Page images
PDF
EPUB

Edgeworth, in her Juvenile Tales, has admirable illustrated the consequence of yielding to such fears; Tarlton in vain strove to persuade the weak Lovett to break bounds, by appeals to his courage, but when he hinted that his refusal would be attributed to his dependence on the strong-minded Hardy, the poor boy sprang over the wall with nervous alacrity. This dread of imitation often leads to the neglect of valuable suggestions which might be derived from the tactics and example of adversaries. 'Fas est et ab hoste doceri,' is a maxim more frequently quoted than acted on, and yet its wisdom is confirmed by every day's experience. A casual remark made long ago to me by your Lordship contains the rationale of the whole matter—' It is ignorance, and not knowledge, that rejects instruction; it is weakness, and not strength, that refuses cooperation.' (Page 77.)

'In bestowing office, and in selecting instruments, a man anxious to do his duty must take into account both the kind and degree of fitness in the candidates. Of the degrees of intelligence the world is a very incompetent judge, and of the differences in kind, it knows little or nothing. With the vulgar everything is good, bad, or middling; and if three persons are worthy and intelligent men, you will find that the preference you show to any one of them is considered to be the result of mere caprice. For instance, you know that the clerical requisites for an agricultural parish are different from those necessary in a manufacturing district, and that both are dissimilar to the qualifications for a chaplaincy to a collegiate institution, or for a prebendal stall . Your choice will be guided by these considerations; but, beyond doubt, you will find very few who can appreciate or even understand such motives. . . . Now, this want of discriminating power and knowledge in the spectators of your career, will by no means induce them to suspend the exercise of their fallacious judgment; on the contrary, opinions will be pronounced most positively by those who are most wanting in opportunity to discover, and in capacity to estimate, your motives. But the erroneous judgments of others must not lead you to be suspicious of your own; the value of the tree will be finally known by its fruits,—it would be folly to neglect its traiiu'ng, or to grub it up, because people ignorant of the adaptations of soil to growth, tell you that another tree in the same place would be more useful or more ornamental. You know both the soil and the plant—the vast majority of your censurers will know nothing of the one, and very little of the other.' (Page 174.)

'When thou changest tMne opinion or course, profess it plainly, and declare it, together with the reasons that moved tltee to change.'

Considering that the course Bacon here recommends is not only the most ingenuous and dignified, but also the most prudent with a view to men's approbation, it is wonderful how often this maxim is violated. Many persons will rather back out of an opinion or course of conduct, by the most awkward shifts, than frankly acknowledge a change of mind. They seem to dread nothing so much as a suspicion of what they call 'inconsistency;' that is, owning oneself to be wiser to-day than yesterday.

In the backwoods of America, men have a mode of catching the wild turkey by taking advantage of that bird's silliness. On the side of a gently-sloping bank they construct a kind of pen covered in at top, and having a passage into it on the lower side, wide enough to admit a turkey. They strew corn so as to allure them; and when the turkeys have been thus enticed into the pen, they are imprisoned there through their own stupidity. Instead of simply turning back and walking out as they had walked in, they vainly endeavour to escape by beating against the sides of the pen, till the trapper comes up and seizes them. Many men are so much of turkeys that they are imprisoned, as it were, in some error which they cannot bring themselves to retract.

It has been pointed out in the Elements of Rhetoric? that there is no inconsistency (though the term is often improperly so applied) in a change of opinion, provided it be frankly avowed; since this is what any sensible man, conscious of being fallible, holds himself always ready for, if good reasons can be shown. Indeed, any one who, while not claiming infallibility, yet resolves never to alter his opinion, is, in that, manifestly inconsistent. For, real inconsistency is the holding—either expressly or impliedly—two opposite opinions at the same time; as, for instance, proclaiming the natural right of all men to freedom, and yet maintaining a system of slavery; or condemning disingenuous conduct in one party, which, in the opposite party, you vindicate; or confessing yourself fallible, and yet resolving to be immutable.

1 Part ii. chap. iii. sec. 5.

It is remarkable that a change of opinions is sometimes falsely imputed to a man in high office, or otherwise influential, as a device of party-craft, or to cover a change in the way of treating him. When some Party has been vainly trying to hunt down (as the phrase is) by calumny and vexatious opposition, one who refuses to join them, and they find that their assaults instead of prevailing, rather recoil on themselves, or perhaps that he may be a useful help to them in some object, the most crafty of them will sometimes give out that he has changed, and is converted, —or in a fair way to be converted—to their party:—that he has 'modified his views,' and is becoming (suppose) 'Conservative,' or 'Liberal,' or 'Orthodox,' or 'Evangelical,' &c., as the case may be. Thus they escape the shame (as the vulgar account it) of frankly owning that they were wrong in their former persecution. And, moreover, they perhaps hope actually to win him to their party; or at least, to persuade the multitude that they have done so; and thus enlist at least the influence of his name in their cause.

And here it is worth observing that any one who has been brought up in a certain system, true or false (whether of religion, politics, or philosophy), and has never heard, or never listened to anything against it, will not be unlikely, when he does come to hear objections, to change his views. Any one, again, who has attentively examined the arguments on opposite sides, and has thereupon made up his mind, will be much less likely to change. Tet many instances do occur of such change taking place. But if this does take place,—if a man abandons the opinion he had deliberately embraced and long held,—then there is little fear, or hope, of his changing for the worse, or for the better. You have a fair chance of converting one who has never yet heard both sides: you have much less, with one who has heard both sides, and embraced the wrong: but still, you have some chance even with him. But with one who has deliberately embraced the right, and then abandoned it, your labour will generally be quite lost.

with Brutns. The hatred of an enemy is bad enough, but no earthly passion equals in its intensity the hatred of a friend,'

(Page 72-)

* There are people who believe that the voice of censure should never be heard in an interview, and that you have no right to rebuke presumption, check interference, or make men conscious of their weakness. You are to affect a humility, by which you tacitly confess yourself destitute of moral judgment. But you must remember that, in interviews connected with your official station, you appear for the most part as an adjudicator; an appeal is made to you, as holding the balance of justice, and also as wielder of its sword. 'A righteous humility,' says the author of the Statesman, 'will teach a man never to pass a sentence in a spirit of exultation: a righteous courage will teach him never to withhold it from fear of being disliked. Popularity is commonly obtained by a dereliction of the duties of censure, under a pretext of humility.' (Page 256.)

'There is great danger of praise from men in high place being identified with promise; and compliment tortured into grounds of hope,—not always hope of promotion, but hope of iuiluencing promotion. Your approbation warmly expressed will be deemed to have a value beyond the mere expression of your opinion; and though you expressly guard against raising expectations, you will nevertheless raise them. A late Chancellor, to whom more books were sent and dedicated than he could possibly have read if his life had been prolonged to antediluvian duration, by the complimentary answers he sent to the authors, gathered round him a host of expectants, and produced a mass of suffering which would scarcely be credited save by those who were personally acquainted with it. Kindness and cordiality of manner are scarcely less pleasing to the feelings than express compliment, and they are the more safe for both parties, since they atford no foundation for building up expectations; a species of architecture sufficiently notorious for the weakness of the foundations that support an enormous superstructure.' (Page 163.)

'Severity breedethfear.'

'It may be doubted whether it is politic, where a man has wholly lost your esteem, and has no chance of regaiuing it, to let him know that his doom is fixed irrevocably. The hope of recovering his place in your estimation may be a serviceable check on his conduct; and if he supposes you to be merely angry with him (a mistake commonly made by vulgar minds), he may hope and try to pacify you by an altered course, trusting that in time you will forget all. In such a case yon need not do or say anything deceitful; you have only to leave him in his error. On the other hand, if he finds that you have no resentment, but that your feeling is confirmed disesteem, and that the absence of all anger is the very consequence of such a feeling— for you cannot be angry where you do not mean to trust again —he may turn out a mischievous hater.

'On the whole, however, the frank, open-hearted course is the more politic in the long run. If you use towards all whom you really esteem, a language which in time will come to bo fully understood by all, from its being never used except where you really esteem, then, and then only, you will deserve and obtain the full reliance of the worthy. They will feel certain that they possess your esteem, and that if they do anything by which it may be forfeited, it will be lost for ever. To establish such a belief is the best means of preserving the peace and purity of your circle; and it is worth while risking some enmity to effect so desirable an object.

'It must, however, be observed that it is equally politic and christian-like to avoid breaking with anybody. While you purchase no man's forbearance by false hopes of his regaining your esteem, you must not drive him into hostility through fear of your doing him a mischief. The rule of Spartan warfare is not inapplicable to the conduct of a christian statesman; never give way to an assailing enemy,—never pursue a flying foe further than is necessary to secure the victory. Let it be always understood that it is safe to yield to yon, and you will remove the worst element of resistance, despair of pardon.' (Pages 72-76.)

'Be not too remembering of thy place in conversation and private answers to suitors'

There may, however, be an error on the opposite side.— 'Men are often called affable and no way proud,' (says Dr. Cooke Taylor in the work already quoted,) ' who really exhibit a vulgar sort of pride in taking liberties, and talking to their inferiors

« PreviousContinue »