Page images

business of the world, but it is absolutely injurious in some respects. Young people very often manifest a readiness to acquire knowledge merely from a certain docility of mind, which makes few inquiries, is easily satisfied with what the teacher tells it, and never cares to take an original and independent view of what is taught. These qualifications are exactly opposed to those which are wanted in the conduct of business. Putting aside, however, for the moment, any conjectures about the matter, I venture to assert that much of the greatest and the best work in the world has been done by those who were anything but docile in their youth. This bold statement applies, I believe, not only to the greatest men in Science, Literature, and Art, but to the greatest men in official life, in diplomacy, and in the general business of the world. If I were asked to point out the men who, in my experience of public affairs, have shown the most remarkable competency for the conduct of business, they would, in several instances, prove to be men of very limited education. One of the principal qualifications for the conduct of business is decisiveness; and surely no one will contend that decisiveness is, of necessity, promoted by the acquisition of much knowledge in youth.

• What I have said above applies principally to men who are to be chosen for the permanent Civil Service of the country. The statesmen who have to take a more prominent part, whose business it is to argue, to explain, if possible to be eloquent, may doubtless be greatly benefited by an education of the highest kind.

"There is also another point on which I would guard my previous statements. When I say that I entirely object to competitive examination, I do not mean that there should be no examination at all for the candidates for office; but it need not be competitive. There are certain primary requisites, the existence of which may be perfectly ascertained by examination. For example, there are qualifications of the most elementary kind in reading, writing (alas ! how seldom attained), and arithmetic, which may well be insisted upon. I would also add, that the digesting of documents, and the making abstracts from then, are real tests of the fitness of men for official life. But when you insist upon acquirements in history, or Latin, or mathematics, the question is entirely different.

• There is another point I would urge. Some of the greatest men never do their best until they have realities to deal with. It is in vain to tell them that the acquisition of knowledge is a reality. They will persevere in being playful, indolent, and disinclined to acquire knowledge. Once, however, bring these men into real life: once show them that what they do may have serious consequences, and they are sobered as it were. They exert all their powers, and are often found to be the most consummate managers of human affairs.

• The foregoing remarks have been directed against the system of competitive examination. That system has, however, prevailed. The only thing now to be done, is to implore all those who have power in the matter to resist this system being carried to its utmost extent; to make exceptions wherever they can, and to reserve for themselves some power of choice.' (Pp. 62-7.)

After all, in treating of the great subject of Government, the fundamental truth to be borne in mind is, that its primary object, to which all others are subordinate, is to improve the condition of the people, to promote their well-being, to raise their moral and intellectual character, and to increase their virtue and happiness. There is an immense deal of contention in the world—there has been of late years much contention in this country — as to the political institutions and forms of government by which these objects can be most surely and swiftly accomplished. People are apt to mistake these changes in the mechanism of government for the functions which government itself has to discharge; and they throw into these disputes, which are generally mere struggles for party or personal power, much of that energy and passion which it would be well to direct against the real evils of society, such as ignorance, barbarism, and vice. But it is by the test of utility, that is, of the positive service done to the collective interests of the nation, that all government must be tried at last. In point of political freedom the institutions of this country leave not much to be desired, for no nation has ever carried the liberty of thought, speech, and action to so great a length without compromising its internal security and peace. England happily combines at present a great amount of freedom with a degree of social order and prosperity which has been strengthened by that freedom. It is rather in the wide field of social improvement that the task of future statesmen lies, and that task cannot be performed with effect save by the authority of the Government and of Parliament, acting on behalf of the people whom they represent. Mr. Helps contends that to carry out the greatest improvement, there is not the slightest necessity to change the form of things, but rather to apply the forces and the machinery of government we already possess, and to build upon our old foundations.

• To convince a statesman of what good might be done by the improvement of that which already exists, I have sometimes thought that if one could persuade him to take a walk with one in London, and its suburbs, or in any other thickly populated town, what opportunities one might show him for improvement of the kind that I mean, both in legislation and in administrative action.

There are huge factories rising up on the banks of rivers, the resuse of which will, for certain, whether openly or furtively, be shot down into the stream, and will thereby inevitably cause great mischief to all those who dwell on its banks and have to drink of its waters. This statesman would see portions of land about to be occupied by mean and unhealthy dwellings, which land ought to be under the control of the government for the public good. He would see volumes of smoke



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

issuing from factories, and begriming great public buildings for which he has consented that the nation should pay large sums of money ; and it might be suggested to him, that this smoke, though one of the greatest evils of modern civilisation, is at the same time one of the most easily preventible. One might then take him into the most densely populated parts of the town; and show him how absolutely abominable are all the primary arrangements for habitation, which have to be endured by thousands, and tens of thousands, of his poorer fellow-countrymen. The remedies for these evils need not be sought for in forms of legislation, which will encounter much opposition by evoking political passions or prejudices. They lie within the placid realm of the improver.

'I do not undervalue the great political measures which remove political disabilities, and are framed with a view to making large masses of our fellow-countrymen more contented with imperial rule. But it is improvement in those minor matters before enumerated, which will make life more comely, and which will create good citizens as well as good men.

• There are, at this moment, vast schemes for change and reform brought forward by men who have, as yet, but little political standing, or political weight in the State. Without undervaluing the labours of these men, or depreciating the objects they have in view, one can hardly doubt, that practised statesmen look upon these outsiders somewhat as quacks, while they consider themselves to be the regular practitioners. But let statesmen take this fact to heart; that it is only from their failures, that these men, whom perhaps they affect to despise, derive their chief influence; and I contend that these failures are mainly to be attributed to the negligence of statesmen, in improving the condition of the poorer classes by measures, not of great political, but of immense social urgency.

The statesmen of almost every country might afford to despise the efforts of the most democratic agitators, if the welfare of the common people, in what are regarded as comparatively minor matters, had been sufficiently attended to. That man is seldom inclined to be clamorously destructive, who has a comfortable home, and who finds that the legislation of his country is directed, not merely to the redress of political grievances, but concerns itself with all that can free his condition from whatever is ignoble, unhealthy, and unbecoming.

'If these minor improvements, when tried, had been found to fail if experience had proved that men whose homes had been made more comfortable, and whose well-being had been looked after in every way by their superiors, had still continued to be agitators, or the prey of agitators—we might conclude that that was not the way to satisfy mankind. But the experiment has been tried and proved to be successful. Wherever, and whenever a great manufacturer, or other large employer of labour, has had somewhat of the spirit of the true statesman in him, and has striven to create a happy and contented population in the neighbourhood of his works, he has uniformly, as far as my knowledge goes, succeeded in doing so. Now, if statesmen would place a similar object in view, for the whole of the labouring population, they also might meet with similar success. And the means by which


they might attain that success lie rather in the way of improving the legislation that has already been begun with that view, than in bringing forward great measures of political or social change.

'I am by no means anxious to contend that there are not many subjects for political action, which need the reformer in preference to the improver. But I maintain, that an enormous field of mere improvement lies before those who would have the modesty to limit their political action to improvement. That “ last infirmity of noble minds," the desire for fame, which, however, I would characterise as the first infirmity of minds ignoble as well as noble, has, in no branch of human life, effected more mischief than in politics. I have scarcely a hope of increasing the number of improvers; but I think that they might be consoled for the want of fame attendant upon their labours, by their fully appreciating what an extensive sphere of usefulness lies before them.' (Pp. 155-60.)

It is somewhat inconsistent with the general tenor of Mr. Helps' work, which, as we have remarked, relates almost exclusively to civil administration rather than to political government, that he has introduced into his fourth chapter some remarks of rather a perfunctory character on a subject of such vast political importance and difficulty as the constitution of a Second Chamber in the Legislature, and particularly of the House of Lords. We shall not follow him at the close of this article upon ground so strewn with burning ashes; and we shall confine ourselves to one or two observations. To assert with Mr. Helps that the House of Lords as at present constituted does not do the work or even provide the restraint which a Second Chamber should do or should provide, is to beg the whole question. For we would ask those who desire to modify the constitution of the House of Lords, what it is they desire to do? To make that body more powerful, or less powerful ? to increase its claims to check and resist the will of the House of Commons, or to diminish them? To those who desire to strengthen the House of Lords, we would observe that it has already the weight derived from continually attracting to itself many of the finest intellects and most experienced statesmen and lawyers in the country, and that if its power were increased, the danger arising from a collision with the House of Commons would be materially increased also. There cannot be two estates of the realm exactly equivalent in force. To those who desire to weaken the House of Lords by reforming it, we would observe that it has now exactly the amount of power which is useful to arrest a precipitate decision, though it be quite unavailing to oppose the deliberate will of the nation. Lastly, there are those who condemn the House of Lords because it is an aristocratic assembly; but would the influence VOL. CXXXVI. NO. CCLXXVII.


of the heads of the great houses of England be diminished if instead of sitting by themselves in a separate chamber, with limited powers, they were returned, as they would be returned, to sit on the benches of that Assembly which is practically in this country supreme? The influence of Lord Derby or Lord Salisbury, of Lord Kimberley or the Duke of Argyll, sitting in the great popular Council would be far greater than it ever can be in the assembly of their peers. The present constitution of the House of Lords tends rather to circumscribe than to augment their real power. It excludes the great heads of families and the clergy from the House of Commons. It removes them from the principal arena of contest, and it confines them to a highly useful, but comparatively inglorious function in the State, which many a young and energetic peer would willingly exchange, even at the loss of his privileges, for a more active position in the ranks of the great army. This subject, however, has no real connexion with the principal matters treated of by Mr. Helps in this volume. It is a question of constitutional law and legislation rather than of government; and we prefer to confine ourselves to the topics he has discussed with so much ability in these pages.


ART. IV.-1. Geschichte der Stadt Rom. Von ALFRED VON

REUMONT. 3tter Band. 1ste Abtheilung. Beriin: 1869. 2. Italie et la Renaissance. Par J. ZELLER. Paris : 1869. 3. Cultur der Renaissance. Von J. BURCKHARDT. Zweite

durchgesehene Auflage. Leipzig : 1869. HERE was a moment in the history of Catholic Europe

when the course of civilisation having taken a strong and definite bent apart from the sphere of ecclesiastical dogma, the Papal See had to decide between working with it or against it, and chose the former line of action. For a limited period, by a few pontiffs, the experiment was sedulously made of trimming the sails of St. Peter's bark to catch the gales of secular progress. How long the attempt lasted, how far it succeeded or failed, and what the phenomena were which it presents to the view of the philosophic historian, it may be interesting shortly to review at a time like the present, when the old essential warfare is so emphatically proclaimed.

The books whose titles stand at the head of our article



1. That portion of the History of the City of Rome,' by

« PreviousContinue »