In England, the prevalent dissatisfaction must subsist a long time before anything effectual can be done to relieve it. The English are hampered with institutions in which the rights of individual property are involved in almost hopeless intricacy. Though clear-sighted persons perceive that property is the great harbourage of crime and misery, the adversary of knowledge, the corrupter of peace, the extinguisher of faith and charity; though they perceive that institutions for the regulation of outward affairs all follow the same course, being first necessary, then useful, then useless, pernicious, and finally intolerable,— that property is thus following the same course as slavery, which was once necessary, and is now intolerable, — as monarchy, which was once necessary, and is now useless, if not pernicious: though all this is clearly perceived by many far-seeing persons in England, they can do nothing but wait till the rest of society sees it too. They must be and are well content to wait; since no changes are desirable but those which proceed from the ripened mind and enlightened will of society. Thus it is in England. In America the process will be more rapid. The democratic principles of their social arrangements, operating already to such an equalisation of property as has never before been witnessed, are favourable to changes which are inched necessary to the full carrying out of the principles adopted. When the people become tired of their universal servitude to worldly anxiety, — when they have fully meditated and discussed the fact that ninety-nine hundredths of social offences arise directly out of property; that the largest proportion of human faults bear a relation to selfish possession; that the most formidable classes of diseases are caused by over or under toil, and by satiety of mind; they will be ready for the inquiry whether this tremendous incubus be indeed irremovable; and whether any difficulties attending its removal can be comparable to the evils it inflicts. In England, the people have not only to rectify the false principles of barbarous policy, but to surmount the accumulation of abuses which they have given out: a work, perhaps, of ages. In America, the people have not much more to do (the will being once ripe) than to retrace the false steps which their imitation of the old world has led them to take. Their accumulation of abuses is too small to be a serious obstacle in the way of the united will of a nation.
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He [= Sydney Smith] was not quite the only one of my new friends who did not use my trumpet in conversation. Of all people in the world, Malthus was the one whom I heard quite easily without it; — Malthus, whose speech was hopelessly imperfect, from defect in the palate. I dreaded meeting him when invited by a friend of his who made my acquaintance on purpose. He had told this lady that he should be in town on such a day, and entreated her to get an introduction, and call and invite me ; his reason being that whereas his friends had done him all manner of mischief by defending him injudiciously, my tales had represented his views precisely as he could have wished. I could not decline such an invitation as this: but when I considered my own deafness, and his inability to pronounce half the consonants in the alphabet, and his hare-lip which must prevent my offering him my tube, I feared we should make a terrible business of it. I was delightfully wrong. His first sentence, — slow and gentle, with the vowels sonorous, whatever might become of the consonants, — set me at ease completely. I soon found that the vowels are in fact all that I ever hear. His worst letter was l : and when I had no difficulty with his question, — "Would not you like to have a look at the Lakes of Killarney?" I had nothing more to fear. It really gratified him that I heard him better than any body else; and whenever we met at dinner, I somehow found myself beside him, with my best ear next him; and then I heard all he said to every body at table.
From the time of my settlement in London, there was no fear of any dearth of information on any subject which I wished to treat. Every party, and every body who desired to push any object, forwarded to me all the information they held. It was, in fact, rather ridiculous to see the onset on my acquaintances made by riders of hobbies. One acquaintance of mine told me, as I was going to his house to dinner, that three gentlemen had been at his office that morning;— one beseeching him to get me to write a number on the navigable rivers of Ireland; second on (I think) the Hamiltonian (or other) system of Education; and a third, who was confident that the welfare of the nation depended on it, on the encouragement of flax-growing in the interior of Guiana. Among such applicants, the Socialists were sure to be found; and Mr. Owen was presently at my ear, laying down the law in the way which he calls “proof,” and really interesting me by the candour and cheerfulness, the benevolence and charming manners which would make him the most popular man in England if he could but distinguish between assertion and argument, and abstain from wearying his friends with his monotonous doctrine.
An attractive feature of conversations is that we can continue them at the point where our predecessors left them. The only restriction I would place on such freedom, speaking as an intellectual historian, is that the conversations should be between interlocutors who were genuinely aware of each other’s existence and arguments. This rules out those encounters in which the historian acts as ominiscient host at a kind of celestial cocktail party at which those invited only speak to one another through the intermediation of the host -- indeed, can only speak through the host because they had no common language in life. I shall appear to break this rule in one respect only, namely by posing some counter-factual questions of my cast in some crucial instances. In other words, having established that a genuine conversation was taking place, I shall sometimes seek to reconstruct what their responses might have been when more direct evidence is unavailable. Interesting conversations are usually free from the coercive dualisms that tend to be an occupational hazard of much intellectual history devoted to political thinking. Whigs and Tories have long since been replaced by debating teams bearing more sophisticated labels such as contractarians and anti-contractarians, liberals versus classical republicans, civic humanists versus natural jurisprudentialists, and so on -- to mention only those dualisms that are current among students of the period and authors I shall be considering. Narratives that purport to be dealing with past social scientific conversations often attempt to enforce another powerful dichotomy -- between positive and normative propositions, between statements of fact and statements of value or rights. As already hinted, one of the negative conclusions I would like to emerge from these lectures is that none of my cast was foolish enough to allow their conversations to be constricted by these dualisms. That is something we have done to them in retrospect and for our own purposes, taxonomic or ideological.
If the reader reminds me of Malthus, whose “Essay on Population” appeared in 1798, I remind him that this work in its first form is nothing more than a schoolboyish, superficial plagiary of De Poe, Sir James Steuart, Townsend, Franklin, Wallace, &c., and does not contain a single sentence thought out by himself. The great sensation this pamphlet caused, was due solely to party interest. The French Revolution had found passionate defenders in the United Kingdom; the “principle of population,” slowly worked out in the eighteenth century, and then, in the midst of a great social crisis, proclaimed with drums and trumpets as the infallible antidote to the teachings of Condorcet, &c., was greeted with jubilance by the English oligarchy as the great destroyer of all hankerings after human development. Malthus, hugely astonished at his success, gave himself to stuffing into his book materials superficially compiled, and adding to it new matter, not discovered but annexed by him. Note further: Although Malthus was a parson of the English State Church, he had taken the monastic vow of celibacy — one of the conditions of holding a Fellowship in Protestant Cambridge University: “Socios collegiorum maritos esse non permittimus, sed statim postquam quis uxorem duxerit socius collegii desinat esse.” (“Reports of Cambridge University Commission,” p. 172.) This circumstance favourably distinguishes Malthus from the other Protestant parsons, who have shuffled off the command enjoining celibacy of the priesthood and have taken, “Be fruitful and multiply,” as their special Biblical mission in such a degree that they generally contribute to the increase of population to a really unbecoming extent, whilst they preach at the same time to the labourers the “principle of population.” It is characteristic that the economic fall of man, the Adam’s apple, the urgent appetite, “the checks which tend to blunt the shafts of Cupid,” as Parson Townsend waggishly puts it, that this delicate question was and is monopolised by the Reverends of Protestant Theology, or rather of the Protestant Church. With the exception of the Venetian monk, Ortes, an original and clever writer, most of the population theory teachers are Protestant parsons. For instance, Bruckner, “Théorie du Système animal,” Leyde, 1767, in which the whole subject of the modern population theory is exhausted, and to which the passing quarrel between Quesnay and his pupil, the elder Mirabeau, furnished ideas on the same topic; then Parson Wallace, Parson Townsend, Parson Malthus and his pupil, the arch-Parson Thomas Chalmers, to say nothing of lesser reverend scribblers in this line. Originally, Political Economy was studied by philosophers like Hobbes, Locke, Hume; by businessmen and statesmen, like Thomas More, Temple, Sully, De Witt, North, Law, Vanderlint, Cantillon, Franklin; and especially, and with the greatest success, by medical men like Petty, Barbon, Mandeville, Quesnay. Even in the middle of the eighteenth century, the Rev. Mr. Tucker, a notable economist of his time, excused himself for meddling with the things of Mammon. Later on, and in truth with this very “Principle of population,” struck the hour of the Protestant parsons. Petty, who regarded the population as the basis of wealth, and was, like Adam Smith, an outspoken foe to parsons, says, as if he had a presentiment of their bungling interference, “that Religion best flourishes when the Priests are most mortified, as was before said of the Law, which best flourisheth when lawyers have least to do.” He advises the Protestant priests, therefore, if they, once for all, will not follow the Apostle Paul and “mortify” themselves by celibacy, “not to breed more Churchmen than the Benefices, as they now stand shared out, will receive, that is to say, if there be places for about twelve thousand in England and Wales, it will not be safe to breed up 24,000 ministers, for then the twelve thousand which are unprovided for, will seek ways how to get themselves a livelihood, which they cannot do more easily than by persuading the people that the twelve thousand incumbents do poison or starve their souls, and misguide them in their way to Heaven.” (Petty: “A Treatise of Taxes and Contributions,” London, 1667, p. 57.) Adam Smith’s position with the Protestant priesthood of his time is shown by the following. In “A Letter to A. Smith, L.L.D. On the Life, Death, and Philosophy of his Friend, David Hume. By one of the People called Christians,” 4th Edition, Oxford, 1784, Dr. Horne, Bishop of Norwich, reproves Adam Smith, because in a published letter to Mr. Strahan, he “embalmed his friend David” (sc. Hume); because he told the world how “Hume amused himself on his deathbed with Lucian and Whist,” and because he even had the impudence to write of Hume: “I have always considered him, both in his life-time and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as, perhaps, the nature of human frailty will permit.” The bishop cries out, in a passion: “Is it right in you, Sir, to hold up to our view as ‘perfectly wise and virtuous,’ the character and conduct of one, who seems to have been possessed with an incurable antipathy to all that is called Religion; and who strained every nerve to explode, suppress and extirpate the spirit of it among men, that its very name, if he could effect it, might no more be had in remembrance?” (l. c., p. 8.) “But let not the lovers of truth be discouraged. Atheism cannot be of long continuance.” (P. 17.) Adam Smith, “had the atrocious wickedness to propagate atheism through the land (viz., by his “Theory of Moral Sentiments”). Upon the whole, Doctor, your meaning is good; but I think you will not succeed this time. You would persuade us, by the example of David Hume, Esq., that atheism is the only cordial for low spirits, and the proper antidote against the fear of death.... You may smile over Babylon in ruins and congratulate the hardened Pharaoh on his overthrow in the Red Sea.” (l. c., pp. 21, 22.) One orthodox individual, amongst Adam Smith’s college friends, writes after his death: “Smith’s well-placed affection for Hume ... hindered him from being a Christian.... When he met with honest men whom he liked ... he would believe almost anything they said. Had he been a friend of the worthy ingenious Horrox he would have believed that the moon some times disappeared in a clear sky without the interposition of a cloud.... He approached to republicanism in his political principles.” (“The Bee.” By James Anderson, 18 Vols., Vol. 3, pp. 166, 165, Edinburgh, 1791-93.) Parson Thomas Chalmers has his suspicions as to Adam Smith having invented the category of “unproductive labourers,” solely for the Protestant parsons, in spite of their blessed work in the vineyard of the Lord.
[Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, part vii, ch. 25, fn. 3]
I HAVE, I hope, raised a prima facie presumption that the Times was labouring under some delusion. It had omitted some element from its calculations, sufficient to distort the whole history of the struggle. The story, to use its own words, was "a mystery and a marvel;" it was a mystery and a marvel simply because the Times was not in possession of the one clue which led through the labyrinth. A foreigner looking on at a cricket-match is apt to think the evolutions of the players mysterious; and they will be enveloped in sevenfold mystery if he has a firmly preconceived prejudice that the ball has nothing whatever to do with the game. At every new movement, he must invent a new theory to show that the apparent eagerness to pick up the ball is a mere pretext; that no one really wants to hit it, or to catch it, or to throw it at the wickets; and that its constant appearance is due to a mere accident. He will be very lucky if some of his theories do not upset each other. As, in my opinion, the root of all the errors of the Times may be found in its views about slavery...From "The Times on the war: a historical study", by Leslie Stephen (London: William Ridgway, 1865), pp. 18-19.
How well I remember, after the first performance of Ibsen’s drama [A Doll's House] in London, with Janet Achurch as Nora, when a few of us collected outside the theater breathless with excitement. Olive Schreiner was there and Dolly Radford the poetess, Dr. Alice Corthorn, Honor Brooke (Stopford Brooke’s eldest daughter,) Mrs. Holman Hunt and Eleanor Marx. We were restive and impetuous and almost savage in our arguments. This was either the end of the world or the beginning of a new world for women. What did it mean? Was there hope or despair in the banging of that door? Was it life or death for women? Was it joy or sorrow for men? Was it revelation or disaster? We almost cantered home. I remember that I was literally prostrate with excitement because of the new revelation.Edith Lees / Ellis later wrote a novel, Attainment, with a lightly fictionalised account of the Brooke family in it, 'Stanley Evans' a barely disguised Stopford Brooke--who, I have now come to realise, was basically the Rev. Giles Fraser of his day (though he doesn't come out of the novel especially well). It's not, however, a terribly good novel, all things considered. Here is a typical passage, from one of the heroine's letters home, after she has recently fallen in with 'Robert Dane', i.e., William Morris:
I came to Stanley Evans to help to reform the masses. I must be on the verge of delirium, for I feel that the masses are reforming me. I am ashamed to go and offer my patronage any more to these desperately tired people. I try to shake myself free from the convictions that are creeping over me, but they won’t go. Who is Karl Marx, Daddy? What does he know about the poor?Bonus Kate Middleton-themed bit of trivia (since this has ended up being a post about Victorian feminist aunts): she's Harriet Martineau's great-great-great-great-great niece. (Ah--I see in fact that the Daily Telegraph has covered this already, reporting that there is 'more than a passing resemblance', apparently.)
As late as 1888 Henry Sidgwick, a follower of Mill, rose indignantly at the meeting of the British Association in Bath, to which I had just read the paper on The Transition to Social-Democracy, which was subsequently published; as one of the Fabian Essays, and declared that I had advocated nationalisation of land; that nationalisation of land was a crime; and that he would not take part in a discussion of a criminal proposal. With that he left the platform, all the more impressively as his apparently mild and judicial temperament made the incident so unexpected that his friends who had not actually witnessed it were with difficulty persuaded that it had really happened.Hat-tip, NK.
September 8. — Back from a very pleasant two days at Bath. The town revived wonderfully my childish recollections, with its villas picturesquely climbing upwards from the basin where the town lies. But forty years ago archaeology was less advanced; now one can see from the street an old Roman bath 60 or 80 feet long, forming part, as it were, of the modern baths, and impressively illustrating the historic continuity of the "health resort." The most interesting thing at my Section (Economic Science) was the field-day on Socialism which we had yesterday. The Committee had invited a live Socialist, red-hot "from the Streets," as he told us, who sketched in a really brilliant address the rapid series of steps by which modern society is to pass peacefully into social democracy. The node of the transition was supplied by urban ground-rents (it is interesting to observe that the old picture of the agricultural landlord-drone, battening on social prosperity to which he contributes nothing, is withdrawn for the present as too ludicrously out of accordance with the facts). It is now urban ground-rent that the municipal governments will have to seize, to meet the ever-growing necessity of providing work and wages for the unemployed. How exactly this seizure of urban rents was to develop into a complete nationalisation of industry I could not remember afterwards, but it seemed to go very naturally at the time. There was a peroration rhetorically effective as well as daring, in which he explained that the bliss of perfected socialism would only come by slow degrees, with lingering step and long delays, and claimed our sympathy for the noble-hearted men whose ardent philanthropy had led them to desire to cut these delays short by immediate revolution and spoliation. It was, indeed, a mistake on their part; the laws of social development did not admit of it; but if we were not quite lost in complacent selfishness we should join him in regretting that this shorter way with property was impossible. Altogether a noteworthy performance: — the man's name is Bernard Shaw: Myers says he has written books worth reading.Hat-tip, NK.