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through the pressure of severe suffering, or of some vehement want, or at least, from the perception of some great evil or deficiency. Widely as the vulgar are often mistaken as to the causes of any distress, or as to the remedies to be sought, the distress itself is real, when they aim at any great revolution. If an infant beats its nurse, although its acts are as irrational as those of a mad dog, you may be assured that it is really in pain. And when men are suffering from a famine or pestilence, though it is absurd for them to seek to obtain relief by establishing a new kind of senate or parliament, or by setting up a dictator, or by slaughtering all people of property, still the evil itself is real, and is keenly felt; and it is that, and not a mere love of change, for change sake, that drives them to take the most irrational steps.
And when evils are really occasioned by absurd and oppressive laws and tyrannical governments, it is right and rational to aim at a change, though the changes which an infuriated populace does bring about will usually be both irrational and wrong-will overthrow the good along with the evil, and will be pregnant with worse evils than they seek to remedy. The ancient despotism of France, detestable as it was, did not cause more misery in a century than the Reign of Terror did in a year. And, universally, the longer and the more grievously any people have been oppressed, the more violent and extravagant will be the reaction. And the people will often be in the condition of King Lear, going to and fro between his daughters, and deprived first of half his attendants, and then of half the remainder, then of all.
Talleyrand foretold a revolution in England (similar to that of France) at the time when the agitation about the ReformBill was going on. He even said that it was begun; and claimed to be himself well-acquainted with revolutions. But it is plain he did not understand the difference between the English People and the French; and indeed that he was illacquainted with human nature; not understanding that the violence of any popular movement will be proportioned to the degree in which men have been degraded and brutalized, and maddened, by long oppression. If the English had been for one or two centuries trampled down as the mass of the French Population had been, and if, moreover, the religious influence exercised on them (as far as they were under any at all) had tended to exclude them from the study of the Scriptures, then, no doubt, they would have rushed into the most frightful excesses. As it was, they broke several windows; but there were probably not so many panes of glass demolished in all, as there were heads cut off in a month, during the worst periods of the French revolution.
1 On this subject there are some excellent observations in an Article in the Edinburgh Review (Oct. 1842, pp. 11, 12, 13) on Alison's History.
Yet at that time, and also at the beginning of the French revolution, there were many in England who were completely panic-struck, and fully believed that we were on the eve of just such a state of things as then existed in France. They were like a man who seeing a neighbouring cottage, of wood and thatch, in a blaze, thinks he can never sufficiently deluge with water his own house, of brick and stone.
Some persons, fewer in number, but several of them men of decided ability, committed the converse mistake, of confidently anticipating, at the beginning of the first revolution in France, an abundance of unalloyed advantages to that Country : and they were as much surprised as horrified at the actual course of events.
Both parties equally manifested an ignorance either of human nature, or of the circumstances of the two countries respectively. The one party were soon woefully undeceived by the events : of the other, some are still to be found who cling to the belief, that, but for the war, all the horrors of the French revolution would have taken place in England.
But although it is true that innovations in important matters are never sought through mere love of change for its own sake, but for relief from some evil, the danger is not the less, of rash and ill-advised innovations; because evils, greater or less, and more or less of imperfection, always do exist in all human institutions administered by fallible men.
And what is more, there is seldom any kind of evil that does not admit of a complete and effectual remedy, if we are careless about introducing some different, and, perhaps, greater evil in its place. It is seldom very difficult to dam up a stream that incommodes us; only we should remember that it will then force for itself a new channel, or else spread out into an
unwholesome marsh. The evils of contested elections, the bribery, the intimidation, and the deception which they often give rise to, are undeniable; and they would be completely cured by suppressing the House of Commons altogether, or making the seats in it hereditary ; but we should not be gainers by the exchange. There are evils belonging specifically to a pure monarchy, and to an oligarchy, and to a democracy, and to a mixed government: and a change in the form of government would always remedy one class of evils, and introduce another. And under all governments, civil and ecclesiastical, there are evils arising from the occasional incapacity or misconduct of those to whom power is entrusted; evils which might be at once remedied by introducing the far greater evil of anarchy, and leaving every man to do as is right in his own eyes.' There are inconveniences, again, from being governed by fixed laws, which must always bear hard on some particular cases; but we should be no gainers by leaving every judge to act like a Turkish cadi, entirely at his own discretion. And the like holds good in all departments of life. There are careless and inefficient clergymen : abolish endowments, and resort to what is called the voluntary system, and you will have no inactive ministers; only 'preaching' will, as Paley observes, “become a mode of begging: and a minister whose flock consists of persons all engaged in some one bad practice, such as smugglers, rebels, slave-dealers, or wreckers, will find that he is a man hired to keep their conseienee quiet in a wrong course. This also may be cured by prohibiting the ministers receiving any contributions; only, this will confine the ministry to men of fortune. And so of the rest.
1 It has been urged, as if in answer to this, that there are, under the voluntary system, conscientious ministers, who would submit to anything rather than suppress important truths. Heaven forbid I should doubt this! But let one of these conscientious ministers try the experiment of preaching Abolitionist-doctrine in a SlaveState; and he will soon find his stipend withdrawn, and a successor appointed. If the congregation find one man not teaching what pleases them, they will look out for another who will. [See Mrs. Stowe's • DRED.') Far be it from us to reproach those who, in default of endowments, receive or pay wages : for the labourer is worthy of his HIRE.' Only, let them not reproach others for having what they call a • hired ministry ;' meaning what is in reality an unhired; that is, those who are supported by endowments. (See a Letter to Mr. James, in the Remains of Bp. Dickinson.] One Reviewer however remarks that such a state of things as I have alluded to, though it may possibly exist somewhere, certainly cannot be found in any part of the British Empire. Happy ignorance !
One of the greatest evils produced by the thorough-going Reformer is that the alarm which he excites is the great strengthener of the ultra-conservative principle. "See what we shall come to if we listen to these lovers of change! This is one of the infinite number of cases in which evils are brought on by their contraries : in short, by a reaction.
The mass of mankind rush eagerly into whatever extreme happens to be the fashion of the day; like planks floating to and fro with the tides. Those a few degrees above them, see and try to avoid an error, but take no precautions against a contrary extreme. •Dum vitant stulti vitia, in contraria currunt.' They are like a mariner sailing and rowing with all his might as far as possible against a flood-tide, and never thinking that an ebb is to come. A wise man always anticipates reactions, and takes his measures accordingly. But I have already dwelt upon this point in the remarks on 'Superstition.'
It should be remembered, then, that though pure conservatism is a folly, and though it is true that men do not covet innovation, as such, with equal blindness, still there is as much folly, and as much danger, in a blindly reformatory principle. For though men do not seek a change except when they perceive some evil, inconvenience, or imperfection, the thorough-going Reformer always will find some—not unreal-ground of complaint, in the working of every institution. ·Erunt vitia donec homines.' And if every house is to be pulled down and rebuilt, till we have got one that is perfect, and, moreover, that every one will think such, we shall be as constantly in brick and mortar as if we did delight in pulling down for its own sake.
And we should remember, also, that custom will often blind one to the good as well as to the evil effects of any longestablished system. The agues engendered by a marsh (like that ancient one which bore the name and surrounded the city of Camarina), and which have so long been common as to be little regarded, may not be its only effects: it may be also a defence against an enemy. The Camarinæans having drained the swamp, their city became healthy, but was soon after besieged and taken. The preventive effects, indeed, whether good or evil, of any long-established system are hardly ever duly appreciated. But though no law or system, whether actually existing or proposed, can be expected to be unexceptionable, or should have its defects pointed out without any notice of corresponding advantages, it is most important to examine every measure, whether new or old, and to try it on its intrinsic merits; always guarding against the tendency to acquiesce without inquiry in the necessity of any existing practice. In short, we should, on the one hand, not venture rashly on untrodden paths without a careful survey of the country, and, on the other hand, to be on our guard against following, in confident security, the track of our own footsteps.' ?
The two kinds of absurdity here adverted to may be compared respectively to the acts of two kinds of irrational animals, a moth, and a horse. The moth rushes into a flame, and is burned: and the horse obstinately stands still in a stable that is on fire, and is burned likewise. One may often meet with persons of opposite dispositions, though equally unwise, who are accordingly prone respectively to these opposite errors: the one partaking more of the character of the moth, and the other of the horse. This comparison, I may add, suggests a practical rule. The only way to lead a horse out of a burning stable, is to put on him his accustomed gear; the saddle and bridle, if a saddle-horse, or the collar, if a draught-horse; and then, by the force of association, he will submit to be led out. So also, a man of the disposition alluded to, will the more readily comply with a suggestion, if put into the form, as far as may be, of his accustomed practice. He may be led, if put into his usual gear.
The opposite course to this is taken by not a few, who have a passion to be accounted original. They exaggerate the novelty of anything they propose, and put whatever they say into the most paradoxical form, as if on purpose to make people stare. They must be always broaching something that is new; or at least, as the phrase is, putting old things in a new light.' But if your object be to instruct, convince, or persuade, rather than to astonish, you will find it quite as often advisable to put new things in an old light.
Bacon's maxim, therefore, is most wise, to make a stand upon the ancient way, and look about us to discover what is the
1 See Appendix E. to Lectures on Political Economy, p. 225.