From all corners of the wide British Dominion there rises one complaint against the ineffectuality of what are nicknamed our “red-tape” establishments, our Government Offices, Colonial Office, Foreign Office and the others, in Downing Street and the neighborhood. To me individually these branches of human business are little known; but every British citizen and reflective passer-by has occasion to wonder much, and inquire earnestly, concerning them. To all men it is evident that the social interests of one hundred and fifty Millions of us depend on the mysterious industry there carried on; and likewise that the dissatisfaction with it is great, universal, and continually increasing in intensity, — in fact, mounting, we might say, to the pitch of settled despair.
Every colony, every agent for a matter colonial, has his tragic tale to tell you of his sad experiences in the Colonial Office; what blind obstructions, fatal indolences, pedantries, stupidities, on the right and on the left, he had to do battle with; what a world-wide jungle of red-tape, inhabited by doleful creatures, deaf or nearly so to human reason or entreaty, he had entered on; and how he paused in amazement, almost in despair; passionately appealed now to this doleful creature, now to that, and to the dead red-tape jungle, and to the living Universe itself, and to the Voices and to the Silences; — and, on the whole, found that it was an adventure, in sorrowful fact, equal to the fabulous ones by old knights-errant against dragons and wizards in enchanted wildernesses and waste howling solitudes; not achievable except by nearly superhuman exercise of all the four cardinal virtues, and unexpected favor of the special blessing of Heaven. His adventure achieved or found unachievable, he has returned with experiences new to him in the affairs of men. What this Colonial Office, inhabiting the head of Downing Street, really was, and had to do, or try doing, in God’s practical Earth, he could not by any means precisely get to know; believes that it does not itself in the least precisely know. Believes that nobody knows; — that it is a mystery, a kind of Heathen myth; and stranger than any piece of the old mythological Pantheon; for it practically presides over the destinies of many millions of living men.
Such is his report of the Colonial Office: and if we oftener hear such a report of that than we do of the Home Office, Foreign Office or the rest, — the reason probably is, that Colonies excite more attention at present than any of our other interests. The Forty Colonies, it appears, are all pretty like rebelling just now; and are to be pacified with constitutions; luckier Constitutions, let us hope, than some late ones have been. Loyal Canada, for instance, had to quench a rebellion the other year; and this year, in virtue of its constitution, it is called upon to pay the rebels their damages; which surely is a rather surprising result, however constitutional! — Men have rents and moneys dependent in the Colonies; Emigration schemes, Black Emancipations, New–Zealand and other schemes; and feel and publish more emphatically what their Downing–Street woes in these respects have been.
Were the state of poor sallow English ploughers and weavers, what we may call the Sallow or Yellow Emancipation interest, as much in object with Exeter–Hall Philanthropists as that of the Black blockheads now all emancipated, and going at large without work, or need of working, in West–India clover (and fattening very much in it, one delights to hear), then perhaps the Home Office, its huge virtual task better understood, and its small actual performance better seen into, might be found still more deficient, and behind the wants of the age, than the Colonial itself is.
How it stands with the Foreign Office, again, one still less knows. Seizures of Sapienza, and the like sudden appearances of Britain in the character of Hercules–Harlequin, waving, with big bully-voice, her huge sword-of-sharpness over field-mice, and in the air making horrid circles (horrid catherine-wheels and death-disks of metallic terror from said huge sword), to see how they will like it, — do from time to time astonish the world, in a not pleasant manner. Hercules–Harlequin, the Attorney Triumphant, the World’s Busybody: none of these are parts this Nation has a turn for; she, if you consulted her, would rather not play these parts, but another! Seizures of Sapienza, correspondences with Sotomayor, remonstrances to Otho King of Athens, fleets hanging by their anchor in behalf of the Majesty of Portugal; and in short the whole, or at present very nearly the whole, of that industry of protocolling, diplomatizing, remonstrating, admonishing, and “having the honor to be,” — has sunk justly in public estimation to a very low figure.
For in fact, it is reasonably asked, What vital interest has England in any cause now deciding itself in foreign parts? Once there was a Papistry and Protestantism, important as life eternal and death eternal; more lately there was an interest of Civil Order and Horrors of the French Revolution, important at least as rent-roll and preservation of the game; but now what is there? No cause in which any god or man of this British Nation can be thought to be concerned. Sham-kingship, now recognized and even self-recognized everywhere to be sham, wrestles and struggles with mere ballot-box Anarchy: not a pleasant spectacle to British minds. Both parties in the wrestle professing earnest wishes of peace to us, what have we to do with it except answer earnestly, “Peace, yes certainly,” and mind our affairs elsewhere. The British Nation has no concern with that indispensable sorrowful and shameful wrestle now going on everywhere in foreign parts. The British Nation already, by self-experience centuries old, understands all that; was lucky enough to transact the greater part of that, in noble ancient ages, while the wrestle had not yet become a shameful one, but on both sides of it there was wisdom, virtue, heroic nobleness fruitful to all time, — thrice-lucky British Nation! The British Nation, I say, has nothing to learn there; has now quite another set of lessons to learn, far ahead of what is going on there. Sad example there, of what the issue is, and how inevitable and how imminent, might admonish the British Nation to be speedy with its new lessons; to bestir itself, as men in peril of conflagration do, with the neighboring houses all on fire! To obtain, for its own very pressing behoof, if by possibility it could, some real Captaincy instead of an imaginary one: to remove resolutely, and replace by a better sort, its own peculiar species of teaching and guiding histrios of various name, who here too are numerous exceedingly, and much in need of gentle removal, while the play is still good, and the comedy has not yet become tragic; and to be a little swift about it withal; and so to escape the otherwise inevitable evil day! This Britain might learn: but she does not need a protocolling establishment, with much “having the honor to be,” to teach it her.
No:— she has in fact certain cottons, hardwares and such like to sell in foreign parts, and certain wines, Portugal oranges, Baltic tar and other products to buy; and does need, I suppose, some kind of Consul, or accredited agent, accessible to British voyagers, here and there, in the chief cities of the Continent: through which functionary, or through the penny-post, if she had any specific message to foreign courts, it would be easy and proper to transmit the same. Special message-carriers, to be still called Ambassadors, if the name gratified them, could be sent when occasion great enough demanded; not sent when it did not. But for all purposes of a resident ambassador, I hear persons extensively and well acquainted among our foreign embassies at this date declare, That a well-selected Times reporter or “own correspondent” ordered to reside in foreign capitals, and keep his eyes open, and (though sparingly) his pen going, would in reality be much more effective; — and surely we see well, he would come a good deal cheaper! Considerably cheaper in expense of money; and in expense of falsity and grimacing hypocrisy (of which no human arithmetic can count the ultimate cost) incalculably cheaper! If this is the fact, why not treat it as such? If this is so in any measure, we had better in that measure admit it to be so! The time, I believe, has come for asking with considerable severity, How far is it so? Nay there are men now current in political society, men of weight though also of wit, who have been heard to say, “That there was but one reform for the Foreign Office, — to set a live coal under it,” and with, of course, a fire-brigade which could prevent the undue spread of the devouring element into neighboring houses, let that reform it! In such odor is the Foreign Office too, if it were not that the Public, oppressed and nearly stifled with a mere infinitude of bad odors, neglects this one, — in fact, being able nearly always to avoid the street where it is, escapes this one, and (except a passing curse, once in the quarter or so) as good as forgets the existence of it.
Such, from sad personal experience and credited prevailing rumor, is the exoteric public conviction about these sublime establishments in Downing Street and the neighborhood, the esoteric mysteries of which are indeed still held sacred by the initiated, but believed by the world to be mere Dalai–Lama pills, manufactured let not refined lips hint how, and quite unsalvatory to mankind. Every one may remark what a hope animates the eyes of any circle, when it is reported or even confidently asserted, that Sir Robert Peel has in his mind privately resolved to go, one day, into that stable of King Augeas, which appalls human hearts, so rich is it, high-piled with the droppings of two hundred years; and Hercules-like to load a thousand night-wagons from it, and turn running water into it, and swash and shovel at it, and never leave it till the antique pavement, and real basis of the matter, show itself clean again! In any intelligent circle such a rumor, like the first break of day to men in darkness, enlightens all eyes; and each says devoutly, “Faxitis, O ye righteous Powers that have pity on us! All England grateful, with kindling looks, will rise in the rear of him, and from its deepest heart bid him good speed!”
For it is universally felt that some esoteric man, well acquainted with the mysteries and properties good and evil of the administrative stable, is the fittest to reform it, nay can alone reform it otherwise than by sheer violence and destruction, which is a way we would avoid; that in fact Sir Robert Peel is, at present, the one likely or possible man to reform it. And secondly it is felt that “reform” in that Downing–Street department of affairs is precisely the reform which were worth all others; that those administrative establishments in Downing Street are really the Government of this huge ungoverned Empire; that to clean out the dead pedantries, unveracities, indolent somnolent impotences, and accumulated dung-mountains there, is the beginning of all practical good whatsoever. Yes, get down once again to the actual pavement of that; ascertain what the thing is, and was before dung accumulated in it; and what it should and may, and must, for the life’s sake of this Empire, henceforth become: here clearly lies the heart of the whole matter. Political reform, if this be not reformed, is naught and a mere mockery.
What England wants, and will require to have, or sink in nameless anarchies, is not a Reformed Parliament, meaning thereby a Parliament elected according to the six or the four or any other number of “points” and cunningly devised improvements in hustings mechanism, but a Reformed Executive or Sovereign Body of Rulers and Administrators, — some improved method, innumerable improvements in our poor blind methods, of getting hold of these. Not a better Talking–Apparatus, the best conceivable Talking–Apparatus would do very little for us at present; — but an infinitely better Acting–Apparatus, the benefits of which would be invaluable now and henceforth. The practical question puts itself with ever-increasing stringency to all English minds: Can we, by no industry, energy, utmost expenditure of human ingenuity, and passionate invocation of the Heavens and Earth, get to attain some twelve or ten or six men to manage the affairs of this nation in Downing Street and the chief posts elsewhere, who are abler for the work than those we have been used to, this long while? For it is really a heroic work, and cannot be done by histrios, and dexterous talkers having the honor to be: it is a heavy and appalling work; and, at the starting of it especially, will require Herculean men; such mountains of pedant exuviae and obscene owl-droppings have accumulated in those regions, long the habitation of doleful creatures; the old pavements, the natural facts and real essential functions of those establishments, have not been seen by eyes for these two hundred years last past! Herculean men acquainted with the virtues of running water, and with the divine necessity of getting down to the clear pavements and old veracities; who tremble before no amount of pedant exuviae, no loudest shrieking of doleful creatures; who tremble only to live, themselves, like inane phantasms, and to leave their life as a paltry contribution to the guano mountains, and not as a divine eternal protest against them!
These are the kind of men we want; these, the nearest possible approximation to these, are the men we must find and have, or go bankrupt altogether; for the concern as it is will evidently not hold long together. How true is this of Crabbe: “Men sit in Parliament eighty-three hours per week, debating about many things. Men sit in Downing Street, doing protocols, Syrian treaties, Greek questions, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Egyptian and AEthiopian questions; dexterously writing despatches, and having the honor to be. Not a question of them is at all pressing in comparison with the English question. Pacifico the miraculous Gibraltar Jew has been hustled by some populace in Greece:— upon him let the British Lion drop, very rapidly indeed, a constitutional tear. Radetzky is said to be advancing upon Milan; — I am sorry to hear it, and perhaps it does deserve a despatch, or friendly letter, once and away: but the Irish Giant, named of Despair, is advancing upon London itself, laying waste all English cities, towns and villages; that is the interesting Government despatch of the day! I notice him in Piccadilly, blue-visaged, thatched in rags, a blue child on each arm; hunger-driven, wide-mouthed, seeking whom he may devour: he, missioned by the just Heavens, too truly and too sadly their ‘divine missionary’ come at last in this authoritative manner, will throw us all into Doubting Castle, I perceive! That is the phenomenon worth protocolling about, and writing despatches upon, and thinking of with all one’s faculty day and night, if one wishes to have the honor to be — anything but a Phantasm Governor of England just now! I entreat your Lordship’s all but undivided attention to that Domestic Irish Giant, named of Despair, for a great many years to come. Prophecy of him there has long been; but now by the rot of the potato (blessed be the just gods, who send us either swift death or some beginning of cure at last!), he is here in person, and there is no denying him, or disregarding him any more; and woe to the public watchman that ignores him, and sees Pacifico the Gibraltar Jew instead!”
What these strange Entities in Downing Street intrinsically are; who made them, why they were made; how they do their function; and what their function, so huge in appearance, may in net-result amount to, — is probably known to no mortal. The unofficial mind passes by in dark wonder; not pretending to know. The official mind must not blab; — the official mind, restricted to its own square foot of territory in the vast labyrinth, is probably itself dark, and unable to blab. We see the outcome; the mechanism we do not see. How the tailors clip and sew, in that sublime sweating establishment of theirs, we know not: that the coat they bring us out is the sorrowfulest fantastic mockery of a coat, a mere intricate artistic network of traditions and formalities, an embroiled reticulation made of web-listings and superannuated thrums and tatters, endurable to no grown Nation as a coat, is mournfully clear! —
Two kinds of fundamental error are supposable in such a set of Offices; these two, acting and reacting, are the vice of all inefficient Offices whatever. — First, that the work, such as it may be, is ill done in these establishments. That it is delayed, neglected, slurred over, committed to hands that cannot do it well; that, in a word, the questions sent thither are not wisely handled, but unwisely; not decided truly and rapidly, but with delays and wrong at last: which is the principal character, and the infallible result, of an insufficient Intellect being set to decide them. Or second, what is still fataler, the work done there may itself be quite the wrong kind of work. Not the kind of supervision and direction which Colonies, and other such interests, Home or Foreign, do by the nature of them require from the Central Government; not that, but a quite other kind! The Sotomayor correspondence, for example, is considered by many persons not to be mismanaged merely, but to be a thing which should never have been managed at all; a quite superfluous concern, which and the like of which the British Government has almost no call to get into, at this new epoch of time. And not Sotomayor only, nor Sapienza only, in regard to that Foreign Office, but innumerable other things, if our witty friend of the “live coal” have reason in him! Of the Colonial Office, too, it is urged that the questions they decide and operate upon are, in very great part, questions which they never should have meddled with, but almost all of which should have been decided in the Colonies themselves, — Mother Country or Colonial Office reserving its energy for a quite other class of objects, which are terribly neglected just now.
These are the two vices that beset Government Offices; both of them originating in insufficient Intellect, — that sad insufficiency from which, directly or indirectly, all evil whatsoever springs! And these two vices act and react, so that where the one is, the other is sure to be; and each encouraging the growth of the other, both (if some cleaning of the Augeas stable have not intervened for a long while) will be found in frightful development. You cannot have your work well done, if the work be not of a right kind, if it be not work prescribed by the law of Nature as well as by the rules of the office. Laziness, which lies in wait round all human labor-offices, will in that case infallibly leak in, and vitiate the doing of the work. The work is but idle; if the doing of it will but pass, what need of more? The essential problem, as the rules of office prescribe it for you, if Nature and Fact say nothing, is that your work be got to pass; if the work itself is worth nothing, or little or an uncertain quantity, what more can gods or men require of it, or, above all, can I who am the doer of it require, but that it be got to pass?
And now enters another fatal effect, the mother of ever-new mischiefs, which renders well-doing or improvement impossible, and drives bad everywhere continually into worse. The work being what we see, a stupid subaltern will do as well as a gifted one; the essential point is, that he be a quiet one, and do not bother me who have the driving of him. Nay, for this latter object, is not a certain height of intelligence even dangerous? I want no mettled Arab horse, with his flashing glances, arched, neck and elastic step, to draw my wretched sand-cart through the streets; a broken, grass-fed galloway, Irish garron, or painful ass with nothing in the belly of him but patience and furze, will do it safelier for me, if more slowly. Nay I myself, am I the worse for being of a feeble order of intelligence; what the irreverent speculative, world calls barren, red-tapish, limited, and even intrinsically dark and small, and if it must be said, stupid? — To such a climax does it come in all Government and other Offices, where Human Stupidity has once introduced itself (as it will everywhere do), and no Scavenger God intervenes. The work, at first of some worth, is ill done, and becomes of less worth and of ever less, and finally of none: the worthless work can now afford to be ill done; and Human Stupidity, at a double geometrical ratio, with frightful expansion grows and accumulates, — towards the unendurable.
The reforming Hercules, Sir Robert Peel or whoever he is to be, that enters Downing Street, will ask himself this question first of all, What work is now necessary, not in form and by traditionary use and wont, but in very fact, for the vital interests of the British Nation, to be done here? The second question, How to get it well done, and to keep the best hands doing it well, will be greatly simplified by a good answer to that. Oh for an eye that could see in those hideous mazes, and a heart that could dare and do! Strenuous faithful scrutiny, not of what is thought to be what in the red-tape regions, but of what really is what in the realms of Fact and Nature herself; deep-seeing, wise and courageous eyes, that could look through innumerable cobweb veils, and detect what fact or no-fact lies at heart of them, — how invaluable these! For, alas, it is long since such eyes were much in the habit of looking steadfastly at any department of our affairs; and poor commonplace creatures, helping themselves along, in the way of makeshift, from year to year, in such an element, do wonderful works indeed. Such creatures, like moles, are safe only underground, and their engineerings there become very daedalean. In fact, such unfortunate persons have no resource but to become what we call Pedants; to ensconce themselves in a safe world of habitudes, of applicable or inapplicable traditions; not coveting, rather avoiding the general daylight of common-sense, as very extraneous to them and their procedure; by long persistence in which course they become Completed Pedants, hidebound, impenetrable, able to defy the hostile extraneous element; an alarming kind of men, Such men, left to themselves for a century or two, in any Colonial, Foreign, or other Office, will make a terrible affair of it!
For the one enemy we have in this Universe is Stupidity, Darkness of Mind; of which darkness, again, there are many sources, every sin a source, and probably self-conceit the chief source. Darkness of mind, in every kind and variety, does to a really tragic extent abound: but of all the kinds of darkness, surely the Pedant darkness, which asserts and believes itself to be light, is the most formidable to mankind! For empires or for individuals there is but one class of men to be trembled at; and that is the Stupid Class, the class that cannot see, who alas are they mainly that will not see. A class of mortals under which as administrators, kings, priests, diplomatists, &c., the interests of mankind in every European country have sunk overloaded, as under universal nightmare, near to extinction; and indeed are at this moment convulsively writhing, decided either to throw off the unblessed superincumbent nightmare, or roll themselves and it to the Abyss. Vain to reform Parliament, to invent ballot-boxes, to reform this or that; the real Administration, practical Management of the Commonwealth, goes all awry; choked up with long-accumulated pedantries, so that your appointed workers have been reduced to work as moles; and it is one vast boring and counter-boring, on the part of eyeless persons irreverently called stupid; and a daedalean bewilderment, writing “impossible” on all efforts or proposals, supervenes.
The State itself, not in Downing Street alone but in every department of it, has altered much from what it was in past times; and it will again have to alter very much, to alter I think from top to bottom, if it means to continue existing in the times that are now coming and come!
The State, left to shape itself by dim pedantries and traditions, without distinctness of conviction, or purpose beyond that of helping itself over the difficulty of the hour, has become, instead of a luminous vitality permeating with its light all provinces of our affairs, a most monstrous agglomerate of inanities, as little adapted for the actual wants of a modern community as the worst citizen need wish. The thing it is doing is by no means the thing we want to have done. What we want! Let the dullest British man endeavor to raise in his mind this question, and ask himself in sincerity what the British Nation wants at this time. Is it to have, with endless jargoning, debating, motioning and counter-motioning, a settlement effected between the Honorable Mr. This and the Honorable Mr. That, as to their respective pretensions to ride the high horse? Really it is unimportant which of them ride it. Going upon past experience long continued now, I should say with brevity, “Either of them — Neither of them.” If our Government is to be a No–Government, what is the matter who administers it? Fling an orange-skin into St. James’s Street; let the man it hits be your man. He, if you breed him a little to it, and tie the due official bladders to his ankles, will do as well as another this sublime problem of balancing himself upon the vortexes, with the long loaded-pole in his hands; and will, with straddling painful gestures, float hither and thither, walking the waters in that singular manner for a little while, as well as his foregoers did, till he also capsize, and be left floating feet uppermost; after which you choose another.
What an immense pother, by parliamenting and palavering in all corners of your empire, to decide such a question as that! I say, if that is the function, almost any human creature can learn to discharge it: fling out your orange-skin again; and save an incalculable labor, and an emission of nonsense and falsity, and electioneering beer and bribery and balderdash, which is terrible to think of, in deciding. Your National Parliament, in so far as it has only that question to decide, may be considered as an enormous National Palaver existing mainly for imaginary purposes; and certain, in these days of abbreviated labor, to get itself sent home again to its partridge-shootings, fox-huntings, and above all, to its rat-catchings, if it could but understand the time of day, and know (as our indignant Crabbe remarks) that “the real Nimrod of this era, who alone does any good to the era, is the rat-catcher!”
The notion that any Government is or can be a No–Government, without the deadliest peril to all noble interests of the Commonwealth, and by degrees slower or swifter to all ignoble ones also, and to the very gully-drains, and thief lodging-houses, and Mosaic sweating establishments, and at last without destruction to such No–Government itself, — was never my notion; and I hope it will soon cease altogether to be the world’s or to be anybody’s. But if it be the correct notion, as the world seems at present to flatter itself, I point out improvements and abbreviations. Dismiss your National Palaver; make the Times Newspaper your National Palaver, which needs no beer-barrels or hustings, and is cheaper in expense of money and of falsity a thousand and a million fold; have an economical red-tape drilling establishment (it were easier to devise such a thing than a right Modern University); — and fling out your orange-skin among the graduates, when you want a new Premier.
A mighty question indeed! Who shall be Premier, and take in hand the “rudder of government,” otherwise called the “spigot of taxation;” shall it be the Honorable Felix Parvulus, or the Right Honorable Felicissimus Zero? By our electioneerings and Hansard Debatings, and ever-enduring tempest of jargon that goes on everywhere, we manage to settle that; to have it declared, with no bloodshed except insignificant blood from the nose in hustings-time, but with immense beershed and inkshed and explosion of nonsense, which darkens all the air, that the Right Honorable Zero is to be the man. That we firmly settle; Zero, all shivering with rapture and with terror, mounts into the high saddle; cramps himself on, with knees, heels, hands and feet; and the horse gallops — whither it lists. That the Right Honorable Zero should attempt controlling the horse — Alas, alas, he, sticking on with beak and claws, is too happy if the horse will only gallop any-whither, and not throw him. Measure, polity, plan or scheme of public good or evil, is not in the head of Felicissimus; except, if he could but devise it, some measure that would please his horse for the moment, and encourage him to go with softer paces, godward or devilward as it might be, and save Felicissimus’s leather, which is fast wearing. This is what we call a Government in England, for nearly two centuries now.
I wish Felicissimus were saddle-sick forever and a day! He is a dreadful object, however much we are used to him. If the horse had not been bred and broken in, for a thousand years, by real riders and horse-subduers, perhaps the best and bravest the world ever saw, what would have become of Felicissimus and him long since? This horse, by second-nature, religiously respects all fences; gallops, if never so madly, on the highways alone; — seems to me, of late, like a desperate Sleswick thunder-horse who had lost his way, galloping in the labyrinthic lanes of a woody flat country; passionate to reach his goal; unable to reach it, because in the flat leafy lanes there is no outlook whatever, and in the bridle there is no guidance whatever. So he gallops stormfully along, thinking it is forward and forward; and alas, it is only round and round, out of one old lane into the other; — nay (according to some) “he mistakes his own footprints, which of course grow ever more numerous, for the sign of a more and more frequented road;” and his despair is hourly increasing. My impression is, he is certain soon, such is the growth of his necessity and his despair, to — plunge across the fence, into an opener survey of the country; and to sweep Felicissimus off his back, and comb him away very tragically in the process! Poor Sleswicker, I wish you were better ridden. I perceive it lies in the Fates you must now either be better ridden, or else not long at all. This plunging in the heavy labyrinth of over-shaded lanes, with one’s stomach getting empty, one’s Ireland falling into cannibalism, and no vestige of a goal either visible or possible, cannot last.
Colonial Offices, Foreign, Home and other Offices, got together under these strange circumstances, cannot well be expected to be the best that human ingenuity could devise; the wonder rather is to see them so good as they are. Who made them, ask me not. Made they clearly were; for we see them here in a concrete condition, writing despatches, and drawing salary with a view to buy pudding. But how those Offices in Downing Street were made; who made them, or for what kind of objects they were made, would be hard to say at present. Dim visions and phantasmagories gathered from the Books of Horace Walpole, Memoirs of Bubb Doddington, Memoirs of my Lady Sundon, Lord Fanny Hervey, and innumerable others, rise on us, beckoning fantastically towards, not an answer, but some conceivable intimations of an answer, and proclaiming very legibly the old text, “Quam parva sapientia,” in respect of this hard-working much-subduing British Nation; giving rise to endless reflections in a thinking Englishman of this day. Alas, it is ever so: each generation has its task, and does it better or worse; greatly neglecting what is not immediately its task. Our poor grandfathers, so busy conquering Indias, founding Colonies, inventing spinning-jennies, kindling Lancashires and Bromwichams, took no thought about the government of all that; left it all to be governed by Lord Fanny and the Hanover Succession, or how the gods pleased. And now we the poor grandchildren find that it will not stick together on these terms any longer; that our sad, dangerous and sore task is to discover some government for this big world which has been conquered to us; that the red-tape Offices in Downing Street are near the end of their rope; that if we can get nothing better, in the way of government, it is all over with our world and us. How the Downing–Street Offices originated, and what the meaning of them was or is, let Dryasdust, when in some lucid moment the whim takes him, instruct us. Enough for us to know and see clearly, with urgent practical inference derived from such insight, That they were not made for us or for our objects at all; that the devouring Irish Giant is here, and that he cannot be fed with red-tape, and will eat us if we cannot feed him.
On the whole, let us say Felicissimus made them; — or rather it was the predecessors of Felicissimus, who were not so dreadfully hunted, sticking to the wild and ever more desperate Sleswicker in the leafy labyrinth of lanes, as he now is. He, I think, will never make anything; but be combed off by the elm-boughs, and left sprawling in the ditch. But in past time, this and the other heavy-laden red-tape soul had withal a glow of patriotism in him; now and then, in his whirling element, a gleam of human ingenuity, some eye towards business that must be done. At all events, for him and every one, Parliament needed to be persuaded that business was done. By the contributions of many such heavy-laden souls, driven on by necessity outward and inward, these singular Establishments are here. Contributions — who knows how far back they go, far beyond the reign of George the Second, or perhaps the reign of William Conqueror. Noble and genuine some of them were, many of them were, I need not doubt: for there is no human edifice that stands long but has got itself planted, here and there, upon the basis of fact; and being built, in many respects, according to the laws of statics: no standing edifice, especially no edifice of State, but has had the wise and brave at work in it, contributing their lives to it; and is “cemented,” whether it know the fact or not, “by the blood of heroes!” None; not even the Foreign Office, Home Office, still less the National Palaver itself. William Conqueror, I find, must have had a first-rate Home Office, for his share. The Domesday Book, done in four years, and done as it is, with such an admirable brevity, explicitness and completeness, testifies emphatically what kind of under-secretaries and officials William had. Silent officials and secretaries, I suppose; not wasting themselves in parliamentary talk; reserving all their intelligence for silent survey of the huge dumb fact, silent consideration how they might compass the mastery of that. Happy secretaries, happy William!
But indeed nobody knows what inarticulate traditions, remnants of old wisdom, priceless though quite anonymous, survive in many modern things that still have life in them. Ben Brace, with his taciturnities, and rugged stoical ways, with his tarry breeches, stiff as plank-breeches, I perceive is still a kind of Lod-brog (Loaded-breeks) in more senses than one; and derives, little conscious of it, many of his excellences from the old Sea-kings and Saxon Pirates themselves; and how many Blakes and Nelsons since have contributed to Ben! “Things are not so false always as they seem,” said a certain Professor to me once: “of this you will find instances in every country, and in your England more than any — and I hope will draw lessons from them. An English Seventy-four, if you look merely at the articulate law and methods of it, is one of the impossiblest entities. The captain is appointed not by preeminent merit in sailorship, but by parliamentary connection; the men [this was spoken some years ago] are got by impressment; a press-gang goes out, knocks men down on the streets of sea-towns, and drags them on board, — if the ship were to be stranded, I have heard they would nearly all run ashore and desert. Can anything be more unreasonable than a Seventy-four? Articulately almost nothing. But it has inarticulate traditions, ancient methods and habitudes in it, stoicisms, noblenesses, true rules both of sailing and of conduct; enough to keep it afloat on Nature’s veridical bosom, after all. See; if you bid it sail to the end of the world, it will lift anchor, go, and arrive. The raging oceans do not beat it back; it too, as well as the raging oceans, has a relationship to Nature, and it does not sink, but under the due conditions is borne along. If it meet with hurricanes, it rides them out; if it meet an Enemy’s ship, it shivers it to powder; and in short, it holds on its way, and to a wonderful extent does what it means and pretends to do. Assure yourself, my friend, there is an immense fund of truth somewhere or other stowed in that Seventy-four.”
More important than the past history of these Offices in Downing Street, is the question of their future history; the question, How they are to be got mended! Truly an immense problem, inclusive of all others whatsoever; which demands to be attacked, and incessantly persisted in, by all good citizens, as the grand problem of Society, and the one thing needful for the Commonwealth! A problem in which all men, with all their wisdoms and all their virtues, faithfully and continually co-operating at it, will never have done enough, and will still only be struggling towards perfection in it. In which some men can do much; — in which every man can do something. Every man, and thou my present Reader canst do this: Be thyself a man abler to be governed; more reverencing the divine faculty of governing, more sacredly detesting the diabolical semblance of said faculty in self and others; so shalt thou, if not govern, yet actually according to thy strength assist in real governing. And know always, and even lay to heart with a quite unusual solemnity, with a seriousness altogether of a religious nature, that as “Human Stupidity” is verily the accursed parent of all this mischief, so Human Intelligence alone, to which and to which only is victory and blessedness appointed here below, will or can cure it. If we knew this as devoutly as we ought to do, the evil, and all other evils were curable; — alas, if we had from of old known this, as all men made in God’s image ought to do, the evil never would have been! Perhaps few Nations have ever known it less than we, for a good while back, have done. Hence these sorrows.
What a People are the poor Thibet idolaters, compared with us and our “religions,” which issue in the worship of King Hudson as our Dalai–Lama! They, across such hulls of abject ignorance, have seen into the heart of the matter; we, with our torches of knowledge everywhere brandishing themselves, and such a human enlightenment as never was before, have quite missed it. Reverence for Human Worth, earnest devout search for it and encouragement of it, loyal furtherance and obedience to it: this, I say, is the outcome and essence of all true “religions,” and was and ever will be. We have not known this. No; loud as our tongues sometimes go in that direction, we have no true reverence for Human Intelligence, for Human Worth and Wisdom: none, or too little, — and I pray for a restoration of such reverence, as for the change from Stygian darkness to Heavenly light, as for the return of life to poor sick moribund Society and all its interests. Human Intelligence means little for most of us but Beaver Contrivance, which produces spinning-mules, cheap cotton, and large fortunes. Wisdom, unless it give us railway scrip, is not wise.
True nevertheless it forever remains that Intellect is the real object of reverence, and of devout prayer, and zealous wish and pursuit, among the sons of men; and even, well understood, the one object. It is the Inspiration of the Almighty that giveth men understanding. For it must be repeated, and ever again repeated till poor mortals get to discern it, and awake from their baleful paralysis, and degradation under foul enchantments, That a man of Intellect, of real and not sham Intellect, is by the nature of him likewise inevitably a man of nobleness, a man of courage, rectitude, pious strength; who, even because he is and has been loyal to the Laws of this Universe, is initiated into discernment of the same; to this hour a Missioned of Heaven; whom if men follow, it will be well with them; whom if men do not follow, it will not be well. Human Intellect, if you consider it well, is the exact summary of Human Worth; and the essence of all worth-ships and worships is reverence for that same. This much surprises you, friend Peter; but I assure you it is the fact; — and I would advise you to consider it, and to try if you too do not gradually find it so. With me it has long been an article, not of “faith” only, but of settled insight, of conviction as to what the ordainments of the Maker in this Universe are. Ah, could you and the rest of us but get to know it, and everywhere religiously act upon it, — as our Fortieth Article, which includes all the other Thirty-nine, and without which the Thirty-nine are good for almost nothing, — there might then be some hope for us! In this world there is but one appalling creature: the Stupid man considered to be the Missioned of Heaven, and followed by men. He is our King, men say, he; — and they follow him, through straight or winding courses, I for one know well whitherward.
Abler men in Downing Street, abler men to govern us: yes, that, sure enough, would gradually remove the dung-mountains, however high they are; that would be the way, nor is there any other way, to remedy whatsoever has gone wrong in Downing Street and in the wide regions, spiritual and temporal, which Downing Street presides over! For the Able Man, meet him where you may, is definable as the born enemy of Falsity and Anarchy, and the born soldier of Truth and Order: into what absurdest element soever you put him, he is there to make it a little less absurd, to fight continually with it till it become a little sane and human again. Peace on other terms he, for his part, cannot make with it; not he, while he continues able, or possessed of real intellect and not imaginary. There is but one man fraught with blessings for this world, fated to diminish and successively abolish the curses of the world; and it is he. For him make search, him reverence and follow; know that to find him or miss him, means victory or defeat for you, in all Downing Streets, and establishments and enterprises here below. — I leave your Lordship to judge whether this has been our practice hitherto; and would humbly inquire what your Lordship thinks is likely to be the consequence of continuing to neglect this. It ought to have been our practice; ought, in all places and all times, to be the practice in this world; so says the fixed law of things forevermore:— and it must cease to be not the practice, your Lordship; and cannot too speedily do so I think! —
Much has been done in the way of reforming Parliament in late years; but that of itself seems to avail nothing, or almost less. The men that sit in Downing Street, governing us, are not abler men since the Reform Bill than were those before it. Precisely the same kind of men; obedient formerly to Tory traditions, obedient now to Whig ditto and popular clamors. Respectable men of office: respectably commonplace in facility, — while the situation is becoming terribly original! Rendering their outlooks, and ours, more ominous every day.
Indisputably enough the meaning of all reform-movement, electing and electioneering, of popular agitation, parliamentary eloquence, and all political effort whatsoever, is that you may get the ten Ablest Men in England put to preside over your ten principal departments of affairs. To sift and riddle the Nation, so that you might extricate and sift out the true ten gold grains, or ablest men, and of these make your Governors or Public Officers; leaving the dross and common sandy or silty material safely aside, as the thing to be governed, not to govern; certainly all ballot-boxes, caucuses, Kennington–Common meetings, Parliamentary debatings, Red Republics, Russian Despotisms, and constitutional or unconstitutional methods of society among mankind, are intended to achieve this one end; and some of them, it will be owned, achieve it very ill! — If you have got your gold grains, if the men you have got are actually the ablest, then rejoice; with whatever astonishment, accept your Ten, and thank the gods; under this Ten your destruction will at least be milder than under another. But if you have not got them, if you are very far from having got them, then do not rejoice at all, then lament very much; then admit that your sublime political constitutions and contrivances do not prove themselves sublime, but ridiculous and contemptible; that your world’s wonder of a political mill, the envy of surrounding nations, does not yield you real meal; yields you only powder of millstones (called Hansard Debatings), and a detestable brown substance not unlike the grindings of dried horse-dung or prepared street-mud, which though sold under royal patent, and much recommended by the trade, is quite unfit for culinary purposes! —
But the disease at least is not mysterious, whatever the remedy be. Our disease, — alas, is it not clear as the sun, that we suffer under what is the disease of all the miserable in this world, want of wisdom; that in the Head there is no vision, and that thereby all the members are dark and in bonds? No vision in the head; heroism, faith, devout insight to discern what is needful, noble courage to do it, greatly defective there: not seeing eyes there, but spectacles constitutionally ground, which, to the unwary, seem to see. A quite fatal circumstance, had you never so many Parliaments! How is your ship to be steered by a Pilot with no eyes but a pair of glass ones got from the constitutional optician? He must steer by the ear, I think, rather than by the eye; by the shoutings he catches from the shore, or from the Parliamentary benches nearer hand:— one of the frightfulest objects to see steering in a difficult sea! Reformed Parliaments in that case, reform-leagues, outer agitations and excitements in never such abundance, cannot profit: all this is but the writhing, and painful blind convulsion of the limbs that are in bonds, that are all in dark misery till the head be delivered, till the pressure on the brain be removed.
Or perhaps there is now no heroic wisdom left in England; England, once the land of heroes, is itself sunk now to a dim owlery, and habitation of doleful creatures, intent only on money-making and other forms of catching mice, for whom the proper gospel is the gospel of M’Croudy, and all nobler impulses and insights are forbidden henceforth? Perhaps these present agreeable Occupants of Downing Street, such as the parliamentary mill has yielded them, are the best the miserable soil had grown? The most Herculean Ten Men that could be found among the English Twenty-seven Millions, are these? There are not, in any place, under any figure, ten diviner men among us? Well; in that case, the riddling and searching of the twenty-seven millions has been successful. Here are our ten divinest men; with these, unhappily not divine enough, we must even content ourselves and die in peace; what help is there? No help, no hope, in that case.
But, again, if these are not our divinest men, then evidently there always is hope, there always is possibility of help; and ruin never is quite inevitable, till we have sifted out our actually divinest ten, and set these to try their band at governing! — That this has been achieved; that these ten men are the most Herculean souls the English population held within it, is a proposition credible to no mortal. No, thank God; low as we are sunk in many ways, this is not yet credible! Evidently the reverse of this proposition is the fact. Ten much diviner men do certainly exist. By some conceivable, not forever impossible, method and methods, ten very much diviner men could be sifted out! — Courage; let us fix our eyes on that important fact, and strive all thitherward as towards a door of hope!
Parliaments, I think, have proved too well, in late years, that they are not the remedy. It is not Parliaments, reformed or other, that will ever send Herculean men to Downing Street, to reform Downing Street for us; to diffuse therefrom a light of Heavenly Order, instead of the murk of Stygian Anarchy, over this sad world of ours. That function does not lie in the capacities of Parliment. That is the function of a King, — if we could get such a priceless entity, which we cannot just now! Failing which, Statesmen, or Temporary Kings, and at the very lowest one real Statesman, to shape the dim tendencies of Parliament, and guide them wisely to the goal: he, I perceive, will be a primary condition, indispensable for any progress whatsoever.
One such, perhaps, might be attained; one such might prove discoverable among our Parliamentary populations? That one, in such an enterprise as this of Downing Street, might be invaluable! One noble man, at once of natural wisdom and practical experience; one Intellect still really human, and not red-tapish, owlish and pedantical, appearing there in that dim chaos, with word of command; to brandish Hercules-like the divine broom and shovel, and turn running water in upon the place, and say as with a fiat, “Here shall be truth, and real work, and talent to do it henceforth; I will seek for able men to work here, as for the elixir of life to this poor place and me:" — what might not one such man effect there!
Nay one such is not to be dispensed with anywhere in the affairs of men. In every ship, I say, there must be a seeing pilot, not a mere hearing one! It is evident you can never get your ship steered through the difficult straits by persons standing ashore, on this bank and that, and shouting their confused directions to you: “‘Ware that Colonial Sandbank! — Starboard now, the Nigger Question! — Larboard, larboard, the Suffrage Movement! Financial Reform, your Clothing–Colonels overboard! The Qualification Movement, ‘Ware-re-re! — Helm-a-lee! Bear a hand there, will you! Hr-r-r, lubbers, imbeciles, fitter for a tailor’s shopboard than a helm of Government, Hr-r-r!” — And so the ship wriggles and tumbles, and, on the whole, goes as wind and current drive. No ship was ever steered except to destruction in that manner. I deliberately say so: no ship of a State either. If you cannot get a real pilot on board, and put the helm into his hands, your ship is as good as a wreck. One real pilot on board may save you; all the bellowing from the banks that ever was, will not, and by the nature of things cannot. Nay your pilot will have to succeed, if he do succeed, very much in spite of said bellowing; he will hear all that, and regard very little of it, — in a patient mild-spoken wise manner, will regard all of it as what it is. And I never doubt but there is in Parliament itself, in spite of its vague palaverings which fill us with despair in these times, a dumb instinct of inarticulate sense and stubborn practical English insight and veracity, that would manfully support a Statesman who could take command with really manful notions of Reform, and as one deserving to be obeyed. Oh for one such; even one! More precious to us than all the bullion in the Bank, or perhaps that ever was in it, just now!
For it is Wisdom alone that can recognize wisdom: Folly or Imbecility never can; and that is the fatalest ban it labors under, dooming it to perpetual failure in all things. Failure which, in Downing Street and places of command is especially accursed; cursing not one but hundreds of millions! Who is there that can recognize real intellect, and do reverence to it; and discriminate it well from sham intellect, which is so much more abundant, and deserves the reverse of reverence? He that himself has it! — One really human Intellect, invested with command, and charged to reform Downing Street for us, would continually attract real intellect to those regions, and with a divine magnetism search it out from the modest corners where it lies hid. And every new accession of intellect to Downing Street would bring to it benefit only, and would increase such divine attraction in it, the parent of all benefit there and elsewhere!
“What method, then; by what method?” ask many. Method, alas! To secure an increased supply of Human Intellect to Downing Street, there will evidently be no quite effectual “method” but that of increasing the supply of Human Intellect, otherwise definable as Human Worth, in Society generally; increasing the supply of sacred reverence for it, of loyalty to it, and of life-and-death desire and pursuit of it, among all classes, — if we but knew such a “method”! Alas, that were simply the method of making all classes Servants of Heaven; and except it be devout prayer to Heaven, I have never heard of any method! To increase the reverence for Human Intellect or God’s Light, and the detestation of Human Stupidity or the Devil’s Darkness, what method is there? No method, — except even this, that we should each of us “pray” for it, instead of praying for mere scrip and the like; that Heaven would please to vouchsafe us each a little of it, one by one! As perhaps Heaven, in its infinite bounty, by stern methods, gradually will? Perhaps Heaven has mercy too in these sore plagues that are oppressing us; and means to teach us reverence for Heroism and Human Intellect, by such baleful experience of what issue Imbecility and Parliamentary Eloquence lead to? Such reverence, I do hope, and even discover and observe, is silently yet extensively going on among us even in these sad years. In which small salutary fact there burns for us, in this black coil of universal baseness fast becoming universal wretchedness, an inextinguishable hope; far-off but sure, a divine “pillar of fire by night.” Courage, courage! —
Meanwhile, that our one reforming Statesman may have free command of what Intellect there is among us, and room to try all means for awakening and inviting ever more of it, there has one small Project of Improvement been suggested; which finds a certain degree of favor wherever I hear it talked of, and which seems to merit much more consideration than it has yet received. Practical men themselves approve of it hitherto, so far as it goes; the one objection being that the world is not yet prepared to insist on it, — which of course the world can never be, till once the world consider it, and in the first place hear tell of it! I have, for my own part, a good opinion of this project. The old unreformed Parliament of rotten boroughs had one advantage; but that is hereby, in a far more fruitful and effectual manner, secured to the new.
The Proposal is, That Secretaries under and upper, that all manner of changeable or permanent servants in the Government Offices shall be selected without reference to their power of getting into Parliament; — that, in short, the Queen shall have power of nominating the half-dozen or half-score Officers of the Administration, whose presence is thought necessary in Parliament, to official seats there, without reference to any constituency but her own only, which of course will mean her Prime Minister’s. A very small encroachment on the present constitution of Parliament; offering the minimum of change in present methods, and I almost think a maximum in results to be derived therefrom. — The Queen nominates John Thomas (the fittest man she, much inquiring, can hear tell of in her three kingdoms) President of the Poor–Law Board, Under Secretary of the Colonies, Under, or perhaps even Upper Secretary of what she and her Premier find suitablest for a working head so eminent, a talent so precious; and grants him, by her direct authority, seat and vote in Parliament so long as he holds that office. Upper Secretaries, having more to do in Parliament, and being so bound to be in favor there, would, I suppose, at least till new times and habits come, be expected to be chosen from among the People’s Members as at present. But whether the Prime Minister himself is, in all times, bound to be first a People’s Member; and which, or how many, of his Secretaries and subordinates he might be allowed to take as Queen’s Members, my authority does not say, — perhaps has not himself settled; the project being yet in mere outline or foreshadow, the practical embodiment in all details to be fixed by authorities much more competent than he. The soul of his project is, That the Crown also have power to elect a few members to Parliament.
From which project, however wisely it were embodied, there could probably, at first or all at once, no great “accession of intellect” to the Government Offices ensue; though a little might, even at first, and a little is always precious: but in its ulterior operation, were that faithfully developed, and wisely presided over, I fancy an immense accession of intellect might ensue; — nay a natural ingress might thereby be opened to all manner of accessions, and the actual flower of whatever intellect the British Nation had might be attracted towards Downing Street, and continue flowing steadily thither! For, let us see a little what effects this simple change carries in it the possibilities of. Here are beneficent germs, which the presence of one truly wise man as Chief Minister, steadily fostering them for even a few years, with the sacred fidelity and vigilance that would beseem him, might ripen into living practices and habitual facts, invaluable to us all.
What it is that Secretaries of State, Managers of Colonial Establishments, of Home and Foreign Government interests, have really and truly to do in Parliament, might admit of various estimate in these times. An apt debater in Parliament is by no means certain to be an able administrator of Colonies, of Home or Foreign Affairs; nay, rather quite the contrary is to be presumed of him; for in order to become a “brilliant speaker,” if that is his character, considerable portions of his natural internal endowment must have gone to the surface, in order to make a shining figure there, and precisely so much the less (few men in these days know how much less!) must remain available in the internal silent state, or as faculty for thinking, for devising and acting, which latter and which alone is the function essential for him in his Secretaryship. Not to tell a good story for himself “in Parliament and to the twenty-seven millions, many of them fools;” not that, but to do good administration, to know with sure eye, and decide with just and resolute heart, what is what in the things committed to his charge: this and not that is the service which poor England, whatever it may think and maunder, does require and want of the Official Man in Downing Street. Given a good Official Man or Secretary, he really ought, as far as it is possible, to be left working in the silent state. No mortal can both work, and do good talking in Parliament, or out of it: the feat is impossible as that of serving two hostile masters.
Nor would I, if it could be helped, much trouble my good Secretary with addressing Parliament: needful explanations; yes, in a free country, surely; — but not to every frivolous and vexatious person, in or out of Parliament, who chooses to apply for them. There should be demands for explanation too which were reckoned frivolous and vexatious, and censured as such. These, I should say, are the not needful explanations: and if my poor Secretary is to be called out from his workshop to answer every one of these, — his workshop will become (what we at present see it, deservedly or not) little other than a pillory; the poor Secretary a kind of talking-machine, exposed to dead cats and rotten eggs; and the “work” got out of him or of it will, as heretofore, be very inconsiderable indeed! — Alas, on this side also, important improvements are conceivable; and will even, I imagine, get them whence we may, be found indispensable one day. The honorable gentleman whom you interrupt here, he, in his official capacity, is not an individual now, but the embodiment of a Nation; he is the “People of England” engaged in the work of Secretaryship, this one; and cannot forever afford to let the three Tailors of Tooley Street break in upon him at all hours! —
But leaving this, let us remark one thing which is very plain: That whatever be the uses and duties, real or supposed, of a Secretary in Parliament, his faculty to accomplish these is a point entirely unconnected with his ability to get elected into Parliament, and has no relation or proportion to it, and no concern with it whatever. Lord Tommy and the Honorable John are not a whit better qualified for Parliamentary duties, to say nothing of Secretary duties, than plain Tom and Jack; they are merely better qualified, as matters stand, for getting admitted to try them. Which state of matters a reforming Premier, much in want of abler men to help him, now proposes altering. Tom and Jack, once admitted by the Queen’s writ, there is every reason to suppose will do quite as well there as Lord Tommy and the Honorable John. In Parliament quite as well: and elsewhere, in the other infinitely more important duties of a Government Office, which indeed are and remain the essential, vital and intrinsic duties of such a personage, is there the faintest reason to surmise that Tom and Jack, if well chosen, will fall short of Lord Tommy and the Honorable John? No shadow of a reason. Were the intrinsic genius of the men exactly equal, there is no shadow of a reason: but rather there is quite the reverse; for Tom and Jack have been at least workers all their days, not idlers, game-preservers and mere human clothes-horses, at any period of their lives; and have gained a schooling thereby, of which Lord Tommy and the Honorable John, unhappily strangers to it for most part, can form no conception! Tom and Jack have already, on this most narrow hypothesis, a decided superiority of likelihood over Lord Tommy and the Honorable John.
But the hypothesis is very narrow, and the fact is very wide; the hypothesis counts by units, the fact by millions. Consider how many Toms and Jacks there are to choose from, well or ill! The aristocratic class from whom Members of Parliament can be elected extends only to certain thousands; from these you are to choose your Secretary, if a seat in Parliament is the primary condition. But the general population is of Twenty-seven Millions; from all sections of which you can choose, if the seat in Parliament is not to be primary. Make it ultimate instead of primary, a last investiture instead of a first indispensable condition, and the whole British Nation, learned, unlearned, professional, practical, speculative and miscellaneous, is at your disposal! In the lowest broad strata of the population, equally as in the highest and narrowest, are produced men of every kind of genius; man for man, your chance of genius is as good among the millions as among the units; — and class for class, what must it be! From all classes, not from certain hundreds now but from several millions, whatsoever man the gods had gifted with intellect and nobleness, and power to help his country, could be chosen: O Heavens, could, — if not by Tenpound Constituencies and the force of beer, then by a Reforming Premier with eyes in his head, who I think might do it quite infinitely better. Infinitely better. For ignobleness cannot, by the nature of it, choose the noble: no, there needs a seeing man who is himself noble, cognizant by internal experience of the symptoms of nobleness. Shall we never think of this; shall we never more remember this, then? It is forever true; and Nature and Fact, however we may rattle our ballot-boxes, do at no time forget it.
From the lowest and broadest stratum of Society, where the births are by the million, there was born, almost in our own memory, a Robert Burns; son of one who “had not capital for his poor moor-farm of Twenty Pounds a year.” Robert Burns never had the smallest chance to got into Parliament, much as Robert Burns deserved, for all our sakes, to have been found there. For the man — it was not known to men purblind, sunk in their poor dim vulgar element, but might have been known to men of insight who had any loyalty or any royalty of their own — was a born king of men: full of valor, of intelligence and heroic nobleness; fit for far other work than to break his heart among poor mean mortals, gauging beer! Him no Tenpound Constituency chose, nor did any Reforming Premier: in the deep-sunk British Nation, overwhelmed in foggy stupor, with the loadstars all gone out for it, there was no whisper of a notion that it could be desirable to choose him, — except to come and dine with you, and in the interim to gauge. And yet heaven-born Mr. Pitt, at that period, was by no means without need of Heroic Intellect, for other purposes than gauging! But sorrowful strangulation by red-tape, much tighter then than it now is when so many revolutionary earthquakes have tussled it, quite tied up the meagre Pitt; and he said, on hearing of this Burns and his sad hampered case, “Literature will take care of itself.” — “Yes, and of you too, if you don’t mind it!” answers one.
And so, like Apollo taken for a Neat-herd, and perhaps for none of the best on the Admetus establishment, this new Norse Thor had to put up with what was going; to gauge ale, and be thankful; pouring his celestial sunlight through Scottish Song-writing, — the narrowest chink ever offered to a Thunder-god before! And the meagre Pitt, and his Dundasses and red-tape Phantasms (growing very ghastly now to think of), did not in the least know or understand, the impious, god-forgetting mortals, that Heroic Intellects, if Heaven were pleased to send such, were the one salvation for the world and for them and all of us. No; they “had done very well without” such; did not see the use of such; went along “very well” without such; well presided over by a singular Heroic Intellect called George the Third: and the Thunder-god, as was rather fit of him, departed early, still in the noon of life, somewhat weary of gauging ale! — O Peter, what a scandalous torpid element of yellow London fog, favorable to owls only and their mousing operations, has blotted out the stars of Heaven for us these several generations back, — which, I rejoice to see, is now visibly about to take itself away again, or perhaps to be dispelled in a very tremendous manner!
For the sake of my Democratic friends, one other observation. Is not this Proposal the very essence of whatever truth there is in “Democracy;” this, that the able man be chosen, in whatever rank be is found? That he be searched for as hidden treasure is; be trained, supervised, set to the work which he alone is fit for. All Democracy lies in this; this, I think, is worth all the ballot-boxes and suffrage-movements now going. Not that the noble soul, born poor, should be set to spout in Parliament, but that he should be set to assist in governing men: this is our grand Democratic interest. With this we can be saved; without this, were there a Parliament spouting in every parish, and Hansard Debates to stem the Thames, we perish, — die constitutionally drowned, in mere oceans of palaver.
All reformers, constitutional persons, and men capable of reflection, are invited to reflect on these things. Let us brush the cobwebs from our eyes; let us bid the inane traditions be silent for a moment; and ask ourselves, like men dreadfully intent on having it done, “By what method or methods can the able men from every rank of life be gathered, as diamond-grains from the general mass of sand: the able men, not the sham-able; — and set to do the work of governing, contriving, administering and guiding for us!” It is the question of questions. All that Democracy ever meant lies there: the attainment of a truer and truer Aristocracy, or Government again by the Best.
Reformed Parliaments have lamentably failed to attain it for us; and I believe will and must forever fail. One true Reforming Statesman, one noble worshipper and knower of human intellect, with the quality of an experienced Politician too; he, backed by such a Parliament as England, once recognizing him, would loyally send, and at liberty to choose his working subalterns from all the Englishmen alive; he surely might do something? Something, by one means or another, is becoming fearfully necessary to be done! He, I think, might accomplish more for us in ten years, than the best conceivable Reformed Parliament, and utmost extension of the suffrage, in twice or ten times ten.
What is extremely important too, you could try this method with safety; extension of the suffrage you cannot so try. With even an approximately heroic Prime Minister, you could get nothing but good from prescribing to him thus, to choose the fittest man, under penalties; to choose, not the fittest of the four or the three men that were in Parliament, but the fittest from the whole Twenty-seven Millions that he could hear of, — at his peril. Nothing but good from this. From extension of the suffrage, some think, you might get quite other than good. From extension of the suffrage, till it became a universal counting of heads, one sees not in the least what wisdom could be extracted. A Parliament of the Paris pattern, such as we see just now, might be extracted: and from that? Solution into universal slush; drownage of all interests divine and human, in a Noah’s-Deluge of Parliamentary eloquence, — such as we hope our sins, heavy and manifold though they are, have not yet quite deserved!
Who, then, is to be the Reforming Statesman, and begin the noble work for us? He is the preliminary; one such; with him we may prosecute the enterprise to length after length; without him we cannot stir in it at all. A true king, temporary king, that dare undertake the government of Britain, on condition of beginning in sacred earnest to “reform” it, not at this or that extremity, but at the heart and centre. That will expurgate Downing Street, and the practical Administration of our Affairs; clear out its accumulated mountains of pendantries and cobwebs; bid the Pedants and the Dullards depart, bid the Gifted and the Seeing enter and inhabit. So that henceforth there be Heavenly light there, instead of Stygian dusk; that God’s vivifying light instead of Satan’s deadening and killing dusk, may radiate therefrom, and visit with healing all regions of this British Empire, — which now writhes through every limb of it, in dire agony as if of death! The enterprise is great, the enterprise may be called formidable and even awful; but there is none nobler among the sublunary affairs of mankind just now. Nay tacitly it is the enterprise of every man who undertakes to be British Premier in these times; — and I cannot esteem him an enviable Premier who, because the engagement is tacit, flatters himself that it does not exist! “Show it me in the bond,” he says. Your Lordship, it actually exists: and I think you will see it yet, in another kind of “bond” than that sheepskin one!
But truly, in any time, what a strange feeling, enough to alarm a very big Lordship, this: that he, of the size he is, has got to the apex of English affairs! Smallest wrens, we know, by training and the aid of machinery, are capable of many things. For this world abounds in miraculous combinations, far transcending anything they do at Drury Lane in the melodramatic way. A world which, as solid as it looks, is made all of aerial and even of spiritual stuff; permeated all by incalculable sleeping forces and electricities; and liable to go off, at any time, into the hugest developments, upon a scratch thoughtfully or thoughtlessly given on the right point:— Nay, for every one of us, could not the sputter of a poor pistol-shot shrivel the Immensities together like a burnt scroll, and make the Heavens and the Earth pass away with a great noise? Smallest wrens, and canary-birds of some dexterity, can be trained to handle lucifer-matches; and have, before now, fired off whole powder-magazines and parks of artillery. Perhaps without much astonishment to the canary-bird. The canary-bird can hold only its own quantity of astonishment; and may possibly enough retain its presence of mind, were even Doomsday to come. It is on this principle that I explain to myself the equanimity of some men and Premiers whom we have known.
This and the other Premier seems to take it with perfect coolness. And yet, I say, what a strange feeling, to find himself Chief Governor of England; girding on, upon his moderately sized new soul, the old battle-harness of an Oliver Cromwell, an Edward Longshanks, a William Conqueror. “I, then, am the Ablest of English attainable Men? This English People, which has spread itself over all lands and seas, and achieved such works in the ages, — which has done America, India, the Lancashire Cotton-trade, Bromwicham Iron-trade, Newton’s Principia, Shakspeare’s Dramas, and the British Constitution, — the apex of all its intelligences and mighty instincts and dumb longings: it is I? William Conqueror’s big gifts, and Edward’s and Elizabeth’s; Oliver’s lightning soul, noble as Sinai and the thunders of the Lord: these are mine, I begin to perceive, — to a certain extent. These heroisms have I, — though rather shy of exhibiting them. These; and something withal of the huge beaver-faculty of our Arkwrights, Brindleys; touches too of the phoenix-melodies and sunny heroisms of our Shakspeares, of our Singers, Sages and inspired Thinkers all this is in me, I will hope, — though rather shy of exhibiting it on common occasions. The Pattern Englishman, raised by solemn acclamation upon the bucklers of the English People, and saluted with universal ‘God save THEE!’ — has now the honor to announce himself. After fifteen hundred years of constitutional study as to methods of raising on the bucklers, which is the operation of operations, the English People, surely pretty well skilled in it by this time, has raised — the remarkable individual now addressing you. The best-combined sample of whatsoever divine qualities are in this big People, the consummate flower of all that they have done and been, the ultimate product of the Destinies, and English man of men, arrived at last in the fulness of time, is — who think you? Ye worlds, the Ithuriel javelin by which, with all these heroisms and accumulated energies old and new, the English People means to smite and pierce, is this poor tailor’s-bodkin, hardly adequate to bore an eylet-hole, who now has the honor to” — Good Heavens, if it were not that men generally are very much of the canary-bird, here, are reflections sufficient to annihilate any man, almost before starting!
But to us also it ought to be a very strange reflection! This, then, is the length we have brought it to, with our constitutioning, and ballot-boxing, and incessant talk and effort in every kind for so many centuries back; this? The golden flower of our grand alchemical projection, which has set the world in astonishment so long, and been the envy of surrounding nations, is — what we here see. To be governed by his Lordship, and guided through the undiscovered paths of Time by this respectable degree of human faculty. With our utmost soul’s travail we could discover, by the sublimest methods eulogized by all the world, no abler Englishman than this?
Really it should make us pause upon the said sublime methods, and ask ourselves very seriously, whether, notwithstanding the eulogy of all the world, they can be other than extremely astonishing methods, that require revisal and reconsideration very much indeed! For the kind of “man” we get to govern us, all conclusions whatsoever centre there, and likewise all manner of issues flow infallibly therefrom. “Ask well, who is your Chief Governor,” says one: “for around him men like to him will infallibly gather, and by degrees all the world will be made in his image.” “He who is himself a noble man, has a chance to know the nobleness of men; he who is not, has none. And as for the poor Public, — alas, is not the kind of ‘man’ you set upon it the liveliest symbol of its and your veracity and victory and blessedness, or unveracity and misery and cursedness; the general summation and practical outcome of all else whatsoever in the Public and in you?”
Time was when an incompetent Governor could not be permitted among men. He was, and had to be, by one method or the other, clutched up from his place at the helm of affairs, and hurled down into the hold, perhaps even overboard, if he could not really steer. And we call those ages barbarous, because they shuddered to see a Phantasm at the helm of their affairs; an eyeless Pilot with constitutional spectacles, steering by the ear mainly? And we have changed all that; no-government is now the best; and a tailor’s foreman, who gives no trouble, is preferable to any other for governing? My friends, such truly is the current idea; but you dreadfully mistake yourselves, and the fact is not such. The fact, now beginning to disclose itself again in distressed Needlewomen, famishing Connaughts, revolting Colonies, and a general rapid advance towards Social Ruin, remains really what it always was, and will so remain!
Men have very much forgotten it at present; and only here a man and there a man begins again to bethink himself of it: but all men will gradually get reminded of it, perhaps terribly to their cost; and the sooner they all lay it to heart again, I think it will be the better. For in spite of our oblivion of it, the thing remains forever true; nor is there any Constitution or body of Constitutions, were they clothed with never such venerabilities and general acceptabilities, that avails to deliver a Nation from the consequences of forgetting it. Nature, I assure you, does forevermore remember it; and a hundred British Constitutions are but as a hundred cobwebs between her and the penalty she levies for forgetting it. Tell me what kind of man governs a People, you tell me, with much exactness, what the net sum-total of social worth in that People has for some time been. Whether they have loved the phylacteries or the eternal noblenesses; whether they have been struggling heavenward like eagles, brothers of the radiances, or groping owl-like with horn-eyed diligence, catching mice and balances at their banker’s, — poor devils, you will see it all in that one fact. A fact long prepared beforehand; which, if it is a peaceably received one, must have been acquiesced in, judged to be “best,” by the poor mousing owls, intent only to have a large balance at their banker’s and keep a whole skin.
Such sordid populations, which were long blind to Heaven’s light, are getting themselves burnt up rapidly, in these days, by street-insurrection and Hell-fire; — as is indeed inevitable, my esteemed M’Croudy! Light, accept the blessed light, if you will have it when Heaven vouchsafes. You refuse? You prefer Delolme on the British Constitution, the Gospel according to M’Croudy, and a good balance at your banker’s? Very well: the “light” is more and more withdrawn; and for some time you have a general dusk, very favorable for catching mice; and the opulent owlery is very “happy,” and well-off at its banker’s; — and furthermore, by due sequence, infallible as the foundations of the Universe and Nature’s oldest law, the light returns on you, condensed, this time, into lightning, which there is not any skin whatever too thick for taking in!
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:49