The Ancien Regime
Charles Kingsley


by Charles Kingsley


The rules of the Royal Institution forbid (and wisely) religious or
political controversy. It was therefore impossible for me in these
Lectures, to say much which had to be said, in drawing a just and
complete picture of the Ancien Regime in France. The passages
inserted between brackets, which bear on religious matters, were
accordingly not spoken at the Royal Institution.

But more. It was impossible for me in these Lectures, to bring
forward as fully as I could have wished, the contrast between the
continental nations and England, whether now, or during the
eighteenth century. But that contrast cannot be too carefully
studied at the present moment. In proportion as it is seen and
understood, will the fear of revolution (if such exists) die out
among the wealthier classes; and the wish for it (if such exists)
among the poorer; and a large extension of the suffrage will be
looked on as--what it actually is--a safe and harmless concession to
the wishes--and, as I hold, to the just rights--of large portion of
the British nation.

There exists in Britain now, as far as I can see, no one of those
evils which brought about the French Revolution. There is no
widespread misery, and therefore no widespread discontent, among the
classes who live by hand-labour. The legislation of the last
generation has been steadily in favour of the poor, as against the
rich; and it is even more true now than it was in 1789, that--as
Arthur Young told the French mob which stopped his carriage--the
rich pay many taxes (over and above the poor-rates, a direct tax on
the capitalist in favour of the labourer) more than are paid by the
poor. "In England" (says M. de Tocqueville of even the eighteenth
century) "the poor man enjoyed the privilege of exemption from
taxation; in France, the rich." Equality before the law is as well-
nigh complete as it can be, where some are rich and others poor; and
the only privileged class, it sometimes seems to me, is the pauper,
who has neither the responsibility of self-government, nor the toil
of self-support.

A minority of malcontents, some justly, some unjustly, angry with
the present state of things, will always exist in this world. But a
majority of malcontents we shall never have, as long as the workmen
are allowed to keep untouched and unthreatened their rights of free
speech, free public meeting, free combination for all purposes which
do not provoke a breach of the peace. There may be (and probably
are) to be found in London and the large towns, some of those
revolutionary propagandists who have terrified and tormented
continental statesmen since the year 1815. But they are far fewer
in number than in 1848; far fewer still (I believe) than in 1831;
and their habits, notions, temper, whole mental organisation, is so
utterly alien to that of the average Englishman, that it is only the
sense of wrong which can make him take counsel with them, or make
common cause with them. Meanwhile, every man who is admitted to a
vote, is one more person withdrawn from the temptation to
disloyalty, and enlisted in maintaining the powers that be--when
they are in the wrong, as well as when they are in the right. For
every Englishman is by his nature conservative; slow to form an
opinion; cautious in putting it into effect; patient under evils
which seem irremediable; persevering in abolishing such as seem
remediable; and then only too ready to acquiesce in the earliest
practical result; to "rest and be thankful." His faults, as well as
his virtues, make him anti-revolutionary. He is generally too dull
to take in a great idea; and if he does take it in, often too
selfish to apply it to any interest save his own. But now and then,
when the sense of actual injury forces upon him a great idea, like
that of Free-trade or of Parliamentary Reform, he is indomitable,
however slow and patient, in translating his thought into fact: and
they will not be wise statesmen who resist his dogged determination.
If at this moment he demands an extension of the suffrage eagerly
and even violently, the wise statesman will give at once, gracefully
and generously, what the Englishman will certainly obtain one day,
if he has set his mind upon it. If, on the other hand, he asks for
it calmly, then the wise statesman (instead of mistaking English
reticence for apathy) will listen to his wishes all the more
readily; seeing in the moderation of the demand, the best possible
guarantee for moderation in the use of the thing demanded.

And, be it always remembered, that in introducing these men into the
"balance of the Constitution," we introduce no unknown quantity.
Statesmen ought to know them, if they know themselves; to judge what
the working man would do by what they do themselves. He who imputes
virtues to his own class imputes them also to the labouring class.
He who imputes vices to the labouring class, imputes them to his own
class. For both are not only of the same flesh and blood, but, what
is infinitely more important, of the same spirit; of the same race;
in innumerable cases, of the same ancestors. For centuries past the
most able of these men have been working upwards into the middle
class, and through it, often, to the highest dignities, and the
highest family connections; and the whole nation knows how they have
comported themselves therein. And, by a reverse process (of which
the physiognomist and genealogist can give abundant proof), the
weaker members of that class which was dominant during the Middle
Age have been sinking downward, often to the rank of mere day-
labourers, and carrying downward with them--sometimes in a very
tragical and pathetic fashion--somewhat of the dignity and the
refinement which they had learnt from their ancestors.

Thus has the English nation (and as far as I can see, the Scotch
likewise) become more homogeneous than any nation of the Continent,
if we except France since the extermination of the Frankish
nobility. And for that very reason, as it seems to me, it is more
fitted than any other European nation for the exercise of equal
political rights; and not to be debarred of them by arguments drawn
from countries which have been governed--as England has not been--by
a caste.

The civilisation, not of mere book-learning, but of the heart; all
that was once meant by "manners"--good breeding, high feeling,
respect for self and respect for others--are just as common (as far
as I have seen) among the hand-workers of England and Scotland, as
among any other class; the only difference is, that these qualities
develop more early in the richer classes, owing to that severe
discipline of our public schools, which makes mere lads often fit to
govern, because they have learnt to obey: while they develop later-
-generally not till middle age--in the classes who have not gone
through in their youth that Spartan training, and who indeed (from a
mistaken conception of liberty) would not endure it for a day. This
and other social drawbacks which are but too patent, retard the
manhood of the working classes. That it should be so, is a wrong.
For if a citizen have one right above all others to demand anything
of his country, it is that he should be educated; that whatever
capabilities he may have in him, however small, should have their
fair and full chance of development. But the cause of the wrong is
not the existence of a caste, or a privileged class, or of anything
save the plain fact, that some men will be always able to pay more
for their children's education than others; and that those children
will, inevitably, win in the struggle of life.

Meanwhile, in this fact is to be found the most weighty, if not the
only argument against manhood suffrage, which would admit many--but
too many, alas!--who are still mere boys in mind. To a reasonable
household suffrage it cannot apply. The man who (being almost
certainly married, and having children) can afford to rent a 5 pound
tenement in a town, or in the country either, has seen quite enough
of life, and learnt quite enough of it, to form a very fair judgment
of the man who offers to represent him in Parliament; because he has
learnt, not merely something of his own interest, or that of his
class, but--what is infinitely more important--the difference
between the pretender and the honest man.

The causes of this state of society, which is peculiar to Britain,
must be sought far back in the ages. It would seem that the
distinction between "earl and churl" (the noble and the non-noble
freeman) was crushed out in this island by the two Norman conquests-
-that of the Anglo-Saxon nobility by Sweyn and Canute; and that of
the Anglo-Danish nobility by William and his Frenchmen. Those two
terrible calamities, following each other in the short space of
fifty years, seem to have welded together, by a community of
suffering, all ranks and races, at least south of the Tweed; and
when the English rose after the storm, they rose as one homogeneous
people, never to be governed again by an originally alien race. The
English nobility were, from the time of Magna Charta, rather an
official nobility, than, as in most continental countries, a
separate caste; and whatever caste tendencies had developed
themselves before the Wars of the Roses (as such are certain to do
during centuries of continued wealth and power), were crushed out by
the great revolutionary events of the next hundred years.
Especially did the discovery of the New World, the maritime struggle
with Spain, the outburst of commerce and colonisation during the
reigns of Elizabeth and James, help toward this good result. It was
in vain for the Lord Oxford of the day, sneering at Raleigh's sudden
elevation, to complain that as on the virginals, so in the State,
"Jacks went up, and heads went down." The proudest noblemen were
not ashamed to have their ventures on the high seas, and to send
their younger sons trading, or buccaneering, under the conduct of
low-born men like Drake, who "would like to see the gentleman that
would not set his hand to a rope, and hale and draw with the
mariners." Thus sprang up that respect for, even fondness for,
severe bodily labour, which the educated class of no nation save our
own has ever felt; and which has stood them in such good stead,
whether at home or abroad. Thus, too, sprang up the system of
society by which (as the ballad sets forth) the squire's son might
be a "'prentice good," and marry

"The bailiff's daughter dear
That dwelt at Islington,"

without tarnishing, as he would have done on the Continent, the
scutcheon of his ancestors. That which has saved England from a
central despotism, such as crushed, during the eighteenth century,
every nation on the Continent, is the very same peculiarity which
makes the advent of the masses to a share in political power safe
and harmless; namely, the absence of caste, or rather (for there is
sure to be a moral fact underlying and causing every political fact)
the absence of that wicked pride which perpetuates caste; forbidding
those to intermarry whom nature and fact pronounce to be fit mates
before God and man.

These views are not mine only. They have been already set forth so
much more forcibly by M. de Tocqueville, that I should have thought
it unnecessary to talk about them, were not the rhetorical phrases,
"Caste," "Privileged Classes," "Aristocratic Exclusiveness," and
such-like, bandied about again just now, as if they represented
facts. If there remain in this kingdom any facts which correspond
to those words, let them be abolished as speedily as possible: but
that such do remain was not the opinion of the master of modern
political philosophy, M. de Tocqueville.

He expresses his surprise "that the fact which distinguishes England
from all other modern nations, and which alone can throw light on
her peculiarities, . . . has not attracted more attention, . . . and
that habit has rendered it, as it were, imperceptible to the English
themselves--that England was the only country in which the system of
caste had been not only modified, but effectually destroyed. The
nobility and the middle classes followed the same business, embraced
the same professions, and, what is far more significant,
intermarried with each other. The daughter of the greatest
nobleman" (and this, if true of the eighteenth century, has become
far more true of the nineteenth) "could already, without disgrace,
marry a man of yesterday." . . .

"It has often been remarked that the English nobility has been more
prudent, more able, and less exclusive than any other. It would
have been much nearer the truth to say, that in England, for a very
long time past, no nobility, properly so called, have existed, if we
take the word in the ancient and limited sense it has everywhere
else retained." . . .

"For several centuries the word 'gentleman'" (he might have added,
"burgess") "has altogether changed its meaning in England; and the
word 'roturier' has ceased to exist. In each succeeding century it
is applied to persons placed somewhat lower in the social scale" (as
the "bagman" of Pickwick has become, and has deserved to become, the
"commercial gentleman" of our day). "At length it travelled with
the English to America, where it is used to designate every citizen
indiscriminately. Its history is that of democracy itself." . . .

"If the middle classes of England, instead of making war upon the
aristocracy, have remained so intimately connected with it, it is
not especially because the aristocracy is open to all, but rather,
because its outline was indistinct, and its limit unknown: not so
much because any man might be admitted into it, as because it was
impossible to say with certainty when he took rank there: so that
all who approached it might look on themselves as belonging to it;
might take part in its rule, and derive either lustre or profit from
its influence."

Just so; and therefore the middle classes of Britain, of whatever
their special political party, are conservative in the best sense of
that word.

For there are not three, but only two, classes in England; namely,
rich and poor: those who live by capital (from the wealthiest
landlord to the smallest village shopkeeper); and those who live by
hand-labour. Whether the division between those two classes is
increasing or not, is a very serious question. Continued
legislation in favour of the hand-labourer, and a beneficence
towards him, when in need, such as no other nation on earth has ever
shown, have done much to abolish the moral division. But the social
division has surely been increased during the last half century, by
the inevitable tendency, both in commerce and agriculture, to employ
one large capital, where several small ones would have been employed
a century ago. The large manufactory, the large shop, the large
estate, the large farm, swallows up the small ones. The yeoman, the
thrifty squatter who could work at two or three trades as well as
till his patch of moor, the hand-loom weaver, the skilled village
craftsman, have all but disappeared. The handworker, finding it
more and more difficult to invest his savings, has been more and
more tempted to squander them. To rise to the dignity of a
capitalist, however small, was growing impossible to him, till the
rise of that co-operative movement, which will do more than any
social or political impulse in our day for the safety of English
society, and the loyalty of the English working classes. And
meanwhile--ere that movement shall have spread throughout the length
and breadth of the land, and have been applied, as it surely will be
some day, not only to distribution, not only to manufacture, but to
agriculture likewise--till then, the best judges of the working
men's worth must be their employers; and especially the employers of
the northern manufacturing population. What their judgment is, is
sufficiently notorious. Those who depend most on the working men,
who have the best opportunities of knowing them, trust them most
thoroughly. As long as great manufacturers stand forward as the
political sponsors of their own workmen, it behoves those who cannot
have had their experience, to consider their opinion as conclusive.
As for that "influence of the higher classes" which is said to be
endangered just now; it will exist, just as much as it deserves to
exist. Any man who is superior to the many, whether in talents,
education, refinement, wealth, or anything else, will always be able
to influence a number of men--and if he thinks it worth his while,
of votes--by just and lawful means. And as for unjust and unlawful
means, let those who prefer them keep up heart. The world will go
on much as it did before; and be always quite bad enough to allow
bribery and corruption, jobbery and nepotism, quackery and
arrogance, their full influence over our home and foreign policy.
An extension of the suffrage, however wide, will not bring about the
millennium. It will merely make a large number of Englishmen
contented and loyal, instead of discontented and disloyal. It may
make, too, the educated and wealthy classes wiser by awakening a
wholesome fear--perhaps, it may be, by awakening a chivalrous
emulation. It may put the younger men of the present aristocracy
upon their mettle, and stir them up to prove that they are not in
the same effete condition as was the French noblesse in 1789. It
may lead them to take the warnings which have been addressed to
them, for the last thirty years, by their truest friends--often by
kinsmen of their own. It may lead them to ask themselves why, in a
world which is governed by a just God, such great power as is
palpably theirs at present is entrusted to them, save that they may
do more work, and not less, than other men, under the penalties
pronounced against those to whom much is given, and of whom much is
required. It may lead them to discover that they are in a world
where it is not safe to sit under the tree, and let the ripe fruit
drop into your mouth; where the "competition of species" works with
ruthless energy among all ranks of being, from kings upon their
thrones to the weeds upon the waste; where "he that is not hammer,
is sure to be anvil;" and he who will not work, neither shall he
eat. It may lead them to devote that energy (in which they surpass
so far the continental aristocracies) to something better than
outdoor amusements or indoor dilettantisms. There are those among
them who, like one section of the old French noblesse, content
themselves with mere complaints of "the revolutionary tendencies of
the age." Let them beware in time; for when the many are on the
march, the few who stand still are certain to be walked over. There
are those among them who, like another section of the French
noblesse, are ready, more generously than wisely, to throw away
their own social and political advantages, and play (for it will
never be really more than playing) at democracy. Let them, too,
beware. The penknife and the axe should respect each other; for
they were wrought from the same steel: but the penknife will not be
wise in trying to fell trees. Let them accept their own position,
not in conceit and arrogance, but in fear and trembling; and see if
they cannot play the man therein, and save their own class; and with
it, much which it has needed many centuries to accumulate and to
organise, and without which no nation has yet existed for a single
century. They are no more like the old French noblesse, than are
the commercial class like the old French bourgeoisie, or the
labouring like the old French peasantry. Let them prove that fact
by their deeds during the next generation; or sink into the
condition of mere rich men, exciting, by their luxury and laziness,
nothing but envy and contempt.

Meanwhile, behind all classes and social forces--I had almost said,
above them all--stands a fourth estate, which will, ultimately,
decide the form which English society is to take: a Press as
different from the literary class of the Ancien Regime as is
everything else English; and different in this--that it is free.

The French Revolution, like every revolution (it seems to me) which
has convulsed the nations of Europe for the last eighty years, was
caused immediately--whatever may have been its more remote causes--
by the suppression of thought; or, at least, by a sense of wrong
among those who thought. A country where every man, be he fool or
wise, is free to speak that which is in him, can never suffer a
revolution. The folly blows itself off like steam, in harmless
noise; the wisdom becomes part of the general intellectual stock of
the nation, and prepares men for gradual, and therefore for
harmless, change.

As long as the press is free, a nation is guaranteed against sudden
and capricious folly, either from above or from below. As long as
the press is free, a nation is guaranteed against the worse evil of
persistent and obstinate folly, cloaking itself under the venerable
shapes of tradition and authority. For under a free press, a nation
must ultimately be guided not by a caste, not by a class, not by
mere wealth, not by the passions of a mob: but by mind; by the net
result of all the common-sense of its members; and in the present
default of genius, which is un-common sense, common-sense seems to
be the only, if not the best, safeguard for poor humanity.



[Delivered at the Royal Institution, London, 1867.]

These Lectures are meant to be comments on the state of France
before the French Revolution. To English society, past or present,
I do not refer. For reasons which I have set forth at length in an
introductory discourse, there never was any Ancien Regime in

Therefore, when the Stuarts tried to establish in England a system
which might have led to a political condition like that of the
Continent, all classes combined and exterminated them; while the
course of English society went on as before.

On the contrary, England was the mother of every movement which
undermined, and at last destroyed, the Ancien Regime.

From England went forth those political theories which, transmitted
from America to France, became the principles of the French
Revolution. From England went forth the philosophy of Locke, with
all its immense results. It is noteworthy, that when Voltaire tries
to persuade people, in a certain famous passage, that philosophers
do not care to trouble the world--of the ten names to whom he does
honour, seven names are English. "It is," he says, "neither
Montaigne, nor Locke, nor Boyle, nor Spinoza, nor Hobbes, nor Lord
Shaftesbury, nor Mr. Collins, nor Mr. Toland, nor Fludd, nor Baker,
who have carried the torch of discord into their countries." It is
worth notice, that not only are the majority of these names English,
but that they belong not to the latter but to the former half of the
eighteenth century; and indeed, to the latter half of the

So it was with that Inductive Physical Science, which helped more
than all to break up the superstitions of the Ancien Regime, and to
set man face to face with the facts of the universe. From England,
towards the end of the seventeenth century, it was promulgated by
such men as Newton, Boyle, Sydenham, Ray, and the first founders of
our Royal Society.

In England, too, arose the great religious movements of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries--and especially that of a body
which I can never mention without most deep respect--the Society of
Friends. At a time when the greater part of the Continent was sunk
in spiritual sleep, these men were reasserting doctrines concerning
man, and his relation to his Creator, which, whether or not all
believe them (as I believe them) to be founded on eternal fact, all
must confess to have been of incalculable benefit to the cause of
humanity and civilisation.

From England, finally, about the middle of the eighteenth century,
went forth--promulgated by English noblemen--that freemasonry which
seems to have been the true parent of all the secret societies of
Europe. Of this curious question, more hereafter. But enough has
been said to show that England, instead of falling, at any period,
into the stagnation of the Ancien Regime, was, from the middle of
the seventeenth century, in a state of intellectual growth and
ferment which communicated itself finally to the continental
nations. This is the special honour of England; universally
confessed at the time. It was to England that the slowly-awakening
nations looked, as the source of all which was noble, true, and
free, in the dawning future.

It will be seen, from what I have said, that I consider the Ancien
Regime to begin in the seventeenth century. I should date its
commencement--as far as that of anything so vague, unsystematic,
indeed anarchic, can be defined--from the end of the Thirty Years'
War, and the peace of Westphalia in 1648.

For by that time the mighty spiritual struggles and fierce religious
animosities of the preceding century had worn themselves out. And,
as always happens, to a period of earnest excitement had succeeded
one of weariness, disgust, half-unbelief in the many questions for
which so much blood had been shed. No man had come out of the
battle with altogether clean hands; some not without changing sides
more than once. The war had ended as one, not of nations, not even
of zealots, but of mercenaries. The body of Europe had been pulled
in pieces between them all; and the poor soul thereof--as was to be
expected--had fled out through the gaping wounds. Life, mere
existence, was the most pressing need. If men could--in the old
prophet's words--find the life of their hand, they were content.
High and low only asked to be let live. The poor asked it--
slaughtered on a hundred battle-fields, burnt out of house and home:
vast tracts of the centre of Europe were lying desert; the
population was diminished for several generations. The trading
classes, ruined by the long war, only asked to be let live, and make
a little money. The nobility, too, only asked to be let live. They
had lost, in the long struggle, not only often lands and power, but
their ablest and bravest men; and a weaker and meaner generation was
left behind, to do the governing of the world. Let them live, and
keep what they had. If signs of vigour still appeared in France, in
the wars of Louis XIV. they were feverish, factitious, temporary--
soon, as the event proved, to droop into the general exhaustion. If
wars were still to be waged they were to be wars of succession, wars
of diplomacy; not wars of principle, waged for the mightiest
invisible interests of man. The exhaustion was general; and to it
we must attribute alike the changes and the conservatism of the
Ancien Regime. To it is owing that growth of a centralising
despotism, and of arbitrary regal power, which M. de Tocqueville has
set forth in a book which I shall have occasion often to quote. To
it is owing, too, that longing, which seems to us childish, after
ancient forms, etiquettes, dignities, court costumes, formalities
diplomatic, legal, ecclesiastical. Men clung to them as to
keepsakes of the past--revered relics of more intelligible and
better-ordered times. If the spirit had been beaten out of them in
a century of battle, that was all the more reason for keeping up the
letter. They had had a meaning once, a life once; perhaps there was
a little life left in them still; perhaps the dry bones would clothe
themselves with flesh once more, and stand upon their feet. At
least it was useful that the common people should so believe. There
was good hope that the simple masses, seeing the old dignities and
formalities still parading the streets, should suppose that they
still contained men, and were not mere wooden figures, dressed
artistically in official costume. And, on the whole, that hope was
not deceived. More than a century of bitter experience was needed
ere the masses discovered that their ancient rulers were like the
suits of armour in the Tower of London--empty iron astride of wooden
steeds, and armed with lances which every ploughboy could wrest out
of their hands, and use in his own behalf.

The mistake of the masses was pardonable. For those suits of armour
had once held living men; strong, brave, wise; men of an admirable
temper; doing their work according to their light, not altogether
well--what man does that on earth?--but well enough to make
themselves necessary to, and loyally followed by, the masses whom
they ruled. No one can read fairly the "Gesta Dei per Francos in
Oriente," or the deeds of the French Nobility in their wars with
England, or those tales--however legendary--of the mediaeval
knights, which form so noble an element in German literature,
without seeing, that however black were these men's occasional
crimes, they were a truly noble race, the old Nobility of the
Continent; a race which ruled simply because, without them, there
would have been naught but anarchy and barbarism. To their
chivalrous ideal they were too often, perhaps for the most part,
untrue: but, partial and defective as it is, it is an ideal such as
never entered into the mind of Celt or Gaul, Hun or Sclav; one which
seems continuous with the spread of the Teutonic conquerors. They
ruled because they did practically raise the ideal of humanity in
the countries which they conquered, a whole stage higher. They
ceased to rule when they were, through their own sins, caught up and
surpassed in the race of progress by the classes below them.

But, even when at its best, their system of government had in it--
like all human invention--original sin; an unnatural and unrighteous
element, which was certain, sooner or later, to produce decay and
ruin. The old Nobility of Europe was not a mere aristocracy. It
was a caste: a race not intermarrying with the races below it. It
was not a mere aristocracy. For that, for the supremacy of the best
men, all societies strive, or profess to strive. And such a true
aristocracy may exist independent of caste, or the hereditary
principle at all. We may conceive an Utopia, governed by an
aristocracy which should be really democratic; which should use,
under developed forms, that method which made the mediaeval
priesthood the one great democratic institution of old Christendom;
bringing to the surface and utilising the talents and virtues of all
classes, even to the lowest. We may conceive an aristocracy
choosing out, and gladly receiving into its own ranks as equals,
every youth, every maiden, who was distinguished by intellect,
virtue, valour, beauty, without respect to rank or birth; and
rejecting in turn, from its own ranks, each of its own children who
fell below some lofty standard, and showed by weakliness, dulness,
or baseness, incapacity for the post of guiding and elevating their
fellow-citizens. Thus would arise a true aristocracy; a governing
body of the really most worthy--the most highly organised in body
and in mind--perpetually recruited from below: from which, or from
any other ideal, we are yet a few thousand years distant.

But the old Ancien Regime would have shuddered, did shudder, at such
a notion. The supreme class was to keep itself pure, and avoid all
taint of darker blood, shutting its eyes to the fact that some of
its most famous heroes had been born of such left-handed marriages
as that of Robert of Normandy with the tanner's daughter of Falaise.
"Some are so curious in this behalf," says quaint old Burton,
writing about 1650, "as these old Romans, our modern Venetians,
Dutch, and French, that if two parties dearly love, the one noble,
the other ignoble, they may not, by their laws, match, though equal
otherwise in years, fortunes, education, and all good affection. In
Germany, except they can prove their gentility by three descents,
they scorn to match with them. A nobleman must marry a noblewoman;
a baron, a baron's daughter; a knight, a knight's. As slaters sort
their slates, do they degrees and families."

And doubtless this theory--like all which have held their ground for
many centuries--at first represented a fact. These castes were, at
first, actually superior to the peoples over whom they ruled. I
cannot, as long as my eyes are open, yield to the modern theory of
the equality--indeed of the non-existence--of races. Holding, as I
do, the primaeval unity of the human race, I see in that race the
same inclination to sport into fresh varieties, the same competition
of species between those varieties, which Mr. Darwin has pointed out
among plants and mere animals. A distinguished man arises; from him
a distinguished family; from it a distinguished tribe, stronger,
cunninger than those around. It asserts its supremacy over its
neighbours at first exactly as a plant or animal would do, by
destroying, and, where possible, eating them; next, having grown
more prudent, by enslaving them; next, having gained a little
morality in addition to its prudence, by civilising them, raising
them more or less toward its own standard. And thus, in every land,
civilisation and national life has arisen out of the patriarchal
state; and the Eastern scheik, with his wives, free and slave, and
his hundreds of fighting men born in his house, is the type of all
primaeval rulers. He is the best man of his horde--in every sense
of the word best; and whether he have a right to rule them or not,
they consider that he has, and are the better men for his guidance.

Whether this ought to have been the history of primaeval
civilisation, is a question not to be determined here. That it is
the history thereof, is surely patent to anyone who will imagine to
himself what must have been. In the first place, the strongest and
cunningest savage must have had the chance of producing children
more strong and cunning than the average; he would have--the
strongest savage has still--the power of obtaining a wife, or wives,
superior in beauty and in household skill, which involves
superiority of intellect; and therefore his children would--some of
them at least--be superior to the average, both from the father's
and the mother's capacities. They again would marry select wives;
and their children again would do the same; till, in a very few
generations, a family would have established itself, considerably
superior to the rest of the tribe in body and mind, and become
assuredly its ruling race.

Again, if one of that race invented a new weapon, a new mode of
tillage, or aught else which gave him power, that would add to the
superiority of his whole family. For the invention would be
jealously kept among them as a mystery, a hereditary secret. To
this simple cause, surely, is to be referred the system of
hereditary caste occupations, whether in Egypt or Hindoostan. To
this, too, the fact that alike in Greek and in Teutonic legend the
chief so often appears, not merely as the best warrior and best
minstrel, but as the best smith, armourer, and handicraftsman of his
tribe. If, however, the inventor happened to be a low-born genius,
its advantages would still accrue to the ruling race. For nothing
could be more natural or more easy--as more than one legend
intimates--than that the king should extort the new secret from his
subject, and then put him to death to prevent any further publicity.

Two great inventive geniuses we may see dimly through the abysses of
the past, both of whom must have become in their time great chiefs,
founders of mighty aristocracies--it may be, worshipped after their
death as gods.

The first, who seems to have existed after the age in which the
black race colonised Australia, must have been surely a man worthy
to hold rank with our Brindleys, Watts, and Stephensons. For he
invented (and mind, one man must have invented the thing first, and
by the very nature of it, invented it all at once) an instrument so
singular, unexpected, unlike anything to be seen in nature, that I
wonder it has not been called, like the plough, the olive, or the
vine, a gift of the immortal gods: and yet an instrument so simple,
so easy, and so perfect, that it spread over all races in Europe and
America, and no substitute could be found for it till the latter
part of the fifteenth century. Yes, a great genius was he, and the
consequent founder of a great aristocracy and conquering race, who
first invented for himself and his children after him a--bow and

The next--whether before or after the first in time, it suits me to
speak of him in second place--was the man who was the potential
ancestor of the whole Ritterschaft, Chivalry, and knightly caste of
Europe; the man who first, finding a foal upon the steppe, deserted
by its dam, brought it home, and reared it; and then bethought him
of the happy notion of making it draw--presumably by its tail--a
fashion which endured long in Ireland, and had to be forbidden by
law, I think as late as the sixteenth century. A great aristocrat
must that man have become. A greater still he who first substituted
the bit for the halter. A greater still he who first thought of
wheels. A greater still he who conceived the yoke and pole for
bearing up his chariot; for that same yoke, and pole, and chariot,
became the peculiar instrument of conquerors like him who mightily
oppressed the children of Israel, for he had nine hundred chariots
of iron. Egyptians, Syrians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans--none of
them improved on the form of the conquering biga, till it was given
up by a race who preferred a pair of shafts to their carts, and who
had learnt to ride instead of drive. A great aristocrat, again,
must he have been among those latter races who first conceived the
notion of getting on his horse's back, accommodating his motions to
the beast's, and becoming a centaur, half-man, half-horse. That
invention must have tended, in the first instance, as surely toward
democracy as did the invention of firearms. A tribe of riders must
have been always, more or less, equal and free. Equal because a man
on a horse would feel himself a man indeed; because the art of
riding called out an independence, a self-help, a skill, a
consciousness of power, a personal pride and vanity, which would
defy slavery. Free, because a tribe of riders might be defeated,
exterminated, but never enchained. They could never become gleboe
adscripti, bound to the soil, as long as they could take horse and
saddle, and away. History gives us more than one glimpse of such
tribes--the scourge and terror of the non-riding races with whom
they came in contact. Some, doubtless, remember how in the wars
between Alfred and the Danes, "the army" (the Scandinavian invaders)
again and again horse themselves, steal away by night from the Saxon
infantry, and ride over the land (whether in England or in France),
"doing unspeakable evil." To that special instinct of horsemanship,
which still distinguishes their descendants, we may attribute mainly
the Scandinavian settlement of the north and east of England. Some,
too, may recollect the sketch of the primeval Hun, as he first
appeared to the astonished and disgusted old Roman soldier Ammianus
Marcellinus; the visages "more like cakes than faces;" the "figures
like those which are hewn out with an axe on the poles at bridge-
ends;" the rat-skin coats, which they wore till they rotted off
their limbs; their steaks of meat cooked between the saddle and the
thigh; the little horses on which "they eat and drink, buy and sell,
and sleep lying forward along his narrow neck, and indulging in
every variety of dream." And over and above, and more important
politically, the common councils "held on horseback, under the
authority of no king, but content with the irregular government of
nobles, under whose leading they force their way through all
obstacles." A race--like those Cossacks who are probably their
lineal descendants--to be feared, to be hired, to be petted, but not
to be conquered.

Instances nearer home of free equestrian races we have in our own
English borderers, among whom (as Mr. Froude says) the farmers and
their farm-servants had but to snatch their arms and spring into
their saddles and they became at once the Northern Horse, famed as
the finest light cavalry in the world. And equal to them--superior
even, if we recollect that they preserved their country's freedom
for centuries against the superior force of England--were those
troops of Scots who, century after century, swept across the border
on their little garrons, their bag of oatmeal hanging by the saddle,
with the iron griddle whereon to bake it; careless of weather and of
danger; men too swift to be exterminated, too independent to be

But if horsemanship had, in these cases, a levelling tendency it
would have the very opposite when a riding tribe conquered a non-
riding one. The conquerors would, as much as possible, keep the art
and mystery of horsemanship hereditary among themselves, and become
a Ritterschaft or chivalrous caste. And they would be able to do
so: because the conquered race would not care or dare to learn the
new and dangerous art. There are persons, even in England, who can
never learn to ride. There are whole populations in Europe, even
now, when races have become almost indistinguishably mixed, who seem
unable to learn. And this must have been still more the case when
the races were more strongly separated in blood and habits. So the
Teutonic chief, with his gesitha, comites, or select band of
knights, who had received from him, as Tacitus has it, the war-horse
and the lance, established himself as the natural ruler--and
oppressor--of the non-riding populations; first over the aborigines
of Germany proper, tribes who seem to have been enslaved, and their
names lost, before the time of Tacitus; and then over the non-riding
Romans and Gauls to the South and West, and the Wendish and
Sclavonic tribes to the East. Very few in numbers, but mighty in
their unequalled capacity of body and mind, and in their terrible
horsemanship, the Teutonic Ritterschaft literally rode roughshod
over the old world; never checked, but when they came in contact
with the free-riding hordes of the Eastern steppes; and so
established an equestrian caste, of which the [Greek text] of Athens
and the Equites of Rome had been only hints ending in failure and

Of that equestrian caste the symbol was the horse. The favourite,
and therefore the chosen sacrifice of Odin, their ancestor and God,
the horse's flesh was eaten at the sacrificial meal; the horse's
head, hung on the ash in Odin's wood, gave forth oracular responses.
As Christianity came in, and the eating of horse-flesh was forbidden
as impiety by the Church, while his oracles dwindled down to such as
that which Falada's dead head gives to the goose-girl in the German
tale, the magic power of the horse figured only in ballads and
legends: but his real power remained.

The art of riding became an hereditary and exclusive science--at
last a pedantry, hampered by absurd etiquettes, and worse than
useless traditions; but the power and right to ride remained on the
whole the mark of the dominant caste. Terribly did they often abuse
that special power. The faculty of making a horse carry him no more
makes a man a good man, than the faculties of making money, making
speeches, making books, or making a noise about public abuses. And
of all ruffians, the worst, if history is to be trusted, is the
ruffian on a horse; to whose brutality of mind is superadded the
brute power of his beast. A ruffian on a horse--what is there that
he will not ride over, and ride on, careless and proud of his own
shame? When the ancient chivalry of France descended to that level,
or rather delegated their functions to mercenaries of that level--
when the knightly hosts who fought before Jerusalem allowed
themselves to be superseded by the dragoons and dragonnades of Louis
XIV.--then the end of the French chivalry was at hand, and came.
But centuries before that shameful fall there had come in with
Christianity the new thought, that domination meant responsibility;
that responsibility demanded virtue. The words which denoted rank,
came to denote likewise high moral excellencies. The nobilis, or
man who was known, and therefore subject to public opinion, was
bound to behave nobly. The gentleman--gentile-man--who respected
his own gens, or family and pedigree, was bound to be gentle. The
courtier, who had picked up at court some touch of Roman
civilisation from Roman ecclesiastics, was bound to be courteous.
He who held an "honour" or "edel" of land was bound to be
honourable; and he who held a "weorthig," or worthy, thereof, was
bound himself to be worthy. In like wise, he who had the right to
ride a horse, was expected to be chivalrous in all matters befitting
the hereditary ruler, who owed a sacred debt to a long line of
forefathers, as well as to the state in which he dwelt; all dignity,
courtesy, purity, self-restraint, devotion--such as they were
understood in those rough days--centred themselves round the idea of
the rider as the attributes of the man whose supposed duty, as well
as his supposed right, was to govern his fellow-men, by example, as
well as by law and force;--attributes which gathered themselves up
into that one word--Chivalry: an idea, which, perfect or imperfect,
God forbid that mankind should ever forget, till it has become the
possession--as it is the God-given right--of the poorest slave that
ever trudged on foot; and every collier-lad shall have become--as
some of those Barnsley men proved but the other day they had become

A very gentle perfect knight,

Very unfaithful was chivalry to its ideal--as all men are to all
ideals. But bear in mind, that if the horse was the symbol of the
ruling caste, it was not at first its only strength. Unless that
caste had had at first spiritual, as well as physical force on its
side, it would have been soon destroyed--nay, it would have
destroyed itself--by internecine civil war. And we must believe
that those Franks, Goths, Lombards, and Burgunds, who in the early
Middle Age leaped on the backs (to use Mr. Carlyle's expression) of
the Roman nations, were actually, in all senses of the word, better
men than those whom they conquered. We must believe it from reason;
for if not, how could they, numerically few, have held for a year,
much more for centuries, against millions, their dangerous
elevation? We must believe it, unless we take Tacitus's "Germania,"
which I absolutely refuse to do, for a romance. We must believe
that they were better than the Romanised nations whom they
conquered, because the writers of those nations, Augustine, Salvian,
and Sidonius Apollinaris, for example, say that they were such, and
give proof thereof. Not good men according to our higher standard--
far from it; though Sidonius's picture of Theodoric, the East Goth,
in his palace of Narbonne, is the picture of an eminently good and
wise ruler. But not good, I say, as a rule--the Franks, alas! often
very bad men: but still better, wiser, abler, than those whom they
ruled. We must believe too, that they were better, in every sense
of the word, than those tribes on their eastern frontier, whom they
conquered in after centuries, unless we discredit (which we have no
reason to do) the accounts which the Roman and Greek writers give of
the horrible savagery of those tribes.

So it was in later centuries. One cannot read fairly the history of
the Middle Ages without seeing that the robber knight of Germany or
of France, who figures so much in modern novels, must have been the
exception, and not the rule: that an aristocracy which lived by the
saddle would have as little chance of perpetuating itself, as a
priesthood composed of hypocrites and profligates; that the
mediaeval Nobility has been as much slandered as the mediaeval
Church; and the exceptions taken--as more salient and exciting--for
the average: that side by side with ruffians like Gaston de Foix
hundreds of honest gentlemen were trying to do their duty to the
best of their light, and were raising, and not depressing, the
masses below them--one very important item in that duty being, the
doing the whole fighting of the country at their own expense,
instead of leaving it to a standing army of mercenaries, at the beck
and call of a despot; and that, as M. de Tocqueville says: "In
feudal times, the Nobility were regarded pretty much as the
government is regarded in our own; the burdens they imposed were
endured in consequence of the security they afforded. The nobles
had many irksome privileges; they possessed many onerous rights:
but they maintained public order, they administered justice, they
caused the law to be executed, they came to the relief of the weak,
they conducted the business of the community. In proportion as they
ceased to do these things, the burden of their privileges appeared
more oppressive, and their existence became an anomaly in proportion
as they ceased to do these things." And the Ancien Regime may be
defined as the period in which they ceased to do these things--in
which they began to play the idlers, and expected to take their old
wages without doing their old work.

But in any case, government by a ruling caste, whether of the
patriarchal or of the feudal kind, is no ideal or permanent state of
society. So far from it, it is but the first or second step out of
primeval savagery. For the more a ruling race becomes conscious of
its own duty, and not merely of its own power--the more it learns to
regard its peculiar gifts as entrusted to it for the good of men--so
much the more earnestly will it labour to raise the masses below to
its own level, by imparting to them its own light; and so will it
continually tend to abolish itself, by producing a general equality,
moral and intellectual; and fulfil that law of self-sacrifice which
is the beginning and the end of all virtue.

A race of noblest men and women, trying to make all below them as
noble as themselves--that is at least a fair ideal, tending toward,
though it has not reached, the highest ideal of all.

But suppose that the very opposite tendency--inherent in the heart
of every child of man--should conquer. Suppose the ruling caste no
longer the physical, intellectual, and moral superiors of the mass,
but their equals. Suppose them--shameful, but not without example--
actually sunk to be their inferiors. And that such a fall did come-
-nay, that it must have come--is matter of history. And its cause,
like all social causes, was not a political nor a physical, but a
moral cause. The profligacy of the French and Italian
aristocracies, in the sixteenth century, avenged itself on them by a
curse (derived from the newly-discovered America) from which they
never recovered. The Spanish aristocracy suffered, I doubt not very
severely. The English and German, owing to the superior homeliness
and purity of ruling their lives, hardly at all. But the
continental caste, instead of recruiting their tainted blood by
healthy blood from below, did all, under pretence of keeping it
pure, to keep it tainted by continual intermarriage; and paid, in
increasing weakness of body and mind, the penalty of their exclusive
pride. It is impossible for anyone who reads the French memoirs of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, not to perceive, if he be
wise, that the aristocracy therein depicted was ripe for ruin--yea,
already ruined--under any form of government whatsoever, independent
of all political changes. Indeed, many of the political changes
were not the causes but the effects of the demoralisation of the
noblesse. Historians will tell you how, as early as the beginning
of the seventeenth century, Henry IV. complained that the nobles
were quitting their country districts; how succeeding kings and
statesmen, notably Richelieu and Louis XIV., tempted the noblesse up
to Paris, that they might become mere courtiers, instead of powerful
country gentlemen; how those who remained behind were only the poor
hobereaux, little hobby-hawks among the gentry, who considered it
degradation to help in governing the parish, as their forefathers
had governed it, and lived shabbily in their chateaux, grinding the
last farthing out of their tenants, that they might spend it in town
during the winter. No wonder that with such an aristocracy, who had
renounced that very duty of governing the country, for which alone
they and their forefathers had existed, there arose government by
intendants and sub-delegates, and all the other evils of
administrative centralisation, which M. de Tocqueville anatomises
and deplores. But what was the cause of the curse? Their moral
degradation. What drew them up to Paris save vanity and profligacy?
What kept them from intermarrying with the middle class save pride?
What made them give up the office of governors save idleness? And
if vanity, profligacy, pride, and idleness be not injustices and
moral vices, what are?

The race of heroic knights and nobles who fought under the walls of
Jerusalem--who wrestled, and not in vain, for centuries with the
equally heroic English, in defence of their native soil--who had set
to all Europe the example of all knightly virtues, had rotted down
to this; their only virtue left, as Mr. Carlyle says, being--a
perfect readiness to fight duels.

Every Intendant, chosen by the Comptroller-General out of the lower-
born members of the Council of State; a needy young plebeian with
his fortune to make, and a stranger to the province, was, in spite
of his greed, ambition, chicane, arbitrary tyranny, a better man--
abler, more energetic, and often, to judge from the pages of De
Tocqueville, with far more sympathy and mercy for the wretched
peasantry--than was the count or marquis in the chateau above, who
looked down on him as a roturier; and let him nevertheless become
first his deputy, and then his master.

Understand me--I am not speaking against the hereditary principle of
the Ancien Regime, but against its caste principle--two widely
different elements, continually confounded nowadays.

The hereditary principle is good, because it is founded on fact and
nature. If men's minds come into the world blank sheets of paper--
which I much doubt--every other part and faculty of them comes in
stamped with hereditary tendencies and peculiarities. There are
such things as transmitted capabilities for good and for evil; and
as surely as the offspring of a good horse or dog is likely to be
good, so is the offspring of a good man, and still more of a good
woman. If the parents have any special ability, their children will
probably inherit it, at least in part; and over and above, will have
it developed in them by an education worthy of their parents and
themselves. If man were--what he is not--a healthy and normal
species, a permanent hereditary caste might go on intermarrying, and
so perpetuate itself. But the same moral reason which would make
such a caste dangerous--indeed, fatal to the liberty and development
of mankind, makes it happily impossible. Crimes and follies are
certain, after a few generations, to weaken the powers of any human
caste; and unless it supplements its own weakness by mingling again
with the common stock of humanity, it must sink under that weakness,
as the ancient noblesse sank by its own vice. Of course there were
exceptions. The French Revolution brought those exceptions out into
strong light; and like every day of judgment, divided between the
good and the evil. But it lies not in exceptions to save a caste,
or an institution; and a few Richelieus, Liancourts, Rochefoucaulds,
Noailles, Lafayettes were but the storks among the cranes involved
in the wholesale doom due not to each individual, but to a system
and a class.

Profligacy, pride, idleness--these are the vices which we have to
lay to the charge of the Teutonic Nobility of the Ancien Regime in
France especially; and (though in a less degree perhaps) over the
whole continent of Europe. But below them, and perhaps the cause of
them all, lay another and deeper vice--godlessness--atheism.

I do not mean merely want of religion, doctrinal unbelief. I mean
want of belief in duty, in responsibility. Want of belief that
there was a living God governing the universe, who had set them
their work, and would judge them according to their work. And
therefore, want of belief, yea, utter unconsciousness, that they
were set in their places to make the masses below them better men;
to impart to them their own civilisation, to raise them to their own
level. They would have shrunk from that which I just now defined as
the true duty of an aristocracy, just because it would have seemed
to them madness to abolish themselves. But the process of abolition
went on, nevertheless, only now from without instead of from within.
So it must always be, in such a case. If a ruling class will not
try to raise the masses to their own level, the masses will try to
drag them down to theirs. That sense of justice which allowed
privileges, when they were as strictly official privileges as the
salary of a judge, or the immunity of a member of the House of
Commons; when they were earned, as in the Middle Age, by severe
education, earnest labour, and life and death responsibility in
peace and war, will demand the abolition of those privileges, when
no work is done in return for them, with a voice which must be
heard, for it is the voice of truth and justice.

But with that righteous voice will mingle another, most wicked, and
yet, alas! most flattering to poor humanity--the voice of envy,
simple and undisguised; of envy, which moralists hold to be one of
the basest of human passions; which can never be justified, however
hateful or unworthy be the envied man. And when a whole people, or
even a majority thereof, shall be possessed by that, what is there
that they will not do?

Some are surprised and puzzled when they find, in the French
Revolution of 1793, the noblest and the foulest characters labouring
in concert, and side by side--often, too, paradoxical as it may
seem, united in the same personage. The explanation is simple.
Justice inspired the one; the other was the child of simple envy.
But this passion of envy, if it becomes permanent and popular, may
avenge itself, like all other sins. A nation may say to itself,
"Provided we have no superiors to fall our pride, we are content.
Liberty is a slight matter, provided we have equality. Let us be
slaves, provided we are all slaves alike." It may destroy every
standard of humanity above its own mean average; it may forget that
the old ruling class, in spite of all its defects and crimes, did at
least pretend to represent something higher than man's necessary
wants, plus the greed of amassing money; never meeting (at least in
the country districts) any one wiser or more refined than an
official or a priest drawn from the peasant class, it may lose the
belief that any standard higher than that is needed; and, all but
forgetting the very existence of civilisation, sink contented into a
dead level of intellectual mediocrity and moral barbarism, crying,
"Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."

A nation in such a temper will surely be taken at its word. Where
the carcase is, there the eagles will be gathered together; and
there will not be wanting to such nations--as there were not wanting
in old Greece and Rome--despots who will give them all they want,
and more, and say to them: "Yes, you shall eat and drink; and yet
you shall not die. For I, while I take care of your mortal bodies,
will see that care is taken of your immortal souls."

For there are those who have discovered, with the kings of the Holy
Alliance, that infidelity and scepticism are political mistakes, not
so much because they promote vice, as because they promote (or are
supposed to promote) free thought; who see that religion (no matter
of what quality) is a most valuable assistant to the duties of a
minister of police. They will quote in their own behalf
Montesquieu's opinion that religion is a column necessary to sustain
the social edifice; they will quote, too, that sound and true saying
of De Tocqueville's: {1} "If the first American who might be met,
either in his own country, or abroad, were to be stopped and asked
whether he considered religion useful to the stability of the laws
and the good order of society, he would answer, without hesitation,
that no civilised society, but more especially none in a state of
freedom, can exist without religion. Respect for religion is, in
his eyes, the greatest guarantee of the stability of the State, and
of the safety of the community. Those who are ignorant of the
science of government, know that fact at least."

M. de Tocqueville, when he wrote these words, was lamenting that in
France, "freedom was forsaken;" "a thing for which it is said that
no one any longer cares in France." He did not, it seems to me,
perceive that, as in America the best guarantee of freedom is the
reverence for a religion or religions, which are free themselves,
and which teach men to be free; so in other countries the best
guarantee of slavery is, reverence for religions which are not free,
and which teach men to be slaves.

But what M. de Tocqueville did not see, there are others who will
see; who will say: "If religion be the pillar of political and
social order, there is an order which is best supported by a
religion which is adverse to free thought, free speech, free
conscience, free communion between man and God. The more enervating
the superstition, the more exacting and tyrannous its priesthood,
the more it will do our work, if we help it to do its own. If it
permit us to enslave the body, we will permit it to enslave the

And so may be inaugurated a period of that organised anarchy of
which the poet says:

It is not life, but death, when nothing stirs.


The degradation of the European nobility caused, of course, the
increase of the kingly power, and opened the way to central
despotisms. The bourgeoisie, the commercial middle class, whatever
were its virtues, its value, its real courage, were never able to
stand alone against the kings. Their capital, being invested in
trade, was necessarily subject to such sudden dangers from war,
political change, bad seasons, and so forth, that its holders,
however individually brave, were timid as a class. They could never
hold out on strike against the governments, and had to submit to the
powers that were, whatever they were, under penalty of ruin.

But on the Continent, and especially in France and Germany, unable
to strengthen itself by intermarriage with the noblesse, they
retained that timidity which is the fruit of the insecurity of
trade; and had to submit to a more and more centralised despotism,
and grow up as they could, in the face of exasperating hindrances to
wealth, to education, to the possession, in many parts of France, of
large landed estates; leaving the noblesse to decay in isolated
uselessness and weakness, and in many cases debt and poverty.

The system--or rather anarchy--according to which France was
governed during this transitional period, may be read in that work
of M. de Tocqueville's which I have already quoted, and which is
accessible to all classes, through Mr. H. Reeve's excellent
translation. Every student of history is, of course, well
acquainted with that book. But as there is reason to fear, from
language which is becoming once more too common, both in speech and
writing, that the general public either do not know it, or have not
understood it, I shall take the liberty of quoting from it somewhat
largely. I am justified in so doing by the fact that M. de
Tocqueville's book is founded on researches into the French
Archives, which have been made (as far as I am aware) only by him;
and contains innumerable significant facts, which are to be found
(as far as I am aware) in no other accessible work.

The French people--says M. de Tocqueville--made, in 1789, the
greatest effort which was ever made by any nation to cut, so to
speak, their destiny in halves, and to separate by an abyss that
which they had heretofore been, from that which they sought to
become hereafter. But he had long thought that they had succeeded
in this singular attempt much less than was supposed abroad; and
less than they had at first supposed themselves. He was convinced
that they had unconsciously retained, from the former state of
society, most of the sentiments, the habits, and even the opinions,
by means of which they had effected the destruction of that state of
things; and that, without intending it, they had used its remains to
rebuild the edifice of modern society. This is his thesis, and this
he proves, it seems to me, incontestably by documentary evidence.
Not only does he find habits which we suppose--or supposed till
lately--to have died with the eighteenth century, still living and
working, at least in France, in the nineteenth, but the new opinions
which we look on usually as the special children of the nineteenth
century, he shows to have been born in the eighteenth. France, he
considers, is still at heart what the Ancien Regime made her.

He shows that the hatred of the ruling caste, the intense
determination to gain and keep equality, even at the expense of
liberty, had been long growing up, under those influences of which I
spoke in my first lecture.

He shows, moreover, that the acquiescence in a centralised
administration; the expectation that the government should do
everything for the people, and nothing for themselves; the
consequent loss of local liberties, local peculiarities; the
helplessness of the towns and the parishes: and all which issued in
making Paris France, and subjecting the whole of a vast country to
the arbitrary dictates of a knot of despots in the capital, was not
the fruit of the Revolution, but of the Ancien Regime which preceded
it; and that Robespierre and his "Comite de Salut Public," and
commissioners sent forth to the four winds of heaven in bonnet rouge
and carmagnole complete, to build up and pull down, according to
their wicked will, were only handling, somewhat more roughly, the
same wires which had been handled for several generations by the
Comptroller-General and Council of State, with their provincial

"Do you know," said Law to the Marquis d'Argenson, "that this
kingdom of France is governed by thirty intendants? You have
neither parliament, nor estates, nor governors. It is upon thirty
masters of request, despatched into the provinces, that their evil
or their good, their fertility or their sterility, entirely depend."

To do everything for the people, and let them do nothing for
themselves--this was the Ancien Regime. To be more wise and more
loving than Almighty God, who certainly does not do everything for
the sons of men, but forces them to labour for themselves by bitter
need, and after a most Spartan mode of education; who allows them to
burn their hands as often as they are foolish enough to put them
into the fire; and to be filled with the fruits of their own folly,
even though the folly be one of necessary ignorance; treating them
with that seeming neglect which is after all the most provident
care, because by it alone can men be trained to experience, self-
help, science, true humanity; and so become not tolerably harmless
dolls, but men and women worthy of the name; with

The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;
The perfect spirit, nobly planned
To cheer, to counsel, and command.

Such seems to be the education and government appointed for man by
the voluntatem Dei in rebus revelatum, and the education, therefore,
which the man of science will accept and carry out. But the men of
the Ancien Regime--in as far as it was a Regime at all--tried to be
wiser than the Almighty. Why not? They were not the first, nor
will be the last, by many who have made the same attempt. So this
Council of State settled arbitrarily, not only taxes, and militia,
and roads, but anything and everything. Its members meddled, with
their whole hearts and minds. They tried to teach agriculture by
schools and pamphlets and prizes; they sent out plans for every
public work. A town could not establish an octroi, levy a rate,
mortgage, sell, sue, farm, or administer their property, without an
order in council. The Government ordered public rejoicings, saw to
the firing of salutes, and illuminating of houses--in one case
mentioned by M. de Tocqueville, they fined a member of the burgher
guard for absenting himself from a Te Deum. All self-government was
gone. A country parish was, says Turgot, nothing but "an assemblage
of cabins, and of inhabitants as passive as the cabins they dwelt
in." Without an order of council, the parish could not mend the
steeple after a storm, or repair the parsonage gable. If they
grumbled at the intendant, he threw some of the chief persons into
prison, and made the parish pay the expenses of the horse patrol,
which formed the arbitrary police of France. Everywhere was
meddling. There were reports on statistics--circumstantial,
inaccurate, and useless--as statistics are too often wont to be.
Sometimes, when the people were starving, the Government sent down
charitable donations to certain parishes, on condition that the
inhabitants should raise a sum on their part. When the sum offered
was sufficient, the Comptroller-General wrote on the margin, when he
returned the report to the intendant, "Good--express satisfaction."
If it was more than sufficient, he wrote, "Good--express
satisfaction and sensibility." There is nothing new under the sun.
In 1761, the Government, jealous enough of newspapers, determined to
start one for itself, and for that purpose took under its tutelage
the Gazette de France. So the public newsmongers were of course to
be the provincial intendants, and their sub-newsmongers, of course,
the sub-delegates.

But alas! the poor sub-delegates seem to have found either very
little news, or very little which it was politic to publish. One
reports that a smuggler of salt has been hung, and has displayed
great courage; another that a woman in his district has had three
girls at a birth; another that a dreadful storm has happened, but--
has done no mischief; a fourth--living in some specially favoured
Utopia--declares that in spite of all his efforts he has found
nothing worth recording, but that he himself will subscribe to so
useful a journal, and will exhort all respectable persons to follow
his example: in spite of which loyal endeavours, the journal seems
to have proved a failure, to the great disgust of the king and his
minister, who had of course expected to secure fine weather by
nailing, like the schoolboy before a holiday, the hand of the

Well had it been, if the intermeddling of this bureaucracy had
stopped there. But, by a process of evocation (as it was called),
more and more causes, criminal as well as civil, were withdrawn from
the regular tribunals, to those of the intendants and the Council.
Before the intendant all the lower order of people were generally
sent for trial. Bread-riots were a common cause of such trials, and
M. de Tocqueville asserts that he has found sentences, delivered by
the intendant, and a local council chosen by himself, by which men
were condemned to the galleys, and even to death. Under such a
system, under which an intendant must have felt it his interest to
pretend at all risks, that all was going right, and to regard any
disturbance as a dangerous exposure of himself and his chiefs--one
can understand easily enough that scene which Mr. Carlyle has
dramatised from Lacretelle, concerning the canaille, the masses, as
we used to call them a generation since:

"A dumb generation--their voice only an inarticulate cry.
Spokesman, in the king's council, in the world's forum, they have
none that finds credence. At rare intervals (as now, in 1775) they
will fling down their hoes, and hammers; and, to the astonishment of
mankind, flock hither and thither, dangerous, aimless, get the
length even of Versailles. Turgot is altering the corn trade,
abrogating the absurdest corn laws; there is dearth, real, or were
it even factitious, an indubitable scarcity of broad. And so, on
the 2nd day of May, 1775, these waste multitudes do here, at
Versailles chateau, in widespread wretchedness, in sallow faces,
squalor, winged raggedness, present as in legible hieroglyphic
writing their petition of grievances. The chateau-gates must be
shut; but the king will appear on the balcony and speak to them.
They have seen the king's face; their petition of grievances has
been, if not read, looked at. In answer, two of them are hanged, on
a new gallows forty feet high, and the rest driven back to their
dens for a time."

Of course. What more exasperating and inexpiable insult to the
ruling powers was possible than this? To persist in being needy and
wretched, when a whole bureaucracy is toiling day and night to make
them prosperous and happy? An insult only to be avenged in blood.
Remark meanwhile, that this centralised bureaucracy was a failure;
that after all the trouble taken to govern these masses, they were
not governed, in the sense of being made better, and not worse. The
truth is, that no centralised bureaucracy, or so-called "paternal
government," yet invented on earth, has been anything but a failure,
or is it like to be anything else: because it is founded on an
error; because it regards and treats men as that which they are not,
as things; and not as that which they are, as persons. If the
bureaucracy were a mere Briareus giant, with a hundred hands,
helping the weak throughout the length and breadth of the empire,
the system might be at least tolerable. But what if the Government
were not a Briareus with a hundred hands, but a Hydra with a hundred
heads and mouths, each far more intent on helping itself than on
helping the people? What if sub-delegates and other officials,
holding office at the will of the intendant, had to live, and even
provide against a rainy day? What if intendants, holding office at
the will of the Comptroller-General, had to do more than live, and
found it prudent to realise as large a fortune as possible, not only
against disgrace, but against success, and the dignity fit for a new
member of the Noblesse de la Robe? Would not the system, then, soon
become intolerable? Would there not be evil times for the masses,
till they became something more than masses?

It is an ugly name, that of "The Masses," for the great majority of
human beings in a nation. He who uses it speaks of them not as
human beings, but as things; and as things not bound together in one
living body, but lying in a fortuitous heap. A swarm of ants is not
a mass. It has a polity and a unity. Not the ants but the fir-
needles and sticks, of which the ants have piled their nest, are a

The term, I believe, was invented during the Ancien Regime. Whether
it was or not, it expresses very accurately the life of the many in
those days. No one would speak, if he wished to speak exactly, of
the masses of the United States; for there every man is, or is
presumed to be, a personage; with his own independence, his own
activities, his own rights and duties. No one, I believe, would
have talked of the masses in the old feudal times; for then each
individual was someone's man, bound to his master by ties of mutual
service, just or unjust, honourable or base, but still giving him a
personality of duties and rights, and dividing him from his class.

Dividing, I say. The poor of the Middle Age had little sense of a
common humanity. Those who owned allegiance to the lord in the next
valley were not their brothers; and at their own lord's bidding,
they buckled on sword and slew the next lord's men, with joyful
heart and good conscience. Only now and then misery compressed them
into masses; and they ran together, as sheep run together to face a
dog. Some wholesale wrong made them aware that they were brothers,
at least in the power of starving; and they joined in the cry which
was heard, I believe, in Mecklenburg as late as 1790: "Den Edelman
wille wi dodschlagen." Then, in Wat Tyler's insurrections, in
Munster Anabaptisms, in Jacqueries, they proved themselves to be
masses, if nothing better, striking for awhile, by the mere weight
of numbers, blows terrible, though aimless--soon to be dispersed and
slain in their turn by a disciplined and compact aristocracy. Yet
not always dispersed, if they could find a leader; as the Polish
nobles discovered to their cost in the middle of the seventeenth
century. Then Bogdan the Cossack, a wild warrior, not without his
sins, but having deserved well of James Sobieski and the Poles,
found that the neighbouring noble's steward had taken a fancy to his
windmill and his farm upon the Dnieper. He was thrown into prison
on a frivolous charge, and escaped to the Tatars, leaving his wife
dishonoured, his house burnt, his infant lost in the flames, his
eldest son scourged for protesting against the wrong. And he
returned, at the head of an army of Tatars, Socinians, Greeks, or
what not, to set free the serfs, and exterminate Jesuits, Jews, and
nobles, throughout Podolia, Volhynia, Red Russia; to desecrate the
altars of God, and slay his servants; to destroy the nobles by
lingering tortures; to strip noble ladies and maidens, and hunt them
to death with the whips of his Cossacks; and after defeating the
nobles in battle after battle, to inaugurate an era of misery and
anarchy from which Poland never recovered.

Thus did the masses of Southern Poland discover, for one generation
at least, that they were not many things, but one thing; a class,
capable of brotherhood and unity, though, alas! only of such as
belongs to a pack of wolves. But such outbursts as this were rare
exceptions. In general, feudalism kept the people divided, and
therefore helpless. And as feudalism died out, and with it the
personal self-respect and loyalty which were engendered by the old
relations of master and servant, the division still remained; and
the people, in France especially, became merely masses, a swarm of
incoherent and disorganised things intent on the necessaries of
daily bread, like mites crawling over each other in a cheese.

Out of this mass were struggling upwards perpetually, all who had a
little ambition, a little scholarship, or a little money,
endeavouring to become members of the middle class by obtaining a
Government appointment. "A man," says M. de Tocqueville, "endowed
with some education and small means, thought it not decorous to die
without having been a Government officer." "Every man, according to
his condition," says a contemporary writer, "wants to be something
by command of the king."

It was not merely the "natural vanity" of which M. de Tocqueville
accuses his countrymen, which stirred up in them this eagerness
after place; for we see the same eagerness in other nations of the
Continent, who cannot be accused (as wholes) of that weakness. The
fact is, a Government place, or a Government decoration, cross,
ribbon, or what not, is, in a country where self-government is
unknown or dead, the only method, save literary fame, which is left
to men in order to assert themselves either to themselves or their

A British or American shopkeeper or farmer asks nothing of his
Government. He can, if he chooses, be elected to some local office
(generally unsalaried) by the votes of his fellow-citizens. But
that is his right, and adds nothing to his respectability. The test
of that latter, in a country where all honest callings are equally
honourable, is the amount of money he can make; and a very sound
practical test that is, in a country where intellect and capital are
free. Beyond that, he is what he is, and wishes to be no more, save
what he can make himself. He has his rights, guaranteed by law and
public opinion; and as long as he stands within them, and (as he
well phrases it) behaves like a gentleman, he considers himself as
good as any man; and so he is. But under the bureaucratic Regime of
the Continent, if a man had not "something by command of the king,"
he was nothing; and something he naturally wished to be, even by
means of a Government which he disliked and despised. So in France,
where innumerable petty posts were regular articles of sale, anyone,
it seems, who had saved a little money, found it most profitable to
invest it in a beadledom of some kind--to the great detriment of the
country, for he thus withdrew his capital from trade; but to his own
clear gain, for he thereby purchased some immunity from public
burdens, and, as it were, compounded once and for all for his taxes.
The petty German princes, it seems, followed the example of France,
and sold their little beadledoms likewise; but even where offices
were not sold, they must be obtained by any and every means, by
everyone who desired not to be as other men were, and to become
Notables, as they were called in France; so he migrated from the
country into the nearest town, and became a member of some small
body-guild, town council, or what not, bodies which were infinite in
number. In one small town M. de Tocqueville discovers thirty-six
such bodies, "separated from each other by diminutive privileges,
the least honourable of which was still a mark of honour."
Quarrelling perpetually with each other for precedence, despising
and oppressing the very menu peuple from whom they had for the most
part sprung, these innumerable small bodies, instead of uniting
their class, only served to split it up more and more; and when the
Revolution broke them up, once and for all, with all other
privileges whatsoever, no bond of union was left; and each man stood
alone, proud of his "individuality"--his complete social isolation;
till he discovered that, in ridding himself of superiors, he had rid
himself also of fellows; fulfilling, every man in his own person,
the old fable of the bundle of sticks; and had to submit, under the
Consulate and the Empire, to a tyranny to which the Ancien Regime
was freedom itself.

For, in France at least, the Ancien Regime was no tyranny. The
middle and upper classes had individual liberty--it may be, only too
much; the liberty of disobeying a Government which they did not
respect. "However submissive the French may have been before the
Revolution to the will of the king, one sort of obedience was
altogether unknown to them. They knew not what it was to bow before
an illegitimate and contested power--a power but little honoured,
frequently despised, but willingly endured because it may be
serviceable, or because it may hurt. To that degrading form of
servitude they were ever strangers. The king inspired them with
feelings . . . which have become incomprehensible to this generation
. . . They loved him with the affection due to a father; they
revered him with the respect due to God. In submitting to the most
arbitrary of his commands, they yielded less to compulsion than to
loyalty; and thus they frequently preserved great freedom of mind,
even in the most complete dependence. This liberty, irregular,
intermittent," says M. de Tocqueville, "helped to form those
vigorous characters, those proud and daring spirits, which were to
make the French Revolution at once the object of the admiration and
the terror of succeeding generations."

This liberty--too much akin to anarchy, in which indeed it issued
for awhile--seems to have asserted itself in continual petty
resistance to officials whom they did not respect, and who, in their
turn, were more than a little afraid of the very men out of whose
ranks they had sprung.

The French Government--one may say, every Government on the
Continent in those days--had the special weakness of all
bureaucracies; namely, that want of moral force which compels them
to fall back at last on physical force, and transforms the ruler
into a bully, and the soldier into a policeman and a gaoler. A
Government of parvenus, uncertain of its own position, will be
continually trying to assert itself to itself, by vexatious
intermeddling and intruding pretensions; and then, when it meets
with the resistance of free and rational spirits, will either recoil
in awkward cowardice, or fly into a passion, and appeal to the
halter and the sword. Such a Government can never take itself for
granted, because it knows that it is not taken for granted by the
people. It never can possess the quiet assurance, the courteous
dignity, without swagger, yet without hesitation, which belongs to
hereditary legislators; by which term is to be understood, not
merely kings, not merely noblemen, but every citizen of a free
nation, however democratic, who has received from his forefathers
the right, the duty, and the example of self-government.

Such was the political and social state of the Ancien Regime, not
only in France, but if we are to trust (as we must trust) M. de
Tocqueville, in almost every nation in Europe, except Britain.

And as for its moral state. We must look for that--if we have need,
which happily all have not--in its lighter literature.

I shall not trouble you with criticisms on French memoirs--of which
those of Madame de Sevigne are on the whole, the most painful (as
witness her comments on the Marquise de Brinvilliers's execution),
because written by a woman better and more human than ordinary. Nor
with "Menagiana," or other 'ana's--as vain and artificial as they
are often foul; nor with novels and poems, long since deservedly
forgotten. On the first perusal of this lighter literature, you
will be charmed with the ease, grace, lightness with which
everything is said. On the second, you will be somewhat cured of
your admiration, as you perceive how little there is to say. The
head proves to be nothing but a cunning mask, with no brains inside.
Especially is this true of a book, which I must beg those who have
read it already, to recollect. To read it I recommend no human
being. We may consider it, as it was considered in its time, the
typical novel of the Ancien Regime. A picture of Spanish society,
written by a Frenchman, it was held to be--and doubtless with
reason--a picture of the whole European world. Its French editor
(of 1836) calls it a grande epopee; "one of the most prodigious
efforts of intelligence, exhausting all forms of humanity"--in fact,
a second Shakespeare, according to the lights of the year 1715. I
mean, of course, "Gil Blas." So picturesque is the book, that it
has furnished inexhaustible motifs to the draughtsman. So excellent
is its workmanship, that the enthusiastic editor of 1836 tells us--
and doubtless he knows best--that it is the classic model of the
French tongue; and that, as Le Sage "had embraced all that belonged
to man in his composition, he dared to prescribe to himself to
embrace the whole French language in his work." It has been the
parent of a whole school of literature--the Bible of tens of
thousands, with admiring commentators in plenty; on whose souls may
God have mercy!

And no wonder. The book has a solid value, and will always have,
not merely from its perfect art (according to its own measure and
intention), but from its perfect truthfulness. It is the Ancien
Regime itself. It set forth to the men thereof, themselves, without
veil or cowardly reticence of any kind; and inasmuch as every man
loves himself, the Ancien Regime loved "Gil Blas," and said, "The
problem of humanity is solved at last." But, ye long-suffering
powers of heaven, what a solution! It is beside the matter to call
the book ungodly, immoral, base. Le Sage would have answered: "Of
course it is; for so is the world of which it is a picture." No;
the most notable thing about the book is its intense stupidity; its
dreariness, barrenness, shallowness, ignorance of the human heart,
want of any human interest. If it be an epos, the actors in it are
not men and women, but ferrets--with here and there, of course, a
stray rabbit, on whose brains they may feed. It is the inhuman
mirror of an inhuman age, in which the healthy human heart can find
no more interest than in a pathological museum.

That last, indeed, "Gil Blas" is; a collection of diseased
specimens. No man or woman in the book, lay or clerical, gentle or
simple, as far as I can remember, do their duty in any wise, even if
they recollect that they have any duty to do. Greed, chicane,
hypocrisy, uselessness are the ruling laws of human society. A new
book of Ecclesiastes, crying, "Vanity of vanity, all is vanity;" the
"conclusion of the whole matter" being left out, and the new
Ecclesiastes rendered thereby diabolic, instead of like that old
one, divine. For, instead of "Fear God and keep his commandments,
for that is the whole duty of main," Le Sage sends forth the new
conclusion, "Take care of thyself, and feed on thy neighbours, for
that is the whole duty of man." And very faithfully was his advice
(easy enough to obey at all times) obeyed for nearly a century after
"Gil Blas" appeared.

About the same time there appeared, by a remarkable coincidence,
another work, like it the child of the Ancien Regime, and yet as
opposite to it as light to darkness. If Le Sage drew men as they
were, Fenelon tried at least to draw them as they might have been
and still might be, were they governed by sages and by saints,
according to the laws of God. "Telemaque" is an ideal--imperfect,
doubtless, as all ideals must be in a world in which God's ways and
thoughts are for ever higher than man's; but an ideal nevertheless.
If its construction is less complete than that of "Gil Blas," it is
because its aim is infinitely higher; because the form has to be
subordinated, here and there, to the matter. If its political
economy be imperfect, often chimerical, it is because the mind of
one man must needs have been too weak to bring into shape and order
the chaos, social and economic, which he saw around him. M. de
Lamartine, in his brilliant little life of Fenelon, does not
hesitate to trace to the influence of "Telemaque," the Utopias which
produced the revolutions of 1793 and 1848. "The saintly poet was,"
he says, "without knowing it, the first Radical and the first
communist of his century." But it is something to have preached to
princes doctrines till then unknown, or at least forgotten for many
a generation--free trade, peace, international arbitration, and the
"carriere ouverte aux talents" for all ranks. It is something to
have warned his generation of the dangerous overgrowth of the
metropolis; to have prophesied, as an old Hebrew might have done,
that the despotism which he saw around him would end in a violent
revolution. It is something to have combined the highest Christian
morality with a hearty appreciation of old Greek life; of its
reverence for bodily health and prowess; its joyous and simple
country society; its sacrificial feasts, dances, games; its respect
for the gods; its belief that they helped, guided, inspired the sons
of men. It is something to have himself believed in God; in a
living God, who, both in this life and in all lives to come,
rewarded the good and punished the evil by inevitable laws. It is
something to have warned a young prince, in an age of doctrinal
bigotry and practical atheism, that a living God still existed, and
that his laws were still in force; to have shown him Tartarus
crowded with the souls of wicked monarchs, while a few of kingly
race rested in Elysium, and among them old pagans--Inachus, Cecrops,
Erichthon, Triptolemus, and Sesostris--rewarded for ever for having
done their duty, each according to his light, to the flocks which
the gods had committed to their care. It is something to have
spoken to a prince, in such an age, without servility, and without
etiquette, of the frailties and the dangers which beset arbitrary
rulers; to have told him that royalty, "when assumed to content
oneself, is a monstrous tyranny; when assumed to fulfil its duties,
and to conduct an innumerable people as a father conducts his
children, a crushing slavery, which demands an heroic courage and

Let us honour the courtier who dared speak such truths; and still
more the saintly celibate who had sufficient catholicity of mind to
envelop them in old Grecian dress, and, without playing false for a
moment to his own Christianity, seek in the writings of heathen
sages a wider and a healthier view of humanity than was afforded by
an ascetic creed.

No wonder that the appearance of "Telemaque," published in Holland
without the permission of Fenelon, delighted throughout Europe that
public which is always delighted with new truths, as long as it is
not required to practise them. To read "Telemaque" was the right
and the enjoyment of everyone. To obey it, the duty only of
princes. No wonder that, on the other hand, this "Vengeance de
peuples, lecon des rois," as M. de Lamartine calls it, was taken for
the bitterest satire by Louis XIV., and completed the disgrace of
one who had dared to teach the future king of France that he must
show himself, in all things, the opposite of his grandfather. No
wonder if Madame de Maintenon and the court looked on its portraits
of wicked ministers and courtiers as caricatures of themselves;
portraits too, which, "composed thus in the palace of Versailles,
under the auspices of that confidence which the king had placed in
the preceptor of his heir, seemed a domestic treason." No wonder,
also, if the foolish and envious world outside was of the same
opinion; and after enjoying for awhile this exposure of the great
ones of the earth, left "Telemaque" as an Utopia with which private
folks had no concern; and betook themselves to the easier and more
practical model of "Gil Blas."

But there are solid defects in "Telemaque"--indicating corresponding
defects in the author's mind--which would have, in any case,
prevented its doing the good work which Fenelon desired; defects
which are natural, as it seems to me, to his position as a Roman
Catholic priest, however saintly and pure, however humane and
liberal. The king, with him, is to be always the father of his
people; which is tantamount to saying, that the people are to be
always children, and in a condition of tutelage; voluntary, if
possible: if not, of tutelage still. Of self-government, and
education of human beings into free manhood by the exercise of self-
government, free will, free thought--of this Fenelon had surely not
a glimpse. A generation or two passed by, and then the peoples of
Europe began to suspect that they were no longer children, but come
to manhood; and determined (after the example of Britain and
America) to assume the rights and duties of manhood, at whatever
risk of excesses or mistakes: and then "Telemaque" was relegated--
half unjustly--as the slavish and childish dream of a past age, into
the schoolroom, where it still remains.

But there is a defect in "Telemaque" which is perhaps deeper still.
No woman in it exercises influence over man, except for evil.
Minerva, the guiding and inspiring spirit, assumes of course, as
Mentor, a male form; but her speech and thought is essentially
masculine, and not feminine. Antiope is a mere lay-figure,
introduced at the end of the book because Telemachus must needs be
allowed to have hope of marrying someone or other. Venus plays but
the same part as she does in the Tannenhauser legends of the Middle
Age. Her hatred against Telemachus is an integral element of the
plot. She, with the other women or nymphs of the romance, in spite
of all Fenelon's mercy and courtesy towards human frailties, really
rise no higher than the witches of the Malleus Maleficanum. Woman--
as the old monk held who derived femina from fe, faith, and minus,
less, because women have less faith than men--is, in "Telemaque,"
whenever she thinks or acts, the temptress, the enchantress; the
victim (according to a very ancient calumny) of passions more
violent, often more lawless, than man's.

Such a conception of women must make "Telemaque," to the end of
time, useless as a wholesome book of education. It must have
crippled its influence, especially in France, in its own time. For
there, for good and for evil, woman was asserting more and more her
power, and her right to power, over the mind and heart of man.
Rising from the long degradation of the Middle Ages, which had
really respected her only when unsexed and celibate, the French
woman had assumed, often lawlessly, always triumphantly, her just
freedom; her true place as the equal, the coadjutor, the counsellor
of man. Of all problems connected with the education of a young
prince, that of the influence of woman was, in the France of the
Ancien Regime, the most important. And it was just that which
Fenelon did not, perhaps dared not, try to touch; and which he most
certainly could not have solved. Meanwhile, not only Madame de
Maintenon, but women whose names it were a shame to couple with
hers, must have smiled at, while they hated, the saint who attempted
to dispense not only with them, but with the ideal queen who should
have been the helpmeet of the ideal king.

To those who believe that the world is governed by a living God, it
may seem strange, at first sight, that this moral anarchy was
allowed to endure; that the avenging, and yet most purifying storm
of the French Revolution, inevitable from Louis XIV.'s latter years,
was not allowed to burst two generations sooner than it did. Is not
the answer--that the question always is not of destroying the world,
but of amending it? And that amendment must always come from
within, and not from without? That men must be taught to become
men, and mend their world themselves? To educate men into self-
government--that is the purpose of the government of God; and some
of the men of the eighteenth century did not learn that lesson. As
the century rolled on, the human mind arose out of the slough in
which Le Sage found it, into manifold and beautiful activity,
increasing hatred of shams and lies, increasing hunger after truth
and usefulness. With mistakes and confusions innumerable they
worked: but still they worked; planting good seed; and when the
fire of the French Revolution swept over the land, it burned up the
rotten and the withered, only to let the fresh herbage spring up
from underneath.

But that purifying fire was needed. If we inquire why the many
attempts to reform the Ancien Regime, which the eighteenth century
witnessed, were failures one and all; why Pombal failed in Portugal,
Aranda in Spain, Joseph II. in Austria, Ferdinand and Caroline in
Naples--for these last, be it always remembered, began as humane and
enlightened sovereigns, patronising liberal opinions, and labouring
to ameliorate the condition of the poor, till they were driven by
the murder of Marie Antoinette into a paroxysm of rage and terror--
why, above all, Louis XVI., who attempted deeper and wiser reforms
than any other sovereign, failed more disastrously than any--is not
the answer this, that all these reforms would but have cleansed the
outside of the cup and the platter, while they left the inside full
of extortion and excess? It was not merely institutions which
required to be reformed, but men and women. The spirit of "Gil
Blas" had to be cast out. The deadness, selfishness, isolation of
men's souls; their unbelief in great duties, great common causes,
great self-sacrifices--in a word, their unbelief in God, and
themselves, and mankind--all that had to be reformed; and till that
was done all outward reform would but have left them, at best, in
brute ease and peace, to that soulless degradation, which (as in the
Byzantine empire of old, and seeming in the Chinese empire of to-
day) hides the reality of barbarism under a varnish of civilisation.
Men had to be awakened; to be taught to think for themselves, act
for themselves, to dare and suffer side by side for their country
and for their children; in a word, to arise and become men once

And, what is more, men had to punish--to avenge. Those are fearful
words. But there is, in this God-guided universe, a law of
retribution, which will find men out, whether men choose to find it
out or not; a law of retribution; of vengeance inflicted justly,
though not necessarily by just men. The public executioner was
seldom a very estimable personage, at least under the old Regime;
and those who have been the scourges of God have been, in general,
mere scourges, and nothing better; smiting blindly, rashly,
confusedly; confounding too often the innocent with the guilty, till
they have seemed only to punish crime by crime, and replace old sins
by new. But, however insoluble, however saddening that puzzle be, I
must believe--as long as I believe in any God at all--that such men
as Robespierre were His instruments, even in their crimes.

In the case of the French Revolution, indeed, the wickedness of
certain of its leaders was part of the retribution itself. For the
noblesse existed surely to make men better. It did, by certain
classes, the very opposite. Therefore it was destroyed by wicked
men, whom it itself had made wicked. For over and above all
political, economic, social wrongs, there were wrongs personal,
human, dramatic; which stirred not merely the springs of
covetousness or envy, or even of a just demand for the freedom of
labour and enterprise: but the very deepest springs of rage,
contempt, and hate; wrongs which caused, as I believe, the horrors
of the Revolution.

It is notorious how many of the men most deeply implicated in those
horrors were of the artist class--by which I signify not merely
painters and sculptors--as the word artist has now got, somewhat
strangely, to signify, at least in England--but what the French
meant by ARTISTES--producers of luxuries and amusements, play-
actors, musicians, and suchlike, down to that "distracted peruke-
maker with two fiery torches," who, at the storm of the Bastile,
"was for burning the saltpetres of the Arsenal, had not a woman run
screaming; had not a patriot, with some tincture of natural
philosophy, instantly struck the wind out of him, with butt of
musket on pit of stomach, overturned the barrels, and stayed the
devouring element." The distracted peruke-maker may have had his
wrongs--perhaps such a one as that of poor Triboulet the fool, in
"Le Roi s'amuse"--and his own sound reasons for blowing down the
Bastile, and the system which kept it up.

For these very ministers of luxury--then miscalled art--from the
periwig-maker to the play-actor--who like them had seen the
frivolity, the baseness, the profligacy, of the rulers to whose
vices they pandered, whom they despised while they adored! Figaro
himself may have looked up to his master the Marquis as a superior
being as long as the law enabled the Marquis to send him to the
Bastile by a lettre de cachet; yet Figaro may have known and seen
enough to excuse him, when lettres de cachet were abolished, for
handing the Marquis over to a Comite de Salut Public. Disappointed
play-actors, like Collet d'Herbois; disappointed poets, like Fabre
d'Olivet, were, they say, especially ferocious. Why not?
Ingenious, sensitive spirits, used as lap-dogs and singing-birds by
men and women whom they felt to be their own flesh and blood, they
had, it may be, a juster appreciation of the actual worth of their
patrons than had our own Pitt and Burke. They had played the valet:
and no man was a hero to them. They had seen the nobleman expose
himself before his own helots: they would try if the helot was not
as good as the nobleman. The nobleman had played the mountebank:
why should not the mountebank, for once, play the nobleman? The
nobleman's God had been his five senses, with (to use Mr. Carlyle's
phrase) the sixth sense of vanity: why should not the mountebank
worship the same God, like Carriere at Nantes, and see what grace
and gifts he too might obtain at that altar?

But why so cruel? Because, with many of these men, I more than
suspect, there were wrongs to be avenged deeper than any wrongs done
to the sixth sense of vanity. Wrongs common to them, and to a great
portion of the respectable middle class, and much of the lower
class: but wrongs to which they and their families, being most in
contact with the noblesse, would be especially exposed; namely,
wrongs to women.

Everyone who knows the literature of that time, must know what I
mean: what had gone on for more than a century, it may be more than
two, in France, in Italy, and--I am sorry to have to say it--Germany
likewise. All historians know what I mean, and how enormous was the
evil. I only wonder that they have so much overlooked that item in
the causes of the Revolution. It seems to me to have been more
patent and potent in the sight of men, as it surely was in the sight
of Almighty God, than all the political and economic wrongs put
together. They might have issued in a change of dynasty or of laws.
That, issued in the blood of the offenders. Not a girl was enticed
into Louis XV.'s Petit Trianon, or other den of aristocratic
iniquity, but left behind her, parents nursing shame and sullen
indignation, even while they fingered the ill-gotten price of their
daughter's honour; and left behind also, perhaps, some unhappy boy
of her own class, in whom disappointment and jealousy were
transformed--and who will blame him?--into righteous indignation,
and a very sword of God; all the more indignant, and all the more
righteous, if education helped him to see, that the maiden's
acquiescence, her pride in her own shame, was the ugliest feature in
the whole crime, and the most potent reason for putting an end,
however fearful, to a state of things in which such a fate was
thought an honour and a gain, and not a disgrace and a ruin; in
which the most gifted daughters of the lower classes had learnt to
think it more noble to become--that which they became--than the
wives of honest men.

If you will read fairly the literature of the Ancien Regime, whether
in France or elsewhere, you will see that my facts are true. If you
have human hearts in you, you will see in them, it seems to me, an
explanation of many a guillotinade and fusillade, as yet explained
only on the ground of madness--an hypothesis which (as we do not yet
in the least understand what madness is) is no explanation at all.

An age of decay, incoherence, and makeshift, varnish and gilding
upon worm-eaten furniture, and mouldering wainscot, was that same
Ancien Regime. And for that very reason a picturesque age; like one
of its own landscapes. A picturesque bit of uncultivated mountain,
swarming with the prince's game; a picturesque old robber schloss
above, now in ruins; and below, perhaps, the picturesque new
schloss, with its French fountains and gardens, French nymphs of
marble, and of flesh and blood likewise, which the prince has
partially paid for, by selling a few hundred young men to the
English to fight the Yankees. The river, too, is picturesque, for
the old bridge has not been repaired since it was blown up in the
Seven Years' War; and there is but a single lazy barge floating down
the stream, owing to the tolls and tariffs of his Serene Highness;
the village is picturesque, for the flower of the young men are at
the wars, and the place is tumbling down; and the two old peasants
in the foreground, with the single goat and the hamper of vine-
twigs, are very picturesque likewise, for they are all in rags.

How sad to see the picturesque element eliminated, and the quiet
artistic beauty of the scene destroyed;--to have steamers puffing up
and down the river, and a railroad hurrying along its banks the
wealth of the Old World, in exchange for the wealth of the New--or
hurrying, it may be, whole regiments of free and educated citizen-
soldiers, who fight, they know for what. How sad to see the alto
schloss desecrated by tourists, and the neue schloss converted into
a cold-water cure. How sad to see the village, church and all,
built up again brand-new, and whitewashed to the very steeple-top;--
a new school at the town-end--a new crucifix by the wayside. How
sad to see the old folk well clothed in the fabrics of England or
Belgium, doing an easy trade in milk and fruit, because the land
they till has become their own, and not the prince's; while their
sons are thriving farmers on the prairies of the far West. Very
unpicturesque, no doubt, is wealth and progress, peace and safety,
cleanliness and comfort. But they possess advantages unknown to the
Ancien Regime, which was, if nothing else, picturesque. Men could
paint amusing and often pretty pictures of its people and its

Consider that word, "picturesque." It, and the notion of art which
it expresses, are the children of the Ancien Regime--of the era of
decay. The healthy, vigorous, earnest, progressive Middle Age never
dreamed of admiring, much less of painting, for their own sake, rags
and ruins; the fashion sprang up at the end of the seventeenth
century; it lingered on during the first quarter of our century,
kept alive by the reaction from 1815-25. It is all but dead now,
before the return of vigorous and progressive thought. An admirer
of the Middle Ages now does not build a sham ruin in his grounds; he
restores a church, blazing with colour, like a medieval
illumination. He has learnt to look on that which went by the name
of picturesque in his great-grandfather's time, as an old Greek or a
Middle Age monk would have done--as something squalid, ugly, a sign
of neglect, disease, death; and therefore to be hated and abolished,
if it cannot be restored. At Carcassone, now, M. Viollet-le-Duc,
under the auspices of the Emperor of the French, is spending his
vast learning, and much money, simply in abolishing the picturesque;
in restoring stone for stone, each member of that wonderful museum
of Middle Age architecture: Roman, Visigothic, Moslem, Romaine,
Early English, later French, all is being reproduced exactly as it
must have existed centuries since. No doubt that is not the highest
function of art: but it is a preparation for the highest, a step
toward some future creative school. As the early Italian artists,
by careful imitation, absorbed into their minds the beauty and
meaning of old Greek and Roman art; so must the artists of our days
by the art of the Middle Age and the Renaissance. They must learn
to copy, before they can learn to surpass; and, meanwhile, they must
learn--indeed they have learnt--that decay is ugliness, and the
imitation of decay, a making money out of the public shame.

The picturesque sprang up, as far as I can discover, suddenly,
during the time of exhaustion and recklessness which followed the
great struggles of the sixteenth century. Salvator Rosa and Callot,
two of the earliest professors of picturesque art, have never been
since surpassed. For indeed, they drew from life. The rags and the
ruins, material, and alas! spiritual, were all around them; the
lands and the creeds alike lay waste. There was ruffianism and
misery among the masses of Europe; unbelief and artificiality among
the upper classes; churches and monasteries defiled, cities sacked,
farmsteads plundered and ruinate, and all the wretchedness which
Callot has immortalised--for a warning to evil rulers--in his
Miseres de la Guerre. The world was all gone wrong: but as for
setting it right again--who could do that? And so men fell into a
sentimental regret for the past, and its beauties, all exaggerated
by the foreshortening of time; while they wanted strength or faith
to reproduce it. At last they became so accustomed to the rags and
ruins, that they looked on them as the normal condition of humanity,
as the normal field for painters.

Only now and then, and especially toward the latter half of the
eighteenth century, when thought began to revive, and men dreamed of
putting the world to rights once more, there rose before them
glimpses of an Arcadian ideal. Country life--the primaeval calling
of men--how graceful and pure it might be! How graceful--if not
pure--it once had been! The boors of Teniers and the beggars of
Murillo might be true to present fact; but there was a fairer ideal,
which once had been fact, in the Eclogues of Theocritus, and the
Loves of Daphnis and Chloe. And so men took to dreaming of
shepherds and shepherdesses, and painting them on canvas, and
modelling them in china, according to their cockney notions of what
they had been once, and always ought to be. We smile now at Sevres
and Dresden shepherdesses; but the wise man will surely see in them
a certain pathos. They indicated a craving after something better
than boorishness; and the many men and women may have become the
gentler and purer by looking even at them, and have said sadly to
themselves: "Such might have been the peasantry of half Europe, had
it not been for devastations of the Palatinate, wars of succession,
and the wicked wills of emperors and kings."


In a former lecture in this Institution, I said that the human race
owed more to the eighteenth century than to any century since the
Christian era. It may seem a bold assertion to those who value duly
the century which followed the revival of Greek literature, and
consider that the eighteenth century was but the child, or rather
grandchild, thereof. But I must persist in my opinion, even though
it seem to be inconsistent with my description of the very same era
as one of decay and death. For side by side with the death, there
was manifold fresh birth; side by side with the decay there was
active growth;--side by side with them, fostered by them, though
generally in strong opposition to them, whether conscious or
unconscious. We must beware, however, of trying to find between
that decay and that growth a bond of cause and effect where there is
really none. The general decay may have determined the course of
many men's thoughts; but it no more set them thinking than (as I
have heard said) the decay of the Ancien Regime produced the new
Regime--a loose metaphor, which, like all metaphors, will not hold
water, and must not be taken for a philosophic truth. That would be
to confess man--what I shall never confess him to be--the creature
of circumstances; it would be to fall into the same fallacy of
spontaneous generation as did the ancients, when they believed that
bees were bred from the carcass of a dead ox. In the first place,
the bees were no bees, but flies--unless when some true swarm of
honey bees may have taken up their abode within the empty ribs, as
Samson's bees did in that of the lion. But bees or flies, each
sprang from an egg, independent of the carcass, having a vitality of
its own: it was fostered by the carcass it fed on during
development; but bred from it it was not, any more than Marat was
bred from the decay of the Ancien Regime. There are flies which, by
feeding on putridity, become poisonous themselves, as did Marat:
but even they owe their vitality and organisation to something
higher than that on which they feed; and each of them, however,
defaced and debased, was at first a "thought of God." All true
manhood consists in the defiance of circumstances; and if any man be
the creature of circumstances, it is because he has become so, like
the drunkard; because he has ceased to be a man, and sunk downward
toward the brute.

Accordingly we shall find, throughout the 18th century, a stirring
of thought, an originality, a resistance to circumstances, an
indignant defiance of circumstances, which would have been
impossible, had circumstances been the true lords and shapers of
mankind. Had that latter been the case, the downward progress of
the Ancien Regime would have been irremediable. Each generation,
conformed more and more to the element in which it lived, would have
sunk deeper in dull acquiescence to evil, in ignorance of all
cravings save those of the senses; and if at any time intolerable
wrong or want had driven it to revolt, it would have issued, not in
the proclamation of new and vast ideas, but in an anarchic struggle
for revenge and bread.

There are races, alas! which seem, for the present at least,
mastered by circumstances. Some, like the Chinese, have sunk back
into that state; some, like the negro in Africa, seem not yet to
have emerged from it; but in Europe, during the eighteenth century,
were working not merely new forces and vitalities (abstractions
which mislead rather than explain), but living persons in plenty,
men and women, with independent and original hearts and brains,
instinct, in spite of all circumstances, with power which we shall
most wisely ascribe directly to Him who is the Lord and Giver of

Such persons seemed--I only say seemed--most numerous in England and
in Germany. But there were enough of them in France to change the
destiny of that great nation for awhile--perhaps for ever.

M. de Tocqueville has a whole chapter, and a very remarkable one,
which appears at first sight to militate against my belief--a
chapter "showing that France was the country in which men had become
most alike."

"The men," he says, "of that time, especially those belonging to the
upper and middle ranks of society, who alone were at all
conspicuous, were all exactly alike."

And it must be allowed, that if this were true of the upper and
middle classes, it must have been still more true of the mass of the
lowest population, who, being most animal, are always most moulded--
or rather crushed--by their own circumstances, by public opinion,
and by the wants of five senses, common to all alike.

But when M. de Tocqueville attributes this curious fact to the
circumstances of their political state--to that "government of one
man which in the end has the inevitable effect of rendering all men
alike, and all mutually indifferent to their common fate"--we must
differ, even from him: for facts prove the impotence of that, or of
any other circumstance, in altering the hearts and souls of men, in
producing in them anything but a mere superficial and temporary

For all the while there was, among these very French, here and there
a variety of character and purpose, sufficient to burst through that
very despotism, and to develop the nation into manifold, new, and
quite original shapes. Thus it was proved that the uniformity had
been only in their outside crust and shell. What tore the nation to
pieces during the Reign of Terror, but the boundless variety and
originality of the characters which found themselves suddenly in
free rivalry? What else gave to the undisciplined levies, the
bankrupt governments, the parvenu heroes of the Republic, a manifold
force, a self-dependent audacity, which made them the conquerors,
and the teachers (for good and evil) of the civilised world? If
there was one doctrine which the French Revolution specially
proclaimed--which it caricatured till it brought it into temporary
disrepute--it was this: that no man is like another; that in each
is a God-given "individuality," an independent soul, which no
government or man has a right to crush, or can crush in the long
run: but which ought to have, and must have, a "carriere ouverte
aux talents," freely to do the best for itself in the battle of
life. The French Revolution, more than any event since twelve poor
men set forth to convert the world some eighteen hundred years ago,
proves that man ought not to be, and need not be, the creature of
circumstances, the puppet of institutions; but, if he will, their
conqueror and their lord.

Of these original spirits who helped to bring life out of death, and
the modern world out of the decay of the mediaeval world, the French
PHILOSOPHES and encyclopaedists are, of course, the most notorious.
They confessed, for the most part, that their original inspiration
had come from England. They were, or considered themselves, the
disciples of Locke; whose philosophy, it seems to me, their own acts

And first, a few words on these same philosophes. One may be
thoroughly aware of their deficiencies, of their sins, moral as well
as intellectual; and yet one may demand that everyone should judge
them fairly--which can only be done by putting himself in their
place; and any fair judgment of them will, I think, lead to the
conclusion that they were not mere destroyers, inflamed with hate of
everything which mankind had as yet held sacred. Whatever sacred
things they despised, one sacred thing they reverenced, which men
had forgotten more and more since the seventeenth century--common
justice and common humanity. It was this, I believe, which gave
them their moral force. It was this which drew towards them the
hearts, not merely of educated bourgeois and nobles (on the menu
peuple they had no influence, and did not care to have any), but of
every continental sovereign who felt in himself higher aspirations
than those of a mere selfish tyrant--Frederick the Great, Christina
of Sweden, Joseph of Austria, and even that fallen Juno, Catharine
of Russia, with all her sins. To take the most extreme instance--
Voltaire. We may question his being a philosopher at all. We may
deny that he had even a tincture of formal philosophy. We may doubt
much whether he had any of that human and humorous common sense,
which is often a good substitute for the philosophy of the schools.
We may feel against him a just and honest indignation when we
remember that he dared to travestie into a foul satire the tale of
his country's purest and noblest heroine; but we must recollect, at
the same time, that he did a public service to the morality of his
own country, and of all Europe, by his indignation--quite as just
and honest as any which we may feel--at the legal murder of Calas.
We must recollect that, if he exposes baseness and foulness with too
cynical a license of speech (in which, indeed, he sinned no more
than had the average of French writers since the days of Montaigne),
he at least never advocates them, as did Le Sage. We must recollect
that, scattered throughout his writings, are words in favour of that
which is just, merciful, magnanimous, and even, at times, in favour
of that which is pure; which proves that in Voltaire, as in most
men, there was a double self--the one sickened to cynicism by the
iniquity and folly which he saw around him--the other, hungering
after a nobler life, and possibly exciting that hunger in one and
another, here and there, who admired him for other reasons than the
educated mob, which cried after him "Vive la Pucelle."

Rousseau, too. Easy it is to feel disgust, contempt, for the
"Confessions" and the "Nouvelle Heloise"--for much, too much, in the
man's own life and character. One would think the worse of the
young Englishman who did not so feel, and express his feelings
roundly and roughly. But all young Englishmen should recollect,
that to Rousseau's "Emile" they owe their deliverance from the
useless pedantries, the degrading brutalities, of the medieval
system of school education; that "Emile" awakened throughout
civilised Europe a conception of education just, humane, rational,
truly scientific, because founded upon facts; that if it had not
been written by one writhing under the bitter consequences of mis-
education, and feeling their sting and their brand day by day on his
own spirit, Miss Edgeworth might never have reformed our nurseries,
or Dr. Arnold our public schools.

And so with the rest of the philosophes. That there were charlatans
among them, vain men, pretentious men, profligate men, selfish,
self-seeking, and hypocritical men, who doubts? Among what class of
men were there not such in those evil days? In what class of men
are there not such now, in spite of all social and moral
improvement? But nothing but the conviction, among the average,
that they were in the right--that they were fighting a battle for
which it was worth while to dare, and if need be to suffer, could
have enabled them to defy what was then public opinion, backed by
overwhelming physical force.

Their intellectual defects are patent. No one can deny that their
inductions were hasty and partial: but then they were inductions as
opposed to the dull pedantry of the schools, which rested on
tradition only half believed, or pretended to be believed. No one
can deny that their theories were too general and abstract; but then
they were theories as opposed to the no-theory of the Ancien Regime,
which was, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."

Theories--principles--by them if men do not live, by them men are,
at least, stirred into life, at the sight of something more noble
than themselves. Only by great ideas, right or wrong, could such a
world as that which Le Sage painted, be roused out of its slough of
foul self-satisfaction, and equally foul self-discontent.

For mankind is ruled and guided, in the long run, not by practical
considerations, not by self-interest, not by compromises; but by
theories and principles, and those of the most abstruse, delicate,
supernatural, and literally unspeakable kind; which, whether they be
according to reason or not, are so little according to logic--that
is, to speakable reason--that they cannot be put into speech. Men
act, whether singly or in masses, by impulses and instincts for
which they give reasons quite incompetent, often quite irrelevant;
but which they have caught from each other, as they catch fever or
small-pox; as unconsciously, and yet as practically and potently;
just as the nineteenth century has caught from the philosophers of
the eighteenth most practical rules of conduct, without even (in
most cases) having read a word of their works.

And what has this century caught from these philosophers? One rule
it has learnt, and that a most practical one--to appeal in all
cases, as much as possible, to "Reason and the Laws of Nature."
That, at least, the philosophers tried to do. Often they failed.
Their conceptions of reason and of the laws of nature being often
incorrect, they appealed to unreason and to laws which were not
those of nature. "The fixed idea of them all was," says M. de
Tocqueville, "to substitute simple and elementary rules, deduced
from reason and natural law, for the complicated traditional customs
which governed the society of their time." They were often rash,
hasty, in the application of their method. They ignored whole
classes of facts, which, though spiritual and not physical, are just
as much facts, and facts for science, as those which concern a stone
or a fungus. They mistook for merely complicated traditional
customs, many most sacred institutions which were just as much
founded on reason and natural law, as any theories of their own.
But who shall say that their method was not correct? That it was
not the only method? They appealed to reason. Would you have had
them appeal to unreason? They appealed to natural law. Would you
have had them appeal to unnatural law?--law according to which God
did not make this world? Alas! that had been done too often
already. Solomon saw it done in his time, and called it folly, to
which he prophesied no good end. Rabelais saw it done in his time;
and wrote his chapters on the "Children of Physis and the Children
of Antiphysis." But, born in an evil generation, which was already,
even in 1500, ripening for the revolution of 1789, he was sensual
and, I fear, cowardly enough to hide his light, not under a bushel,
but under a dunghill; till men took him for a jester of jests; and
his great wisdom was lost to the worse and more foolish generations
which followed him, and thought they understood him.

But as for appealing to natural law for that which is good for men,
and to reason for the power of discerning that same good--if man
cannot find truth by that method, by what method shall he find it?

And thus it happened that, though these philosophers and
encyclopaedists were not men of science, they were at least the
heralds and the coadjutors of science.

We may call them, and justly, dreamers, theorists, fanatics. But we
must recollect that one thing they meant to do, and did. They
recalled men to facts; they bid them ask of everything they saw--
What are the facts of the case? Till we know the facts, argument is
worse than useless.

Now the habit of asking for the facts of the case must deliver men
more or less from that evil spirit which the old Romans called
"Fama;" from her whom Virgil described in the AEneid as the ugliest,
the falsest, and the cruellest of monsters.

From "Fama;" from rumours, hearsays, exaggerations, scandals,
superstitions, public opinions--whether from the ancient public
opinion that the sun went round the earth, or the equally public
opinion, that those who dared to differ from public opinion were
hateful to the deity, and therefore worthy of death--from all these
blasts of Fame's lying trumpet they helped to deliver men; and they
therefore helped to insure something like peace and personal
security for those quiet, modest, and generally virtuous men, who,
as students of physical science, devoted their lives, during the
eighteenth century, to asking of nature--What are the facts of the

It was no coincidence, but a connection of cause and effect, that
during the century of philosopher sound physical science throve, as
she had never thriven before; that in zoology and botany, chemistry
and medicine, geology and astronomy, man after man, both of the
middle and the noble classes, laid down on more and more sound,
because more and more extended foundations, that physical science
which will endure as an everlasting heritage to mankind; endure,
even though a second Byzantine period should reduce it to a timid
and traditional pedantry, or a second irruption of barbarians sweep
it away for awhile, to revive again (as classic philosophy revived
in the fifteenth century) among new and more energetic races; when
the kingdom of God shall have been taken away from us, and given to
a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.

An eternal heritage, I say, for the human race; which once gained,
can never be lost; which stands, and will stand; marches, and will
march, proving its growth, its health, its progressive force, its
certainty of final victory, by those very changes, disputes,
mistakes, which the ignorant and the bigoted hold up to scorn, as
proofs of its uncertainty and its rottenness; because they never
have dared or cared to ask boldly--What are the facts of the case?--
and have never discovered either the acuteness, the patience, the
calm justice, necessary for ascertaining the facts, or their awful
and divine certainty when once ascertained.

[But these philosophers (it will be said) hated all religion.

Before that question can be fairly discussed, it is surely right to
consider what form of religion that was which they found working
round them in France, and on the greater part of the Continent. The
quality thereof may have surely had something to do (as they
themselves asserted) with that "sort of rage" with which (to use M.
de Tocqueville's words) "the Christian religion was attacked in

M. de Tocqueville is of opinion (and his opinion is likely to be
just) that "the Church was not more open to attack in France than
elsewhere; that the corruptions and abuses which had been allowed to
creep into it were less, on the contrary, there than in most
Catholic countries. The Church of France was infinitely more
tolerant than it ever had been previously, and than it still was
among other nations. Consequently, the peculiar causes of this
phenomenon" (the hatred which it aroused) "must be looked for less
in the condition of religion than in that of society."

"We no longer," he says, shortly after, "ask in what the Church of
that day erred as a religious institution, but how far it stood
opposed to the political revolution which was at hand." And he goes
on to show how the principles of her ecclesiastical government, and
her political position, were such that the philosophes must needs
have been her enemies. But he mentions another fact which seems to
me to belong neither to the category of religion nor to that of
politics; a fact which, if he had done us the honour to enlarge upon
it, might have led him and his readers to a more true understanding
of the disrepute into which Christianity had fallen in France.

"The ecclesiastical authority had been specially employed in keeping
watch over the progress of thought; and the censorship of books was
a daily annoyance to the philosophes. By defending the common
liberties of the human mind against the Church, they were combating
in their own cause: and they began by breaking the shackles which
pressed most closely on themselves."

Just so. And they are not to be blamed if they pressed first and
most earnestly reforms which they knew by painful experience to be
necessary. All reformers are wont thus to begin at home. It is to
their honour if, not content with shaking off their own fetters,
they begin to see that others are fettered likewise; and, reasoning
from the particular to the universal, to learn that their own cause
is the cause of mankind.

There is, therefore, no reason to doubt that these men were honest,
when they said that they were combating, not in their own cause
merely, but in that of humanity; and that the Church was combating
in her own cause, and that of her power and privilege. The Church
replied that she, too, was combating for humanity; for its moral and
eternal well-being. But that is just what the philosophes denied.
They said (and it is but fair to take a statement which appears on
the face of all their writings; which is the one key-note on which
they ring perpetual changes), that the cause of the Church in France
was not that of humanity, but of inhumanity; not that of nature, but
of unnature; not even that of grace, but of disgrace. Truely or
falsely, they complained that the French clergy had not only
identified themselves with the repression of free thought, and of
physical science, especially that of the Newtonian astronomy, but
that they had proved themselves utterly unfit, for centuries past,
to exercise any censorship whatsoever over the thoughts of men:
that they had identified themselves with the cause of darkness, not
of light; with persecution and torture, with the dragonnades of
Louis XIV., with the murder of Calas and of Urban Grandier; with
celibacy, hysteria, demonology, witchcraft, and the shameful public
scandals, like those of Gauffredi, Grandier, and Pere Giraud, which
had arisen out of mental disease; with forms of worship which seemed
to them (rightly or wrongly) idolatry, and miracles which seemed to
them (rightly or wrongly) impostures; that the clergy interfered
perpetually with the sanctity of family life, as well as with the
welfare of the state; that their evil counsels, and specially those
of the Jesuits, had been patent and potent causes of much of the
misrule and misery of Louis XIV.'s and XV.'s reigns; and that with
all these heavy counts against them, their morality was not such as
to make other men more moral; and was not--at least among the
hierarchy--improving, or likely to improve. To a Mazarin, a De
Retz, a Richelieu (questionable men enough) had succeeded a Dubois,
a Rohan, a Lomenie de Brienne, a Maury, a Talleyrand; and at the
revolution of 1789 thoughtful Frenchmen asked, once and for all,
what was to be done with a Church of which these were the

Whether these complaints affected the French Church as a "religious"
institution, must depend entirely on the meaning which is attached
to the word "religion": that they affected her on scientific,
rational, and moral grounds, independent of any merely political
one, is as patent as that the attack based on them was one-sided,
virulent, and often somewhat hypocritical, considering the private
morals of many of the assailants. We know--or ought to know--that
within that religion which seemed to the philosophes (so distorted
and defaced had it become) a nightmare dream, crushing the life out
of mankind, there lie elements divine, eternal; necessary for man in
this life and the life to come. But we are bound to ask--Had they a
fair chance of knowing what we know? Have we proof that their
hatred was against all religion, or only against that which they saw
around them? Have we proof that they would have equally hated, had
they been in permanent contact with them, creeds more free from
certain faults which seemed to them, in the case of the French
Church, ineradicable and inexpiable? Till then we must have
charity--which is justice--even for the philosophes of the
eighteenth century.

This view of the case had been surely overlooked by M. de
Tocqueville, when he tried to explain by the fear of revolutions,
the fact that both in America and in England, "while the boldest
political doctrines of the eighteenth-century philosophers have been
adopted, their anti-religious doctrines have made no way."

He confesses that, "Among the English, French irreligious philosophy
had been preached, even before the greater part of the French
philosophers were born. It was Bolingbroke who set up Voltaire.
Throughout the eighteenth century infidelity had celebrated
champions in England. Able writers and profound thinkers espoused
that cause, but they were never able to render it triumphant as in
France." Of these facts there can be no doubt: but the cause which
he gives for the failure of infidelity will surely sound new and
strange to those who know the English literature and history of that
century. It was, he says, "inasmuch as all those who had anything
to fear from revolutions, eagerly came to the rescue of the
established faith." Surely there was no talk of revolutions; no
wish, expressed or concealed, to overthrow either government or
society, in the aristocratic clique to whom English infidelity was
confined. Such was, at least, the opinion of Voltaire, who boasted
that "All the works of the modern philosophers together would never
make as much noise in the world as was made in former days by the
disputes of the Cordeliers about the shape of their sleeves and
hoods." If (as M. de Tocqueville says) Bolingbroke set up Voltaire,
neither master nor pupil had any more leaning than Hobbes had toward
a democracy which was not dreaded in those days because it had never
been heard of. And if (as M. de Tocqueville heartily allows) the
English apologists of Christianity triumphed, at least for the time
being, the cause of their triumph must be sought in the plain fact
that such men as Berkeley, Butler, and Paley, each according to his
light, fought the battle fairly, on the common ground of reason and
philosophy, instead of on that of tradition and authority; and that
the forms of Christianity current in England--whether Quaker,
Puritan, or Anglican--offended, less than that current in France,
the common-sense and the human instincts of the many, or of the
sceptics themselves.]

But the eighteenth century saw another movement, all the more
powerful, perhaps, because it was continually changing its shape,
even its purpose; and gaining fresh life and fresh adherents with
every change. Propagated at first by men of the school of Locke, it
became at last a protest against the materialism of that school, on
behalf of all that is, or calls itself, supernatural and mysterious.
Abjuring, and honestly, all politics, it found itself sucked into
the political whirlpool in spite of itself, as all human interests
which have any life in them must be at last. It became an active
promoter of the Revolution; then it helped to destroy the
Revolution, when that had, under Napoleon, become a levelling
despotism; then it helped, as actively, to keep revolutionary
principles alive, after the reaction of 1815:--a Protean
institution, whose power we in England are as apt to undervalue as
the governments of the Continent were apt, during the eighteenth
century, to exaggerate it. I mean, of course, Freemasonry, and the
secret societies which, honestly and honourably disowned by
Freemasonry, yet have either copied it, or actually sprung out of
it. In England, Freemasonry never was, it seems, more than a
liberal and respectable benefit-club; for secret societies are
needless for any further purposes, amid free institutions and a free
press. But on the Continent during the eighteenth century,
Freemasonry excited profound suspicion and fear on the part of
statesmen who knew perfectly well their friends from their foes; and
whose precautions were, from their point of view, justified by the

I shall not enter into the deep question of the origin of
Freemasonry. One uninitiate, as I am, has no right to give an
opinion on the great questions of the mediaeval lodge of Kilwinning
and its Scotch degrees; on the seven Templars, who, after poor
Jacques Molay was burnt at Paris, took refuge on the Isle of Mull,
in Scotland, found there another Templar and brother Mason,
ominously named Harris; took to the trowel in earnest, and revived
the Order;--on the Masons who built Magdeburg Cathedral in 876; on
the English Masons assembled in Pagan times by "St. Albone, that
worthy knight;" on the revival of English Masonry by Edwin, son of
Athelstan; on Magnus Grecus, who had been at the building of
Solomon's Temple, and taught Masonry to Charles Martel; on the
pillars Jachin and Boaz; on the masonry of Hiram of Tyre, and indeed
of Adam himself, of whose first fig-leaf the masonic apron may be a
type--on all these matters I dare no more decide than on the making
of the Trojan Horse, the birth of Romulus and Remus, or the
incarnation of Vishnoo.

All I dare say is, that Freemasonry emerges in its present form into
history and fact, seemingly about the beginning of George I.'s
reign, among Englishmen and noblemen, notably in four lodges in the
city of London: (1) at The Goose and Gridiron alehouse in St.
Paul's Churchyard; (2) at The Crown alehouse near Drury Lane; (3) at
The Apple Tree tavern near Covent Garden; (4) at The Rummer and
Grapes tavern, in Charnel Row, Westminster. That its principles
were brotherly love and good fellowship, which included in those
days port, sherry, claret, and punch; that it was founded on the
ground of mere humanity, in every sense of the word; being (as was
to be expected from the temper of the times) both aristocratic and
liberal, admitting to its ranks virtuous gentlemen "obliged," says
an old charge, "only to that religion wherein all men agree, leaving
their particular opinions to themselves: that is, to be good men
and true, or men of honour and honesty, by whatever denominations or
persuasions they may be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the
centre of union and means of conciliating true friendship among
persons that otherwise must have remained at a distance."

Little did the honest gentlemen who established or re-established
their society on these grounds, and fenced it with quaint
ceremonies, old or new, conceive the importance of their own act;
we, looking at it from a distance, may see all that such a society
involved, which was quite new to the world just then; and see, that
it was the very child of the Ancien Regime--of a time when men were
growing weary of the violent factions, political and spiritual,
which had torn Europe in pieces for more than a century, and longed
to say: "After all, we are all alike in one thing--for we are at
least men."

Its spread through England and Scotland, and the seceding bodies
which arose from it, as well as the supposed Jacobite tendency of
certain Scotch lodges, do not concern us here. The point
interesting to us just now is, that Freemasonry was imported to the
Continent exclusively by English and Scotch gentlemen and noblemen.
Lord Derwentwater is said by some to have founded the "Loge
Anglaise" in Paris in 1725; the Duke of Richmond one in his own
castle of Aubigny shortly after. It was through Hanoverian
influence that the movement seems to have spread into Germany. In
1733, for instance, the English Grand Master, Lord Strathmore,
permitted eleven German gentlemen and good brethren to form a lodge
in Hamburg. Into this English Society was Frederick the Great, when
Crown Prince, initiated, in spite of strict old Frederick William's
objections, who had heard of it as an English invention of
irreligious tendency. Francis I. of Austria was made a Freemason at
the Hague, Lord Chesterfield being in the chair, and then became a
Master in London under the name of "Brother Lothringen," to the
discontent of Maria Theresa, whose woman's wit saw farther than her
husband. Englishmen and Scotchmen introduced the new society into
Russia and into Geneva. Sweden and Poland seem to have received it
from France; while, in the South, it seems to have been exclusively
an English plant. Sackville, Duke of Middlesex, is said to have
founded the first lodge at Florence in 1733, Lord Coleraine at
Gibraltar and Madrid, one Gordon in Portugal; and everywhere, at the
commencement of the movement, we find either London or Scotland the
mother-lodges, introducing on the Continent those liberal and humane
ideas of which England was then considered, to her glory, as the
only home left on earth.

But, alas! the seed sown grew up into strange shapes, according to
the soil in which it rooted. False doctrine, heresy, and schism,
according to Herr Findel, the learned and rational historian whom I
have chiefly followed, defiled the new Church from its infancy. "In
France," so he bemoans himself, "first of all there shot up that
baneful seed of lies and frauds, of vanity and presumption, of
hatred and discord, the mischievous high degrees; the misstatement
that our order was allied to the Templars, and existed at the time
of the Crusades; the removal of old charges, the bringing in
surreptitiously of a multitude of symbols and forms which awoke the
love of secrecy; knighthood; and, in fact, all which tended to
poison Freemasonry." Herr Findel seems to attribute these evils
principally to the "high degrees." It would have been more simple
to have attributed them to the morals of the French noblesse in the
days of Louis Quinze. What could a corrupt tree bring forth, but
corrupt fruit? If some of the early lodges, like those of "La
Felicite" and "L'Ancre," to which women were admitted, resembled not
a little the Bacchic mysteries of old Rome, and like them called for
the interference of the police, still no great reform was to be
expected, when those Sovereign Masonic Princes, the "Emperors of the
East and West," quarrelled--knights of the East against knights of
the West--till they were absorbed or crushed by the Lodge "Grand
Orient," with Philippe Egalite, Duc de Chartres, as their grand
master, and as his representative, the hero of the diamond necklace,
and disciple of Count Cagliostro--Louis, Prince de Rohan.

But if Freemasonry, among the frivolous and sensual French noblesse,
became utterly frivolous and sensual itself, it took a deeper,
though a questionably fantastic form, among the more serious and
earnest German nobility. Forgetful as they too often were of their
duty to their peoples--tyrannical, extravagant, debauched by French
opinions, French fashions, French luxuries, till they had begun to
despise their native speech, their native literature, almost their
native land, and to hide their native homeliness under a clumsy
varnish of French outside civilisation, which the years 1807-13
rubbed off them again with a brush of iron--they were yet Germans at
heart; and that German instinct for the unseen--call it enthusiasm,
mysticism, what you will, you cannot make it anything but a human
fact, and a most powerful, and (as I hold) most blessed fact--that
instinct for the unseen, I say, which gives peculiar value to German
philosophy, poetry, art, religion, and above all to German family
life, and which is just the complement needed to prevent our English
common-sense, matter-of-fact Lockism from degenerating into
materialism--that was only lying hidden, but not dead, in the German

With the Germans, therefore, Freemasonry assumed a nobler and more
earnest shape. Dropping, very soon, that Lockite and Philosophe
tone which had perhaps recommended it to Frederick the Great in his
youth, it became mediaevalist and mystic. It craved after a
resuscitation of old chivalrous spirit, and the virtues of the
knightly ideal, and the old German biederkeit und tapferkeit, which
were all defiled and overlaid by French fopperies. And not in vain;
as no struggle after a noble aim, however confused or fantastic, is
ever in vain. Freemasonry was the direct parent of the Tugenbund,
and of those secret societies which freed Germany from Napoleon.
Whatever follies young members of them may have committed; whatever
Jahn and his Turnerei; whatever the iron youths, with their iron
decorations and iron boot-heels; whatever, in a word, may have been
said or done amiss, in that childishness which (as their own wisest
writers often lament) so often defaces the noble childlikeness of
the German spirit, let it be always remembered that under the
impulse first given by Freemasonry, as much as that given by such
heroes as Stein and Scharnhorst, Germany shook off the chains which
had fallen on her in her sleep; and stood once more at Leipsic, were
it but for a moment, a free people alike in body and in soul.

Remembering this, and the solid benefits which Germany owed to
Masonic influences, one shrinks from saying much of the
extravagances in which its Masonry indulged before the French
Revolution. Yet they are so characteristic of the age, so
significant to the student of human nature, that they must be hinted
at, though not detailed.

It is clear that Masonry was at first a movement confined to the
aristocracy, or at least to the most educated classes; and clear,
too, that it fell in with a temper of mind unsatisfied with the dry
dogmatism into which the popular creeds had then been frozen--
unsatisfied with their own Frenchified foppery and pseudo-
philosophy--unsatisfied with want of all duty, purpose, noble
thought, or noble work. With such a temper of mind it fell in: but
that very temper was open (as it always is) to those dreams of a
royal road to wisdom and to virtue, which have haunted, in all ages,
the luxurious and the idle.

Those who will, may read enough, and too much, of the wonderful
secrets in nature and science and theosophy, which men expected to
find and did not find in the higher degrees of Masonry, till old
Voss--the translator of Homer--had to confess, that after "trying
for eleven years to attain a perfect knowledge of the inmost
penetralia, where the secret is said to be, and of its invisible
guardians," all he knew was that "the documents which he had to make
known to the initiated were nothing more than a well got-up farce."

But the mania was general. The high-born and the virtuous expected
to discover some panacea for their own consciences in what Voss
calls, "A multitude of symbols, which are ever increasing the
farther you penetrate, and are made to have a moral application
through some arbitrary twisting of their meaning, as if I were to
attempt expounding the chaos on my writing-desk."

A rich harvest-field was an aristocracy in such a humour, for quacks
of every kind; richer even than that of France, in that the Germans
were at once more honest and more earnest, and therefore to be
robbed more easily. The carcass was there: and the birds of prey
were gathered together.

Of Rosa, with his lodge of the Three Hammers, and his Potsdam gold-
making;--of Johnson, alias Leuchte, who passed himself off as a
Grand Prior sent from Scotland to resuscitate the order of Knights
Templars; who informed his disciples that the Grand Master Von Hund
commanded 26,000 men; that round the convent (what convent, does not
appear) a high wall was erected, which was guarded day and night;
that the English navy was in the hands of the Order; that they had
MSS. written by Hugo de Paganis (a mythic hero who often figures in
these fables); that their treasure was in only three places in the
world, in Ballenstadt, in the icy mountains of Savoy, and in China;
that whosoever drew on himself the displeasure of the Order,
perished both body and soul; who degraded his rival Rosa to the
sound of military music, and after having had, like every dog, his
day, died in prison in the Wartburg;--of the Rosicrucians, who were
accused of wanting to support and advance the Catholic religion--one
would think the accusation was very unnecessary, seeing that their
actual dealings were with the philosopher's stone, and the exorcism
of spirits: and that the first apostle of the new golden
Rosicrucian order, one Schropfer, getting into debt, and fearing
exposure, finished his life in an altogether un-catholic manner at
Leipsic in 1774, by shooting himself;--of Keller and his Urim and
Thummim;--of Wollner (who caught the Crown Prince Frederick William)
with his three names of Chrysophiron, Heliconus, and Ophiron, and
his fourth name of Ormesus Magnus, under which all the brethren were
to offer up for him solemn prayers and intercessions;--of Baron
Heinrich von Ekker and Eckenhofen, gentleman of the bed-chamber and
counsellor of the Duke of Coburg Saalfeld, and his Jewish colleague
Hirschmann, with their Asiatic brethren and order named Ben Bicca,
Cabalistic and Talmudic; of the Illuminati, and poor Adam
Weisshaupt, Professor of Canon and National Law at Ingoldstadt in
Bavaria, who set up what he considered an Anti-Jesuitical order on a
Jesuit model, with some vague hope, according to his own showing, of
"perfecting the reasoning powers interesting to mankind, spreading
the knowledge of sentiments both humane and social, checking wicked
inclinations, standing up for oppressed and suffering virtue against
all wrong, promoting the advancement of men of merit, and in every
way facilitating the acquirement of knowledge and science;"--of this
honest silly man, and his attempts to carry out all his fine
projects by calling himself Spartacus, Bavaria Achaia, Austria
Egypt, Vienna Rome, and so forth;--of Knigge, who picked his honest
brains, quarrelled with him, and then made money and fame out of his
plans, for as long as they lasted;--of Bode, the knight of the
lilies of the valley, who, having caught Duke Ernest of Saxe Gotha,
was himself caught by Knigge, and his eight, nine, or more ascending
orders of unwisdom;--and finally of the Jesuits who, really with
considerable excuses for their severity, fell upon these poor
foolish Illuminati in 1784 throughout Bavaria, and had them exiled
or imprisoned;--of all this you may read in the pages of Dr. Findel,
and in many another book. For, forgotten as they are now, they made
noise enough in their time.

And so it befell, that this eighteenth century, which is usually
held to be the most "materialistic" of epochs, was, in fact, a most
"spiritualistic" one; in which ghosts, demons, quacks, philosophers'
stones, enchanters' wands, mysteries and mummeries, were as
fashionable--as they will probably be again some day.

You have all heard of Cagliostro--"pupil of the sage Althotas,
foster-child of the Scheriff of Mecca, probable son of the last king
of Trebizond; named also Acharat, and 'Unfortunate child of Nature;'
by profession healer of diseases, abolisher of wrinkles, friend of
the poor and impotent; grand-master of the Egyptian Mason-lodge of
High Science, spirit-summoner, gold-cook, Grand-Cophta, prophet,
priest, Thaumaturgic moralist, and swindler"--born Giuseppe Balsamo
of Palermo;--of him, and of his lovely Countess Seraphina--nee
Lorenza Feliciani? You have read what Goethe--and still more
important, what Mr. Carlyle has written on him, as on one of the
most significant personages of the age? Remember, then, that
Cagliostro was no isolated phenomenon; that his success--nay, his
having even conceived the possibility of success in the brain that
lay within that "brass-faced, bull-necked, thick-lipped" head--was
made possible by public opinion. Had Cagliostro lived in our time,
public opinion would have pointed out to him other roads to honour--
on which he would doubtless have fared as well. For when the silly
dace try to be caught and hope to be caught, he is a foolish pike
who cannot gorge them. But the method most easy for a pike-nature
like Cagliostro's, was in the eighteenth century, as it may be in
the latter half of the nineteenth, to trade, in a materialist age,
on the unsatisfied spiritual cravings of mankind. For what do all
these phantasms betoken, but a generation ashamed of its own
materialism, sensuality, insincerity, ignorance, and striving to
escape therefrom by any and every mad superstition which seemed
likely to give an answer to the awful questions--What are we, and
where? and to lay to rest those instincts of the unseen and infinite
around it, which tormented it like ghosts by day and night: a sight
ludicrous or pathetic, according as it is looked on by a cynical or
a human spirit.

It is easy to call such a phenomenon absurd, improbable. It is
rather rational, probable, say certain to happen. Rational, I say;
for the reason of man tells him, and has always told him, that he is
a supernatural being, if by nature is meant that which is cognisable
by his five senses: that his coming into this world, his relation
to it, his exit from it--which are the three most important facts
about him--are supernatural, not to be explained by any deductions
from the impressions of his senses. And I make bold to say, that
the recent discoveries of physical science--notably those of
embryology--go only to justify that old and general belief of man.
If man be told that the microscope and scalpel show no difference,
in the first stage of visible existence, between him and the lower
mammals, then he has a right to answer--as he will answer--So much
the worse for the microscope and scalpel: so much the better for my
old belief, that there is beneath my birth, life, death, a
substratum of supernatural causes, imponderable, invisible,
unknowable by any physical science whatsoever. If you cannot render
me a reason how I came hither, and what I am, I must go to those who
will render me one. And if that craving be not satisfied by a
rational theory of life, it will demand satisfaction from some
magical theory; as did the mind of the eighteenth century when,
revolting from materialism, it fled to magic, to explain the ever-
astounding miracle of life.

The old Regime. Will our age, in its turn, ever be spoken of as an
old Regime? Will it ever be spoken of as a Regime at all; as an
organised, orderly system of society and polity; and not merely as a
chaos, an anarchy, a transitory struggle, of which the money-lender
has been the real guide and lord?

But at least it will be spoken of as an age of progress, of rapid
developments, of astonishing discoveries.

Are you so sure of that? There was an age of progress once. But
what is our age--what is all which has befallen since 1815--save
after-swells of that great storm, which are weakening and lulling
into heavy calm? Are we on the eve of stagnation? Of a long check
to the human intellect? Of a new Byzantine era, in which little men
will discuss, and ape, the deeds which great men did in their
forefathers' days?

What progress--it is a question which some will receive with almost
angry surprise--what progress has the human mind made since 1815?

If the thought be startling, do me the great honour of taking it
home, and verifying for yourselves its truth or its falsehood. I do
not say that it is altogether true. No proposition concerning human
things, stated so broadly, can be. But see for yourselves, whether
it is not at least more true than false; whether the ideas, the
discoveries, of which we boast most in the nineteenth century, are
not really due to the end of the eighteenth. Whether other men did
not labour, and we have only entered into their labours. Whether
our positivist spirit, our content with the collecting of facts, our
dread of vast theories, is not a symptom--wholesome, prudent,
modest, but still a symptom--of our consciousness that we are not as
our grandfathers were; that we can no longer conceive great ideas,
which illumine, for good or evil, the whole mind and heart of man,
and drive him on to dare and suffer desperately.

Railroads? Electric telegraphs? All honour to them in their place:
but they are not progress; they are only the fruits of past
progress. No outward and material thing is progress; no machinery
causes progress; it merely spreads and makes popular the results of
progress. Progress is inward, of the soul. And, therefore,
improved constitutions, and improved book instruction--now miscalled
education--are not progress: they are at best only fruits and signs
thereof. For they are outward, material; and progress, I say, is
inward. The self-help and self-determination of the independent
soul--that is the root of progress; and the more human beings who
have that, the more progress there is in the world. Give me a man
who, though he can neither read nor write, yet dares think for
himself, and do the thing he believes: that man will help forward
the human race more than any thousand men who have read, or written
either, a thousand books apiece, but have not dared to think for
themselves. And better for his race, and better, I believe, in the
sight of God, the confusions and mistakes of that one sincere brave
man, than the second-hand and cowardly correctness of all the

As for the "triumphs of science," let us honour, with astonishment
and awe, the genius of those who invented them; but let us remember
that the things themselves are as a gun or a sword, with which we
can kill our enemy, but with which also our enemy can kill us. Like
all outward and material things, they are equally fit for good and
for evil. In England here--they have been as yet, as far as I can
see, nothing but blessings: but I have my very serious doubts
whether they are likely to be blessings to the whole human race, for
many an age to come. I can conceive them--may God avert the omen!--
the instruments of a more crushing executive centralisation, of a
more utter oppression of the bodies and souls of men, than the world
has yet seen. I can conceive--may God avert the omen!--centuries
hence, some future world-ruler sitting at the junction of all
railroads, at the centre of all telegraph-wires--a world-spider in
the omphalos of his world-wide web; and smiting from thence
everything that dared to lift its head, or utter a cry of pain, with
a swiftness and surety to which the craft of a Justinian or a Philip
II. were but clumsy and impotent.

All, all outward things, be sure of it, are good or evil, exactly as
far as they are in the hands of good men or of bad.

Moreover, paradoxical as it may seem, railroads and telegraphs,
instead of inaugurating an era of progress, may possibly only retard
it. "Rester sur un grand succes," which was Rossini's advice to a
young singer who had achieved a triumph, is a maxim which the world
often follows, not only from prudence, but from necessity. They
have done so much that it seems neither prudent nor possible to do
more. They will rest and be thankful.

Thus, gunpowder and printing made rapid changes enough; but those
changes had no farther development. The new art of war, the new art
of literature, remained stationary, or rather receded and
degenerated, till the end of the eighteenth century.

And so it may be with our means of locomotion and intercommunion,
and what depends on them. The vast and unprecedented amount of
capital, of social interest, of actual human intellect invested--I
may say locked up--in these railroads, and telegraphs, and other
triumphs of industry and science, will not enter into competition
against themselves. They will not set themselves free to seek new
discoveries in directions which are often actually opposed to their
own, always foreign to it. If the money of thousands are locked up
in these great works, the brains of hundreds of thousands, and of
the very shrewdest too, are equally locked up therein likewise; and
are to be subtracted from the gross material of social development,
and added (without personal fault of their owners, who may be very
good men) to the dead weight of vested selfishness, ignorance, and
dislike of change.

Yes. A Byzantine and stationary age is possible yet. Perhaps we
are now entering upon it; an age in which mankind shall be satisfied
with the "triumphs of science," and shall look merely to the
greatest comfort (call it not happiness) of the greatest number; and
like the debased Jews of old, "having found the life of their hand,
be therewith content," no matter in what mud-hole of slavery and

But one hope there is, and more than a hope--one certainty, that
however satisfied enlightened public opinion may become with the
results of science, and the progress of the human race, there will
be always a more enlightened private opinion or opinions, which will
not be satisfied therewith at all; a few men of genius, a few
children of light, it may be a few persecuted, and a few martyrs for
new truths, who will wish the world not to rest and be thankful, but
to be discontented with itself, ashamed of itself, striving and
toiling upward, without present hope of gain, till it has reached
that unknown goal which Bacon saw afar off, and like all other
heroes, died in faith, not having received the promises, but seeking
still a polity which has foundations, whose builder and maker is

These will be the men of science, whether physical or spiritual.
Not merely the men who utilise and apply that which is known (useful
as they plainly are), but the men who themselves discover that which
was unknown, and are generally deemed useless, if not hurtful, to
their race. They will keep the sacred lamp burning unobserved in
quiet studies, while all the world is gazing only at the gaslights
flaring in the street. They will pass that lamp on from hand to
hand, modestly, almost stealthily, till the day comes round again,
when the obscure student shall be discovered once more to be, as he
has always been, the strongest man on earth. For they follow a
mistress whose footsteps may often slip, yet never fall; for she
walks forward on the eternal facts of Nature, which are the acted
will of God. A giantess she is; young indeed, but humble as yet:
cautious and modest beyond her years. She is accused of trying to
scale Olympus, by some who fancy that they have already scaled it
themselves, and will, of course, brook no rival in their fancied
monopoly of wisdom.

The accusation, I believe, is unjust. And yet science may scale
Olympus after all. Without intending it, almost without knowing it,
she may find herself hereafter upon a summit of which she never
dreamed; surveying the universe of God in the light of Him who made
it and her, and remakes them both for ever and ever. On that summit
she may stand hereafter, if only she goes on, as she goes now, in
humility and in patience; doing the duty which lies nearest her;
lured along the upward road, not by ambition, vanity, or greed, but
by reverent curiosity for every new pebble, and flower, and child,
and savage, around her feet.


{1} Mr. H. Reeve's translation of De Tocqueville's "France before
the Revolution of 1789." p. 280.


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