Political Essays (1819)/Illustrations of the Times Newspaper
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE TIMES NEWSPAPER.
On modern apostates.
——————"Out of these convertites
There is much matter to be heard and learnt."—As you like it.
Dec. 15, 1816.
This is an age in which, to hear some people talk, you would suppose there is no such thing as literary prostitution or political apostacy, in the sense in which those vices used formerly to be practised and condemned. We live in a liberal age; and a very different and much more liberal turn has been given to the whole matter. Men do indeed change sides, but then it is proper at present that they should. They go from one extreme to another, they proceed to the utmost lengths of violence and abuse, both against the principles they formerly held and the persons they formerly agreed with; but then this is entirely owing to the force of reason and honest conviction. "All honourable men"—no hypocrites amongst them—
They have deserted the cause of liberty in as far as it deserted them; but no farther. No sinister motives, no disappointed expectations from a new order of things, no places to be got under the old, no laureatships, no editorships, no popular odium to contend with, no court-smiles to inveigle, have had any weight with them, or can be supposed to have had any. They could not tolerate wrong on any side, on the side of kings, or of the people. That's all. They have changed sides to preserve the integrity of their principles and the consistency of their characters. They have gone over to the strong side of the question, merely to shew the conscious purity of their motives; and they chose the moment of the total failure of all hopes from the weaker side to desert to the stronger, to put the matter out of all doubt. They are not only above corruption, but above suspicion. They have never once been at fault, have neither sneaked nor shuffled, botched or boggled, in their politics. They who were loud against the abuses of a principle which they set out with considering as sacred, the right of a people to chuse their own form of government, have not turned round to flatter and to screen, with the closeness of their fulsome embraces, the abuses of a power which they set out with treating as monstrous, the right of a discarded family to reign over a nation in perpetuity by the grace of God. They "whose love of liberty was of that dignity that it went hand in hand even with the vow they made this virgin bride," have not stooped to "commit whoredom greedily" with that old harlot, Despotism. They "who struck the foremost man of all this world but for supporting robbers," have not contaminated their fingers with base bribes, nor turned receivers of stolen goods for paltry knaves and licensed freebooters. Nice, scrupulous, firm, inflexible, uncorrupted, incapable of injustice or disguise; patriots in 1793, and royalists in 1816; at all times extreme and at all times consistent in their opinions; converts to the cause of kings, only because kings were converts (unaccountable converts) to the cause of the people: they have not become, nor are they in danger of becoming, thorough-paced time-servers, regular-bred courtiers, trammelled tools of despotism, hired pimps and panders of power. Nothing of the sort. They have not been made (not they) the overweening dupes of their own conceit and cunning. These political innocents have not, like the two poor devils in the Recruiting Officer, been laid hold of, entrapped, kidnapped, by that fell serjeant. Necessity, and then, in the height of their admiration of "the wonderful works of nature" and the King's picture, been enlisted for life in his Majesty's service, by some Court crimp, some Treasury scout in the shape of a well-bred baronet or booby Lord. Our maiden poets, patriots, and philanthropists, have not, it is to be hoped, like Miss Lucy Lockitt, been bilked of their virtue, "bambouzled and bit." They have got into a house of ill fame in the neighbourhood of Pall-Mall, like Miss Clarissa Harlowe, but they will defend their honour to the last gasp with their pens against that old bawd, Legitimacy, as she did hers with a pen-knife against the old Lady in Duke's place; or if the opiates and provocatives unfairly administered, and almost unavoidable when people get into such company and such situations, should for an instant rob them of what they hold most dear, their immaculate purity, they will, like Richardson's heroine, die a lingering death of grief and shame for the trick that has been played upon their unsuspecting credulity!—See, here comes one of them to answer for himself. It is the same person who in the year 1800 was for making an example of the whole House of Commons (in spite of the humble petition and remonstrance of the writer of this article in favour of a small minority), for being the echoes of the King's speeches for carrying on the war against the French Revolution. What is that thing he has in his hand? It is not, nor it cannot be, a sonnet to the King, celebrating his "royal fortitude," in having brought that war to a successful close fourteen years after!
"But all is conscience and tender heart."
"Such recantation had no charms for him,
"Nor could he brook it."
Nor is it the same consistent person whose deep-toned voice rebellows among the mountain echoes with peals of ideot rage and demon laughter—
"Proud Glaramara northward caught the sound,
"And Kirkstone tossed it from his misty head,
"That there was strange commotion in the hills,"—
at the infamy and madness of Sir Robert Wilson's gallant conduct in having rescued one of its victims from the fangs of that Bourbon despotism which that royal fortitude had restored.—Is not that Mr. Southey, with something of the glow on his cheek which he had in writing Joan of Arc, and with the beaked curl of his nose which provoked him to write the Inscription on Old Sarum, returning in disgrace from the Prince's Levee, for having indignantly noticed in one of his Birth-day Odes, Ferdinand's treatment of the Spanish Patriots?—Just yonder, at the corner of Paternoster-row, you may see Mr. Coleridge, the author of the eclogue called Fire, Famine, and Slaughter, who has been to his bookseller's to withdraw his "Lay Sermon," or Statesman's Manual in praise of Fire, Slaughter, and Famine! But who is he "whose grief
"Bears such an emphasis, whose phrase of sorrow
"Conjures the wandering stars, and makes them stand
"Like wonder-wounded hearers?"
'Tis the editor of The Times, (poor man, his virtuous indignation must cost him a great deal of pains and trouble!) as hard at it as ever, about liberty and independence without respect of persons; in a most woundy passion, we warrant now, at finding legitimacy at some of its old tricks, caught flagranti delicto, so that the poor gentleman could not hush the matter up, if he would, and would not, if he could, he is a man of such a nice morality, and such high notions of honour;—thrown into daily and hourly cold sweats and convulsions at the mention of daily and hourly acts of tyranny and base submission to it; flying into the same heats and hysterics as ever, for he has all the reason now, that he used to say he had; laying it on, thick and threefold, upon the magnanimous deliverers of Europe; still in the old King Cambyses' vein, "horrors on horror's head accumulating;" heaping up epithets and compound epithets of abuse against his new friends, as he used to do against his old ones, till Mr. Koenig's new press groans under the weight of both together; ordering in a new set of types with a new set of unheard-of nicknames to be applied everlastingly to the present candidates for newspaper fame, as the worn-out, feeble, and now insignificant ones of Monster, Tyrant, Fiend, Upstart, Usurper, Rebel, Regicide, Traitor, Wretch, Villain, Knave, Fool, Madman, Coward, Impostor, Unnatural Monster, Bloody Tyrant, Hellish Fiend, Corsican Upstart, Military Usurper, Wicked Rebel, Impious Regicide, Perfidious Traitor, Vile Wretch, Base Villain, Low-born Knave, Rank Fool, Egregious Madman, Notorious Coward, Detestable Impostor, were applied to the old; swearing as he picks his way to court along the streets, (so that the people ask who the honest, angry gentleman is) that Ferdinand alone has done more acts of baseness, treachery, cruelty, oppression, infamy, and ingratitude, in one year, than Napoleon did in his whole reign; teaching a parrot to call jade and rogue to all legitimate princes and princesses that deserve it, as he used himself to rail at all the illegitimate ones, whether they deserved it or not; repeating over and over, till he is black in the face, Dr. Slop's curse upon the Allies and their proceedings; cursing them in Spain, cursing them in Italy, cursing them in Genoa, cursing them in Saxony, cursing them in Norway, cursing them in Finland, cursing them in Poland, cursing them in France, cursing them every where as they deserve, and as the people every where curse them; sending the Pope and the Inquisition to the Devil; swooning at the extinction of Spanish liberty under the beloved Ferdinand; going into a shivering fit at the roasting of Protestants under Louis the Desired; biting his lips at Lord Castlereagh's Letter to Mon Prince; horror-struck at the transfer of so many thousand souls, like so many head of horned cattle, from one legitimate proprietor of the species to another, after all his vapouring about the liberties of the people and the independence of states; learned and lofty, sad and solemn, on the Convention of Paris; looking big at the imposing attitude of Russia, and going stark staring mad at the application of the torture and the thumb-screw to the brave Cortes; gnashing his teeth, rolling his eyes, and dashing his head against the wall, at the total falsification, and overthrow of every one of his hopes and his prognostics in every corner of Europe where the Allies have got footing, and there is no corner which they have not got under their feet, like a toad under a harrow; and roaring out like Perillus's bull against the partitions and repartitions of the coalesced Sovereigns, their invasions, conquests, seizures, transfers of men and lands; the murders, massacres, imprisonments, pillagings, frauds, treacheries, breaches of written treaties and of verbal promises; usurpations, pretensions, and overt acts of legitimacy, since it was restored to itself, to one and the self-same tune that he used to lift up his voice, "his most sweet voice," against Bonaparte's wars and conquests, till the Stock Exchange was stunned with the clamour, and Mr. Walter well-nigh fainted! The only fault of this account is, that not one word of it is true.
"Thy stone, oh Sisyphus, stands still:
"Ixion rests upon his wheel!"
Once a Jacobin and always a Jacobin, is a maxim, which, notwithstanding Mr. Coleridge's see-saw reasoning to the contrary, we hold to be true, even of him to this day. Once an Apostate and always an Apostate, we hold to be equally true; and the reason why the last is true, is that the first is so. A person who is what is called a Jacobin (and we apply this term in its vulgarest sense to the persons here meant) that is, who has shaken off certain well-known prejudices with respect to kings or priests, or nobles, cannot so easily resume them again, whenever his pleasure or his convenience may prompt him to attempt it. And it is because he cannot resume them again in good earnest, that he endeavours to make up for his want of sincerity by violence, either by canting till he makes your soul sicken, like the author of The Friend, or by raving like a Bedlamite, as does the Editor of The Times. Why does he abuse Bonaparte and call him an upstart? Because he is himself, if he is any thing at all, an upstart; and because Bonaparte having got the start of him one way, he turned back to gain the race another, by trying for a court-livery, and to recommend himself to the house of Brunswick, by proclaiming the principles of the house of Stuart. Why does he make such a route about Kings and Queens, and Dukes and Duchesses, and old women of all ages and both sexes? Because he cares no more for them in his heart than we do. How should he? "What's Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba?" What motive has he, or what ground of passion, that he should
"Cleave the general ear with horrid speech,
"And, like a whore, unpack his heart with words!"
None in the world, any more than the poor player in Hamlet, who tried to "work his soul to his conceit, tears in his eyes, distraction in his looks," because it was his cue to do so. He blusters and hectors, and makes a noise to hide his want of consistency, as cowards turn bullies to hide their want of courage. He is virulent and vulgar in proportion as he is insincere; and yet it is the only way in which he can seem himself not to be a hypocrite. He has no blind prejudices to repose on; no unshaken principles to refer to; no hearty attachment to altars or to thrones. You see the Jacobinical leaven working in every line that he writes, and making strange havoc with his present professions. He would cashier Louis and Ferdinand, Alexander and Frederick, to-morrow, and hurl them headlong from their thrones with a stroke of his pen, for not complying with any one of his favourite dogmas. He has no regard for any thing but his own will; no feeling of any thing but of hatred to the cause he has deserted, and of the necessity of keeping from his mind, by every demonstration of outward scorn and horror, whatever might recal his old, unprofitable, exploded errors. His hatred and dread of the principles of others, proceeds from his greater hatred and dread of his own. The spectre of his former opinions glares perpetually near him, and provokes his frantic zeal. For close behind him stalks the ghost of the French Revolution, that unfortunate Miss Bailey of modern politicians, their mistress and their saint, what time
———"Society became their glittering bride
"And airy hopes their children,"—
which, if he was once to turn round, would stare him in the face with self-conviction, and make his pen drop from his hands. It is this morbid conflict with his own feelings that many persons do not know what to make of, and which gives such a tragic, and at the same time, ludicrous air to his writings. He is obliged to wink and shut his apprehension up, so that he is blind, stupidly blind to all that makes against him, and all that makes for him. His understanding seems to labour under a quinsy; and instead of the little bonnet rouge of 1793, wears a huge pair of Bourbon blinkers for 1816. Hence the endless inconsistencies in which he involves himself; and as it is his self-will that makes him insensible to all objections, it is the same headstrong obstinacy which makes him regardless of contradictions, and proof against conviction.
In a word, to conclude this part of the subject, the writer of The Times is governed entirely by his will; and this faculty is strong, and bears sway in him, as all other principles are weak. He asserts a fact the louder, as he suspects it to be without proof: and defends a measure the more lustily, as he feels it to be mischievous. He listens only to his passions and his prejudices, not to truth or reason. Prove to him that any thing is the most idle fiction that ever was invented, and he will swear to it: prove to him that it is fraught with destruction to the liberties of mankind in all places and in all time to come, and he is your own for ever. Sed hæc hactenus. Goethe has given to one of his heroes this motto—"Mad but wise." We would give the following to the hero of The Times—Mad but not wise.
ILLUSTRATIONS OF "THE TIMES" NEWSPAPER.
ON MODERN LAWYERS AND POETS.
———"Facilis descensus Averni;
Noctes atque dies patet atri janua Ditis;
Sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
Hoc opus, hie labor est."
December 22, 1816.
The meaning of which passage is, that it is easier to sail with the stream, than to strive against it. Our classical reformers should have known this passage in Virgil. They should have known themselves too; but they did not. "Let no man go about to cozen honesty," or to be a knave by halves. The man, as well as the woman, who deliberates between his principle and the price of its sacrifice, is lost. The same rule holds with respect to literary as to any other kind of prostitution. It is the first false step that always costs the most; and which is, for that reason, always fatal. It requires an effort of resolution, or at least obstinate prejudice, for a man to maintain his opinions at the expense of his interest. But it requires a much greater effort of resolution for a man to give up his interest to recover his independence; because, with the consistency of his character, he has lost the habitual energy of his mind, and the indirect aid of prejudice and obstinacy, which are sometimes as useful to virtue as they are to vice. A man, in adhering to his principles in contradiction to the decisions of the world, has many disadvantages. He has nothing to support him but the supposed sense of right; and any defect in the justice of his cause, or the force of his conviction, must prey on his mind, in proportion to the delicacy and sensitiveness of its texture: he is left alone in his opinions; and, like Sam Sharpset, in Mr. Morton's new comedy (when he gets into solitary confinement in the spunging-house,) grows nervous, melancholy, fantastical, and would be glad of somebody or anybody to sympathize with him; but when he has once gone over to the strong side of the question (perhaps from these very scruples of conscience, suggested by weakness and melancholy, as "the Devil is very potent with such spirits, and abuses them to damn them") our wavering sceptic no longer finds the same scruples troublesome; the air of a court promotes their digestion wonderfully; the load on his conscience falls off at the foot of the throne. The poet-laureate, standing with his laurel-wreath amidst "Britain's warriors, her statesmen, and her fair," thinks no more or says no more about the patriots of Spain pining in dungeons or consigned to the torture, though it was his zeal, his virtuous, patriotic, romantic, disinterested zeal for them, which brought them there, and him to court. His Prince's smile soothes the involuntary pang of sympathy rising in his breast; and Mr. Croker's whispers drown their agonizing shrieks. When we are at Rome, we must do as the people at Rome do. A man in a crowd must go along with the crowd, and cannot stop to pick his way; nor need he be so particular about it. He has friends to back him: appearances are for him; the world is on his side; his interest becomes surety for his honour, his vanity makes him blind to objections, or overrules them, and he is not so much ashamed of being in the wrong in such good company. It requires some fortitude to oppose one's opinion, however right, to that of all the world besides; none at all to agree with it, however wrong. Nothing but the strongest and clearest conviction can support a man in a losing minority: any excuse or quibble is sufficient to salve his conscience, when he has made sure of the main chance, and his understanding has become the stalking-horse of his ambition. It is this single circumstance of not being answerable for one's opinions one's-self, but being able to put them off to other men's shoulders in all crowds and collections of men, that is the reason of the violence of mobs, the venality of courts, and the corruption of all corporate bodies. It is also the reason of the degeneracy of modern apostates and reformed Jacobins, who find the applause of their king and country doubly cheering after being so long without it, and who go all lengths in adulation and servility, to make up for their former awkward singularity.
Many of the persons we have known, who have deserted the cause of the people to take a high tone against those who did not chuse to desert it, have been lawyers or poets. The last took their leave of it by a poetic license; the first slunk out of it by some loop-hole of the law. We shall say a word of each.
"Our's is an honest employment," says Peachum; "and so is a lawyer's." It is a lawyer's business to confound truth and falsehood in the minds of his hearers; and the natural consequence is, that he confounds them in his own. He takes his opinion of right and wrong from his brief: his soul is in his fee. His understanding is upon the town, and at the service of any cause that is paid for beforehand. He is not a hired suborner of facts, but of reasons; and though he would not violate the sacred obligation of an oath, as Lord Ellenborough calls it, by swearing that black is white, he holds himself at all times in readiness and bound in duty, to prove it so. He will not swear to an untruth to get himself hanged, but he will assert it roundly by the hour together to hang other persons, however innocent,—if he finds it in his retainer. We do not wish to say any thing illiberal of any profession or set of men in the abstract. But we think it possible, that they who are employed to argue away men's lives at a venture in a court of justice, may be tempted to write them away deliberately in a newspaper. They who find it consistent with their honour to do this under the sanction of the court, may find it to their interest to do the same thing at the suggestion of a court. A lawyer is a sophist by profession; that is, a person who barters his opinion, and speaks what he knows to be false in defence of wrong, and to the prejudice of right. Not only the confirmed habit of looking at any side of a question with a view to make the worse appear the better reason, from a motive always foreign to the question itself, must make truth and falsehood sit loose upon him, and lead him to "look on both indifferently," as his convenience prompts; but the quibbles and quillets of the law give a handle to all that is petty and perverse in his understanding, and enable him to tamper with his principles with impunity. Thus the intricacy and verbal distinctions of the profession promote the practical duplicity of its professors; and folly and knavery become joint securities for one another. The bent of a lawyer's mind is to pervert his talents, if he has any, and to keep down his feelings, if they are at all in his way. He lives by forging and uttering counterfeit pretexts; he says not what he believes to be true, but any thing that by any trick or sleight he can make others believe; and the more petty, artificial, and far-fetched the contrivance, the more low, contemptible, and desperate the shift, the more is he admired and cried up in his profession. A perfect lawyer is one whose understanding always keeps pace with the inability of words to keep pace with ideas: who by natural conformation of mind cannot get beyond the letter to the spirit of any thing; who, by a happy infirmity of soul, is sure never to lose the form in grasping at the substance. Such a one is sure to arrive at the head of his profession! Look at the lawyers in the House of Commons (of course at the head of their profession)—look at Garrow. We have heard him stringing contradictions there with the fluency of water, every third sentence giving the lie to the two former; gabbling folly as if it were the last opportunity he might ever have, and as regularly put down as he rose up—not for false statements, not for false reasoning, not for common-place absurdities or vulgar prejudices, (there is enough of these to be found there without going to the bar), but for such things as nobody but a lawyer could utter, and as nobody (not even a lawyer) could believe. The only thing that ever gave us a good opinion of the House of Commons was to see the contempt with which they treat lawyers there. The reason is, that no one there but a lawyer fancies himself holding a brief in his hand as a carte blanche for vanity and impertinence—no one else thinks he has got an ad libitum right to express any absurd or nonsensical opinions he pleases, because he is not supposed to hold the opinions he expresses—no one else thinks it necessary to confound the distinctions of common-sense to subject them to those of the law (even Lord Castlereagh would never think of maintaining it to be lawful to detain a person kidnapped from France, on the special plea, that the law in that case not provided had not declared it lawful to detain persons so kidnapped, if not reclaimed by their own country)—no one else thinks of huddling contradictions into self-evident truths by legal volubility, or of sharpening nonsense into sense by legal acuteness, or of covering shallow assumptions under the solemn disguises of the long robe. The opinions of the gentlemen of the bar go for nothing in the House of Commons: but their votes tell; and are always sure—in the end! The want of principle makes up for the want of talent. What a tool in the hands of a minister is a whole profession, habitually callous to the distinctions of right and wrong, but perfectly alive to their own interest, with just ingenuity enough to be able to trump up some fib or sophistry for or against any measure, and with just understanding enough to see no more of the real nature or consequences of any measure than suits their own or their employer's convenience! What an acquisition to "the tried wisdom of parliament" in the approaching hard season!
But all this, though true, seems to fall short of the subject before us. The weak side of the professional character is rather an indifference to truth and justice, than an outrageous and inveterate hatred to them. They are chargeable, as a general class of men, with levity, servility, and selfishness; but it seems to be quite out of their character to commence furious and illiberal fanatics against those who have more principle than themselves. But not when this character is ingrafted on that of a true Jacobin renegade. Such a person (and no one else) would be fit to write the leading article in The Times. It is this union of rare accomplishments (there seems, after all, to be nothing contradictory in the coalition of the vices) that enables that non-descript person to blend the violence of the bravo with the subtlety of a pettifogging attorney—to interlard his furious appeals to the lowest passions of the middle and upper classes, with nice points of law, reserved for the opinion of the adepts in the profession—to appeal to the passions of his city readers when any thing wrong is to be done, and to their cooler and dispassionate judgments when any thing right is to be done—that makes him stick (spell-bound) to the letter of the law when it is in his favour, and set every principle of justice and humanity at defiance when it interferes with his pragmatical opinion—that makes him disregard all decency as well as reason out of "the lodged hatred" he bears to the cause he has deserted, and to all who have not, like himself, deserted it—that made him urge the foul death of the brave Marshal Ney, by putting a legal interpretation on a military convention—that tempted him to make out his sanguinary list of proscribed rebels and regicides (he was not for making out any such list in the year 1793, nor long after the event he now deplores with such well-timed indignation)—that makes him desperately bent on hanging wretches at home in cobweb chains spun from his own brains—that makes him stake the liberty of nations or the independence of states on a nickname or a law-quillet, as his irritable humour or professional habits prevail—that sets him free from all restraints or deference to others in forming his own opinions, and which would induce him to subject all the rest of the world to his unprincipled and frantic dogmas, by entangling them in the quirks and technicalities of the law! No one else would heroically consign a whole continent to the most odious and despicable slavery in the world, on the strength of a flaw in a proclamation: or call that piece of diplomatic atrocity, the declaration of the 25th of March, a delicious declaration. Such a man might sell his country, or enslave his species, and justify it to his conscience and the world by some law-term! Such men are very dangerous, unless when they are tied up in the forms of a profession, where form is opposed to form, where no-meaning baffles want of sense, and where no great harm is done, because there is not much to do: but when chicane and want of principle are let loose upon the world, "with famine, sword, and fire at their heels, leashed in like hounds," when they have their prey marked out for them by the passions, when they are backed by force—when the pen of the Editor of The Times is seconded by eleven hundred thousand bayonets—then such men are very mischievous.
"My soul, turn from them: turn we to survey" where poetry, joined hand in hand with liberty, renews the golden age in 1793, during the reign of Robespierre, which was hardly thought a blot in their escutcheon, by those who said and said truly, for what we know, that he destroyed the lives of hundreds, to save the lives of thousands: (Mark; then, as now, "Carnage was the daughter of Humanity." It is true, these men have changed sides, but not parted with their principles, that is, with their presumption and egotism)—let us turn where Pantisocracy's equal hills and vales arise in visionary pomp, where Peace and Truth have kissed each other "in Philarmonia's undivided dale;" and let us see whether the fictions and the forms of poetry give any better assurance of political consistency than the fictions and forms of law. The spirit of poetry is in itself favourable to humanity and liberty: but, we suspect, not in times like these—not in the present reign.
The spirit of poetry is not the spirit of mortification or of martyrdom. Poetry dwells in a perpetual Utopia of its own, and is, for that reason, very ill calculated to make a Paradise upon earth, by encountering the shocks and disappointments of the world. Poetry, like the law, is a fiction; only a more agreeable one. It does not create difficulties where they do not exist; but contrives to get rid of them, whether they exist or not. It is not entangled in cobwebs of its own making, but soars above all obstacles. It cannot be "constrained by mastery." It has the range of the universe; it traverses the empyreum, and looks down on nature from a higher sphere. When it lights upon the earth, it loses some of its dignity and its use. Its strength is in its wings; its element the air. Standing on its feet, jostling with the crowd, it is liable to be overthrown, trampled on, and defaced; for its wings are of a dazzling brightness, "heaven's own tinct," and the least soil upon them shews to disadvantage. Sunk, degraded as we have seen it, we shall not insult over it, but leave it to time to take out the stains, seeing it is a thing immortal as itself. "Being so majestical, we should do it wrong to offer it but the shew of violence." But the best things, in their abuse, often become the worst; and so it is with poetry when it is diverted from its proper end. Poets live in an ideal world, where they make every thing out according to their wishes and fancies. They either find things delightful, or make them so. They feign the beautiful and grand out of their own minds, and imagine all things to be, not what they are, but what they ought to be. They are naturally inventors, creators not of truth but beauty: and while they speak to us from the sacred shrine of their own hearts, while they pour out the pure treasures of thought to the world, they cannot be too much admired and applauded: but when, forgetting their high calling, and becoming tools and puppets in the hands of others, they would pass off the gewgaws of corruption and love-tokens of self-interest, as the gifts of the Muse, they cannot be too much despised and shunned. We do not like novels founded on facts, nor do we like poets turned courtiers. Poets, it has been said, succeed best in fiction: and they should for the most part stick to it. Invention, not upon an imaginary subject, is a lie: the varnishing over the vices or deformity of actual objects, is hypocrisy. Players leave their finery at the stage-door, or they would be hooted: poets come out into the world with all their bravery on, and yet they would pass for bonâ fide persons. They lend the colours of fancy to whatever they see: whatever they touch becomes gold, though it were lead. With them every Joan is a lady: and kings and queens are human. Matters of fact they embellish at their will, and reason is the plaything of their passions, their caprice, or interest. There is no practice so base of which they will not become the panders: no sophistry of which their understanding may not be made the voluntary dupe. Their only object is to please their fancy. Their souls are effeminate, half man and half woman: they want , and are without principle. If things do not turn out according to their wishes, they will make their wishes turn round to things. They can easily overlook whatever they do not approve, and make an idol of any thing they please. The object of poetry is to please: this art naturally gives pleasure, and excites admiration. Poets, therefore, cannot do well without sympathy and flattery. It is, accordingly, very much against the grain that they remain long on the unpopular side of the question. They do not like to be shut out when laurels are to be given away at court—or places under government to be disposed of, in romantic situations in the country. They are happy to be reconciled on the first opportunity to prince and people, and to exchange their principles for a pension. They have not always strength of mind to think for themselves; nor honesty enough to bear the unjust stigma of the opinions they have taken upon trust from others. Truth alone does not satisfy their pampered appetites, without the sauce of praise. To prefer truth to all other things, it requires that the mind should have been at some pains in finding it out, and that it should feel a severe delight in the contemplation of truth, seen by its own clear light, and not as it is reflected in the admiring eyes of the world. A philosopher may perhaps make a shift to be contented with the sober draughts of reason: a poet must have the applause of the world to intoxicate him. Milton was however a poet, and an honest man; he was Cromwell's secretary.
We have here described the spirit of poetry when it comes in contact with the spirit of the world. Let us see what results from it when it comes in contact with the spirit of Jacobinism. The spirit of Jacobinism is essentially at variance with the spirit of poetry: it has "no figures nor no fantasies," which the prejudices of superstition or the world draw in the brains of men: "no trivial fond records:" it levels all distinctions of art and nature: it has no pride, pomp, or circumstance, belonging to it; it converts the whole principle of admiration in the poet (which is the essence of poetry) into admiration of himself. The spirit of Jacobin poetry is rank egotism. We know an instance. It is of a person who founded a school of poetry on sheer humanity, on ideal boys and mad mothers, and on Simon Lee, the old huntsman. The secret of the Jacobin poetry and the anti-jacobin politics of this writer is the same. His lyrical poetry was a cant of humanity about the commonest people to level the great with the small; and his political poetry is a cant of loyalty to level Bonaparte with kings and hereditary imbecility. As he would put up the commonest of men against kings and nobles, to satisfy his levelling notions, so for the same reason, he would set up the meanest of kings against the greatest of men, reposing once more on the mediocrity of royalty. This person admires nothing that is admirable, feels no interest in any thing interesting, no grandeur in any thing grand, no beauty in any thing beautiful. He tolerates nothing but what he himself creates; he sympathizes only with what can enter into no competition with him, with "the bare earth and mountains bare, and grass in the green field." He sees nothing but himself and the universe. He hates all greatness, and all pretensions to it but his own. His egotism is in this respect a madness; for he scorns even the admiration of himself, thinking it a presumption in any one to suppose that he has taste or sense enough to understand him. He hates all science and all art; he hates chemistry, he hates conchology; he hates Sir Isaac Newton; he hates logic, he hates metaphysics, which he says are unintelligible, and yet he would be thought to understand them; he hates prose, he hates all poetry but his own; he hates Shakespeare, or what he calls "those interlocutions between Lucius and Caius," because he would have all the talk to himself, and considers the movements of passion in Lear, Othello, or Macbeth, as impertinent, compared with the Moods of his own Mind; he thinks every thing good is contained in the "Lyrical Ballads," or, if it is not contained there, it is good for nothing; he hates music, dancing, and painting; he hates Rubens, he hates Rembrandt, he hates Raphael, he hates Titian, he hates Vandyke; he hates the antique; he hates the Apollo Belvidere; he hates the Venus de Medicis. He hates all that others love and admire but himself. He is glad that Bonaparte is sent to St. Helena, and that the Louvre is dispersed for the same reason—to get rid of the idea of any thing greater, or thought greater than himself. The Bourbons, and their processions of the Holy Ghost, give no disturbance to his vanity; and he therefore gives them none.
THE TIMES NEWSPAPER.
ON THE CONNEXION BETWEEN TOAD-EATERS AND TYRANTS.
"Doubtless, the pleasure is as great
"In being cheated as to cheat."
Jan. 12, 1817.
We some time ago promised our friend, Mr. Robert Owen, an explanation of some of the causes which impede the natural progress of liberty and human happiness. We have in part redeemed this pledge in what we said about Coriolanus, and we shall try in this article to redeem it still more. We grant to our ingenious and romantic friend, that the progress of knowledge and civilization is in itself favourable to liberty and equality, and that the general stream of thought and opinion constantly sets in this way, till power finds the tide of public feeling becoming too strong for it, ready to sap its rotten foundations, and "bore through its castle-walls;" and then it contrives to turn the tide of knowledge and sentiment clean the contrary way, and either bribes human reason to take part against human nature, or knocks it on the head by a more summary process. Thus, in the year 1792, Mr. Burke became a pensioner for writing his book against the French Revolution, and Mr. Thomas Paine was outlawed for his Rights of Man. Since that period, the press has been the great enemy of freedom, the whole weight of that immense engine (for the purposes of good or ill) having a fatal bias given to it by the two main springs of fear and favour.
The weak sides of human intellect, by which power effects its conversion to the worst purposes, when it finds the exercise of free opinion inconsistent with the existence and uncontrouled exercise of arbitrary power, are these four, viz, the grossness of the imagination, which is seduced by outward appearances from the pursuit of real ultimate good; the subtlety of the understanding itself, which palliates by flimsy sophistry the most flagrant abuses; interest and advancement in the world; and lastly, the feuds and jealousies of literary men among one another. There is no class of persons so little calculated to act in corps as literary men. All their views are recluse and separate (for the mind acts by individual energy, and not by numbers): their motives, whether good or bad, are personal to themselves, their vanity exclusive, their love of truth independent; they exist not by the preservation, but the destruction of their own species; they are governed not by the spirit of unanimity, but of contradiction. They will hardly allow any thing to be right or any thing to be wrong, unless they are the first to find out that it is so; and are ready to prove the best things in the world the worst, and the worst the best, from the pure impulse of splenetic over-weening self-opinion, much more if they are likely to be well paid for it—not that interest is their ruling passion, but still it operates, silent and unseen, with them as with other men, when it can make a compromise with their vanity. This part of the character of men of letters is so well known, that Shakespear makes Brutus protest against the fitness of Cicero to be included in their enterprize on this very principle:—
The whole of Mr. Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution is but an elaborate and damning comment on this short text. He quarrelled with the French Revolution out of spite to Rousseau, the spark of whose genius had kindled the flame of liberty in a nation. He therefore endeavoured to extinguish the flame—to put out the light; and he succeeded, because there were others like himself, ready to sacrifice every manly and generous principle to the morbid, sickly, effeminate, little, selfish, irritable, dirty spirit of authorship. Not only did such persons, according to Mr. Coleridge's valuable and competent testimony (see his Lay-Sermon) make the distinction between Atheism and Religion a mere stalking-horse for the indulgence of their idle vanity, but they made the other questions of Liberty and Slavery, of the Rights of Man, or the Divine Right of Kings to rule millions of men as their Slaves for ever, they made these vital and paramount questions (which whoever wilfully and knowingly compromises, is a traitor to himself and his species), subordinate to the low, whiffling, contemptible gratification of their literary jealousy. We shall not go over the painful list of instances; neither can we forget them. But they all or almost all contrived to sneak over one by one to the side on which "empty praise or solid pudding" was to be got; they could not live without the smiles of the great (not they), nor provide for an increasing establishment without a loss of character; instead of going into some profitable business and exchanging their lyres for ledgers, their pens for the plough (the honest road to riches), they chose rather to prostitute their pens to the mock-heroic defence of the most bare-faced of all mummeries, the pretended alliance of kings and people! We told them how it would be, if they succeeded; it has turned out just as we said; and a pretty figure do these companions of Ulysses (Compagnons du Lys), these gaping converts to despotism, these well-fed victims of the charms of the Bourbons, now make, nestling under their laurels in the of Corruption, and sunk in torpid repose (from which they do not like to be disturbed by calling on their former names or professions), in lazy sinecures and good warm births! Such is the history and mystery of literary patriotism and prostitution for the last twenty years.—Power is subject to none of these disadvantages. It is one and indivisible; it is self-centered, self-willed, incorrigible, inaccessible to temptation or entreaty; interest is on its side, passion is on its side, prejudice is on its side, the name of religion is on its side; the qualms of conscience it is not subject to, for it is iron-nerved; humanity it is proof against, for it sets itself up above humanity; reason it does not hearken to, except that reason which panders to its will and flatters its pride. It pursues its steady way, its undeviating everlasting course, "unslacked of motion," like that foul Indian idol, the Jaggernaut, and crushes poor upstart poets, patriots, and philosophers (the beings of an hour) and the successive never-ending generations of fools and knaves, beneath its feet; and mankind bow their willing necks to the yoke, and eagerly consign their children and their children's children to be torn in pieces by its scythe, or trampled to death by the gay, gaudy, painted, blood-stained wheels of the grim idol of power!
"Oh, name him not: let us not break with him;
For he will never follow any thing,
That other men begin."
Such is the state of the Eastern world, where the inherent baseness of man's nature, and his tendency to social order, to tyrannize and to be tyrannized over, has had full time to the example of New Lanark more inviting, but the persons to whom he has dedicated his work turn their eyes another way!itself. Our turn seems next. We are but just setting out, it is true, in this bye-nook and corner of the world—but just recovering from the effects of the Revolution of 1688, and the defeated Rebellions of the years 1715 and 1745, but we need hardly despair under the auspices of the Editor of The Times, and with the example of the defeat "of the last successful instance of a democratic rebellion," by the second restoration of the Bourbons, before our eyes and close under our noses. Mr. Owen may think
Man is a toad-eating animal. The admiration of power in others is as common to man as the love of it in himself: the one makes him a tyrant, the other a slave. It is not he alone, who wears the golden crown, that is proud of it: the wretch who pines in a dungeon, and in chains, is dazzled with it; and if he could but shake of his own fetters, would care little about the wretches whom he left behind him, so that he might have an opportunity, on being set free himself, of gazing at this glittering gew-gaw "on some high holiday of once a year." The slave, who has no other hope or consolation, clings to the apparition of royal magnificence, which insults his misery and his despair; stares through the hollow eyes of famine at the insolence of pride and luxury which has occasioned it, and hugs his chains the closer, because he has nothing else left. The French, under the old regime, made the glory of their Grand Monarque a set-off against rags and hunger, equally satisfied with shows or bread; and the poor Spaniard, delivered from temporary to permanent oppression, looks up once more with pious awe, to the time-hallowed towers of the Holy Inquisition. As the herd of mankind are stripped of every thing, in body and mind, so are they thankful for what is left; as is the desolation of their hearts and the wreck of their little all, so is the pomp and pride which is built upon their ruin, and their fawning admiration of it.
I've heard of hearts unkind, kind deeds
With coldness still returning:
Alas! the gratitude of men
Has oftener set me mourning."
There is something in the human mind, which requires an object for it to repose on; and, driven from all other sources of pride or pleasure, it falls in love with misery, and grows enamoured of oppression. It gazes after the liberty, the happiness, the comfort, the knowledge, which have been torn from it by the unfeeling gripe of wealth and power, as the poor debtor gazes with envy and wonder at the Lord Mayor's show. Thus is the world by degrees reduced to a spital or lazar-house, where the people waste away with want and disease, and are thankful if they are only suffered to crawl forgotten to their graves. Just in proportion to the systematic tyranny exercised over a nation, to its loss of a sense of freedom and the spirit of resistance, will be its loyalty; the most abject submission will always be rendered to the most confirmed despotism. The most wretched slaves are the veriest sycophants. The lacquey, mounted behind his master's coach, looks down with contempt upon the mob, forgetting his own origin and his actual situation, and comparing them only with that standard of gentility which he has perpetually in his eye. The hireling of the press (a still meaner slave) wears his livery, and is proud of it. He measures the greatness of others by his own meanness; their lofty pretensions indemnify him for his servility; he magnifies the sacredness of their persons to cover the laxity of his own principles. He offers up his own humanity, and that of all men, at the shrine of royalty. He sneaks to court; and the bland accents of power close his ears to the voice of freedom ever after; its velvet touch makes his heart marble to a people's sufferings. He is the intellectual pimp of power, as others are the practical ones of the pleasures of the great, and often on the same disinterested principle. For one tyrant, there are a thousand ready slaves. Man is naturally a worshipper of idols and a lover of kings. It is the excess of individual power, that strikes and gains over his imagination: the general misery and degradation which are the necessary consequences of it, are spread too wide, they lie too deep, their weight and import are too great, to appeal to any but the slow, inert, speculative, imperfect faculty of reason. The cause of liberty is lost in its own truth and magnitude; while the cause of despotism flourishes, triumphs, and is irresistible in the gross mixture, the Belle Alliance, of pride and ignorance.
Power is the grim idol that the world adore; that arms itself with destruction, and reigns by terror in the coward heart of man; that dazzles the senses, haunts the imagination, confounds the understanding, and tames the will, by the vastness of its pretensions, and the very hopelessness of resistance to them. Nay more, the more mischievous and extensive the tyranny—the longer it has lasted, and the longer it is likely to last—the stronger is the hold it takes of the minds of its victims, the devotion to it increasing with the dread. It does not satisfy the enormity of the appetite for servility, till it has slain the mind of a nation, and becomes like the evil principle of the universe, from which there is no escape. So in some countries, the most destructive animals are held sacred, despair and terror completely overpowering reason. The prejudices of superstition (religion is another name for fear) are always the strongest in favour of those forms of worship which require the most bloody sacrifices; the foulest idols are those which are approached with the greatest awe; for it should seem that those objects are the most sacred to passion and imagination, which are the most revolting to reason and common sense. No wonder that the Editor of The Times bows his head before the idol of Divine Right, or of Legitimacy, (as he calls it) which has had more lives sacrificed to its ridiculous and unintelligible pretensions, in the last twenty-five years, than were ever sacrificed to any other idol in all preceding ages. Never was there any thing so well contrived as this fiction of Legitimacy, to suit the fastidious delicacy of modern sycophants. It hits their grovelling servility and petulant egotism exactly between wind and water. The contrivers or re-modellers of this idol, beat all other idol-mongers, whether Jews, Gentiles or Christians, hollow. The principle of all idolatry is the same: it is the want of something to admire, without knowing what or why: it is the love of an effect without a cause; it is a voluntary tribute of admiration which does not compromise our vanity: it is setting something up over all the rest of the world, to which we feel ourselves to be superior, for it is our own handy-work; so that the more perverse the homage we pay to it, the more it pampers our self-will: the meaner the object, the more magnificent and pompous the attributes we bestow upon it; the greater the lie, the more enthusiastically it is believed and greedily swallowed:—
"Of whatsoever race his godhead be,
Stock, stone, or other homely pedigree,
In his defence his servants are as bold
As if he had been made of beaten gold."
In this inverted ratio, the bungling impostors of former times, and less refined countries, got no further than stocks and stones: their utmost stretch of refinement in absurdity went no further than to select the most mischievous animals or the most worthless objects for the adoration of their besotted votaries: but the framers of the new law-fiction of legitimacy have started a nonentity. The ancients sometimes worshipped the sun or stars, or deified heroes and great men: the moderns have found out the image of the divinity in Louis XVIII.! They have set up an object for their idolatry, which they themselves must laugh at, if hypocrisy were not with them the most serious thing in the world. They offer up thirty millions of men to it as its victims, and yet they know that it is nothing but a scare-crow to keep the world in subjection to their renegado whimsies and preposterous hatred of the liberty and happiness of mankind. They do not think kings gods, but they make believe that they do so, to degrade their fellows to the rank of brutes. Legitimacy answers every object of their meanness and malice—omne tulit punctum.—This mock-doctrine, this little Hunchback, which our resurrection-men, the Humane Society of Divine Right, have foisted on the altar of Liberty, is not only a phantom of the imagination, but a contradiction in terms; it is a prejudice, but an exploded prejudice; it is an imposture, that imposes on nobody; it is powerful only in impotence, safe in absurdity, courted from fear and hatred, a dead prejudice linked to the living mind; the sink of honour, the grave of liberty, a palsy in the heart of a nation; it claims the species as its property, and derives its right neither from God nor man; not from the authority of the Church, which it treats cavalierly, and yet in contempt of the will of the people, which it scouts as opposed to its own: its two chief supporters are, the sword of the Duke of Wellington and the pen of the Editor of The Times! The last of these props has, we understand, just failed it.
We formerly gave the Editor of The Times a definition of a true Jacobin, as one "who had seen the evening star set over a poor man's cottage, and connected it with the hope of human happiness." The city-politician laughed this pastoral definition to scorn, and nicknamed the person who had very innocently laid it down, "the true Jacobin who writes in the Chronicle,"—a nickname by which we profited as little as he has by our Illustrations. Since that time our imagination has grown a little less romantic: so we will give him another, which he may chew the cud upon at his leisure. A true Jacobin, then, is one who does not believe in the divine right of kings, or in any other alias for it, which implies that they reign "in contempt of the will of the people;" and he holds all such kings to be tyrants, and their subjects slaves. To be a true Jacobin, a man must be a good hater; but this is the most difficult and the least amiable of all the virtues: the most trying and the most thankless of all tasks. The love of liberty consists in the hatred of tyrants. The true Jacobin hates the enemies of liberty as they hate liberty, with all his strength and with all his might, and with all his heart and with all his soul. His memory is as long, and his will as strong as theirs, though his hands are shorter. He never forgets or forgives an injury done to the people, for tyrants never forget or forgive one done to themselves. There is no love lost between them. He does not leave them the sole benefit of their old motto, Odia in longum Jaciens quæ conderet auctaque promeret. He makes neither peace nor truce with them. His hatred of wrong only ceases with the wrong. The sense of it, and of the barefaced assumption of the right to inflict it, deprives him of his rest. It stagnates in his blood. It loads his heart with aspics' tongues, deadly to venal pens. It settles in his brain—it puts him beside himself. Who will not feel all this for a girl, a toy, a turn of the dice, a word, a blow, for any thing relating to himself; and will not the friend of liberty feel as much for mankind? The love of truth is a passion in his mind, as the love of power is a passion in the minds of others. Abstract reason, unassisted by passion, is no match for power and prejudice, armed with force and cunning. The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves. The one is real; the other often but an empty dream. Hence the defection of modern apostates. While they are looking about, wavering and distracted, in pursuit of universal good or universal fame, the eye of power is upon them, like the eye of Providence, that neither slumbers nor sleeps, and that watches but for one object, its own good. They take no notice of it at first, but it is still upon them, and never off them. It at length catches theirs, and they bow to its sacred light; and like the poor fluttering bird, quail beneath it, are seized with a vertigo, and drop senseless into its jaws, that close upon them for ever, and so we see no more of them, which is well.
"And we saw three poets in a dream, walking up and down on the face of the earth, and holding in their hands a human heart, which, as they raised their eyes to heaven, they kissed and worshipped; and a mighty shout arose and shook the air, for the towers of the had fallen, and a nation had become, of slaves, freemen; and the three poets, as they heard the sound, leaped and shouted, and made merry, and their voice was with tears of joy, which they shed over the human heart, which they kissed and worshipped. And not long after, we saw the same three poets, the one with a receipt-stamp in his hand, the other with a laurel on his head, and the third with a symbol which we could make nothing of, for it was neither literal nor allegorical, following in the train of the Pope and the Inquisition and the Bourbons, and worshipping the mark of the Beast, with the emblem of the human heart thrown beneath their feet, which they trampled and spit upon!"—This apologue is not worth finishing, nor are the people to whom it relates worth talking of. We have done with them.
- When this work was first published, the King had copies of it bound in Morocco, and gave them away to his favourite courtiers, saying, "It was a book which every gentleman ought to read."
- Our loyal Editor used to bluster a great deal some time ago about putting down James Madison, and "the last example of democratic rebellion in America." In this he was consistent and logical. Could he not, however, find out another example of this same principle, by going a little farther back in history, and coming a little nearer home? If he has forgotten this chapter in our history, others who have profited more by it have not. He may understand what we mean, by turning to the story of the two elder Blifils in Tom Jones.
- Simon Lee, the old Huntsman, a tale by Mr. Wordsworth, of which he himself says,
In this view it is a tale indeed, not "of other times," but of these.
"It is no tale, but if you think,
Perhaps a tale you'll make it."