RATIONALISM IN EUROPE.
[Sixth chapter continued from previous file.]
The position of public amusements in the early history of Christianity is extremely important. On the one hand, the austerity with which the Christians condemned them was probably one of the chief causes of the hatred and consequent persecution of which the early Church was the victim, and which contrasts so remarkably with the usually tolerant character of polytheism. On the other hand, when Christianity had attained its triumph, when the intellectual and moral basis of paganism was completely sapped, and when the victorious Church had begun to exhibit something of the spirit from which it had suffered, the theatre and the circus became the last strongholds of the dying faith. Partly because they had actually emanated from the pagan worship, and partly because the Christian Councils and Fathers denounced them with an absolute and unqualified severity, they were soon regarded as the chief expression of paganism; and the people, who endured with scarcely a murmur the destruction of their temples and the suppression of their sacrifices, flew to arms whenever their amusements were menaced. The servitude, indeed, by which the actor was enchained for life to the theatre, was soon abrogated in the case of those who desired to become Christians; [1:290] and the bishops refused to baptise any actor who persisted in his profession, and excommunicated any Christian who adopted it; [2:290] but the theatres were still thronged with eager spectators. Indeed, one curious enactment of the Theodosian Code provides that some of the temples should be saved from the general destruction, because they were associated with public games. [3:290] When the bishops were manifestly unable to suppress the public games, they directed all their energies to restricting them to days that were not sacred. St. Ambrose succeeded in obtaining the abolition of Sunday representations at Milan, and a similar rule was at last raised to a general law of the empire. [4:290]
It is remarkable, however, when considering the relations of Christianity and Paganism to the theatre, that Julian, who was by far the most distinguished champion of the latter, formed in this respect a complete exception to his co-religionists. His character was formed after the antique model, and his antipathy to public amusements was almost worthy of a bishop. Libanius, it is true, has left a long disquisition in praise of pantomimic dances, which, he maintained, were of a far higher artistic merit than sculpture, as no sculptor could rival the grace and beauty of the dancers; but on this subject he received no encouragement from his master. It has been ingeniously, and, I think, justly remarked, that this austerity of Julian, by placing him in direct opposition to that portion of the population which was opposed to Christianity, was one of the causes of the failure of his attempts to rally the broken forces of paganism.
After a time the Roman theatre languished and passed away. The decline was partly the result of the ceaseless opposition of the clergy, who during the middle ages were too powerful for any institution to resist their anathema, but still more, I think, of the invasion of the barbarians, which dissolved the old civilisation, and therefore destroyed the old tastes. The theatre soon lost its attraction; it lingered, indeed, faintly for many centuries, but its importance had passed away, and about the end of the thirteenth century most antiquaries seem to think the last public theatres were destroyed. The amusements of men were of an entirely different, and, for the most part, of a warlike character. Battle and the imitations of battle, boisterous revels, the chase, and, after the Crusades, the gaming-table, became the delight of the upper classes; while the poor found congenial recreation in bear-baiting, bull-fighting, and countless similar amusements -- in fairs, dances perambulant musicians, sham fights, and rude games. [1:292] Besides these, there were numerous mountebanks, who were accustomed to exhibit feats of mingled agility and buffoonery, which were probably the origin of the modern pantomime, and in which, as it has been shown by a high authority, [2:292] there is reason to believe a dress very similar to that of our harlequins was employed. It is probably to these mountebanks, or possibly to the troubadours or wandering minstrels, who had then become common, that St. Thomas Aquinas referred in a passage which excited a fierce controversy in the seventeenth century. In discussing the subject of amusement, the saint suggested the question whether the profession of an 'actor' was essentially sinful; and, having enumerated some special circumstances that might make it so, he answers the question in the negative, [3:292] 'because,' as he says, 'recreation is necessary to mankind,' and also because 'it had been revealed to the blessed Paphnutius that a clown [1:293] was to be his companion in heaven.'
Such, then, was the character of public amusements before the revival of learning. The time, however, was at hand when a profound change, fraught with momentous consequences to the Church, was manifested; and it is worthy of notice, that while that change was ultimately caused by the advance of civilisation, the Church itself was its pioneer. The first revival of the theatre is undoubtedly to be found in the religious plays. From the earliest times men seem to have been accustomed to throw into dramatic forms the objects of their belief; and the pagan mysteries, which were essentially dramatic, [2:293] retained their authority over the popular mind long after every other portion of the ancient worship was despised. The first biblical play on record is on Moses, and is the composition of a Jew named Ezekiel, who lived in the second century. The second is a Greek tragedy on the Passion, by St. Gregory Nazianzen. The religious ceremonies, and especially those for Christmas, Epiphany, and Holy Week, became continually more dramatic, and the monks and nuns after a time began to relieve the monotony of the cloister by private representations. The earliest known instance of this is of the tenth century, when a German abbess named Hroswitha composed two or three dramas, with a religious object, but imitated, it is said, in part from Terence, which were acted by the nuns. The subject of one of them is curious. A hermit had brought up in the ways of piety a beautiful girl, but she rebelled against his authority, neglected his counsels, and fled to a house of ill fame. The hermit, having discovered the place of her resort, assumed the dress and the manners of a soldier, penetrated to her retreat, supported his character so skilfully that he deceived its inmates, and at last found an opportunity of reclaiming his ward. [1:294]
In the extreme weariness of the conventual life, amusements of this kind were welcomed with delight, and, though often and severely censured, they continued in some monasteries till far into the eighteenth century. [2:294] The form, however, which they generally assumed was not that of secular dramas with a religious tendency, but of mysteries or direct representations of scenes from Scripture or from the lives of the saints. Until the latter part of the thirteenth century they were exclusively Latin, and were usually acted by priests in the churches; but after this time they assumed a popular form, their religious character speedily declined, and they became at last one of the most powerful agents in bringing the Church, and indeed all religion, into disrepute. [3:294] The evidence of this is not to be found in the representations of the Almighty that were so frequent upon the stage; [1:295] for these, though inexpressibly shocking in our eyes, were perfectly in harmony with the intellectual condition of the time; but rather in the gross indecency which the worst days of the Roman theatre had scarcely surpassed, [2:295] and perhaps still more in the strange position that was assigned to Satan. At first the mysteries had probably contributed much to the religious terrorism. The glare and smoke of the fire of hell were constantly exhibited, and piercing shrieks of agony broke upon the ear. Very soon, however, Satan was made to act the part of a clown. His appearance was greeted with shouts of laughter. He became at once the most prominent and most popular character of the piece, and was emancipated by virtue of his character from all restraints of decorum. One of the most impressive doctrines of the Church was thus indissolubly associated in the popular mind with the ridiculous, and a spirit of mockery and of satire began to play around the whole teaching of authority.
It is difficult, indeed, to say how far these rude dramatic representations contributed to that disruption of old religious ties that preceded and prepared the Reformation. At a very early period those strange festivals, the Feast of Fools and the Feast of Asses, [1:296] had introduced into the churches indecent dances, caricatures of the priesthood, and even a parody of the Mass; and the mysteries of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries carried the same spirit far and wide. But what I desire especially to notice is, that their popularity was mainly due to that material prosperity which was itself a consequence of the industrial development we are considering. This growing passion for an order of amusements in some degree intellectual, this keen relish for spectacles that addressed themselves especially to the imagination, was the beginning of that inevitable transition from the rude, simple, warlike, unartistic, unimaginative tastes of barbarism, to the luxurious, refined, and meditative tastes of civilisation. Coarse and corrupt as they were, these early plays reflected the condition of a society that was struggling feebly into a new phase of civilisation, and which at the same time, though still deriving its conceptions from the Church, was tending surely and rapidly towards secularisation.
The change was first effected in Italy and France. In those countries, which were then the centres of material prosperity, the dramatic tastes had naturally been most developed, and the mysteries had attained an extraordinary popularity. A modern Italian bibliographer has been able even now to collect more than one hundred different pieces of this kind, which were represented in Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. [2:296] About the middle of the fifteenth century the exhibitions of the mountebanks began to be thrown into a systematic form. A complete story was exhibited, and the harlequin rose to great prominence as chief actor, [1:297] We find, too, a few representations of Pagan fables, and also some plays that were termed impromptus, in which the outline of a plot was sketched by the author, but the dialogue left to the ingenuity of the actor. Besides these, dialogues, or discussions of the nature of farces, [2:297] became common; and having passed from Italy to France, they there assumed the dimensions of regular dramas, sometimes of very considerable merit. One of them, the famous farce of 'Patelin,' which was probably composed about 1468 by Peter Blanchet, an advocate of Poitiers, still holds its position upon the French stage. [3:297] The directors of the religious plays attempted to meet these new rivals by the invention of semi-religious 'moralities,' which were properly representations of allegorical figures of virtues and vices, [4:297] and were intended to act the part of a compromise; but the farces soon became the dominating form, and all other performances sank into secondary importance. [1:298] Latin plays were also sometimes acted by the scholars in the colleges, a practice which was afterwards made very popular by the Jesuits.
This was the first stage of the movement. The second was the creation of secular plays of a higher order of merit, which completely superseded and destroyed the mysteries. [2:298] Like the former, this advance emanated chiefly from the commercial civilisation of Florence, but it is extremely remarkable that the leaders of the Church in Italy were among its most ardent supporters. The first regular Italian comedy appears to have been the 'Calandra,' and its author was the Cardinal Bibbiena, who had long been secretary to Lorenzo de' Medici. [1:299] The play was probably written in the last few years of the fifteenth century, when the author was still young, but it at all events did not impede his advancement in the Church. The two first Italian tragedies were the 'Sophonisba' of Trissino, which was imitated from Euripides, and the 'Rosimunda' of Ruecellai, which was imitated from Seneca. The 'Sophonisba' was acted for the first time at Vicenza, about 1514, and was soon afterwards represented at Rome under the special patronage of Leo X., who appointed its author ambassador at the court of the Emperor Maximilian. The 'Rosimunda' was first acted, in the presence of the same Pope, at Florence, in 1515. [2:299] The earliest instance of a secular musical drama is the 'Orpheus' of Politiano, which was composed for the amusement and acted in the presence of the Cardinal Gonzaga of Mantua. [3:299] A few years later we find Clement VII. present with the Emperor Charles V., at Bologna, at the representation of the comedy of 'The Three Tyrants,' by Ricci. [4:299] As a natural consequence of this patronage, the Italian theatre at its commencement does not appear to have been very hostile to the Church, and in this respect forms a marked contrast to the theatre of France. The 'Eugénie' of Jodelle, which was the first regular comedy acted on the French stage, was throughout what many of the older farces had been, a bitter satire upon the clergy. [1:300]
One of the most important consequences of this revival of the theatre was the partial secularisation of music. This art, to which the old Greeks had ascribed so great a power over both mind and body, and which some of their states had even made all essential element of the civil polity, [2:300] had for many centuries been entirely in the hands of the Church. Almost all the music that really deserved the name was ecclesiastical, and all the great names in musical history had been ecclesiastics. St. Ignatius having, according to the legend, heard the angels singing psalms in alternate strains before the throne of God, introduced the practice of antiphons. St. Ambrose regulated the church music for the diocese of Milan, and St. Gregory the Great for the remainder of Christendom. St. Wilfrid and St. Dunstan were the apostles of music in England. In the eleventh century, the monk Guido of Arezzo invented the present system of musical notation. Nearly at the same time, the practice of singing in parts, and combining several distinct notes in a single strain, [3:300] which is the basis of modern harmonies, first appeared in the services of the Church. From a very early period music had been employed to enhance the effect of the sacred plays, and as it continued to occupy the same position when the drama had been secularised, St. Philip Neri, in 1540, in order to counteract the new attraction, originated at Rome the oratorio. About twenty years later, Palestrina, a chaplain of the Vatican, reformed the whole system of Church music. These exertions would perhaps have retained for it something at least of its ancient ascendency, but for the invention in 1600 of recitative, which, by rendering possible complete musical dramas, immediately created the opera, withdrew the sceptre of music from the Church, and profoundly altered the prevailing taste. From this time the star of St. Cecilia began to wane, and that of Apollo to shine anew. Those 'Lydian and Ionic strains' which Plato so jealously excluded from his republic, and which Milton so keenly appreciated, were heard again, and all Italy thrilled with passion beneath their power. Venice especially found in them the most faithful expression of her character, and no less than three hundred and fifty different operas were represented there between 1637 and 1680. In France the opera was introduced at the desire of Cardinal Mazarin; and it is remarkable that Perrin, who wrote the first French operas, was a priest; that Cambert, who assisted him in composing the music, was a church organist; and that nearly all the first actors had been choristers in the cathedrals. From this time the best singers began to desert the churches for the theatre. In England the musical dramas known under the name of masques elicited some of the noblest poetry of Ben Jonson and of Milton. [1:301]
Another way in which the Church exercised, I think, an indirect influence upon the stage, is not quite so obvious as the preceding one. Whatever opinion may be held on the general question of the comparative merits of the classical and the Gothic architecture, it is at least certain that the latter was immeasurably superior in suggesting the effects of immense distances -- in acting, not simply on the taste, but also on the emotions, by a skilful employment of all the means of illusion which an admirable sense of the laws of perspective can furnish. The Greek temple might satisfy the taste, but it never struck any chord of deeper emotion, or created any illusion, or suggested any conception of the Infinite. The eye and the mind soon grasped its proportions, and realised the full measure of its grandeur. Very different is the sentiment produced by the Gothic cathedral, with its almost endless vistas of receding arches, with its high altar rising conspicuous by a hundred lights amid the gloom of the painted windows, while farther and farther back the eye loses itself in the undefined distance amid the tracery of the gorgeous chancel, or the dim columns of Our Lady's chapel. The visible there leads the imagination to the invisible. The sense of finiteness is vanquished. An illusion of vastness and awe presses irresistibly on the mind. And this illusion, which the architecture and the obscurity of the temple produce, has always been skilfully sustained in Catholicism by ceremonies which are preëminently calculated to act upon the emotions through the eye.
Now it is surely a remarkable coincidence, that while Christian architecture is thus indisputably superior to pagan architecture in creating the illusion of distance, the modern theatre should be distinguished by precisely the same superiority from the ancient one. A fundamental rule of the modern theatre is, that the stage should be at least twice as deep as it is broad. In the theatres of antiquity, the stage was five or six times as broad as it was deep. [1:303] It resembled the portion which is now exhibited when the curtain is down. The wall that closed it in, instead of being concealed, was brought prominently before the spectator by rich sculptures, and illusion was neither sought nor obtained. In the modern theatre, our present system of decoration only advanced by slow degrees from the rude representations of heaven and hell, that were exhibited in the mysteries, to the elaborate scenery of our own day; but still the constant progress in this direction exhibits a conception of the nature of the spectacle, which is essentially different from that of the Greeks, and is probably in a great measure due to the influence of ecclesiastical ceremonies upon the taste.
It is not difficult to perceive the cause of the favour which Leo and his contemporaries manifested to the theatre. They belonged to a generation of ecclesiastics who were far removed from the austere traditions of the Church, who had thrown themselves cordially into all the new tastes that luxury and revived learning had produced, and who shrank with an undisguised aversion from all religious enthusiasm, from all intolerance of the beautiful. Their lives were one long dream of art and poetry. Their imaginations, matured and disciplined by constant study of the noblest works of Grecian genius, cast a new colouring upon their profession, and adorned with a pagan beauty every creation of the Church. Such men as these were but little likely to repress the intellectual passion that arose almost simultaneously in Italy, France, and Spain, [1:304] and created the modern theatre. But when the teaching of Luther had thrilled through Europe, a new spirit was infused into the Vatican. The intellectualist and the art critic were replaced by men of saintly lives but of persecuting zeal, and a fierce contest between the Church and the theatre began, which continued till near the close of the eighteenth century, and ended in the complete victory of the latter.
The doctrine of the Church on this subject was clear and decisive. The theatre was unequivocally condemned, and all professional actors were pronounced to be in a condition of mortal sin, and were, therefore, doomed, if they died in their profession, to eternal perdition. [2:304] This frightful proposition was enunciated with the most emphatic clearness by countless bishops and theologians, and was even embodied in the canon law and the rituals of many dioceses. [3:304] The Ritual of Paris, with several others, distinctly pronounced that actors were by their very employment necessarily excommunicated. [1:305] This was the sentence of the Church upon those whose lives were spent in adding to the sum of human enjoyments, in scattering the clouds of despondency, and charming away the weariness of the jaded mind. None can tell how many hearts it has wrung with anguish, or how many noble natures it has plunged into the depths of vice. As a necessary consequence of this teaching, the sacraments were denied to actors who refused to repudiate their profession, and, in France at least, their burial was as the burial of a dog. [2:305] Among those who were thus refused a place in consecrated ground was the beautiful and gifted Le Couvreur, who had been perhaps the brightest ornament of the French stage. She died without having abjured the profession she had adorned, and she was buried in a field for cattle upon the banks of the Seine. An ode by Voltaire, burning with the deep fire of an indignant pathos, has at once avenged and consecrated her memory.
It is hard for those who are acquainted with the habits of modern Roman Catholic countries to realise the intense bitterness which theologians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries manifested towards the theatre. Molière, whose plays were continually cited as among the most signal instances of its depravity, was the object of especial denunciation, and when he died it was only with extreme difficulty that permission could be obtained to bury him in consecrated ground. [1:306] The religious mind of Racine recoiled before the censure. He ceased to write for the stage when in the zenith of his powers, and an extraordinary epitaph, while recording his virtues, acknowledges that there was one stain upon his memory -- he had been a dramatic poet. [2:306] In 1696, and again in 1701, on the occasion of the jubilee, the actors entreated the pope to relieve them from the censures of the canon law, but their request was unavailing; and when, upon the recovery of Louis XIV. from a serious illness, every other corporation at Paris offered up a Te Deum, they were especially excluded. [3:306] At least one archbishop distinctly prohibited his clergy from marrying them; [4:306] and when a lawyer, named Huerne de la Mothe, ventured, in 1761, to denounce this act as a scandal, and to defend the profession of an actor, his work was burned by the hand of the executioner, and his name erased from the list of advocates. [1:307] Lulli, the first great musical composer of France, could only obtain absolution by burning an opera he had just composed. [2:307]
Yet in spite of all this the theatre steadily advanced, and as the opposition was absolute and unequivocal its progress was a measure of the defeat of the Church. In France, although the law pronounced actors infamous, and consequently excluded them from every form of public honour and employment, and although till far into the eighteenth century custom prohibited those who occupied any magisterial appointment from attending the theatre, the drama retained an undiminished popularity. In Spain it appears to have secured a certain measure of toleration by throwing itself into the arms of the Church. Calderon infused into it the very spirit of the Inquisition. The sacred plays continued after they had been abolished in almost every other country; and although Mariana and some other leading theologians denounced all dramatic entertainments, they were unable to procure their final suppression. [3:307] The opera, it somewhat severely treated, for some divines having ascribed to it a period of pestilence and of drought, it was for a time abolished; [1:308] but it at last secured its position in Spain. The Italians at all times thronged the theatre with delight. Even the Romans exhibited such a marked passion for this form of amusement, that the popes were obliged to yield. At first dramatic entertainments were only permitted at Rome during the carnival, and Benedict XIV., while according this permission, addressed a pastoral to the bishops of his kingdom to assure them that he did it with extreme reluctance to avoid greater evils, and that this permission was not to be construed as an approval. [2:308] Gradually, however, these amusements were extended to other seasons of the year; and even the opera, in obedience to the wishes of the people, was introduced. At last, in 1671, a public opera-house was built at Rome; but female performers were long strictly prohibited, and their places supplied by eunuchs -- an unfortunate race, which came in consequence into great request in the Holy City. [3:308]
The man who did more than any other to remove the stigma that rested upon actors, was unquestionably Voltaire. There is, indeed, something singularly noble in the untiring zeal with which he directed poetry and eloquence, the keenest wit and the closest reasoning, to the defence of those who had so long been friendless and despised. He cast over them the ægis of his own mighty name, and the result of his advocacy was shown in the enactment by which the French Revolutionists, at a single stroke, removed all the disqualifications under which they laboured. The position actors have since conquered in almost every country, and the extent to which the theatre has become a recognised institution, must be manifest to every one. Among the many illustrations of the impotence of modern ecclesiastical efforts to arrest the natural current of society, there are few more curious than is furnished on the opening night of the Roman theatre, when the cardinal-governor of Rome appears, as the representative of the pope, to sanction the entertainment by his presence, to listen to the sweet songs of the opera sung by female singers, and to watch the wreathings of the dance.
I trust the reader will pardon the great length to which this disquisition on the drama has extended. It is not altogether of the nature of a digression, because, although an institution like the theatre cannot be regarded as entirely the creation of any one nation, it certainly owes its first impulse and some of its leading characteristics to that union of an industrial and intellectual civilisation which attained its culmination under the Medici. Nor is it without an important bearing on the subject of my work, because the successive transformations I have reviewed furnish one of the most striking examples of that process of gradual secularisation which, under the influence of the rationalistic spirit, is displayed in turn in each department of thought and action. Besides this, there are few more powerfully destructive agents than customs or institutions, no matter how little aggressive, which a Church claiming supreme authority endeavours to suppress, and which have nevertheless secured their position in the world. By the simple fact of their existence, they at first divide the allegiance of mankind, and at last render obsolete a certain portion of ecclesiastical teaching, and thereby impart a character of mobility and flexibility to the whole. In this respect Protestantism has been far less affected by the change than her rival, for Protestantism does not claim the same coercive authority, and can, therefore, in a measure assimilate with the developments of society, and purify and temper when it cannot altogether control. It must be acknowledged also, that while the Calvinistic section of the Reformed Churches has ever displayed a bigotry on the subject of amusements, which is at least equal to that of the Church of Rome, [1:310] Anglicanism has always been singularly free from the taint of fanaticism; [2:310] nor is it, I believe, too much to add, that her forbearance has received its reward, and that, if we except the period of depravity that elapsed between the Restoration and the publication of the work of Jeremy Collier in 1698, and which may be justly ascribed in a great measure to the reaction against Puritanism, the English theatre has been that in which the moralist can find least to condemn.
The creation of the secular theatre was one of the last results of the industrial supremacy of Italy. A succession of causes, into which it is not now necessary to enter, had corroded that political system, to which the world is so deeply indebted; and the discovery of the passage round the Cape of Good Hope by Gama, and of America by Columbus, together with some other causes, directed the stream of commerce in new channels. By the time when the effects of these discoveries began first to be felt, the Reformation had divided Christendom into two opposing sections, and the important question arose, to which of these sections the sceptre of industry would fall.
It must, I think, be acknowledged, that to a spectator of the sixteenth century no proposition could seem more clear than that the commercial supremacy of Europe was destined to be exercised by Catholicism. The two great discoveries I have mentioned had both fallen to the lot of the intensely Catholic nations of the Spanish peninsula. Spain especially exhibited a combination of advantages which it would be very difficult to parallel in history. Her magnificent colonies opened out a boundless prospect of wealth, and she seemed to possess all those qualities and capacities that were requisite for their development. The nation was in the zenith of its power. The glories of Granada still rested upon it. Charles V. had united the imperial sceptre with that of Spain, had organised a vast navy, had constituted himself the recognised head of the Catholic interests, had humbled that French power which alone could imperil his ascendency, and had acquired the reputation of the most consummate politician of the age. If we add to this, that the passion for wealth had never been more strongly exhibited than by the Spaniards, it would seem as though no element of commercial greatness was wanting. Reasoning à priori, it would appear natural to conclude that Spain was about to embark in a long and glorious career of commerce, that she would incline the balance of material prosperity decisively to the side of the religion of which she was the champion, but that the commercial spirit would at last act upon and modify her religious fanaticism.
None of these results followed. Although for a few years the Spanish Catholics were the arbiters and the directors of commerce, and although the effects of their ascendency have not even yet passed away, the prosperity of Spain was speedily eclipsed. At a time when she seemed on the highway to an almost boundless wealth, she sank into the most abject poverty. Her glory was withered, her power was shattered, her fanaticism alone remained.
There are several considerations that explain this apparent anomaly. The first is, I think, to be found in the erroneous economical doctrine which became the mainspring of Spanish legislation.
Although it would undoubtedly be a gross exaggeration to regard the Italian republics as having arrived at the knowledge of the true laws that govern wealth, there can be no question that their policy was far more in conformity with the principles of political economy than that of any of their successors till after the time of Quesnay and Smith. The exquisite practical skill they possessed, and also the peculiarity of their position, which made most of them entirely dependent upon commerce, and consequently the natural enemies of protective privileges, saved them from the worst legislative errors of the age; and, indeed, it has been the just boast of Italian economists, that, if we except Serra, Genovesi, and perhaps one or two others, even their speculative writers have always been singularly free from the errors of that 'mercantile system' which in other countries was so long supreme. It was not until Spain had risen to power, and the stream of American gold had begun to inundate Europe, that the doctrine upon which that fatal system rests became the centre of commercial legislation.
To state this doctrine in the simplest form, it was believed that all wealth consisted of the precious metals, and that therefore a country was necessarily impoverished by every transaction which diminished its metallic riches, no matter how much it may have added to its other possessions. If, therefore, two nations exchanged their commodities with a view of increasing their wealth, the single object of each was to regulate the transaction in such a manner that it might obtain a larger amount of money than it before possessed, or, in other words, that the value of its non-metallic exports should be greater than of its imports. But as the excess of exports over imports on one side implied a corresponding excess of imports over exports on the other, it followed that the interests of the two nations were diametrically opposed, that the loss of one was the condition and measure of the gain of the other, and that to the nation which was unable to incline what was termed the 'balance of commerce' in its favour, the entire transaction was an evil. It followed also that the importance of native productions was altogether subordinate to that of the export or import of gold.
From these principles three important practical consequences were drawn which contributed greatly to the downfall of Spain. In the first place, the whole energy both of the government and people was concentrated upon the gold mines, and manufactures and almost all forms of industry sank into neglect. In the next place, the colonies were speedily ruined by an elaborate system of commercial restrictions and monopolies, devised with the vain hope of enriching the mother-country, and some of them were at length goaded into successful rebellion. In the last place, an undue amount of gold was introduced into Spain, which had the very natural, but, to the Spaniards, the very astonishing effect of convulsing the whole financial system of the country. For the value of gold, like the value of other commodities, is governed by the law of supply and demand; and the fact that this metal has been selected as the general instrument of exchange, while it makes any sudden alteration in its value peculiarly dangerous, does not in any degree remove it from the law. When it suddenly becomes too common, its value -- that is to say, its purchasing power -- is depreciated; or, in other words, the price of all other articles is raised. After a time things adjust themselves to the new standard, and many political economists, considering the sudden stimulus that is given to industry, the particular class of enterprises the change in the value of money specially favours, and still more its effect in lightening the pressure of national debts, have regarded it as ultimately a benefit; but, at all events, the confusion, insecurity, and uncertainty of the transition constitute a grave danger to the community, and the loss inflicted on certain classes [1:314] is extremely serious. In our own day, although the influx of Australian and Californian gold has told very sensibly upon prices, the immense area of enterprise over which it has been diffused, the counteracting influence of machinery in cheapening commodities, and also a few exceptional causes of demand, [1:315] have materially deadened the shock. But the stream of gold that was directed to Spain after the discovery of America produced nearly the full measure of evil, while the economical error of the age deprived the Spaniards of nearly all the good that might have been expected. The temporary evil of a violent change in prices could only have been abated, and the permanent evil of the decay of national industry could only have been in some degree compensated, by the free employment of American gold to purchase the industry of foreign nations; but this would involve the export of the precious metal, which the government under the severest penalties prohibited. It is true that, as no prohibition can finally arrest the natural flow of affairs, the gold did issue forth, [2:315] but it was in the manner that was least advantageous to Spain. Charles V. and Philip II. employed it in their wars; but wars are almost always detrimental to industry; many of these were disastrous in their conclusions, and those of Charles were undertaken much more in the interests of the empire than of Spain, while Philip sacrificed every other consideration to the advantage of the Church. The only other mode of egress was by infringing the law. After a few years, the full effects of this policy [1:316] were manifested. Manufactures had languished. Prices were immensely raised. Confusion and insecurity characterised every financial undertaking. The Spaniards, to adopt the image of a great political economist, realising the curse of Midas, found all the necessaries of life transmuted into gold, while, to crown all, the government prohibited its export under pain of death.
These economical causes will help to show why it was that the material prosperity of the great Catholic power was so transient, and also why no strong industrial spirit was evoked to counteract the prevailing fanaticism. This last fact will be still further elucidated, if we consider the social and religious institutions which Spanish Catholicity encouraged. The monasteries, in numbers and wealth, had reached a point that had scarcely ever been equalled; and besides subtracting many thousand men and a vast amount of wealth from the productive resources of the country, they produced habits of mind that are altogether incompatible with industry. The spirit that makes men devote themselves in vast numbers to a monotonous life of asceticism and poverty is so essentially opposed to the spirit that creates the energy and enthusiasm of industry, that their continued coexistence may be regarded as impossible. Besides this, that aristocratic system which harmonises so well with a theological society revived. A warlike and idle nobility took the place of the old merchant nobles of Italy, and a stigma was in consequence attached to labour, [1:317] which was still further increased by the revival of slavery.
The resurrection of this last institution is usually ascribed to Las Casas, the only really eminent philanthropist Spain ever produced. In this statement there is, however, some exaggeration. Las Casas only landed in America in 1513, and he does not appear to have taken any step on the subject of slavery till some years later; but negroes had been employed as slaves by the Portuguese in their colonies in the very beginning of the century, [2:317] and a certain number were introduced into the Spanish colonies as early as 1511. They do not, however, appear to have been fully recognised by the government, and further imports were discouraged till 1516, when the monks of St. Jerome, who then administered affairs in the West Indies, recommended their employment. In the following year, Las Casas pronounced energetically in the same sense. Strange as it may now appear, there can be no doubt that in doing so he was actuated by the purest benevolence. Perceiving that the wretched Indians, to whose service he had devoted his life, perished by thousands beneath the hard labour of the mines, while the negroes employed by the Portuguese bore the fatigue without the slightest injury, he imagined that by introducing the latter he was performing an act of undoubted philanthropy; and thus it came to pass, that one whose character presents an almost ideal type of beneficence became a leading promoter of negro slavery. [1:318]
The traffic once organised, and encouraged by the government, spread rapidly. Its monopoly was granted to the Belgians, who sold it to the Genoese; but merchants of Venice, Barcelona, and England had all an early share in the adventure. The first Englishman who took part in it was a certain John Hawkins, who made an expedition to the African coast in 1562. [2:318] Scarcely any one seems to have regarded the trade as wrong. Theologians had so successfully laboured to produce a sense of the amazing, I might almost say generical, difference between those who were Christians and those who were not, that to apply to the latter the principles that were applied to the former, would have been deemed a glaring paradox. If the condition of the negroes in this world was altered for the worse, it was felt that their prospects in the next were greatly improved. Besides, it was remembered that, shortly after the deluge, Ham had behaved disrespectfully to his drunken father, and it was believed by many that the Almighty had, in consequence, ordained negro slavery. The Spanish were not in general bad masters. On the contrary, when the gold fever had begun to subside, they were in this respect distinguished for their humanity; [1:319] and their laws on the subject still present, in some points, a favourable contrast to those of America; but the effect of slavery upon the national character was not the less great.
Besides these considerations, we must take into account the great acts of religious intolerance of which Spain was guilty, and which recoiled with fatal effect upon her industrial system. Never did a people verify more fully the great truth, that industry and fanaticism are deadly foes. Four times the Spanish nation directed all its energies in the cause of the Church, and four times its prosperity received a wound from which it has never recovered. By the expulsion of the Jews, Spain was deprived of all her greatest financiers, and of almost all her most enterprising merchants. By the expulsion of the Moors, she lost her best agriculturists; vast plains were left uninhabited, except by banditti, and some of the most important trades were paralysed forever. By the expedition of the Armada, that naval supremacy which, since the discoveries of the Cape passage and of America had made commerce exclusively maritime, implied commercial supremacy, passed from her hands, and was soon divided between the Protestant nations of England and Holland. By her persecutions in the Netherlands, she produced a spirit of resistance that baffled her armies, destroyed her prestige, and resulted in the establishment of another State, distinguished alike for its commercial genius, its bravery, and its Protestantism.
There were, of course, other circumstances which accelerated or aggravated the downfall of Spain; but the really dominating causes are all, I think, to be found under the economical or theological heads I have noticed. It is well worthy of attention how they conspired, acting and reacting upon one another, to destroy that political structure which was once so powerful, and which appeared to possess so many elements of stability. Nor can we question that that destruction was an almost unmingled benefit to mankind. Blind folly, ignoble selfishness, crushing tyranny, and hideous cruelty, mark every page of the history of the domination of Spain, whether we turn to the New World or to the Netherlands, or to those glorious Italian cities which she blasted by her rule. During the period of her ascendency, and especially during the reigns of Charles V. and Philip II., who were the most faithful representatives of her spirit, she was guilty of an amount of persecution before which all the enormities of Roman emperors fade into insignificance. She reorganised the accursed institution of slavery on a gigantic scale, and in a form that was in some respects worse than any that had before existed; she was the true author of the mercantile theory and of the colonial policy which have been the sources of disastrous wars to every European nation; she replaced municipal independence by a centralised despotism, and the aristocracy of industry by the aristocracy of war; [1:320] and she uniformly exerted the whole stress of her authority to check on all subjects and in all forms the progress of enquiry and of knowledge. Had she long continued to exercise the assimilating, absorbing, and controlling influence of a great Power, the advancement of Europe might have been indefinitely retarded. Happily, however, Providence, in the laws of history as in the laws of matter, tends ever to perfection, and, annexing fatal penalties to the resistance of those laws, destroys every obstacle, confounds those who seek to arrest the progress, and, by the concurrence of many agencies, effects the objects it designs.
Before leaving the subject of Spanish industry, I may notice one article that was at this time brought into Europe, not because it was itself very important, but because it was the beginning of a great social change that was fully accomplished about a century afterwards -- I mean the introduction of hot drinks. Towards the middle of the sixteenth century, the Spaniards imported chocolate from Mexico. Rather more than half a century later, tea was introduced from China and Japan. It had been noticed by Marco Polo as early as the thirteenth century, but it was probably first brought to Europe by the Jesuit missionaries in the first years of the seventeenth century, and it was soon after largely imported by the Dutch, In 1636 we find it in usage in France, and enthusiastically patronised by the Chancellor Séguier. The earliest notice of it in England is in an Act of Parliament of 1660. The discovery of the circulation of blood, which produced an exaggerated estimate of the medical value of bleeding and of hot drinks, and the writings of two physicians named Tulpius and Bontekoe, gave a great impulse to its popularity. In a letter written in 1680, Madame de Sévigné observes that the Marchioness de la Sablière had just introduced the custom of drinking it with milk. About the middle of the same century, coffee began to pour in from Turkey. The properties of this berry had been noticed in 1591 by the Venetian physician Alpinus, and soon afterwards by Bacon in his 'Natural History,' and the drink was introduced into England in 1652 by an English Turkey merchant named Edwards. In France the first coffee-house was established at Marseilles in 1664. A few years later, Soliman Aga, the ambassador of Mahomet IV., made the new beverage very fashionable in Paris; and in 1672 an Armenian named Pascal established a coffee-house in that city. He had soon countless imitators; and it was observed that this new taste gave a serious and almost instantaneous check to drunkenness, which had been very prevalent in France. Coffee-houses were the true precursors of the clubs of the eighteenth century. They became the most important centres of society, and they gave a new tone to the national manners. In England, though they were once even more popular than in France, and though they are indissolubly associated with one of the most brilliant periods of literary history, they have not taken root; but the effect of hot drinks upon domestic life has probably been even greater than on the Continent. Checking the boisterous revels that had once been universal, and raising woman to a new position in the domestic circle, they have contributed very largely to refine manners, to introduce a new order of tastes, and to soften and improve the character of men. They are therefore, I think, not unworthy of a passing notice in a sketch of the moral and intellectual consequences of commerce. [1:322]
When the Spanish supremacy was destroyed, what may be termed the commercial antagonism of the two religions ceased. England and Holland were long the leaders of commerce; and if Catholic nations have since distinguished themselves in that course, it has been when their zeal had grown languid and their system of policy been secularised. The general superiority in industry of Protestant countries has been constantly noticed and often explained. The suppression of monasteries, the discouragement of mendicity, and the construction of churches that were in no degree formed upon the ascetic principle, contributed to the progress; but perhaps the principal cause was the intellectual impulse communicated by the Reformation, which was felt in every field both of speculation and of action. [1:323]
But while the relative interests of Protestantism and Catholicism have not been very seriously involved in the history of industry since the seventeenth century, there is another form of antagonism which long after made that history a faithful mirror of theological progress. I mean the conflict between town and country, between the manufacturing and the agricultural interests. The question which of these two spheres of existence is most conducive to the happiness and the morality of mankind will, no doubt, always be contested; but the fact that they produce entirely different intellectual tendencies, both in religion and politics, will scarcely be disputed. The country is always the representative of stability, immobility, and reaction. The towns are the representatives of progress, innovation, and revolution. The inhabitants of the country may be very vicious; but even in the midst of their vice they will be extremely superstitious, extremely tenacious of the customs of religions that have elsewhere passed away, and especially addicted to that aspect of those religions which is most opposed to the spirit of Rationalism. All the old superstitions concerning witches, fairies, hereditary curses, prophetical dreams, magical virtues, lucky or unlucky days, places, or events, still linger among the poor; while even the educated are distinguished for the retrospective character of their minds, and for their extreme antipathy to innovation. The general character of great towns, and especially of manufacturing towns, is entirely different. [1:324] It is indeed true that the great subdivision of labour, while it is eminently favourable to the increase of wealth, is for a time unfavourable to the intellectual development of the labourer; for the mind that is concentrated exclusively upon the manufacture of a single portion of a single object is far less happily circumstanced than if it were occupied with a complex subject which demands the exercise of all its faculties. But this disadvantage is more than compensated by the intellectual stimulus of association, and by the increased opportunities which greater rewards and steady progress produce. Certain it is that neither the virtues nor vices of great towns take the form of reaction in politics, or of superstition in religion. The past rests lightly, often too lightly, upon them. Novelty is welcomed, progress is eagerly pursued. Vague traditions are keenly criticised, old doctrines are disintegrated and moulded afresh by the individual judgment. Besides this, the manufacturing is also the commercial interest; and the great intellectual importance of commerce we have already seen. Such, then, being the opposite predispositions evoked by agricultural and manufacturing occupations, it becomes a matter of considerable interest and importance to trace the history of their comparative development; and in order to do so it will be necessary to give a brief outline of the progress of economical opinion on the subject.
Before the dawn of a correct political economy in the eighteenth century, Europe was for the most part divided between two doctrines on the subject of commerce. Both schools regarded money as the single form of wealth; but, according to one of them, commerce should be altogether discouraged, as at best a dangerous and a gambling speculation; while, according to the other, it should be pursued as the chief method of acquiring wealth, but only on the condition of the exports exceeding the imports. The first of these schools usually discouraged manufactures, and concentrated its attention upon agriculture; the other was eminently favourable to manufactures. Before the sixteenth century, the notions of the first school, without being systematised or formally stated, were very generally diffused; politicians laboured to make each nation entirely self-subsisting; and there was an antipathy, or at least a disinclination, to any speculation that involved an export of gold, even with the eventual object of obtaining a larger supply in return. [1:325] Besides this, the rude simplicity of manners which made the demand for manufactured goods very small, the superstitions about usury which fell with crushing weight on industrial enterprise, the imperfection of the means of communication, the zeal with which the monks pursued agriculture, the especial adaptation of that pursuit, on account of its comparative facility, to an early stage of civilisation, and the recollection of the peculiar honour in which it had been held by the ancients, -- all tended in the same direction. With the exception of the Italian republics and the cities of the Hanseatic League, which had little or no land to cultivate, and were almost forced by their circumstances into commerce, agriculture was everywhere the dominant form of labour, and the habits of mind it created contributed much to colour, intensify, and perpetuate the mediæval superstitions.
When, however, the great discoveries of gold in America created in all nations an eager desire to obtain it, industry began to assume a new form and more gigantic proportions; and although, owing to causes which I have already traced, it languished in Spain, it was rapidly developed in other countries, and the opinions of statesmen on the subject were steadily modified. Sully was probably the last minister of very considerable abilities who systematically opposed manufactures as an evil. The opposite opinion, which regarded them as the most efficient magnet of foreign gold, found its greatest representative in Colbert; [1:326] and although the ruinous wars of Louis XIV., and still more the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in a great measure counteracted his efforts; although, too, the ultimate effects of the protective system have been extremely detrimental to industry; there can be little doubt that this minister did more than any preceding statesman to make manufactures a prominent form of European industry. He removed many of the impositions under which they suffered, protected their interests whenever they were menaced, and did all that lay in his power to encourage their development.
Indeed, at first sight, the school which followed that of Colbert, though in reality an immense step in advance, might appear less favourable to the manufacturing interests. The economists -- as Quesnay, and those very able writers and statesmen who adopted his opinions, were termed -- were not simply the precursors of political economy; they were the actual founders of many parts of it; and though their system, as a whole, has perished, and their fame been eclipsed by the great thinker of Scotland, they will always form one of the most important links in the history of the science. Perhaps their principal achievement was the repudiation of the old doctrine that all wealth consisted of gold -- a doctrine which, having lighted up the labours of the alchemists, and inspired all the Eldorado dreams of the middle ages, had become the cardinal principle of commercial legislation. [1:327] Almost at the same time, and about twenty-five years before the publication of 'The Wealth of Nations,' this doctrine was assailed, and the possibility of the increase of wealth being in inverse proportion to the increase of gold was asserted, by Hume in England, and by Quesnay in France. But while the French economists perceived very clearly the mistake of their predecessors, when they came to establish their own doctrine they fell into an error which is a striking illustration of the difficulty with which, in one stage of progress, even the most acute minds rise to truths which in another stage appear perfectly self-evident. Nothing, according to their view, can really add to the national wealth which does not call new matter into existence, or at least introduce it to the service of men. Mines, fisheries, and agriculture fulfil these conditions, and consequently add to the national wealth. Manufactures, simply giving matter a new form, though they are extremely useful to the community, and though they may enable an individual to augment his portion of the national wealth, can never increase the great total. Practically, therefore, for the great majority of nations, agriculture is the single source of wealth; all manufactures are ultimately salaried by it, and its encouragement should be the main object of judicious policy, Raynal, it is true, in this matter separated from the rest of the school. He saw that manufactures invested the raw material with new qualities, and making it the object of new demand increased its value; but at this point he stopped. [1:329] Agriculture and industry he regarded as both sources of national wealth, but not so commerce. Forgetting that an article may be far more valuable in a country into which it is imported than in that in which it is indigenous, and that when the costs incident upon transport have been deducted from this excess, the remainder is a pure gain, he maintained that commerce, being simply displacement, could not increase the general wealth.
These doctrines were undoubtedly in some respects very unfavourable to manufactures, yet their consequences were not as evil as might have been expected. In the first place, the economists were unwittingly guilty of a grievous injustice to their favourite pursuit. All taxation, they believed, should be levied upon the net gains of the country; and as those gains were exclusively due to agriculture, they concluded, as Locke on somewhat different grounds had concluded in the preceding century, that the proprietors of the soil should bear the entire burden. Besides this, the economists, as the first great opponents of the mercantile theory, were on all occasions the advocates of free trade, the subverters of every form of monopoly, the reformers of all the means of communication. By the ministry of Turgot, and by the legislation of the revolutionary parliaments, such countless abuses of detail were swept away, and so many useful measures recommended, that it may be truly said that manufactures owe more to them than to any preceding legislators.
At last Adam Smith appeared; and while he effectually destroyed all that part of the doctrine of the economists which was hostile to manufactures, he established upon the firm basis of demonstration, and developed and irradiated with matchless skill, all that was most favourable to their progress. Proving that labour was the basis of value, that money is but a single form of merchandise which has been selected as the instrument of exchange, and that the goods of foreign countries are eventually purchased by native productions -- unravelling by a chain of the clearest but most subtle reasoning the functions of capital, the manner in which it is created by the combination of parsimony with industry, and the special facilities which manufactures and the division of labour of which they admit offer for its increase giving, too, a fatal blow to the system of restrictions by which statesmen had long imagined that they could promote the interests of wealth, -- Adam Smith performed the double service of dispelling the notion that manufactures are useless or pernicious, and unfolding the true laws that regulate their prosperity. Generation after generation, and almost year by year, his principles have penetrated more deeply into the policy of Europe; and generation after generation, manufactures, freed from their old shackles, acquire a greater expansion, and the habits of thought which they produce a corresponding importance.
It is, however, an extremely remarkable fact, as showing the tenacity with which the doctrines of the 'economists' clung to the mind, that even Adam Smith thought it necessary, in classifying the sources of wealth, to reserve for agriculture a position of special prominence, as the most abundant of these sources. [1:330] He arrived at this conclusion, not from any observation of what had actually taken place, but from two general considerations. In manufactures, he contended, wealth is produced by the unaided toil of man, whereas in agriculture nature coöperates with human exertions. Besides this, agriculture, unlike other pursuits, in addition to wages and profit, can furnish a rent. The first of these statements, as has often been observed, is palpably inaccurate, for nature is in many instances extremely serviceable to the manufacturer; as, for example, when steam or water puts his machinery in motion. The second argument lost its force when Ricardo discovered the true cause of rent, proving that it is a sign of the limited productivity of the soil, and not of its superiority to other sources of wealth. [1:331]
But while this steady modification of economical opinions in favour of manufactures is one great cause of the progress of the latter, it would probably have been insufficient, but for the coöperation of two other influences. The first of these was the system of credit. This remarkable agency, which has long proved one of the great moralising influences of society, by the immense importance it has bestowed upon character, and one of the great pledges of peace, by the union it has established between different nations, and, at the same time, the most powerful of all the engines of warfare, is chiefly due to the industrial genius of Holland; for though some traces of it may be found among the Jews and the Italian republics of the middle ages, the system was not duly organised till the establishment of the bank of Amsterdam in 1609. The immediate object was to increase the amount of money in circulation, and thus give a new impetus to industry; and within certain limits, and subject to certain dangers, which we have not now to consider, it has fully answered its end.
The second influence is the rapid development of mechanical contrivances. Strictly speaking, machinery dates from the rudest instrument by which men tilled the soil; but its higher and more elaborate achievements are always the product of civilisation, upon which, in turn, they powerfully react. The most important machine invented, or at least introduced into Europe, in the middle ages, was probably the windmill, [1:332] which was an agent in the agricultural interests. In the fifteenth century, a machine for printing transformed the intellectual condition of Europe. In the nineteenth century, the machines of Watt, Arkwright, and Stephenson, and the many minor inventions that are subsidiary to them, have given an impulse both to commerce and manufactures which is altogether unparalleled in the history of mankind. In addition to the necessary difficulties connected with the introduction of a new form of industry, every step of the progress of machines was met by a fierce opposition, directed at one time by the ablest statesmen, [1:333] and long afterwards sustained by the lower classes, who very naturally regarded these inventions as prejudicial to their interests. And, certainly, the first result of machinery, by economising the labour of production, is to throw a vast number of the poor out of employment, and to reduce, by increased concurrence, the wages of the remainder. The second is to diminish the price of the article of manufacture, to the benefit of the consumer; and in most cases this depreciation leads to an immense extension of demand, which necessitates a multiplication of machines, and usually continues till the number of persons employed is immeasurably greater than before the machinery had been introduced. At the same time, this increased facility of production and this increased demand produce an accumulation of capital far more rapid than had previously taken place; which, as the rate of wages depends entirely upon the proportion national capital bears to the labouring classes, among whom it is to be divided, is a main condition of the material prosperity of the latter. Even in those instances in which, from the nature of the case, the demand for the manufactured article cannot be so extended as to compensate for the loss of employment which the introduction of machinery occasions, although the passing evils are very great, the change is usually an advantage; for economical production implies increasing wealth, and the capital gained in one department finds its outlet in others.
There are, no doubt, other effects of machinery which are serious drawbacks to these advantages -- some of them inherent in this mode of production, but many of them partly or altogether due to the process of transition. Such are the great increase of the inequalities of fortune which results from the absorption of all production by colossal manufactures, the unnatural multiplication and agglomeration of population they occasion, the sudden and disastrous fluctuations to which manufacturing industry is peculiarly liable, the evil effects it frequently exercises upon health, and the temptation to employ young children in its service. All these points have given rise to much animated discussion, which it does not fall within the province of the present work to review; but at all events it is unquestionable that, for good or for evil, the invariable effect of modern machinery has been to increase the prominence of manufactures, to multiply the number of those engaged in them, and, therefore, in the opposition of tendencies that exists between the agricultural and manufacturing classes, to incline the balance in favour of the latter.
Beyond all other nations, England has been in this respect distinguished. Both in the intellectual and in the mechanical influences I have reviewed, she stands without a rival; for with, I think, the exception of Say, France has not produced any political economist of great original powers since Turgot; and America, notwithstanding her rare mechanical genius, is as yet unable to boast of a Watt or a Stephenson. It is not surprising that a land which has attained this double supremacy, and which possesses at the same time unlimited coal-mines, an unrivalled navy, and a government that can never long resist the natural tendency of affairs, should be preëminently the land of manufactures. In no other country are the intellectual influences connected with them so powerful; and the constant increase of the manufacturing population is rapidly verifying, in a sense that should not be restricted to politics, the prediction of Mr. Cobden, that eventually 'the towns must govern England.'[1:335]
In the preceding examination of the ways in which the successive evolutions of European industry have reflected or influenced the history of belief, I have often had occasion to refer to the different branches of political economy in their relation to different aspects of industrial progress. It remains for me now to consider in a more general point of view the theological consequences of this great science, which has probably done more than any other to reveal the true physiology of society. For although political economists, and especially those of England, have often endeavoured to isolate the phenomena of wealth, all such attempts have proved entirely futile. Even Adam Smith lighted up an immense series of moral and social interests by his science. Malthus, opening out the great question of population, immensely increased its range; and it is now impossible to be imbued with the leading writings on the subject without forming certain criteria of excellence, certain general conceptions of the aim and laws of human progress, that cannot be restricted to material interests. I shall endeavour, without entering into any minute details, to sketch the general outlines of these conceptions, and to show in what respects they harmonise or clash with theological notions.
The first important consequence of political economy I have in some degree anticipated in the last chapter. It is to contribute largely towards the realisation of the great Christian conception of universal peace. The history of the fortunes of that conception in the hands of theologians is profoundly melancholy. Though peace upon earth was at first proclaimed as a main object of Christianity, and though for about three centuries the Christian disciples displayed unwearied zeal and amazing heroism in advocating it, the sublime conception of a moral unity gradually faded away before the conception of a unity of ecclesiastical organisation; and for many centuries theologians were so far from contributing to the suppression of war, that they may be justly regarded as its chief fomenters. Certain it is, that the period when the Catholic Church exercised a supreme ascendency, was also the period in which Europe was most distracted by wars; and that the very few instances in which the clergy exerted their gigantic influence to suppress them, are more than counterbalanced by those in which they were the direct causes of the bloodshed. Indeed, they almost consecrated war by teaching that its issue was not the result of natural agencies, but of supernatural interposition. As the special sphere of Providential action, it assumed a holy character, and success became a proof, or at least a strong presumption, of right. Hence arose that union between the sacerdotal and the military spirit which meets us in every page of history; the countless religious rites that were interwoven with military proceedings; the legends of visible miracles deciding the battle; the trial by combat, which the clergy often wished to suppress, but which nevertheless continued for centuries, because all classes regarded the issue as the judicial decision of the Deity. When these superstitions in some measure decayed, the religious wars began. The bond of Catholic unity, which was entirely insufficient to prevent wars between Catholic nations, proved powerful enough to cause frightful convulsions when it was assailed; and one of the most faithful measures of the decay of theological influences has been the gradual cessation of the wars they produced.
The inadequacy of theological systems as a basis of European tranquillity having been clearly proved by the experience of many centuries, there arose in the eighteenth century a school which attempted to establish this tranquillity by a purely intellectual process -- by giving intellectual pursuits and political principles a decisive predominance over the military spirit. I allude to the French philosophers, who in this as in many other respects were simply endeavouring to realise in their own way one of the great ideal conceptions of Christianity. They arose at a period well suited to the enterprise. France was wearied, exhausted, and almost ruined by the long wars of Louis XIV. The prestige that Condé and Turenne had cast upon the French arms had perished beneath the still greater genius of Marlborough. An intense intellectual life had arisen, accompanied by all the sanguine dreams of youth. Voltaire, after coquetting for a short time with the military spirit, threw himself cordially into the cause of peace. He employed all his amazing abilities and all his unrivalled, influence to discredit war, and, with the assistance of his followers, succeeded in establishing the closest union between the intellects of France and England, and in replacing the old theological and military antipathy by the sympathy of common aspirations.
But a few years passed away, and all this was changed. The iniquitous war against the French Revolution into which Pitt suffered his country to plunge, and the pernicious genius of Napoleon, evoked all the reactionary influences in Europe, revived the military spirit in its full intensity, and plunged the greater part of the civilised world into the agonies of a deadly struggle.
There can, I think, be little doubt that there is a tendency in civilisation to approximate towards the ideal of the French philosophers. It can hardly be questioned that the advance of intellectual culture produces a decline of the military spirit, and that the cohesion resulting from a community of principles and intellectual tendencies is rapidly superseding artificial political combinations. But at the same time it is no less certain that the bond of intellectual sympathy alone is far too weak to restrain the action of colliding passions, and it was reserved for political economy to supply a stronger and more permanent principle of unity.
This principle is an enlightened self-interest. Formerly, as I have said, the interests of nations were supposed to be diametrically opposed. The wealth that was added to one was necessarily taken from another; and all commerce was a kind of balance, in which a gain on one side implied a corresponding loss on the opposite one. Every blow that was struck to the prosperity of one nation was of advantage to the rest, for it diminished the number of those among whom the wealth of the world was to be divided. Religion might indeed interpose and tell men that they ought not to rejoice in the misfortunes of others, and that they should subordinate their interests to higher considerations; but still each people, as far as it followed its selfish interests, was hostile to its neighbour; [1:338] and even in the best ages the guiding principles of large bodies of men are almost always selfish. Independently of the many wars that were directly occasioned by a desire to alter commercial relations, there was a constant smouldering ill-feeling created by the sense of habitual antagonism, which the slightest difference kindled into a flame.
For this great evil political economy is the only corrective. It teaches, in the first place, that the notion that a commercial nation can only prosper by the loss of its neighbour, is essentially false. It teaches still further that each nation has a direct interest in the prosperity of that with which it trades, just as a shopman has an interest in the wealth of his customers. It teaches too that the different markets of the world are so closely connected, that it is quite impossible for a serious derangement to take place in any one of them without its evil effects vibrating through all; and that, in the present condition of Europe, commercial ties are so numerous, and the interests of nations so closely interwoven, that war is usually an evil even to the victor. Each successive development of political economy has brought these truths into clearer relief, and in proportion to their diffusion must be the antipathy to war; the desire to restrict it, when it does break out, as far as possible to those who are actually engaged; and the hostility to all who have provoked it. Every fresh commercial enterprise is therefore an additional guarantee of peace.
I know that, in the present day, when Europe is suffering to an almost unexampled extent from the disquietude resulting from the conflict between opposing principles and unequal civilisations, speculations of this kind must appear to many unreal and utopian. Most assuredly, as long as nations tolerate monarchs who, resting upon the traditions of
an effete theocracy, regard their authority as of divine right, and esteem it their main duty to arrest by force the political developments of civilisation, so long must standing armies and wars of opinion continue. Nor would the most sanguine political economist venture to predict a time in which the sword would be altogether unknown. The explosions of passion are not always restrained by the most evident ties of interest; exceptional circumstances counteract general tendencies; and commerce, which links civilised communities in a bond of unity, has ever forced her way among barbarians by bloodshed and by tyranny. But in order to justify the prospect of a great and profound change in the relations of European nations, it is only necessary to make two postulates. The first is, that the industrial element, which, in spite of legislative restrictions and military perturbations, is advancing every year with accelerated rapidity, is destined one day to become the dominant influence in politics. The second is, that those principles of political economy which are now acknowledged to be true by every one who has studied them, will one day be realised as axioms by the masses. Amid the complications and elaborations of civilisation, the deranging influence of passion, whether for good or for evil, becomes continually less, and interest becomes more and more the guiding influence, not perhaps of individuals, but of communities. In proportion to the commercial and industrial advancement of a nation, its interests become favourable to peace, and the love of war is in consequence diminished. When therefore the different states of Europe are closely interwoven by commercial interests, when the classes who represent those interests have become the guiding power of the state, and when they are fully penetrated with the truth that war in any quarter is detrimental to their prosperity, a guarantee for the peace of Europe will have been attained, if not perfect, at least far stronger than any which either religion or philanthropy has yet realised. In such a condition of commercial activity, and in such a condition of public knowledge, a political transformation would necessarily ensue, and the principal causes of present perturbations would be eliminated. At the same time two kindred movements which I have already noticed -- the recognition of the principle of the rights of nationalities as the basis of political morality, and the growing ascendency of intellectual pursuits diminishing the admiration of military glory -- would consolidate the interests of peace. Many years must undoubtedly elapse before such a condition of society can be attained; torrents of blood must yet be shed before the political obstacles shall have been removed, before the nationalities which are still writhing beneath a foreign yoke shall have been relieved, and before advancing knowledge shall have finally destroyed those theological doctrines concerning the relations between sovereigns and nations which are the basis of many of the worst tyrannies [1:341] that are cursing mankind; but as surely as civilisation advances, so surely must the triumph come. Liberty, industry, and peace are in modern societies indissolubly connected, and their ultimate ascendency depends upon a movement which may be retarded, but cannot possibly be arrested.
It should be observed, too, that while the nations which are most devoted to industrial enterprise are the most wealthy and the most pacific, they are also, as a general rule, those which are most likely to wield the greatest power in war. This, as Adam Smith has acutely observed, is one of the most important differences between ancient and modern societies. Formerly, when war depended almost entirely upon unaided valour, the military position of a rich nation was usually unfavourable; for while its wealth enervated its character and attracted the cupidity of its neighbours, it did not in the hour of strife furnish it with advantages at all commensurate with these evils. Hence the ruin of Carthage, Corinth, and Tyre, the great centres of commercial activity among the ancients. Since, however, the invention of gunpowder and the elaboration of military machinery, war has become in a great measure dependent upon mechanical genius, and above all upon financial prosperity, and the tendency of the balance of power is therefore to incline steadily to the nations that are most interested in the preservation of peace.
The influence political economy exercises in uniting different communities by the bond of a common interest, is also felt in the relations between the different classes of the same community. It is indeed no exaggeration to say, that a wide diffusion of the principles of the science is absolutely essential, if democracy is to be other than a fearful evil. For when the masses of the poor emerge from the torpor of ignorance, and begin keenly to examine their position in the gradations of society, property is almost certain to strike them as an anomaly and an injustice. From the notion that all men are born free and equal, they will very speedily pass to the conviction that all men are born with the same title to the goods that are in the world. Paley may have been wrong in regarding general utility as the ultimate basis of the rights of property, but most assuredly no other will obtain the respect of those who, themselves struggling with poverty, have obtained a supreme authority in the state. The long series of measures directly or indirectly infringing on the rights of property that have disgraced the democracy of France, [1:343] and the notion of the natural hostility of capital and labour which is so general among the labouring classes on the Continent, are sufficient to cause a profound disquietude to those who have convinced themselves that democracy is the ultimate form of political development. Political economy, and political economy alone, can remedy the evil. It does not indeed teach the optimism or the fatalism that some have imagined, and there can be little question that its ascendency must give in many respects new directions to the channel of wealth, repressing forms of expenditure which have long been regarded as peculiarly honourable, and which will be regarded in a very different light when they are universally acknowledged to be useless or detrimental to society. [2:343] Nor does it teach that the interests of rich and poor are identical in such a sense that the wages of the workman and the profits of his employer must rise and fall together, the fact being rather the reverse. Nor, again, that a government is altogether impotent in regulating the distribution of wealth, for the laws of succession and the direction given to taxation have in this respect a gigantic influence. What, however, it does prove is, that the wages of the labourer depend so necessarily upon the proportion between the sum that is provided for the payment of labour, and the number of those among whom it is divided, that all direct efforts of the government to cause the permanent elevation of wages are, in the end, prejudicial to the very class they are intended to benefit. It proves that the material prosperity of the working classes depends upon the increase of capital being more rapid than that of population, and that this can only be ensured, on the one hand, by the continence of the labourer guarding against excessive multiplication, and, on the other hand, by the fullest encouragement of production, which implies the perfect protection of capitalists; for he who has no assurance that he may retain what he has accumulated, will either never accumulate, or will conceal his property unproductively. In other words, political economy demonstrates, beyond the possibility of doubt, that if the property of the rich were confiscated and divided among the poor, the measure would in the end be the most fearful catastrophe that could befall the latter.
This great truth, that, in a financial point of view, with a very few exceptions, each nation, trade, or profession is interested in the prosperity of every other, has been growing clearer and clearer with each new development of political economy, [1:345] and cannot fail to exercise a vast moral influence upon society. For though concurrence of action based solely upon community of interests, considered in itself, has no moral value, its effect in destroying some of the principal causes of dissension is extremely important. And, indeed, human nature is so constituted, that it is impossible for bodies of men to work together under the sense of a common interest without a warm feeling of amity arising between them. Common aims and hopes knit them together by a bond of sympathy. Each man becomes accustomed to act with a view to the welfare of others, and a union of affections usually replaces or consecrates the union of interests. The sentiment thus evoked is undoubtedly a moral sentiment; and if it is not so powerful as that which is elicited by agencies appealing directly to enthusiasm, it is more general, more uniform, and perhaps, on the whole, not less beneficial to mankind.
It would be easy to show that political economy, by revealing the true causes of national prosperity, has effected, or is effecting, a considerable alteration in many of our moral judgments. Such, for example, is the change in the relative position in the moral scale of prodigality and avarice, of youthful indiscretions, and of imprudent marriages; and such too are the important modifications introduced into the conception of charity by the writings of Defoe, of Ricci, and of Malthus. It will, however, be sufficient for my present purpose, to indicate the predominating bias which these speculations produce, in order to ascertain the class of opinions and the tone of philosophy they are most likely to favour. On this point there can be little doubt. It has been again and again recognised that political economy represents the extreme negation of asceticism.
What may be termed the ascetic and the industrial philosophies have at all times formed two of the most important divisions of human opinions; and as each brings with it a vast train of moral and intellectual consequences, their history touches almost every branch of intellectual progress. The watchword of the first philosophy is mortification; the watchword of the second is development. The first seeks to diminish, and the second to multiply, desires; the first, acknowledging happiness as a condition of the mind, endeavours to attain it by acting directly on the mind, the second by acting on surrounding circumstances. The first, giving a greater intensity to the emotions, produces the most devoted men; the second, regulating the combined action of society, produces the highest social level. The first has proved most congenial to the Asiatic and Egyptian civilisations, and the second to the civilisations of Europe.
From the beginning of the fourth century, when the monastic system was first introduced from Egypt into Christendom, [1:346] until near the Reformation, the ascetic theory was everywhere predominant. The movement that was provoked by the examples of St. Anthony and St. Pachomius, and by the writings of St. Jerome and St. Basil, received its full organisation about two centuries later from St. Benedict. The Crusades and St. Bernard produced the military orders; the teaching of St. Bruno, the Carthusians; the religious struggle of the thirteenth century, the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Carmelites; [1:347] the conflict of the Reformation, the Theatines and the Jesuits. With the exception of the last century, during which some opposition had arisen to the monks, this long space of time represents the continuous elevation of the ascetic principle as the supreme type with which all forms of heroism naturally assimilated or coalesced.
If we compare this period with the last three centuries, the contrast is very evident. Formerly, asceticism represented the highest point of moral dignity, and in exact proportion as a society was stimulated towards its conception of excellence the monasteries were multiplied. At present, the abolition of monasteries is an invariable concomitant of an advancing civilisation, the immediate consequence of every important movement of national progress. Protestantism was the first great protest against asceticism; but the process of confiscation which it initiated in the sixteenth century, and which was then regarded as the most horrible sacrilege, has since been imitated by almost every Catholic government in Europe. Not only France, at a time when she had repudiated Catholicism, but even Austria and Spain have pursued this course. No less than 184 monasteries were suppressed, and ecclesiastical property to the value of more than two millions of florins confiscated, by Joseph II. of Austria: 3,000 monasteries are said to have been suppressed in Europe between 1830 and 1835; 187 in Poland, in 1841. [1:348] And these acts, as well as those which have recently taken place in Italy, have been, for the most part, elicited by no scandals on the part of the monks, but were simply the expression of a public opinion which regarded the monastic life as essentially contemptible and disgraceful.
Of this industrial civilisation, political economy is the intellectual expression; and it is not too much to say, that it furnishes a complete theory of human progress directly opposed to the theory of asceticism. According to its point of view, the basis of all intellectual and social development is wealth; for as long as men are so situated that all are obliged to labour for their sustenance, progress is impossible. An accumulation of capital is therefore the first step of civilisation, and this accumulation depends mainly on the multiplication of wants. When the inhabitants of any country are contented with what is barely sufficient for the support of life, they will only perform the minimum of labour; they will make no steady and sustained efforts to ameliorate their condition, and, as they will place little or no restraint upon multiplication, their numbers increasing more rapidly than the means of sustenance, the most frightful suffering must ensue. To raise that people from its barbarism, the first essential is to make it discontented with its condition. As soon as the standard of its necessities is raised, as soon as men come to regard as necessaries a certain measure of the comforts of life, habits of parsimony and self-restraint will be formed, and material progress will begin. But it is impossible for men by these means to satisfy their wants. The horizon of their ambition continually recedes. Each desire that is accomplished produces many others, and thus new exertions are elicited, and the constant development of society secured. In the atmosphere of luxury that increased wealth produces, refined tastes, perceptions of beauty, intellectual aspirations appear. Faculties that were before dormant are evoked, new directions are given to human energies, and, under the impulse of the desire for wealth, men arise to supply each new want that wealth has produced. Hence, for the most part, arise art, and literature, and science, and all the refinements and elaborations of civilisation, and all the inventions that have alleviated the sufferings or multiplied the enjoyments of mankind. And the same principle that creates civilisation creates liberty, and regulates and sustains morals. The poorer classes, as wealth, and consequently the demand for their labour, have increased, cease to be the helpless tools of their masters. Slavery, condemned by political economy, gradually disappears. The stigma that attached to labour is removed. War is repressed as a folly, and despotism as an invasion of the rights of property. The sense of common interests unites the different sections of mankind, and the conviction that each nation should direct its energies to that form of produce for which it is naturally most suited, effects a division of labour which renders each dependent upon the others. Under the influence of industrial occupations, passions are repressed, the old warlike habits are destroyed, a respect for law, a consideration for the interests of others, a sobriety and perseverance of character are inculcated. Integrity acquires a new value, and dissipation a new danger. The taste is formed to appreciate the less intense but more equable enjoyments, and the standard of excellence being rectified by the measure of utility, a crowd of imaginary virtues and vices which ignorance had engendered pass silently away.
This, or something like this, is the scheme of progress which political economy reveals. It differs essentially from the schemes of most moralists in the fact that its success depends not upon any radical change in the nature of mankind, not upon any of those movements of enthusiasm which are always transient in their duration and restricted in their sphere, but simply upon the diffusion of knowledge. Taking human nature with all its defects, the influence of an enlightened self-interest, first of all upon the actions and afterwards upon the character of mankind, is shown to be sufficient to construct the whole edifice of civilisation; and if that principle were withdrawn, all would crumble in the dust. The emulations, the jealousies, the conflicting sentiments, the insatiable desires of mankind, have all their place in the economy of life, and each successive development of human progress is evolved from their play and from their collision. When therefore the ascetic, proclaiming the utter depravity of mankind, seeks to extirpate his most natural passions, to crush the expansion of his faculties, to destroy the versatility of his tastes, and to arrest the flow and impulse of his nature, he is striking at the very force and energy of civilisation. Hence the dreary, sterile torpor that characterised those ages in which the ascetic principle has been supreme, while the civilisations which have attained the highest perfection have been those of ancient Greece and modern Europe, which were most opposed to it.
It is curious to observe by what very different processes the antipathy to asceticism was arrived at in these two periods. In the first it is to be ascribed mainly to the sense of the harmony of complete development, and above all to the passionate admiration of physical beauty which art contributed largely to sustain. The statues of the most lovely were then placed among the statues of the goddesses, and the athletic games made the symmetry and beauty of the manly frame the highest type of perfection. 'A perfect mind in a perfect body' was the ideal of the philosopher, and the latter was considered almost a condition of the former. Harmonious sustained manhood, without disproportion, or anomaly, or eccentricity -- that godlike type in which the same divine energy seems to thrill with equal force through every faculty of mind and body, the majesty of a single power never deranging the balance or impairing the symmetry of the whole, was probably more keenly appreciated and more frequently exhibited in ancient Greece than in any succeeding civilisation.
Among the moderns, on the other hand, the law of development has been much more social than individual, and depends, as we have seen, on the growth of the industrial element. If we examine the history of the last few centuries, since the Italian republics revived commerce on a large scale, or since the Portuguese for the first time founded a great colonial empire in the interests of industrial enterprise, [1:351] we find that these interests have been steadily becoming supreme in all war, legislation, and diplomacy, and that the philosophy of utility, which is the most faithful expression of the industrial spirit, has attained a corresponding place in the sphere of thought. It is supported by the ascendency of the inductive philosophy, which has always concentrated its efforts chiefly on material advantages. It is supported by the rapid diffusion through all classes of habits of thought derived from political life, which is the consequence of the extension of political liberty. It is supported too by the investigations of those great moralists who since Cumberland have been mainly employed in proving that virtue is a condition of happiness, from which men have illogically, but not unnaturally, inferred, that that which has no utility can have no moral value. [1:352]
The immense importance of utilitarianism in correcting the evils of fanaticism, in calling into action the faculties which asceticism had petrified, and in furnishing a simple, universal principle of life, has been clearly shown. Its capability of coalescing with received theological doctrines can hardly be doubtful to those who remember that Paley made it the corner-stone of his moral philosophy, maintaining that a hope of future reward was the natural principle of virtue. Indeed, one of the few political economists who have endeavoured to give their science a theological complexion, has argued that the laws of economical and of religious progress are identical, being self-denial for an end. [1:353] At the same time, the defects of such a system are sufficiently manifest, and they are in a great measure also the defects of rationalism. Utility is, perhaps, the highest motive to which reason can attain. The sacrifice of enjoyments and the endurance of sufferings become rational only when some compensating advantage can be expected. The conduct of that Turkish atheist, [2:353] who, bellying that death was an eternal sleep, refused at the stake to utter the recantation which would save his life, replying to every remonstrance, 'Although there is no recompense to be looked for, yet the love of truth constraineth me to die in its defence,' in the eye of reason is an inexplicable folly; and it is only by appealing to a far higher faculty that it appears in its true light as one of the loftiest forms of virtue. It is from the moral or religious faculty alone that we obtain the conception of the purely disinterested. This is, indeed, the noblest thing we possess, the celestial spark that is within us, the impress of the divine image, the principle of every heroism. Where it is not developed, the civilisation, however high may be its general average, is maimed and mutilated.
In the long series of transformations we have reviewed, there are two which have been eminently favourable to this, the heroic side of human nature. The substitution of the philosophical conception of truth, for its own sake, for the theological conception of the guilt of error, has been in this respect a clear gain; and the political movement which has resulted chiefly from the introduction of the spirit of rationalism into politics, has produced, and is producing, some of the most splendid instances of self-sacrifice. On the whole, however, it can hardly be doubted, that the general tendency of these influences is unfavourable to enthusiasm, and that both in actions and in speculations this tendency is painfully visible. With a far higher level of average excellence than in former times, our age exhibits a marked decline in the spirit of self-sacrifice, in the appreciation of the more poetical or religious aspect of our nature. The history of self-sacrifice during the last 1800 years, has been mainly the history of the action of Christianity upon the world. Ignorance and error have, no doubt, often directed the heroic spirit into wrong channels, and have sometimes even made it a cause of great evil to mankind; but it is the moral type and beauty, the enlarged conceptions and persuasive power of the Christian faith, that have chiefly called it into being, and it is by their influence alone that it can be permanently sustained. The power of Christianity in this respect can only cease with the annihilation of the moral nature of mankind; but there are periods in which it is comparatively low. The decay of the old spirit of loyalty, the destruction of asceticism, and the restriction of the sphere of charity, which has necessarily resulted from the increased elaboration of material civilisation, represent successive encroachments on the field of self-sacrifice which have been very imperfectly compensated, and have given our age a mercenary, venal, and unheroic character, that is deeply to be deplored. A healthy civilisation implies a double action -- the action of great bodies of men moving with the broad stream of their age, and eventually governing their leaders; and the action of men of genius or heroism upon the masses, raising them to a higher level, supplying them with nobler motives or more comprehensive principles, and modifying, though not altogether directing, the general current. The first of these forms of action is now exhibited in great perfection. The second has but little influence in practice, and is almost ignored in speculation. The gradual evolution of societies, the organised action of great communities under the impulse of utilitarian motives, is admirably manifested; but great individualities act seldom and feebly upon the world. At the same time, the history of speculative philosophy exhibits a corresponding tone. There has always been an intimate connection between utilitarianism and those systems of metaphysics which greatly restrict and curtail the original powers of our nature, regarding the human mind as capable only of receiving, arranging, and transforming ideas that come to it from without. Those who hold that all our ideas are derived from sensation, will always, if they are consistent, make utility the ultimate principle of virtue, because by their system they can never rise to the conception of the disinterested; [1:355] and, on the other hand, it will be usually found that the sensual school and the materialism which it has produced, have arisen in periods when the standard of motives was low, and when heroism and pure enthusiasm had but little influence. In our present absolute ignorance of the immediate causes of life, and of the nature and limits of mind and matter, this consideration furnishes perhaps the most satisfactory arguments in favour of spiritualism; and it is as an index of the moral condition of the age that the prevalence of either spiritualism or materialism is especially important. At present, the tendency towards the latter is too manifest to escape the notice of any attentive observer. That great reaction against the materialism of the last century, which was represented by the ascendency of German and Scotch philosophies in England, and by the revival of Cartesianism in France, which produced in art a renewed admiration for Gothic architecture; in literature, the substitution of a school of poetry appealing powerfully to the passions and the imagination, for the frigid intellectualism of Pope or of Voltaire; and in religion, the deep sense of sin, displayed in different forms both by the early Evangelicals and by the early Tractarians, is everywhere disappearing. In England, the philosophy of experience, pushed to the extremes of Hume, and represented by the ablest living philosopher in Europe, has been rising with startling rapidity to authority, and has now almost acquired an ascendency in speculation. In France, the reaction against spiritualism and the tendency towards avowed materialism, as represented by the writings of Comte, [1:356] of Renan, and of Taine, are scarcely less powerful than at the close of the last century; while, under the guidance of Schoppenhauer and of Buchner, even Germany itself, so long the chosen seat of metaphysics, is advancing with no Paltering steps in the same career.
This is the shadow resting upon the otherwise brilliant picture the history of Rationalism presents. The destruction of the belief in witchcraft and of religious persecution, the decay of those ghastly notions concerning future punishments, which for centuries diseased the imaginations and embittered the character of mankind, the emancipation of suffering nationalities, the abolition of the belief in the guilt of error, which paralysed the intellectual, and of the asceticism which paralysed the material, progress of mankind, may be justly regarded as among the greatest triumphs of civilisation; but when we look back to the cheerful alacrity with which, in some former ages, men sacrificed all their material and intellectual interests to what they believed to be right, and when we realise the unclouded assurance that was their reward, it is impossible to deny that we have lost something in our progress.
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