been blind. But among these few was the late Sir Robert Peel. With reference to the conclusion of this pamphlet, we will just observe, that Parliaments vote laws, not facts, and that, consequently, homilies on the vanity of trying to vote down nature, and the facts of the universe, are not very much to the purpose. As to the use of voting at all, true it is that the majority of men are fools, and that if the voices of the wise could be obtained by themselves, it would be very much better. This is a mere truism which covers a transparent fallacy. That some men are by nature "slaves," and some "free," is a moral truth and a political falsehood.
In "Stump Orator" Mr. Carlyle ought to have been, and, to a certain extent, he is great. But, in his hyperbolical frenzy he misses his true mark, and, instead of an essay, such as he might have written, half serious and half sarcastic, on the abuse of literary talent and the plague of rhetoric, we have a furious  onslaught on education. So that the moral of the whole, so far as we can understand it, is not a return to stricter principles of literary morality, but a return to simple barbarism.

 Geelong Advertiser 15 July 1851,

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