National Life and Character/Chapter 3

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Large armies, large towns, and large national debts are said to be causes of national decline.—As nations increase, large armies will be more and more a necessity, even though statesmen may be pacific.—There are compensations to standing armies in the education given and the feelings called out by military training. Neither is war itself an unmixed evil The tendency of populations to concentrate in towns is becoming more and more marked.—People flock to towns for work, for large profits, and because the growth of railways tends to concentrate business in a few large centres.—Beyond this, excitement, amusement, social intercourse, economy, are determining motives; and the townsman, once formed, contracts a dislike for country life.—The ancient idea was that city influences elevated and civilised men. Many remarkable men have found their only congenial sphere in a city.—Cities, however, though they attract great men, and develop the life of society, have no tendency to create genius or intellectual distinction.—One drawback to city life is that it destroys physical stamina, though science has done a great deal to eliminate disease and protract life.—And though legislation has promoted the well-being of the labourer, and though some descriptions of city labour are not unwholesome.—On the other hand, the city type is changing for the worse, though the cities are still vitalised by the best life-blood of the country districts.—As cities become of monstrous dimensions, the higher society that grows up in them is too various, and habitually too frivolous, to be of much civilising potency.—Even more does the lower class suffer by being shut out from nature and debarred the sympathy of neighbours.—The conditions of life in large cities are unfavourable to the privacy and self-respect without which family life cannot grow to any perfection. Social reforms may counteract some of the evils arising from this tendency, but cannot be a cure for all.—Women are special gainers by the great wealth and variety of amusement in towns.—Nevertheless, amusements in towns are not more intellectual than they were, but less so. The lecture has been killed by the book or newspaper; the higher drama by the novel.—It is only an apparent exception that the drama maintains itself in Paris, and that Ibsen has had a success of esteem.—The city music-hall is not appreciably superior to the city tavern.—The sordid frugality of a country population is due to its circumstances, and the changes imminent in city life are such as will naturally engender avarice.—National debts may be incurred for justifiable and good reasons.—Countries with great natural resources appear to be warranted in mortgaging their future, in order to develop their resources. There may, however, be periods of depression, even of decline for prosperous states.—Under the influence of theories of State Socialism, a country may engage in a vast speculation, such as buying up the land and leasing it to small cultivators; and this speculation may prove to be unremunerative.—In such a case, there might be a danger of the taxpayer repudiating his engagements to the fund-holder, and, indeed, that he could not fulfil them.—Examples of national bankruptcy are very numerous in the past.—Repudiation lowers the tone of national character; and the impoverishment of the fund-holders would extinguish a class that is very conservative of certain valuable qualities.—Whether large armies, large cities, large debts are to ruin modern society, depends upon how we use the armies, how far we can neutralise town influences, and whether we allow the indebtedness to corrode national morality.

The late Mr. Ticknor, a learned student of history, and who was also a sagacious observer of modern society, used to express the opinion that the "ancient civilisations of the world had been undermined and destroyed by two causes—the increase of standing armies, and the growth of great cities; and that modern civilisation had now added to these sources of decay a third in the hypothecation of every nation's property to other nations."[1] It has been a part of the argument in these pages to show that the maintenance of large armies, easily mobilised, is as much a necessity now as it has been in past times. For many years to come the nations of the Temperate Zones will be trying to encroach upon one another, or on the uncivilised parts of the world, not necessarily because the spirit of an Alexander or a Napoleon animates any modern monarch, but because every statesman has come to believe that national existence is only possible for great Empires. Meanwhile, the nations of the Tropics that have adopted European improvements, and it may be solidified and grown strong under European control, will inevitably adopt the policy of large armaments; all the larger because the individual Hindoo, Chinaman, or Negro is inferior to the individual European. It is quite conceivable that the soldier may be rather less of an obtrusive element in the future than he has been in the past. This, however, is not likely to be because armies will be relatively smaller, but because universal conscription will have become the rule, and military education, up to a certain point, will be part of the stock-in-trade with which every citizen is equipped when he enters life.

This conception of a world always ready for war is, of course, very different from the dreams which pacific optimists have nursed. We have been told that, as the military caste of kings and nobles is dispossessed; as society becomes more sensible and understands the waste of war; as it is informed with a higher morality and comprehends its wickedness; as the class to which war means privation and misery is able to make itself heard in the councils of the State; perhaps, too, as the risks of dismemberment to States and annihilation to combatants become more formidable, war will be replaced everywhere by international arbitration. All this may be true, but, even so, it is difficult to suppose that arbitration will not be influenced by a calculation of the forces every power interested can bring into the field; or that war will not now and again be resorted to where arbitration fails to reconcile conflicting interests, or where a decision is opposed to a high-spirited people's sense of justice. We are bound to remember that wise and good statesmen have constantly endeavoured to promote a general peace. It may be instructive to take two comparatively modern instances. In 1736 England was administered by the peace-loving Walpole, and France by the peace-loving Fleury, Austria had almost disbanded its army, Russia was only dangerous to the Turks, and the South of Europe was profoundly lethargic. Five years later the whole civilised world was in flames. A Parliamentary intrigue had embroiled England and Spain, and the ambition of a petty German sovereign had begun a war which immediately spread beyond the limits of Germany, and led to changes that remodelled the map of Europe. Cuba and Puerto Rico and Georgia, Scotland and Bohemia, were among the countries that suffered for quarrels about which the inhabitants knew and cared little. In this instance, it may be observed that the Spanish war would have been a trifle in itself. The real trouble was the ambition of Frederic II., whose army, before his accession, was scarcely regarded as a factor in European politics, and was chiefly talked of for its pedantic discipline, and its regiment of tall men. Rather more than a century later, the same experiment was renewed. The generation that remembered Napoleon's wars was passionately anxious for peace, and English statesmen, in particular, had learned by bitter experience that the glory of animating Continental alliances was dearly purchased at the price of overwhelming debt and general jealousy. In 1847 England was almost without army or navy; the King of France was as peace-loving as any English Premier; the King of Prussia was perpetually irresolute and unready; Austria desired only to avoid complications of any kind; and the King of Belgium was always ready to mediate when difficulties sprung up. It is doubtful if even the Emperor Nicholas would deliberately have risked a great European war.[2] Nevertheless, in 1848-49, there was war, or rumour of war, everywhere, and in 1853 the three greatest races of the civilised world, as it then was, were waging a very desperate struggle for supremacy. The advent to power of an adventurer, who believed that he would consolidate his position by short and brilliant campaigns, was sufficient to transform Europe into a cockpit or a camp of instruction; and at this moment the standing armies of the Continent are 50 per cent more than they were forty years ago, and the forces kept in reserve, and ready to strike, incomparably greater. The vision of inspired Manchester men, that the angel of Peace was to descend on the world in a drapery of untaxed calico, is still as far from accomplishment as the vision seen in Patmos. Trade is no freer than it was, and war is a more pervading presence.

Meanwhile, an optimist is entitled to claim that a state of military preparedness is not an unmixed evil. The Archduke Constantine, who objected to a campaign because it spoiled his troops,[3] probably meant something more than that drill was neglected and that uniforms were ruined during a campaign. He meant that the mortality of war fell upon men whom the regiments and the country could not spare. There can be little doubt that the army has been a very admirable school for the lower orders of European society. The recruit is forced to acquire habits of cleanliness; has his frame developed by athletic exercises; is taught some elements of knowledge in the regimental schools; learns implicit obedience, and acquires traditions of honour and loyalty to his colours and his comrades, that on critical occasions raise him above regard for this perishable life. The French cuirassiers who rode time after time to certain death at Reichshoffen and Froeschwiller;[4] the German cavalry that courted annihilation in order to win time for a movement of the infantry at Mars-la-Tour; the English infantry at Inkerman; and, even more perhaps than the heroes of any war, the men of the Birkenhead, are among the innumerable evidences that the service of arms can transform generous feeling and irresolute impulse into a steady and exalted heroism. Neither is war all savagery. When England first declared war against the French Republic, the feeling in France was so bitter that the Directory issued orders for no quarter to be given; orders which the French generals, to their honour, refused to obey.[5] After nearly thirty years of struggle, the feeling between Wellington's and Soult's soldiers became one of cordial respect; acts of chivalrous consideration were common on both sides, and the outposts used to mingle freely whenever there was a halt or an informal rest of any kind.[6] A civil war is in general one of indiscriminating bitterness; but scarcely a reproach of violence to non-combatants rests upon the great armies that decided the War of Liberation in the United States. So, again, the Germans who entered France under Von Moltke were appreciably more humane and better disciplined than the soldiers whom Blücher commanded, and this to an extent that is not altogether explained by the absence of recent provocation. It seems, therefore, possible to hope that war, terrible and to some extent pitiless as it must always be, may come to be conducted without intentional injury to non-combatants, and with the smallest possible damage to private property. When horrors, like those which attended the storm of Tarragona by Suchet, and that of San Sebastian by Wellington,[7] are reprobated as atrocities by public opinion—even in military circles—and punished with unsparing severity by courts-martial, the worst influence of war will have been abolished. Lastly, when all is said, we cannot escape from a certain truth in Shakespeare's view of war, that it is "the great corrector of enormous times." Many a nation dates its moral regeneration from a defeat that seemed to shatter it. Russia emancipated her serfs because she was beaten before Sebastopol; Austria tore up her Concordat and liberalised her government because she was vanquished at Solferino; France rid herself of the impurities of the Second Empire at the price of Sedan. There are also communities that have been the better for success. The United States became a nation with a consciousness of great destiny and of her duty towards the human race after the War of Independence. Italy conquered liberty and self-respect on the same battlefields. We may stop short of the splendid paradox of De Maistre, that war is divine in virtue of its supernatural results,[8] and content ourselves with believing that it has its place in the economy of human society, as volcanoes and earthquakes have in the physical world. It took all the courage of Voltaire, less than a century and a half ago, to explain that an earthquake was not necessarily the judgment of God upon an immoral city.[9] At present not even a theologian sees anything outrageous in Herschel's statement that " earthquakes may form part and parcel of some great scheme of Providential arrangement which is at work for good and not for ill."[10] It seems not unreasonable to suppose that a warlike spirit is as inseparable from human nature as the love of money or sexual impulse, and that like these it may have its uses, though its excess is lamentable.

That the growth of large towns is bound to go on in a constantly increasing ratio seems more than probable. England, the greatest example, is in some respects exceptional, because the existence of large properties there has hitherto been accompanied with a system of farming which only men with some capital could attempt, and because the passion of a wealthy class for field-sports induces them to make some sacrifice of rental, and deny themselves the profits which small tenants might bring. Moreover, the old poor-law system and the doctrines of Malthus co-operated in inducing many squires to keep population down on their estates. It was a direct gain that the land should not be charged with the support of paupers, and a prospective advantage that population should not increase beyond the means of support. Then, again, the development of mines and the growth of manufactures have constantly drawn rustics from their native villages, and as the towns have been able to relieve themselves when they were over-peopled by exporting emigrants to America or Australia, there has been no reason to suspect the practice gradually established of unsoundness. The urban population of England is accordingly now nearly double the rural, and would undoubtedly be larger still if a great many miners and sailors were not included in the population of the country. No other country, except Scotland, shows anything like this ratio; but Holland, Belgium, Australia, France, and the United States are making rapid progress in the same direction, and the townsmen in these highly prosperous communities are from one in five to as many as two in five of the nation. Naturally, the towns are least prominent as a rule in the nations that have an extensive area. Altogether, however, the tendency to congregate in towns seems strongest in Anglo-Saxon countries. For instance, the proportion of townsmen in the United States (22·5 per cent in 1880)[11] and in Australia (25 per cent) is very large, though in both of these countries the area of land is considerable, and there is a great deal not taken up.

Now, if we inquire into the causes that attract population to towns, we shall find them very various, and for the most part sufficiently simple. One is, that the discoveries of science in many cases enable the farmer to substitute machinery for hand-labour. The steam-plough, or common ploughs of improved construction, reapers and binders, and threshing-machines have now come largely into use in all highly-developed countries, and the result is that a few well-trained and well-paid labourers are substituted for a great many poorly paid. Then, again, the gradual evolution of macadamised roads, canals, and railways has enormously diminished the proportion of men engaged in the transport of produce, and has also diminished the need of over-production. Formerly, there might be a famine in Gloucestershire when corn was rotting in Kent,[12] because communication between the different parts of England was so difficult and costly, and then every district had to keep corn stored, or to sow more than was likely to be needed; but now the best-developed countries can produce with the nicest economy. Again, science has not only cheapened production and transport, but it has increased production. An acre in England yields at least three times as much at present as it did in the fourteenth century,[13] and though deep ploughing and draining and the use of artificial manures involve rather more labour than was needed under the old system, there is still a large margin to the benefit of the modern farmer. "We may add to this that railways give the shops and professional men in towns a great advantage over their rivals in the country. Every new line that is opened induces a certain number of the country people to make their purchases where the stores are largest, and where the goods can be sold cheapest; and a man troubled about his health or his property prefers to consult the ablest city practitioner of whom he has read or heard. So it happens that the small country stores are reduced in number and importance, and that the professional class gets more and more averse to a country practice. It is scarcely wonderful if for these reasons alone large towns appear to absorb all the natural growth of the community. It is rather wonderful that the remoter and less attractive parts of the country should not be generally deserted, and that the building up of towns should not go on even more rapidly than it does. We must allow, however, for the tendency of some townsmen to make their actual homes outside city precincts, and also for the disinclination of most men to change their careers and habits suddenly. The exodus to towns takes place very much through the young, who have come to think that their best chances of employment and enjoyment are great cities, and whom their elders do not care to dissuade, and do not like to keep back from what seems certain gain.[14]

There is, however, another very potent cause that is contributing to build up towns. Every great country has established State schools, and made education of some kind compulsory. The instruction given is in no case very profound or far-reaching. It is generally more or less confined to reading, writing, and arithmetic, with so much knowledge of geography and of the national history and literature as can be given in popular text-books. Still, what difference there is between the primary education of our own days and the "sound commercial education" of a few years back is rather to the advantage of the primary State school, which professes to teach a little less, but, as a rule, teaches what it does thoroughly and expeditiously. Accordingly, the children of the poorest classes in all English-speaking countries, and in parts of the Continent, have been raised in one important respect to the level of a higher class, have acquired its tastes and ambitions, and are able to compete with it in commerce. Naturally, the cleverest boys of the village school do not care to remain plough-boys; they yearn for the speculative gains of commerce, for the "large excitement" of city life, or at least for the fleshpots and the shelter from sun and rain that are incidental to existence as a town models it. To the yokel, London or New York or Melbourne is an inexhaustible romance; to the cockney of every nation, the country, except as a suburb or an ornamental farm, represents only what is repulsive in toil and uncongenial in society. Even more do the amusements of towns, the club, and the theatre, the exhibition, the race-course, and the ball, create wants that it is almost impossible to relinquish. Anciently, there were some compensations in the sweetness of village homes and the rough abundance of country life. At present, the educated person of small means, widow or school-teacher, or country surgeon's wife, who is doomed to live at a distance from a town, finds that the country is mostly tenanted by those who are too unintelligent to succeed elsewhere; and that the price of necessaries is at least as high as in the city, while the price of luxuries is greater, and many conveniences or economies, such as tram-cars and co-operative stores, and the teachers of accomplishments, are unattainable. Of course this state of things is in some respects bound to be transitory. The farmer is rapidly changing into a highly-educated man; the primary school-teacher is rising in the social grade; State inspectors and employees of the higher class are being multiplied; and railways are already carried into almost every small district in England. Still, the attractions of town-life very much overbalance those of the country even now; and the industrial reasons which urge the rising generation to throng into the metropolis, or at least into towns of some kind, are powerfully enhanced by the requirements which education and a higher refinement bring with them. It seems difficult to doubt that for many years to come towns will grow everywhere at the expense of villages. They would grow even if they were not more attractive, because rural labour does not expand as rapidly as factories and shops; but they have a fascination of their own, and they rarely relax their hold on those whom they have drawn in. A year's life amid "the crowd, the hum, the shock of men" is apt to give a distaste for that life amid green fields and pastures which poets have consented to praise; the years that make a man a confirmed townsman unfit him, morally and physically, for any other life than in populous streets. It is not often that he wishes to change, but he cannot if he would. Even the passion of the wealthy Englishman for field-sports only draws him into the country during the months sacred or possible to these. Habitually he prefers, like Dr. Johnson, to "watch the full tide of life at Charing Cross."

Now, the influence of cities on civilisation is embalmed in language itself. Almost every word that designates the higher life among men implies town-breeding; every word appropriated anciently to country use has acquired a certain savour of contempt. To the Greeks man was by nature social, or a city-dweller (πολιτικός); the polite townsman (ἀστεῖος) was contrasted with the rough dweller in fields (ἀγροικός). The Romans repeated and enforced the idea that the body politic was in the fashion of the city (civitas), and that the city man was naturally courteous (urbanus), while the dweller outside was uncouth in manners (rusticus), and the maintainer of an outworn creed (paganus). Later on, we find the legal synonyms for country labourer ("colonus" and "villanus") passing into our language as "clown" and "loon" and "villain." The French vocabulary is at least equally rich in terms of this kind. We cannot disregard the historical fact, of which these etymological trifles are confirmation, that what we call progress was in antiquity at least the outcome of city life under certain favourable conditions. Something, no doubt, has to be allowed for the perpetuity of order, which at the time was scarcely possible except within city walls or under their shadow. If Attica had been as open to an invading army as Lacedemon, we can hardly imagine that Athens would have been of much more account in the world's history than Sparta. Still, the contact of mind with mind is perhaps the main factor in intellectual development; and the incomparable benefit of Athens to its poets, its thinkers, and its orators seems to have been, that it supplied them with a society that was quick to catch at ideas, and keen to sift them. To us, who confound writers of ten centuries and fifty different places under the convenient name of "classical," it is difficult to understand why a man banished from Athens or Kome felt that the whole world was, so to speak, closed to him. The lamentations of Cicero when he was forced to leave Italy, but had nearly every great city, except Athens, open to him in Greece or Asia;[15] even the complaints of Ovid at being sent to a garrison town in what is now Bulgaria,[16] seem as unmanly and incomprehensible as the wailings of Philoctetes over his wound would appear to the maimed private of an English regiment. Yet Cicero and Ovid only expressed the feeling of every educated Roman. Later on, Juvenal winds up the panegyric of a country life by remarking that it cannot be endured for five days continuously.[17] The Greek and Roman had a feeling for Athens and Rome which only Paris among modern towns has inspired in a similar degree, and for something of the same reason. When Mdme. de Staël would have sacrificed everything but conviction for the right to live again in the Rue de Bac, what she regretted was the French salon, which could give her nothing superior in kind to what she found in Germany, in Russia, and in England, but which yet gave her the only intellectual atmosphere in which she could breathe freely. Half her shades of meaning, all that was best in her style, and much that was good in her thought, could only be understood by the people of whom she was one. Only they could tell her, and they only in the indirectness of social intercourse, how far she had gone home to the hearts and minds of her countrymen. It is quite conceivable that she really did better work for being thrown upon herself, just as we may assume that Dante drew concentration and energy from the "salt savour" of bread eaten in exile, and Milton from the enforced seclusion of his later years. There can be little doubt that genius is now and again apt to fritter itself away on things that are of the earth earthy; and Dante might have been squandered away in municipal intrigues, Mdme. de Staël in party-giving, if the poet had not been driven from Florence, and the publicist from Paris. All that is contended for is that minds of the highest order are very sensible to the need of human intercourse, and are apt to feel their own want of criticism and sympathy to an extent that is sometimes incompatible with self-reliance. City life has been praised, perhaps beyond its deserts, because it has brought thinkers into touch one with another, and has stimulated the divine impulse to originate by sympathy or antagonism.

It must be noted, however, that the instances of societies in which men of the highest distinction have been fairly numerous are so few and far between that it seems impossible to deduce any law from them. The popular examples are Athens from Aeschylus to Demosthenes, Rome from Lucretius to Juvenal, Florence in the time of Michael Angelo, London in the period from Elizabeth to Anne, Paris in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and perhaps some circles in Germany for part of the eighteenth century. No doubt a long and brilliant list could be filled with names that do not belong to any one of these times and places. Homer, Dante, Cervantes, Voltaire, Darwin, and Victor Hugo may almost be said to make epochs in themselves; and no one dreams of disputing their ability or the influence they have exercised on style and thought. The point contended for, however, is, that individuals cannot be claimed as the direct outcome of city life in the same way that a literary set can be. Homer may have owed more than we suspect to the comments of crowds in Asia Minor, Dante may have been a representative Florentine, and Voltaire certainly seems a representative Parisian; but even Voltaire, though he founded a school of thought, had no rivals or critics or colleagues comparable with himself, except, perhaps, Rousseau, who was quite dissimilar, and who derived whatever was best in him from Geneva. The remarkable point is that even in modern society, when population is so much larger, when thought is comparatively unshackled, when burning questions are in the air, when the public is a better Maecenas than Martial prayed for, there are periods in the life of large communities which seem almost as sterile as the later centuries of the Roman Empire. Whom did England produce between Swift and Byron, outside of politics, who will be read for either power or beauty of form as an imaginative writer? What Frenchmen, except Chateaubriand and Courier, were literary in the real sense of the word in the fifty years that elapsed after Voltaire's death?[18] Is Italy adequately represented in literature by Alfieri and Leopardi for the three centuries that have passed since the death of Tasso? and is Spain represented at all for two centuries? It is easy to say that the genius of England had a worthy expression in Gibbon and Burke during a time otherwise barren; and it is perhaps true that the nation was throwing itself into politics and invention at that period. France may reasonably claim that she put her life and thought into the glory and waste of the Revolution and of the First Empire. What is difficult to explain is the complete break of intellectual continuity. No one can suppose that Brindley, Wedgwood, or Watt would have been poets if they had not been inventors; and it seems accordingly difficult to understand why one order of genius comes to the front, while another, not necessarily, but often, recedes, and is lost for a time. The natural inference would appear to be, that neither ordinary city life, nor the presence of one or two great thinkers or artists in a community is a guarantee that there will be any general activity or real elevation of thought. We have examples of countries where millions of men have succeeded one another for generations, even for centuries, and produced nothing more than a few competent administrators without statesmanship, soldiers without strategy, and literary men without the power to originate. Civilisation, such as is the outgrowth of populous communities, appears to guarantee little more at best than a wise habit of municipal administration, some energy and deftness of commerce, and certain gracious formalities in human intercourse. The official, the merchant, and the diner-out represent the outcome of city life when society is torpid.

Now the compensating drawbacks to these advantages of general acuteness and occasional distinction are sufficiently formidable. It is very doubtful whether townsmen of many generations do not lose stamina, and decline in stature, to a degree that implies perilous degeneracy.[19] The question, no doubt, is not a simple one. So far as the evidence of coats of armour goes, the ancestors of the English people must have been smaller-chested and of less stature than average men at present. On the other hand, the prowess of the English archers shows that their small stature was compatible with great muscular strength; and it is perhaps reasonable to suppose that incessant wars reduced the average height, as the tallest men were the first picked off. The wars of the first Napoleon produced an effect which is sometimes thought to be still noticeable in the conscription. Yet this argument cannot be pressed, as on the Continent, where the object is that no man should be exempted from military service, it is important to keep the standard of height as low as possible; while in England the reductions that have been found necessary to keep the regiments filled may be due to the fact that the attractions of private employment are now greater than they were. It must be admitted also that the average of life in England is now longer than it was,—a fact which seems inconsistent with reduced vitality. Still, it may be questioned if we can infer more from this than that science, to some extent, compensates the disadvantages that result from the city life carried to excess. What science has done cannot easily be over-estimated. Leprosy, smallpox, the Black Death, the plague, and the sweating sickness, are little more than memories of the past. In 1349 the Black Death carried off at least a third of the population of all England, the deaths in London alone being reckoned at 100,000.[20] The cholera of 1831-32 only carried off 5275 in a ten times larger London, and was scarcely felt except in the slums of great cities.[21] The sufferers from plague in old times used to comfort themselves with the expectation that if they recovered they would be disease-proof for the future;[22] but the records of mortality show that these terrible visitations carried off not only two-thirds of those who were attacked, but left the remainder with debilitated constitutions. As late as Adam Smith's time the mortality among the children of the poor was enormous. "In some places," he says, "one-half the children born die before they are four years of age; in many places before they are seven, and in almost all places before they are nine or ten."[23] The mortality of children under five is still very great, but it is not half of Adam Smith's highest estimate, and the mortality between five and ten is not so great as that of ordinary adults.

Not only have sanitary conditions been improved, but labour has been regulated with the best possible results. The horrors of the factory system have been mitigated or removed by the legislation Lord Shaftesbury initiated; and the increasing power of Trades-Unions is making the revival of overwork on a large scale impossible. Compulsory education is assisting to keep children from that toil in stifling rooms which used to be the fruitful cause of stunted frames and impaired vitality. Some occupations that w r ere poisonous have now been made reasonably safe. A certain proportion of the workers in large towns—such as dock labourers, coalheavers, workers in foundries, and men in the building trade—work under conditions that are favourable to muscular development as well as to health, and are in a great many cases better fed than they would be in the country. Mr. Booth's very careful analysis of the population in some of the poorest parts of London has shown that only a fraction are paupers or loafers, and that not quite 20 per cent are casual or intermittent wage-earners.[24] It is probably correct to say that even in London, the typical instance of concentration, the poverty is still manageable, though now and again, in hard times, many thousands of men and women willing to work are within measurable distance of starvation. Still, if we could be certain that great cities would not continue to increase even faster in the future than they have done in the past, we might fairly hope that the wisdom of statesmen would contrive a remedy for present evils.

Unhappily, there is another side to the question. We have to take into account that the great English and Scotch towns have been draining the life-blood of the country districts for more than a century. Forty years ago the population of towns and country districts in England was nearly equal. In 1881 the towns were to the country as three to two; and in 1891 they are as seven to four. We must either assume that during this period the natural increase in the country has been very small, or that it has all been carried off by emigration, or that a portion of it has been attracted to the towns. Dr. Ogle, who has made a study of the subject, gives reasons for supposing that there has been a "continuous migration of the most energetic and vigorous members of the rural communities into the manufacturing districts."[25] So long as this lasts, and is on a large scale, we are not in a condition to appreciate how far town -life tells upon the physique of the people. Not only do the vigorous countrymen replenish the towns with new life, but they have a tendency to crowd out and starve the weaker and more stunted specimens of humanity, who are the outcome of several generations that have grown up without proper access to light and air, and without muscular exercise. Before long, however, the country immigrants will be an imperceptible addition to any great English or Scotch city. What, for instance, will 20,000 immigrants a year mean to the swarming life of a metropolis with four or five millions of inhabitants? Is it not unavoidable that the city type should become more and more pronounced? Is it not probable that the type elaborated will not be so much that of the mobile, critical, originative Athenian, who was practically an aristocrat among slaves, as of the Manchester or Bellevue operative, with an inheritance of premature decrepitude, with an horizon narrowed to parochial limits, with no interests except those of the factory or the Trades-Union; with the faith of the Salvation Army, that finds expression in antics and buffoonery, or with that even more lamentable scepticism to which the bestial element in man is the only reality?

It must be borne in mind that the city life which we associate from history with ardent public spirit and susceptibility of great ideas was never trammelled by the limitations which cramp a great capital in modern times. The Athenian could pass in a couple of hours from the Acropolis into a country solitude; he was perpetually serving as soldier or sailor, or was traversing mountain paths to consult an oracle, or to attend a festival. The free population of Eome may have amounted to nearly three-quarters of a million in part of its best literary period; but these numbers were closely packed within a circuit of thirteen miles;[26] the country with its breezy plains or umbrageous forests or little townships was close at hand; and society was so small that, for one period at least, we know all about its leaders and their family scandals, and the places of amusement, and the chief professional men, as well as we know about the England of Queen Elizabeth's time. In Rome, as in Paris and London during their best days, though the city was too big for a single set, and though we can perceive that the younger Pliny and Tacitus moved in a different world from Juvenal and Martial, just as Fox and Sheridan scarcely ever met Dr. Johnson, there were still points of contact between the salons, and in this way there was, as it were, a literary commonwealth, whose members exchanged ideas and reproduced each other's thoughts with variations. Boston, not being overgrown, has been able to combine this best feature of town intercourse with a singular charm of its own during our own generation. At present London is either too vast for such a society to exist, or if it exists it is effaced by the multitudinous life of statesmen, professional men, millionaires on every side. There may be even more talent than there was in the days of Burke and Gibbon and Horace Walpole; but it is dissipated in space, or attracts no attention outside. The successful proconsul, the daring traveller, the scientific discoverer, are now passed round for a season from salon to salon, invited to air themselves in reviews, and relegated to the second place. The world at large is just as reverent of greatness, as observant of a Browning, a Newman, or a Mill, as it ever was; but the world of society prefers the small change of available and ephemeral talent to the wealth of great thoughts, which must always be kept more or less in reserve. The result seems to be that men, anxious to do great work, find city life less congenial than they did, and either live away from the metropolis, as Darwin and Newman did, or restrict their intercourse, as Carlyle and George Eliot practically did, to a circle of chosen friends. The same feature of human intercourse appears to be noticeable in France, though in France the Second Empire broke up the thinking and talking world so completely, that even the semblance of that brilliant society which existed under the last monarch has never been reconstituted. An outside observer, at least, remembers that Littré and Renan and Victor Hugo have been relics of the old world, and that Lamartine and De Musset, De Tocqueville and Michelet and Thierry, George Sand and Balzac have left no counterparts.

It is, perhaps, too early to decide whether town life is dying at the top. It may well be, that even in one of our overgrown capitals a society may spring up which shall not allow itself to be absorbed in the riot and the ennui of fashionable gatherings, which shall find better use for its thought than to tone it down into commonplace, and nobler use for its style than the affectation of epigrammatic smartness. Such a body of men might easily recover the influence and dignity which was enjoyed by the best circle of George III/s reign during the American War; by the French Liberals under the House of Orleans; and by the Boston Transcendentalists while the struggle of slavery was undecided. All that can be said with certainty is, that as towns grow to dimensions never dreamed of as possible, it must be increasingly difficult for a few men, however brilliant, to give direction to the thought of the whole urban community. What, however, can admit of no doubt is, that if wealth and numbers and uniform habit of life and speech and opinion may tend to set aside genius or cramp originality even when they act on a small coterie, they are incomparably more calculated to exercise an influence for evil upon the masses. The dweller in a great city is tending more and more to become a very small part of a very vast machine. It is not only that his daily work is less varied, and makes less demands on resource and fertility of expedient than it did, but his whole horizon is narrowed. Put, on the one hand, the elevating influence of the State school, which has taken him through a primary reader series, and add, it may be, an occasional visit to the museum; and assume, on the other hand, what is becoming more and more a fact, that the artisan's daily walk from the house to the factory represents his knowledge of God's earth; that he has never wandered by the seaside, or in the woods; knows nothing such as village children know of life in the hedges and the farmyard; never sees the dawn whiten and flush over heather, or has looked up at the stars except through an intervening veil of smoke and fog. Does any man dream that an excursion train, with its riotous mirth and luncheon-baskets, and few hours' freedom to stand on a pier or stroll through the streets of a country town can compensate to millions of human beings for nature quite shut out? What kind of children will those be who grow up when the best sanitary laws have restricted the intercourse with animals even more than is now customary in towns; who have never picked buttercups and daisies; who read in poems of the song of birds that they cannot hear, and of a beauty in the seasons which they only know by vicissitudes of hot and cold? Will not their eyes be dimmed for all sights but those which a shop window can afford? and will not their minds be the poorer by many bright memories which their mothers had? Yet these are not even the chief losses which a city life entails. There is an inevitable companionship in country life which draws rich and poor together. At the cricket-ground and in the hunting-field, in church and in social gatherings, from harvest-home to school-feast, squire and parson, farmer and hind, meet together animated for the hour with the same kindly thoughts. In the great majority of villages, at least, the cottager looks for sympathy in his troubles to the Rectory and the Hall. Even where the clergyman has been torpid and the landowner non-resident, the village has still been a community of neighbours interested in one another. In the multitudinous desolation of a great city contact between rich and poor is scarcely possible, and as there are no abiding homes there are no real neighbours. Strangers who will help with relief, or, it may be, close the dying eyes of the destitute, are a poor exchange for families that have lived near one another, toiled together, taken holiday together for generations.

In very small communities the family life is deepened and intensified by isolation. Families intermarry, and it comes to be thought a scandal that any one should marry out of the clan. The result is seen in a certain rough loyalty of all who are so connected to one another, in a storing-up of family traditions, and in an enhanced self-respect. The obvious drawbacks to this kind of life are, that the interbreeding is sometimes carried to excess, though this is not often the case where the conditions of life are healthy, and that feeling for the parish or the district seems to supersede national sentiment. In large towns this sort of family life is impossible, and the traditions of old burgher families, tradesmen, or artisans, who lived in the same street for generations, is rapidly becoming extinct. The apprenticeship system that gave young men a family training of a kind has to a great extent disappeared. The workman is very constantly a bird of passage; at least an immigrant from the country or abroad. He marries, or forms an irregular connection with some chance acquaintance. The lodgings are constantly changed, so that no home associations can grow up; the husband may be absent for weeks or months at a time; the children live, out of school time, in the court or the streets, their homes being mere feeding and sleeping places; the boys scatter as they grow up, and the girls find work in a factory, where it is impossible for the mother's eye to follow them. Of course there are thousands of cases in which the conditions are even less favourable to domesticity; where two or more families live in a room, so that not only is no separation of the sexes possible, but that an entire family cannot enjoy the privacy without which the communication of thought in counsel or sympathy is impossible. No doubt the imperishable instincts of human nature will assert themselves with perpetual miracles of gracious spontaneity in the slums as well as in Arcadia. Hermann and Dorothea will rehearse the "old, old story" in whispers or hints, and during hours when all is hushed; the mother will glow with all the hope and love of womanhood as the babe, predestined to scrofula or typhus, smiles up or crows in her face; and the father, worn out with the week's toil, will feel a Sabbath rest as he looks round upon his children, even though he cannot talk freely, or pray, or walk in green fields with them. No one can doubt that the moral sentiment is inextinguishable who reflects how the instinct of purity has maintained itself among English women, living as they have done for the last three generations in conditions of domesticity that even in the country were often only a little better than they now are in the less crowded parts of our great cities. What it seems impossible to question is, that the old family feeling, with which self-respect, loyalty to kindred, discipline and sexual purity were intimately associated, must in course of time disappear from large towns, unless some radical change should make home-life possible to the toiling and thrifty part of the population.

Now the State Socialism which is growing upon us, and the scientific teaching which we are all disposed to admit, are combining in some respects to a hopeful solution of some of these difficulties. Science, disregarding the "let-alone" theory, which declared that the State had no right to interfere with the workman's demand for lodgings, or the capitalist's supply, is instructing us that it is at our own peril if we allow the conditions of disease to exist anywhere, and that the lives and fortunes of the whole community are at stake if we overlook crowded rooms, bad drainage, foul drinking-water, or diseased food. The scientific man will probably content himself with very practicable requirements, but he will hardly be satisfied with less than a proportion of cubic feet that means separation for every family, and an abundant water-supply. The temperate State Socialism that is coming in goes naturally beyond this, and asks that the State shall make itself a large employer of labour, so far as to assure a reasonable wage to every man ready to work. We can already see tendencies of progress towards a more advanced point. Philanthropists are trying to get large spaces reserved as parks or recreation-grounds in the neighbourhood of our towns, to get gymnasiums attached to our schools, and to arrange for occasional excursions into the country. If we assume every family to be living in a five-roomed house,[27] every working-man in England to be earning his thirty shillings a week, the Saturday half-holiday to be introduced, every child to be trained in gymnastic exercises, and every young man to have the opportunity of football, cricket, or drill, we shall assume no more than would seem very moderate and perhaps inadequate in Australia; and yet changes of this kind would mean a new life for millions of human beings in such cities as London and Glasgow, Paris and Lyons, Berlin or Vienna, New York or Chicago. Nevertheless, even these reforms, which perhaps are possible and probable, would only be of partial efficacy as regards health. They would restore the sanctity of family life, but they could not bring back the old authority of family ties; and they would scarcely touch the deplorable isolation of the townsman from that world full of sweet sights and sounds, that divinity of hill and glade and running stream which were anciently the inheritance of the whole human race.

Let us now set off against these positive losses the advantage in variety of amusements which operates so largely in attracting the youth of the country districts to a town. For women, in particular, the gain seems to be incalculable. There are the theatre, the music-hall, or the opera, the picture-gallery, the comic entertainment, the lecture, the class-room, and a very considerable resource in what is known as "society" for all, except, of course, the very poor. Even if we admit that the racket and incessant change of life in very fashionable circles are carried to excess, and that the very poor are apt to be thrown upon worse associates than they would find in the country, the broad fact remains that to the great mass of women the streets within a mile of their town-house contain greater variety than they can find in a whole county. That the town acquaintanceships are as a rule perfectly superficial, that a large visiting list may not contain a single friend, or one with that sympathy of custom which neighbourhood in the country is apt to engender, may be said to be partially compensated by the comparative absence of small rivalries and petty scandals. Then, even if we assume that the old paramount influence of the best set in a metropolis has ceased to be as noticeable as it once was, there is an immense wealth of secondary, and even very high talent. The city absorbs the most practical intellects of the country, and competition keeps them from rusting. To put the case briefly, if human life in the great centres has less intensity and tenderness than in the provinces, it has also less ennui; and to the nervous, excitable, modern temperament relief from ennui is the primary condition of a healthy and desirable existence. We must probably console ourselves with this reflection, for it seems likely that the amusements of a large town rather lose than gain in character as it grows. To take the lecture-room, which is perhaps the most intellectual of all, it is noticeable that Coleridge and Carlyle had very moderate success, that Thackeray and Dickens were better received in the provinces than in London, and that Matthew Arnold was a failure in America, and had no encouragement to lecture in England. The fact probably is, that most people prefer to read a lecture in the columns of a newspaper or in a book; and if they go to a lecture at all, go only from curiosity to see or hear a distinguished man. There is nothing unreasonable in this view, but if it becomes universal, one kind of amusement that stimulated the mind in no unworthy way will be retrenched. The theatre is not likely to suffer in this manner. Hardly any one derives as much pleasure from reading a play as from seeing it well put on the stage. Even a very ordinary cast of actors, giving only the trivial stage tradition with no original renderings, will present one of Shakespeare's plays in such a way as to stimulate or instruct a critic. Unfortunately, the age is no longer tolerant of work with a high aim. It has become a proverb that Shakespeare spells ruin, and the exceptions to this are where popular actors give the stage version more or less infamously garbled, with such gorgeousness of costume and surroundings that the mind is diverted from the words to the presentation. Putting aside Shakespeare, and admitting that where Shakespeare is only tolerated his great contemporaries cannot claim to be heard, we find that the serious work of modern times is never even regarded. Shelley, Browning, and Tennyson are experimented on from time to time, and put away almost instantly; Byron's name has not recommended his dramas; Swinburne has never even been tried; and the comparative success of Bulwer Lytton and of Sheridan Knowles, if we can draw any inference from it, would seem to show that the public is really tolerant of the drama only when it is bad. It may be said that the world has become unfamiliar with strong emotions and incredulous of violent effects; that the hardness of Lear's daughters, Othello's jealousy, Iago's villainy, Macbeth's crimes, are too sensational properly to impress a society that is no longer prone to stormy impulses, and that can hardly understand impulses that outrage decorum. This, however, will not account for the fact that even the highest style of comedy has fallen into disrepute. Modern counterparts of Much Ado about Nothing, or The Merchant of Venice, of Tartufe or Le Misanthrope, seem to be as little attempted as the old form of tragedy. The popular form of amusement in England is broad farce or the extravaganza; and some of Mr. Gilbert's work in this last direction is so admirable as to show that genius may impress its own stamp upon its masterpieces, and yet be popular, if it consults the spirit of the age. Perhaps it is most reasonable to assume that the novel has killed the drama as a delineation of human energy and suffering. The novel makes less demand upon the attention, can reiterate strokes and deepen colours where the first effect has failed, and can be produced in endless variety. There is a certain class of work, the minute and progressive analysis of a character undergoing change, that the novel perhaps achieves better than the play. Meanwhile, the substitution of the book for the counterfeit presentation in the higher range of subject may surely be said to have debased one large and important class of amusement by restricting it to pageantry and sensational effects or vulgar allusion; to shifts of dresses, to the jokes of a Jack-Pudding, to pugilistic encounters, or to the bringing of a whole farmyard in feather and fleece on the stage.

It is, no doubt, to be borne in mind that although the English drama was incomparably the best in the world at one time, and though the English dramatists are the only moderns who will bear comparison with the Greeks, the French have excelled us for two centuries and a half in the average excellence of their work, and in the capacity for criticism. Now, the decadence of the drama in France is by no means so marked as it is in England. Victor Hugo's best dramas seem to many of us who are foreigners superior for dramatic situations and for the expression of fine feeling even to Corneille; and of the younger Dumas and Sardou we may at least say that they are good enough to be read and reproduced or plundered everywhere. No one supposes that a Corneille or Victor Hugo can be born in every generation; and therefore, if the best work of these men is still appreciated in their own country, if there are men, however inferior, still working upon the same lines, it would not be safe to say that the character of the drama in that country has deteriorated. Let us admit this, and allow that Paris—even though it is an overgrown city—retains one very perfect form of amusement which has seemed to decay in England as the novel superseded it for the highest work. Still, Paris is only one city, and the taste of the French people may have given them an exceptional advantage, though it has not saved even Paris from being the home of opera-bouffe. The other apparent exception to the proposition, that the taste for serious dramatic art is declining, is to be found in the vogue that Ibsen's dramas have attained to. Writing in a tongue almost unknown to the world, translated at first only into German, as careless of popular taste and as reflective as Browning, as prone to violent effects as Webster, Ibsen has nevertheless obtained a moderate recognition even in England, where his best works are comparatively unread; altogether, I believe, unacted.[28] Probably it is fair to say in this particular instance that the generous appreciation of scholars and experts has forced Ibsen's plays upon the attention of a public that grudges the time it gives them, and would prefer Orpheus in Hell to Peer Gynt.

It is scarcely necessary to inquire if the music-hall or the comic entertainment minister to a sound or elevated taste. What may probably be urged, however, with truth is, that they are to a great extent the relaxations of a class that had no relaxations anciently, or only such as were coarse and brutal—the bear-bait, the bull-bait, or the cockpit. It may even be better that men and women should listen to a stupid and indelicate song trolled out by a professional singer than that there should be a large literature of tavern catches and obscene songs, such as have come down to us from every century, of which we have copious literary remains, and such as were freely sung at private parties. It may reasonably be contended that the popular music-hall production of to-day never sinks quite as low for grossness as songs that Shakespeare and Ben Jonson have embalmed, and that the decay of literary form in this lowest phase of brainwork is due to the enhanced self-respect which prevents any but the lowest craftsmen from pandering to the most debased taste. All that the present argument seeks to establish is, that certain forms of amusement which a city provides, and which are considered among the attractions of a city, are really not more intellectual or elevating, though they are unquestionably more garish and fascinating, than the riot and coarse jocularity of a village tap-room.

Perhaps the most genuine advantage of city life is, that though the greed for gold is naturally as fierce in towns as in the country, it has a tendency to be less sordid. The French peasant as Balzac has painted him, the Spanish villager as Galdos describes him,[29] are very intense types of what country toil tends to produce everywhere an absolute concentration of the mind upon small economies, or, it may be, small pilferings, and a thorough deadening of the moral sense. Countries where the wage-rate is low, and where the peasant is disinclined to move on the chance of bettering himself, seem to be those in which the feeling is strongest, and the Scotchman, who has always had a harder struggle for existence than his Southern neighbour, is, in spite of his superior self-reliance, habitually more frugal than the Englishman. On the other hand, countries where life is easy, and where splendid chances are numerous—such countries as California and parts of Australia have been for a generation—may possess a free-handed, speculative race of countrymen—miners, and even yeomen—with none of the economical characteristics of the European peasant. The greater frugality of the country population is therefore due to its circumstances and its needs, and the comparative lavishness of town life is chiefly noticeable in cities where wealth circulates freely, and where chances are numerous. There is reason to suppose, accordingly, that this advantage of the city over the country is not in its nature permanent. If we can assume a form of State Socialism which monopolised investment, taxed accumulated wealth heavily, and secured the labouring man work on equal terms wherever he lived, the reasons for the frugality of the villager would to a great extent disappear. Even if we assume the changes effected to be much less noticeable, a closing up of the outlets for emigration would deprive a large class in cities and in some country districts of the opening and chances to which they now trust in place of economy, and a severe competition of highly-developed countries, one with another, might easily reduce wages. The motives for frugality would become imperative, and the "Père Grandet" of French romance would have his counterpart in every London court.

Mr. Ticknor, as reported, put the case against a national debt as if it .were only dangerous when it was held by the foreign creditor. On that assumption, the English, French, and United States debts, which are chiefly held in their respective countries, would be no serious evil. It seems more reasonable to consider whether a community that has anticipated its future progress to any great extent is not always in some peril. Such an inquiry will, of course, be independent of the question whether the debt was not contracted on reasonable grounds, or perhaps unavoidable. National existence would be regarded by most reasonable men as worth paying for, and when a statesman, by a nice calculation of chances, raises his country from being a second-rate state into the position of a first-class power, at the cost, it may be, of less than a year's income, the world does not censure his policy as extravagant. The peaceable acquisition of a State like Alaska by purchase is even less open to criticism. The cost of slave emancipation to Great Britain has always been considered a reasonable charge, and we now know that if the United States had emancipated the blacks in the Southern States at double their market value, instead of freeing them by war, it would have been an extremely sound bargain. The debts contracted for the purchase of a telegraph system, or for the construction of railways or water -works, are generally allowed to be right in principle. As a rule, we may perhaps say that a community is only censured when it charges current expenses or unproductive investments, such as fortifications, to posterity. Indeed, it is sometimes held, that as fortifications are a provision against future as well as immediate dangers, part of the expenditure on them may fairly be charged to the generation that will reap the advantage. Altogether, a State is practically justified for borrowing wherever it is a question of permanent acquisition or improvement; but an administration is not at present allowed to speculate on the chances of the market as a syndicate, a merchant, or a private adventurer might.

Under the influence of these ideas the growth of national debts has been very rapid. Russia, France, Italy, Spain, and such South American States as have enjoyed credit of any kind, have been the most flagrant instances of free-borrowing, while England, Holland, and the United States are the only countries that show an inclination to reduce their funded debts. It is customary to assume that the wealth of a prosperous country increases almost as rapidly as its indebtedness. For instance, if it be shown that France owed £911,000,000 in 1882 against £140,000,000 in 1820, it is retorted that the wealth of France has increased from £1,520,000,000 to £9,070,000,000 between 1815 and 1882.[30] Again, in the case of an undeveloped country, like one of the Australian colonies, where the money borrowed has not been squandered, as in the Argentine Confederation, but spent in reproductive works, it is usual to point to the railways and State lands as valuable assets. Then, again, the competition of money -seeking investment is so great that a large number of States can borrow at 3, 3½, 4, or, at most, 4½ per cent, where they anciently borrowed at 5 or 6. In this way the charges of old debts have been very sensibly reduced in several countries. Indeed, taking the money-market as a test, it may be said that Russia, Turkey, certain South American States, and Portugal are the only countries where national credit has been seriously impaired by borrowing, and even among these the decline is sometimes due to the fact that the country has drawn too largely in quite recent times upon its credit. The debt of Russia, if it could be kept stationary, or nearly so, for a few years, is not excessive for its growing population and immense natural resources.[31] What financiers fear is, that the money lent is employed in preparations for war that mean waste if peace is maintained, and that may mean incalculable loss if war is resorted to. Generally, the feeling seems to be, that every country has possibilities of great industrial development; that the necessity of maintaining national credit is understood by all but barbarous communities, and as a corollary, that there is no particular reason to be alarmed at the great increase of national indebtedness throughout the world.

There are, perhaps, some considerations on the other side. An increase of indebtedness is of its nature permanent; an increase of prosperity is not only not certain to last, but is practically certain to be reduced now and again by bad years. It means that money has been laid by and invested in remunerative enterprises, such as factories, ships, railways, houses, or the reclamation of land. Obviously, if population increases slowly, or is stationary, the development of wealth at constantly increasing rates cannot continue. A point may be reached when further production becomes increasingly difficult, and when families spend their surplus incomes more and more in articles of ostentation and comfort, because investments are less and less remunerative. Six or eight years of great depression, attended with the closing of factories, the throwing of land out of tillage, and the working of half the railways at a loss, would tell very seriously upon the capacity of even a prosperous country to meet its engagements. As for the supposed guarantees of a debt, they are all more or less visionary. In a time of great depression the State must resume its customs' duties or its mines, if it has pledged them, and its lands and its railways may be unsaleable at any depreciation. The only real guarantee of a debt is national character. The financial world requires to feel assured that under any possible form of government the importance of maintaining the national credit will be regarded as paramount to every other consideration. It is among the solid advances of practical morality that this is so much better understood than was once the case. Countries like Spain and Greece and the Argentine Confederation, that made no effort to pay their debts fifty years ago, have begun to learn by experience, though still in a halting and imperfect manner, that repudiation is far too costly a luxury to be indulged in.

Nevertheless, there seem to be two possibilities in the future that may reasonably inspire a little anxiety. One is, that States over-confident in the future may encumber themselves with obligations which it will scarcely be possible to discharge by any sacrifice. Let us suppose, for instance, that England tries an experiment in State Socialism, and buys up the land in Great Britain to distribute it again to small tenants by issuing a 2¾ per cent stock. We may assume, further, that the operation is carried out skilfully; that the landowner gets a sufficient, but not a fancy value for his land; and that the State may reasonably expect, if existing values are maintained, to lose nothing by the transaction, and even to gain ultimately, if farming by small occupiers proves a success, as great authorities have contended that it is bound to do. All of course depends upon this latter consideration. Now, it is at least conceivable that even though the small farmer gets more out of the land than the great landowner did, the farmer may yet fail to pay expenses, because the foreign market may be shut against his produce, and the home market may have diminished. For instance, the English coal-measures may have begun to fall off,[32] or countries like China and the United States may produce so cheaply as to drive English goods out of the market. In that case the English taxpayer, who has paid £1,600,000,000, let us say, for the land, and has created the money by charging himself with interest to the amount of £44,000,000, may find himself every year losing £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 upon his purchase. It will not be easy to make up this deficit by increased taxation. A property-tax would fall largely upon the very class who are by hypothesis unable to pay rent. An income-tax, if it were severe, would drive the large class of Englishmen who have invested their savings in foreign countries to make their homes abroad. Confiscation of Church lands, large as the estates of the Church are on paper, would bring in very little, till the compensation due to actual incumbents had been paid off, and would be very unpopular in the country if money, heretofore spent in the parishes, was diverted to the Treasury for the benefit of non-resident fund-holders. Put it how we may, it is difficult to suppose that the pressure upon the taxpayer in such a case as has been assumed might not be very severe and long-continued.

Now, in such a crisis, it is difficult to believe—and this is the second danger—that the taxpayer might not be sorely tempted to draw a distinction between debts due to a foreign creditor and obligations incurred to fellow-countrymen. Forty years ago, a very able student of political economy proposed to declare the National Debt a 3 per cent annuity terminable at the end of a hundred years.[33] A great part of the National Debt had been contracted for what the writer regarded as immoral purposes; a great part had been raised in the most wasteful way; and the difference in price between 3 per cent stock and an annuity, only determined at the end of a century, was so small as scarcely to deserve consideration when the great relief the nation would sustain was taken into account. The fact that this proposal, though it came at a time of great national depression, was received with indifference or indignation, may be taken as evidence that the commercial instinct and sense of national honour were perfectly sound in the England of that day. It may seem unreasonable to assume that the world will ever have a lower standard of good faith in the matter of indebtedness than it had forty years ago. Still, it is well to remember that even good moral purpose may break down under an impossible burden. The American States, which Sydney Smith lashed so wholesomely for repudiation, had more to say for themselves than their English creditor was disposed to see. Pennsylvania was threatened with an exodus of taxpayers if it raised money enough to provide the interest it owed. An English Government, in the hypothetical case put, might have to face the same possibility. It would probably argue that it was better for the English fund-holder to lose a part of his interest than to be paid in whole for a time by loans that would soon culminate in general bankruptcy; that if the State has a right to impose a five shillings in the pound income-tax, it may reasonably reduce incomes by five shillings in the pound; and, finally, perhaps that the fund-holder had been overpaid in the first settlement, and would receive his substantial dues on a smaller dividend. It is unnecessary to point out what is sophistical in these arguments. They cannot be called inconceivable, for every country that has repudiated has used some of them by turns, and the only question is, whether an English-speaking people would ever come to adopt them. What is to be feared is, that if national debts continue to increase on the assumption that general prosperity is bound to advance in the future as it has done in the past, a great many communities are bound to have recourse to repudiation when bad times come, though the form of bankruptcy may be artfully disguised. A sweeping succession duty would be an insidious and very practicable form of relieving the State from unpleasant obligations.

Englishmen are perhaps apt to rely too much on the precedent of integrity which has been maintained in England for two centuries. Over-indebtedness, leading to bankruptcy and to ruin or heavy temporary complications, has been a common feature of state-life throughout history. The decline of the Roman Empire was undoubtedly hastened by the heavy indebtedness of the cities, an indebtedness which was often occasioned by their engaging in great public works. The Mississippi scheme of Law, which plunged France in bankruptcy, was an attempt to apply the most daring principles of modern finance under the administration of a thoroughly corrupt court. France was bankrupt again at the time of the Revolution, and the resource of confiscating the Church lands and many private estates was perfectly valueless. The American colonies were mostly impecunious or worse under English rule. Spain has a long record of insolvencies. Even England has never paid her full bill for the glory of the French wars under Edward III., and has witnessed the spectacle of a Lord Chancellor suspending payment of debts, because the Crown was insolvent, not much more than two centuries ago.[34] Nay, there are still men living who can remember the time when the Bank of England was relieved by law from the obligation to give gold for its notes. When a State undertakes enterprises beyond its strength, it always does it at the risk of bankruptcy, whatever its good intentions may be. The question is, whether the tendency to State Socialism may not be a tendency also to the running up of large debts.

Two consequences seem to follow inevitably upon repudiation of any kind. The one is that the private as well as the public standard of honour will be lowered. Individuals do not as a rule profess to be more moral than the Government and the law, especially in countries where the State is highly organised. The other is, that the class ruined by repudiation is likely to be that class which is essentially conservative of tradition, of refinement, of all the passive elements of character. In such a case as has been assumed, the aristocracy, deprived of power and prestige by the forcible purchase of their landed property, would be reduced to insignificance by the resumption of a large part of the compensation first awarded them.

The general purport of the argument has been in agreement with Mr. Ticknor's predictions, though it is rather more optimistic than Mr. Ticknor would perhaps have agreed to. That standing armies are likely to increase seems probable. What we have to say, on the other hand, is, that wars need not necessarily increase in proportion, and that the training of a soldier may prove a valuable adjunct to the primary school. That cities will increase more and more upon country districts seems inevitable; and it has to be admitted that the life of the poor in an overgrown town is stunted and etiolated: neither physically sound nor morally complete. On the other hand, science and State Socialism may gradually improve the condition of the dweller in towns, and the reaction against town life may lead to changes that will make existence in the country more tolerable. That nations will plunge deeper and deeper into indebtedness as the State becomes more and more industrial seems not unlikely. The worst to be apprehended from this will be its effect upon national character. Whether we are changing in the direction of a higher or of a lower morality is, therefore, the point that is most really at issue.

  1. Ticknor's Life, vol. ii. p. 403.
  2. Martin, Hist. Populaire de France, tome v. p. 408. As late as February 12, 1854, Thiers thought the Emperor would give way. — Senior's Conversations; vol. i. p. 232. On his deathbed Nicholas told the Empress that it had been his wish to leave the Empire at peace.—Oustrialoff's History of Russia, vol. ii. p. 508.
  3. The words reported are: "I do not like war. It spoils the soldiers; dirties their uniforms, and destroys discipline."—De Cusine's Empire of the Czar, vol. ii. chap. xv. p. 28.
  4. Martin's Hist. de France, tome vii. pp. 183, 184.
  5. A single naval officer, the captain of La Boudeuse, carried this order into execution in the case of a prize. On his return to France he found himself universally shunned, and committed suicide.—De Vigny in Napier's Lights and Shades of Military Life.
  6. Thus at San Sebastian Sir T. Graham told the officer charged to arrange a capitulation: "Sir, when people defend themselves as your troops have done they are not conquered; they have a right to dictate their own terms; write what you will."—Brialmont, Life of Napoleon, vol. ii. p. 140. During the inactive interval of a fortnight that elapsed before the battle of Salamanca, "the soldiers of both sides bathed together, and frequently swam over, and interchanged civilities with each other." Secret Despatch quoted in Buckingham's Memoirs of the Court of England, vol. i. p. 385. "Towards the close of the war … so good an understanding prevailed between the outposts of the two armies, that Lord Wellington found it necessary to forbid all communication whatever. … It was a sort of custom the French and British guards visiting each other by turns."—Gleig's Subaltern, p. 158.
  7. Of Tarragona, Napier says: "That every barbarity commonly attendant upon the storming of towns was practised may be supposed … and it would be unjust to hold Suchet responsible. " Peninsular War, book xiii. chap. v. Of San Sebastian, where some circumstances were of unusual atrocity, Wellington writes only: "I am convinced it is impossible to prevent a town in such a situation from being plundered."—Letter to Right Hon. Sir H. Wellesley, K.B., October 9, 1813.
  8. "La guerre est divine par ses conséquences d'un ordre surnaturel; tant générales, que particulières."—De Maistre, Soirées de St. Pétersbourg, Septième Entretien.
  9. "Direz-vous en voyant cet amas de victimes,
     Dieu s'est venge; leur mort est le prix de leurs crimes?"

    Voltaire, Poème sur le Désastre de Lisbonne.

  10. Herschel's Familiar Lectures, p. 2.
  11. United States Census for 1880, p. 8. Mr. Bryce, excluding the small towns, makes the urban population only one-seventh; but raises it to one-fourth if towns of 8000 inhabitants are reckoned.—American Commonwealth, vol. iii. pp. 45, 676.
  12. Thus in 1261 the Annals of Bermondsey say, that the quarter of corn (frumentum) was sold for 24s. in London, and all over England. The average for England, however, according to Professor Kogers, was only 4s. 3d. to 9s. 9d. "The prices from Oxfordshire," says Mr. Rogers, "are exceedingly low."—History of Prices, vol. i. pp. 187, 226.
  13. "In 1333-1336, the average produce in cheap, that is, abundant years, as all these years are, is nine bushels of wheat and fifteen of barley.—Rogers, Economic Interpretation of History, p. 52. "I do not believe that the average yield of England at this time" (1868) "exceeds twenty-eight bushels."—Caird in Statistical Journal, voL xxxi. p. 130. The average for four recent years (1886-1889) has been, 29-22 bushels.
  14. Dr. Ogle, who has made the question a study, takes this view. "The decline was brought about by the migration of young people, mainly under twenty-five years of age, from the rural to the manufacturing districts, and of young men in greater proportion than young women."—"Ogle on the alleged depopulation of the rural districts in England," Statistical Journal, vol. iii. p. 231.
  15. "Quod si auderem, Athenas peterem." "In hunc me casum vos vivendi auctores impulistis."—Epist. ad Atticum, iii. 7 and 9.
  16. "Vix ope castelli defendimur."—Tristia, lib. v. 10.
  17. "Facere hoc non possis quinque diebus continuis."—Juvenal, Sat. xi. 206, 207.
  18. The possible exceptions seem to be Mdme. de Staël, Joubert, Senancourt, and Bichat; all, it may be said, more remarkable for thought than for form, and of whom only Bichat is in the first rank for thought. Yet this decadence was not from want of interest in literary matters. De Tocqueville told Senior that when he was a boy politics were never talked of, and "literature was one of the standing subjects of conversation. Every new book was read aloud."—Correspondence of A. de Tocqueville, vol. i. p. 137.
  19. Wealth of Nations, book i. chap. viii.
  20. Pearson's English History in the Fourteenth Century, p. 154. Compare Hecker's Epidemics of the Middle Ages. "It probably killed a third of the population."—Rogers's Economical Interpretation of History, p. 22.
  21. Martineau's Thirty Years' Peace, vol. ii. p. 486.
  22. "It was the opinion of the most eminent physicians of that time that the plague was itself a sufficient purge, and that those who escaped the infection needed no physic."—Defoe's History of the Plague, p. 198. Compare Thucydides, ii. cap. 51 and 58.
  23. It is already found necessary to pick the members of the London Police Force chiefly from men born in the country. The following statistics were obtained by Mr. Llewellyn Jones in 1888:—
        London born, 2910.    Country born, 11,606.
    Hobson's Problems of Poverty, p. 56.
  24. Statistical Journal, vol. 1. pp. 326-391, and vol. xli. pp. 276-331.
  25. Statistical Journal, vol. lii. p. 231. "An estimate, based upon returns from thirty-one of the largest cities of Europe, shows that of every 1000 increase in urban population, 215 only spring from excess of birth-rate over death-rate."—Adams's Public Debts, p. 349.
  26. Ramsay's Antiquities, p. 2; Gibbon's Decline and Fall, vol. iv. chap. xxxi. p. 89; note by Smith.
  27. I assume three sleeping-rooms, a kitchen, and a sitting-room to be the smallest amount compatible with health and decency.
  28. The reference is to Brand and Peer Gynt, though the latter is partially known as an opera.
  29. "There has been much declamation against the materialism of cities … but there is a more terrible plague in the materialism of villages, which petrifies millions of human beings, killing all noble ambition in them, and confining them within the circle of a mechanical, brutal, and gloomy existence. … For the covetous villager there is no moral law, or religion, or clear notion of right. Under his hypocritical frankness is concealed a sombre arithmetic, which, for acuteness and perspicacity, surpasses all that the cleverest mathematicians have devised. A villager who is enamoured of coppers, and dreams of changing them into silver, to convert them later 011 into gold, is the most ignoble beast conceivable; for he has all the man's malicious and subtle imaginings, and a terrible persistency of aim."—Galdos, Marianela, pp. 41, 42.
  30. "National Wealth of France compared with other Countries," by Fournier de Flaix, Statistical Journal, xlix. pp. 186-200.
  31. It is roughly about £5 a head, of which a fourth is nominally covered by debts from railways and municipalities. In the Netherlands the debt is £20 a head, and in New Zealand nearly £60.
  32. The probability of this has constantly been prophesied, notably by the late Mr. Jevons; but the alarm seems to have subsided, because the measures are more extensive than was at first supposed, and can be worked profitably at greater depths than was thought possible. Still, they are not inexhaustible, and their value might be depreciated before they were worked out by the opening up of mines elsewhere.
  33. Professor F. Newman.
  34. In 1672, under Charles II.—Lingard, vol. xii. pp. 18, 19.