Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical and historical essays and Lays of ancient Rome online

. (page 20 of 150)
Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical and historical essays and Lays of ancient Rome → online text (page 20 of 150)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

counted evils."

Now, if sickness, pain, and death are not evils, we cannot understand why
it should be an evil that thousands should rise without knowing how they are
to subsist. The only evil of hunger is that it produces first pain, then sick-
ness, and finally death. If it did not produce these it would be no calamity.
If these are not evils, it is no calamity. We cannot conceive why it should be
a greater impeachment of the Divine goodness, that some men should not be
able to find food to eat, than that others should have stomachs which derive no
nourishment from food when they have eaten it. Whatever physical effects
want produces may also be produced by disease. Whatever salutary effects
disease may produce may also be produced by want. If poverty makes men
thieves, disease and pain often sour the temper and contract the hea-t.

We will propose a very plain dilemma. Either physical pain is an evil, or
it is not an evil. If it is evil, then there is necessary evil in the universe. If
it is not, why should the poor be delivered from it ?

Mr. Southey entertains as exaggerated a notion of the wisdom of govern-
ments as of their power. He speaks with the greatest disgust of the respect
now paid to public opinion. That opinion is, according to him, to he dis-
tnisted and dreaded ; its usurpation ought to be vigorously resisted, and the
practice of yielding to it is likely to ruin the country. To maintain police is,
according to him, only one of the ends of government. Its duties are patri-
archal and paternal. It ought to consider the moral discipline of the people
as its first object, to establish a religion, to train the whole community in
that religion, and to consider all dissenters as its own enemies.

" Nothing," saj's Sir Thomas, "is more certain than that religion is the basis upon whid»
civil government rests ; that from religion power derives its authorir>', laws their efficacy,
and both their zeal and wnction ; and it is necessary that this religion be established as for
the security of the state, and for the welfare of the people, who would otherwise be moved
to ?ad fro with every wind of doctrine. A state is secure in proportion as tb* people v


tttached to hs institnrions ; It is, therefore, the first and plainest rule of sound prlicy, thatth*
people be trained up in the way they should go. The stnte that net;lecis liiis prepares its
own destruction ; and they who train them in any other way are undermining JL Notiiin^
in ab.-tract science can be more certain than these positions arc."

" All of which," answers Montesinos, " are nevertheless denied by OBr professors of the arts
Babblative and Scribblative ; some in the audacity of evil designs, and others in the glorious
durance of impenetrable ignorance."

The greater part of the two volumes before us is merely an amplification of
ihese absurd paragraphs. What does Mr. Southey mean by saying that re-
ligion is demonstrably the basis of civil government ? He cannot surely mean
that men have no motives except those derived from religion for establishing
and supporting civil government, that no temporal advantage is derived from
civil government, that man would experience no temporal inconvenienc* from
living in a state of anarchy? If he allows, as we think he must allow, that it
is for the good of mankind in this world to have civil government, and that
the great majority of mankind have always thought it for their good in this
world to have civil government, we then have a basis for government quite
distinct from religion. It is true that the Christian religion sanctions govern-
ment as it sanctions everything which promotes the happiness and virtue of
our species. But we are at a loss to conceive in what sense religitm can be
said to be the basis of government, in which it is not also the basis of the
practices of eating, drinking, and lighting fires in cold weather. Nothing in
history is more certain than that government has existed, has received some
obedience and given some protection, in times in which it derived no support
firom religion, — in times in which there was no reHgion that influenced the
hearts and lives of men. It was not from dread of Tartarus, or belief in the
Elysian fields, that an Athenian wished to have some institutions which might
keep Orestes from filching his cloak, or Midias from breaking his head. " It
is from religion," says Mr. Southey, "that power derives its authority, and
laws their efficacy." From what religion does our power over the Hindoos
derive its authority, or the law in virtue of which we hang Brahmins its effi-
cacy ? For thousands of years civil government has existed in almost every
comer of tke world, — in ages of priestcraft, — in ages of fanaticism, — in nges ol
I.picurean indifference, — in ages of enlightened piety. 1 lowevcr pure or impure
the faith of the ,.»^ople might be ; whether they adored a beneficent or a malig-
nant power ; whether they thought the soul mortal or immortal, they have, as
soon as they ceased to be absolute savages, found out their need of civil
government, and instituted it accordingly. It is as universal as the practice
of cookery. Yet it is as certain, says Mr. Southey, as any thing in ab-
stract science, that government is founded on religion. We should like to
know what notion Mr. Southey has of the demonstrations of abstract science.
But a vague one, we suspect.

The proof proceeds. As religion is the basis of government, and as the
state is secure in proportion as the people are attached to its institutions, it is
therefore, says Mr. Southey, the first rule of policy that the government
shoidd train the people in the way in which they should go : and it is plain
that those who train them in any other way are undermining the state.

N ow, it does not appear to us to be the first object that people should always
believe in the established religion, and be attached to the established govern-
ment. A religion may be false. A government may be oppressive. And
whatever support government gives to false religions, or religion to oppressive
gavrrnnients, we consivler as a cleai evil.

The maxim that governments ought to train the people in the wav in
which they should go sounds well. But is there any reason for believing
that a government is more likely to lead the people in the ri^ht way than the


people to fall in*.o the right way of themselves? Have there not been

governments which were blind leaders of the blind? Are there not still such
governments? Can it be laid down as a general rule that the movement of
political and religious truth is rather downwards from the government to the
people than upwards from the people to the government? These are
questions which it is of importance to have clearly resolved. Mr. Southey
declaims against public opinion, which is now, he tells us, usurping supreme
power. Formerly, according to him, the laws governed ; now public opinion
governs. What are laws but expressions of the opinion of some class which
has power over the rest of the community? By what was the world ever
governed, but by the opinion of some person or persons? By what else can
it ever be governed? What are all systems, religious, political, or scientific,
but opinions resting on evidence more or less satisfactory ? The question is
not between human opinion, and some higher and more certain mode of
arriving at truth, but between opinion and opinion, — between the opinion of
one man and another, or of one class and another, or of one generation and
another. Public opinion is not infallible ; but can Mr. .Southey construct
any institutions wh>cK shall secure to us the guidance of an infallible opinion ?
Can Mr. Southey select any family, — any profession — any class, in short,
distin'niished by any plain b.i'ige from the rest of the community, whose
opinion is more likely to be just than this much-abused public opinion?
Would he choose the peers, for example? Or the two hundred tallest men
in the country? Or the poor Knights of Windsor? Or children who are
born with cawls, seventh sons of seventh sons ? We cannot suppose that he
would recommend popular election ; for that is merely an appeal to public
opinion. And to say that society ought to be governed by the opinion of the
wisest and best, though true, is useless. Whose opinion is to decide who
are the wisest and best ?

Mr. Southey and many other respectable people seem to think that when
they have once proved the moral and religious training of the people to be a
most important object, it follows, of course, that it is an object which the
government ought to pursue. They forget that we have to consider, not
merely the goodness of the end, but also the fitness of the means. Neither
in the natural nor in the political body have all members the same office.
There is surely no contradiction in saying that a certain section of the com-
munity may be quite competent to protect the persons and property of the
rest, yet quite unfit to direct our opinions, or to superintend our private habits.

So strong is the interest of a ruler to protect his subjects against all depre-
dations and outrages except his own, — so clear and simple are the means by
which this end is to be effected, that men are probably better off under the
worst governments in the world than they would be in a state of anarchy.
Even when the appointment of magistrates has been left to chance, as in the
Italian Republics, things have gone on better than they would have done, if
there had been no magistrates at all, and every man had done what seemed
ri"ht in his owni eyes. But we see no reason for thinking that the opinions
of the magistrate are more likely to be right than those of any other man.
None of the modes by which nilers are appointed, — popular election, the
accident of the lot, or the accident of birth, — afford, as far as we can perceive,
much security for their being wiser than any of their neighbours. The chance
of their being wiser than all their neighbours together is still smaller. Now
we cannot conceive how it can be laid down, that it is the duty and the right
of one class to direct the opinions of another, unless it can be proved that th?
former class is more likely to form just opinions than the latter.

The duties of government would be, as Mr. Sout' ey says that they &!ter at the close of
1639, represents the Church of Lnj^dand as in the highest and most palmy
state. So elTeclually had the government pursued that policy which Mr.
Southey wishes to see revived that there was scarcely the least ap[>earance of
dissent. Most of the bishops stated .'hat all was well amung tlicir fltH.k'i,
Seven or eij^ht persons in the diocese of retcrborou^jh had seciutd efractory
to the Church, but had made ample submission. In Norfolk and hjffjlk all
whom there been re.ison to suspect had made profcssiun of conformity,
and appeared to observe it strictly. It is confe^^L•d that there was a liillc
diflTiculiy in bringing some of the vulgar in SufTolk to take the sacrament at
the rails in the chancel. This was the only open instance of non-conformity
which the vigilant eye of Laud could find in all the dioceses of his twenty-one
suffragans, on the very eve of a revolution in which primate and Church, and
monaich and monarchy, were to perish together.

At which time would Mr. Southey prunuunce the Constitution more secure
— in 1639, when Laud presented this report to Charles, or now, when thou-
sands of meetings openly collect mdlions of dissenters, when designs against
the tithes are openly avowed, when books attacking not only the establish-
ment, but the first principles of Christianity, are openly sold in the streets?
The signs of discontent, he tells us, are stronger in England now than in
France when the States-General met ; and hence he wuuld have us infer that
a revolution like that of France may be at hand. Does he not know that the
danger of states is to be estimated, not by what breaks out of the public mind,
but by what stays in it? Can he conceive anything more terrible than the
situation of a government which rules without apprehension over a people of
hypocrites, — wliich is flattered by the press and cursed in the inner chambers,
— which exults in the attachment and obedience of its subjects, and knows not
that those subjects are leagued against it in a free-masonry of hatred, the sign
of which is every day conveyed in the glance of ten thousand eyes, the pressure
of ten thousand hands, and the tone of ten thousand voices ? Profound and
ingenious policy ! Instead of curing the disease, to remove those symptoms
by which alone its nature can be known ! To leave the serpent his deadly
sting, and deprive him only of his warning rattle !

\Vhen tlie people whom Charles had so assiduously trained in the good way
tad rewarded his paternal care by cutting off his head, a new kind of training
came into fashion. Another govemme-jit arose, which, like the former, con-
siderea religion as its surest basis, and the religious discipline of the people as
its first duty. Sanguinary laws were enacted against hbertinism ; profane
pictures were burned ; drapery was put on indecorous statues ; the theatres
were shut up ; fast-days were numerous : and the Parliament resolved that no
person should be admitted into any public employment unless the House
should be first satisfied of his vital godliness. We know what was the end of
this training. We know that it ended in impiety, in filthy and heartless sen-
suality, in the dissolution of all ties of honour and morality. We know that
at this very day scriptural phrases, scriptural names, perhiips some scriptural
doctrines, excite disgust and ridicule, solely because they are associated with
the austerity of that period.

Thus has the experiment of training the people in established forms of
religion been twice tried in England on a large scale, once by Charles
and Laud, and once by the Puritans. The High Tories of our time still
ealcrtain many of the feel'ngs and opinionf of Charles and Laud, tbo:gb


In a mitigated form ; nor is it flifficult to see that the heirs of the Puritans .ne
siill amongst us. It would be desirable that each of these parlies should
icmember how little advaiiujjo or honour it formerly derived from llie clv>scst
allianc with power, — that it fell by the support of rulers, and rose by their
opposition, — that of the two .-ystems, that in which the peoide were at any
time l)€in^ drilled, was always at that lime the iinpopulr;r sy-tem,— that tiie
training of the High Church ended in the reign of the Puritans, and the train*
iiig of the Puritans in the reigii of the harlots.

This was quite natural. Nothing is so galling and detestable to a people
not broken in from the birth, as a paternal, or, in other words, a nieddlinj^
government, — a government which tells tliem what to read, and say, and eat,
and drink, and wear. Our fathers could not bear it two hundred years ago ;
and we are not more patient than they. Mr. Souiiiey thinks that the yoke of
(he Church is dropping off, because it is loose. We feel convinced that it is
borne only because it is easy, and that, in the instant in which an attempt is
made to tighten it, it will be flung away. It will be neither the first nor the
strongest yoke that has been broken asunder and trampled under foot in the
day of the vengeance of England.

How far Mr. Southey would have the government carry its measures for
training the people in the doctrines of the Church, we are unable to discover.
In one passage Sir Thomas More .asks with great vehcn»ence,

"Is it possible that your laws should suffer the unbelievers to exist
as a party ?

" Vetitum est adeo sccleris nihil?"

Montesinos answers. ** They avow themselves in defiance of the laws. The
fa.shionable doctrine which the press at this time maintains is, that this is a
matter in which the laws ought not to interfere, every man having a right,
both to form what opinion he plexses upon religious subjects, and to promul-
gate that opinion."

It is clear, therefore, that Mr. Southey would not give full and perfect tolcra*
tion to infidelity. In another passage, however, he observes with some truth,
though too swecpingly, that "any degree of intolerance short of that full extent
which the Papal Church exercises where it has power, acts upon the opinions
which it is intended to suppress, like pruning upon vigorous plants ; they
grow the stronger for it." These two passages put together woidd lead us to
the conclusion that, in Mr. Southey's opinion, the utmost severity ever em-
ployed by the Roman Catholic Church in the days of its greatest power, ought
to be employed against unbelievers in England ; in plain words, that Carlile
and his shopmen ought to be burned in Smithfield, and that every person who,
when callefi upon, should decline to make a solemn profession of Christianity,
ought to sutler the same fate. We do not, however, believe that Mr. Southey
would recommend such a course, though his language would, in the case of
tny other writer, iustify us in supposing this to be his meaning. His opinions
form no system at all. He never sees, at one glance, more of a question than
will famish matter for one flowing and well-tunied sentence ; so that it would
be the height of unfairness to charge him personally with holding a doctrine,
merely because that doctrine is deducible, though by the closest and most
accurate reasoning, from the premises which he has laid down. We are,
therefore, left completely in the dark as to Mr. Southey's opinions about
toleration. Immeiliately after censuring the government for not punishinj
infidels, he procec-fls to discuss the question of the Catholic disabilities — now,
thank Go

Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical and historical essays and Lays of ancient Rome → online text (page 20 of 150)