« VorigeDoorgaan »
more than their share of the puddings' plums; and agitators began to bestir themselves. What were the privileges of the higher classes which would sit most gracefully on their inferiors? Naturally we bethought us of their vices. It was not always so easy to adopt my lord's urbanity, his unassuming dignity, his well-bred ease; but one might reasonably aspire to be as wicked. Sabbath-breaking had long since ceased to be the privilege of the better classes, and so men's minds reverted to the question of divorce. "Let us get rid of our wives!" cried they; "who knows but the day may come when we shall kill woodcocks?"
Now the law, in making divorce a very costly process, had simply desired to secure its infrequency. It was not really meant to be a rich man's privilege. What was sought for was to oppose as many obstacles as could be found, to throw in as many rocks as possible into the channel, so that only he who was intently bent on navigating the stream would ever have the energy to clear the passage. Nobody ever dreamed of making it an open roadstead. In point of fact, the oft-boasted equality before the law is a myth. The penalty which a labourer could endure without hardship might break my lord's heart; and in the very case before us of divorce, nothing can possibly be more variable than the estimate formed of the divorced individuals, according to the class of society they move in. What would be a levity here, would be a serious immorality there; and a little lower down again, a mere domestic arrangement, slightly more decorous and a shade more legal than the old system of the halter and the public sale. It was declared, however, that this "relief" that is the popular phrase in such matters -should be extended to the poor man. It was decided that the privilege to get rid of a wife was, as Mr Gladstone says of the electoral right, the inalienable claim of a
freeman, and the only course was to lower the franchise.
Let us own, too, we were ashamed, as we had good right to be ashamed, of our old crim. con. law. Foreigners, especially Frenchmen, had rung the changes on our coarse venality and corruption; and we had come to perceive-it took some time, though that moneyed damages were scarcely the appropriate remedy for injured honour.
Last of all, free-trade notions had turned all our heads: we were for getting rid of all restrictions on every side; and we went about repeating to each other those wise saws about buying in the cheapest and selling in the dearest market, and having whatever we wanted, and doing whatever we liked with our own. We are, there is no denying it, a nation of shopkeepers; and the spirit of trade can be tracked through every relation of our lives. It is commerce gives the tone to all our dealings; and we have carried its enactments into the most sacred of all our institutions, and imparted a limited liability" even to marriage. Cheapness became the desideratum of our age. We insisted on cheap gloves and shoes and wine and ribbons, and why not cheap divorces? Philosophers tell us that the alternate action of the seasons is one of the purest and most enduring of all sources of enjoyment; that perpetual summer or spring would weary and depress; but in the ever-changing aspect of nature, and in the stimulation which diversity excites, we find an unfailing gratification. If, therefore, it be pleasant to be married, it may also be agreeable to be unmarried. It takes some time, however, before society accommodates itself to these new notions. The newly divorced, be it man or woman, comes into the world like a patient after the smallpox-you are not quite certain whether the period of contagion is past, or if it be perfectly safe to go up and talk to him. In fact, you delay doing so till some
strong-minded friend or other goes boldly forward and shakes the convalescent by the hand. Even still there will be timid people who know perhaps that their delicacy of constitution renders them peculiar ly sensitive, and who will keep aloof after all. Of course, these and similar prejudices will give way to time. We have our Probate Court; and the phrase co-respondent is now familiar as a household word.
Now, however tempting the theme, I am not going to inquire whether we have done wisely or the reverse by this piece of legislation; whether, by instilling certain precepts of self-control, a larger spirit of accommodation, and a more conciliatory disposition generally, we might have removed some of the difficulties without the heroic remedy of the decree nisi; whether, in fact, it might not have been better to teach people to swim, or even float, rather than make this great issue of cheap life-belts. I am so practical that I rather address myself to profit by what is, than endeavour by any change to make it better. We live in a statistical age. We are eternally inquiring who it is wants this, who consumes that, who goes to such a place, who is liable to this or that malady. Classification is a passion with us; and we have bulky volumes to teach us what sorts of people have chest affections, what are most prone to stomachic diseases, who have ophthalmia, and who the gout. We are also instructed as to the kind of persons most disposed to insanity, and we have a copious list of occupations given us which more or less incline those who profess them to derangement. Even the Civil-Service Examiners have contributed their share to this mass of entertaining knowledge, and shown from what parts of the kingdom bad spellers habitually come, what counties are celebrated for cacography, and in what districts etymology is an unknown thing. Would it not, then, be a most interesting and instructive statistic that would give us a tabular view
of divorce, showing in what classes frailty chiefly prevailed, with the relative sexes, and also a glimpse at the ages? Imagine what a light the statement would throw on the morality of classes, and what an incalculable benefit to parents in the choice of a career for their children! For instance, no sensible father would select a life of out-door exposure for a weak-chested son, or make a sailor of one with an incurable sea-sickness. In the same way would he be guided by the character of his children as to the perils certain careers would expose them to.
A passing glance at the lists of divorce shows us that no "promovent"-it is a delicate title, and I like it-no promovent figures_oftener than a civil engineer. Now, how instructive to inquire why!
What is there in embankments and earthworks and culverts that should dispose the wife of him who makes them to infidelity? Why should a tunnel only lead to domestic treachery? why must a cutting sever the heart that designs it? I do not know; I cannot even guess. My ingenuity stands stockstill at the question, and I can only re-echo Why?
Next amongst the "predisposed" come schoolmasters, plasterers, &c. What unseen thread runs through the woof of these natures, apparently so little alike? It is the boast of modern science to settle much that once was puzzling, and reconcile to a system what formerly appeared discordant. How I wish some great Babbage-like intellect would bestir itself in this inquiry.
Surely ethical questions are as well worthy of investigation as purely physical or mechanical ones, and yet we ignore them most ignominiously. We think no expense too great to test an Armstrong or a Whitworth gun; we spend thousands to ascertain how far it will carry, what destructive force it possesses, and how long it will resist explosion;-why not appoint a commission of this nature on conjugals;" why not ascertain, if we
With the common fate of all things human, it is said that every career and walk in life has some one peculiar disparagement-something that, attaching to the duties of the station as a sort of special grievance, serves to show that none of us, no matter how favoured, are to imagine there can be any lot exempted from its share of troubles. Ask the soldier, the sailor, the parson, the doctor, the lawyer, or the actor, and each will give you a friendly warning to adopt any other career than his own.
In most cases the quid amarum, the one bitter drop, is to be found in the career itself, something that belongs to that one craft or calling; just as the white-lead colic, for instance, is the fatal malady of painters. There are, however, a few rare cases in which the detracting element attaches itself to the followers and not to the profession, as though it would seem there was a something in the daily working of that peculiar craft which warped the minds and coerced the natures of men to be different from what temperament and character should have made of them.
The two classes which most prominently exhibit what I mean are somewhat socially separated, but they have a number of small analogies in common. They are SWEEPS and STATESMEN ! It would be tempting-but I resist the temptation-to show how many points of resemblance unite them-how each works in the dark, in a small, narrow, confined sphere, without view or outlet; how the tendency of each is to scratch his way upwards and gain the top, caring wonderfully little how black and dirty the process has made him. One might even go farther, and mark how,
when indolence or weariness suggested sloth, the stimulus of a little fire underneath, whether a few lighted straws or a Birmingham mass-meeting, was sure to quicken progress and excite activity.
Again, I make this statement on the faith of Lord Shaftesbury, who pronounced it before their Lordships in the Upper House :-" It is no uncommon thing to buy and sell them. There is a regular traffic in them; and through the agency of certain women, not the models of their sex, you can get any quantity of them you want." Last of all, on the same high authority, we are told of their perfect inutility, "since there is nothing that they do could not be better done by a machine.”
I resist, as I say, all temptations of this kind, and simply address myself to the one point of similarity between them which illustrates the theory with which I have started— and now to state this as formally as I am able. Let me declare that in all the varied employments of life I have never met with men who have the same dread of their possible successors as sweeps and statesmen. The whole aim and object of each is directed, first of all, to give those who do their work as little as possible, well knowing that the time will come when these small creatures will find the space too confined for them, and set up for themselves.
A volume might be written on the subtle artifices adopted to keep them "little"-the browbeatings, the insults, the crushing cruelties, the spare diet intermixed with occasional stimulants, the irregular hours, and the heat and confinement of the sphere they work in. Still nature is stronger than_all these crafty contrivances. The little sweep will grow into the big
sweep, and the small under-sec. will scratch his way up to the Cabinet. I will not impose on my reader the burden of carrying along with him this double load. I will address myself simply to one of these careers the Statesman's. It is a strange but a most unquestionable fact, that no other class of men are so ill-disposed to those who are the most likely to succeed them—not of an Opposition, for that would be natural enough, but of their own party, of their own colour, of their own rearing. Let us be just when a man has long enjoyed place, power, and pre-eminence, dispensed honours and pensions and patronage, it is not a small trial to discover that one of those little creatures he has made-whose first scraper and brush he himself paid for-I can't get rid of the sweep out of my head -will turn insolently on him and declare that he will no longer remain a subordinate, but go and set up for himself. This is excessively hard, and might try the temper of a man even without a fit of the gout. It is exactly what has just happened; an apprentice, called Gladstone, having made a sort of connection in Manchester and Birmingham, a district abounding in tall chimneys, has given warning to his master Pam that he will not sweep any longer. He is a bold, aspiring sort of lad, and he is not satisfied with saying-as many others have done that he is getting too broad-shouldered for his work; but he declares that the chimneys for the future must be all made bigger and the flues wider, just because he likes climbing, and doesn't mean to abandon it. There is no doubt of it. Manchester and Stockport and Birmingham have put this
in his head. Their great smeltinghouses and steam-power factories require big chimneys; and being an overbearing set of self-made vulgar fellows, they say they ought to be a law to all England. You don't want to make cotton-twist, or broadgauge iron; so much the worse for you. It is the grandest object of humanity. Providence created men to manufacture printed cottons and cheap penknives. We of Manchester understand what our American friends call manifest destiny; we know and feel ours will be-to rule England. Once let us only introduce big chimneys, and you'll see if you won't take to spinningjennies and mules and treddles; and there's that climbing boy Gladstone declares he'll not leave the business, but go up, no matter how dirty the flue, the day we want him.
Some shrewd folk, who see farther into the millstone than their neighbours, have hinted that this same boy is of a crotchety, intriguing type, full of his own ingenuity, and enamoured of his own subtlety; so that make the chimney how great you will, he'll not go up it, but scratch out another flue for himself, and come out, heaven knows where or how. Indeed, they tell that on one occasion of an alarm of fire in the house-caused by a pantry-boy called Russell burning some waste-paper instead of going up the chimney as he was ordered this same Will began to tell how the Greeks had no chimneys, and a mass of antiquarian rubbish of the same kind, so that his master, losing patience, exclaimed, "Of all plagues in the world he knew of none to compare with these climbing boys!""
There are two classes of people not a little thought of, and even caressed, in society, and for whom I have ever felt a very humble estimate the men who play all man
ner of games, and the men who speak several languages. I begin with the latter, and declare that, after a somewhat varied experience of life, I never met a linguist that
was above a third-rate man; and I go farther, and aver that I never chanced upon a really able man who had the talent for languages. I am well aware that it sounds something little short of a heresy to make this declaration. It is enough to make the blood of CivilService Commissioners run cold to hear it. It sounds illiberal-and, worse, it seems illogical. Why should any intellectual development imply deficiency? Why should an acquirement argue a defect? I answer, I don't know any more than I know why sanguineous people are hot-tempered, and leuco-phlegmatic ones are more brooding in their wrath. If for I do not ask to be anything higher than empyrical-if I find that parsimonious people have generally thin noses, and that the snub is associated with the spendthrift, I never trouble myself with the demonstration, but I hug the fact, and endeavour to apply it.
In the same spirit, if I hear a man in a salon change from French to German, and thence diverge into Italian and Spanish, with possibly a brief excursion into something Scandinavian, or Sclav-at home in each and all--I would no more think of associating him in my mind with anything responsible in station or commanding in intellect, than I should think of connecting the servant that announced me with the last brilliant paper in the 'Quarterly.'
No man with a strongly-marked identity-and no really able man ever existed without such - can subordinate that identity so far as to put on the foreigner; and without this he never can attain that mastery of a foreign language that makes the linguist. To be able to repeat conventionalities-bringing them in at the telling moment, adjusting phrases to emergencies, as a joiner adapts the pieces of wood to his carpentry-may be, and is, a very neat and a very dexterous performance, but it is scarcely the exercise to which a large capacity will
address itself. Imitation must be, in one sense or other, the stronghold of the linguist-imitation of expression, of style, of accent, of cadence, of tone. The linguist must not merely master grammar, but he must manage gutturals. The mimicry must go farther: in simulating expression it must affect the sentiment. You are not merely borrowing the clothes, but you are pretending to put on the feelings, the thoughts, the prejudices of the wearer. Now, what man with a strong nature can merge himself so entirely in his fictitious being as not to burst the seams and tear the lining of a garment that only impedes the free action of his limbs, and actually threatens the very extinction of his respiration?
It is not merely by their greater adaptiveness that women are better linguists than men; it is by their more delicate organisation, their more subdued identity, and their less obstreperous temperaments, which are consequently less egotistical, less redolent of the one individual self. And what is it that makes the men of mark or note, the cognate signs of human algebra, but these same characteristics; not always good, not always pleasant, not always genial, but always associated with something that declares pre-eminence, and pronounces their owner to be a "representative man ?
When Lord Ward replied to Prince Schwartzenberg's flippant remark on the bad French of English diplomatists by the apology, "that we had not enjoyed the advantage of having our capital cities so often occupied by French troops as some of our neighbours," he uttered not merely a smart epigram_but a great philosophical truth. It was not alone that we had not possessed the opportunity to pick up an accent, but that we had not subordinated our minds and habits to French modes and ways of thought, and that the tone and temper of the French people had not been beaten into us by the roll of a French drum.