Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

had put it in our power to approach very nearly to it. Do we require too much, we are disappointed ; but if we are satisfied with little, we may have it. And when we say WE, we mean all the world, with only sufficient exception to prove the rule. A Pole, born under the rule of a Russian, gagged, and bound, and beholding his country desolate ; an African, born to be the victim of the senseless black tyrant Dahomey ; a man with an hereditary disease or madness—these are the exceptions. Beyond them, a little shoe-black has an equal chance with a king-we think a higher chance than any king. Cheerfulness and thankfulness for small mercies must be the plants also cultivated, because happiness thrives in their atmosphere. Beyond that, believing that the world really cannot give it nor take it away, because it lies deeper than the world, at the very inmost recess of the heart, is the grand specific for true greatness as well—that of, trying to help others, and to conquer yourself. Even the prosaic Rowe rises to poetry when he announces this truth : “ To be good is to be happy. Angels are happier than men because they're better."

S36

DREAMS OF WORLD-HAPPINESS.

[ocr errors]

T is not the fate of every author that he adds an expressive word to a language, a word which will probably keep its place as long as men

aspire and our language last. What is Utopia, and a Utopian? The first question this Essay will attempt to answer ; in the second the word has somewhat drifted from its original sense, its meaning now being a benevolent idealogue, one who wishes to leave the world better than he found it, and who believes in progress and perfectibility. Almost all earnest and good men are at one period of their lives Utopians, and dream of a happy republic, like that of Sir Thomas More, where “ rumours of oppression and deceit” might never reach them more ; but comparatively few are acquainted with more than the faintest sketch of the Chancellor's book. The very list of Utopian writers is a long one. It began long before Christianity was established, and it has lasted to our own day. It will last as long as unequal divisions, poverty and riches, luxury and squalor, ease and hard work, co-exist in this world. That these “happy republics” have succeeded better upon paper than they do in reality is no argument against their designers. That certain obscure and poor religionists have carried out their principles till they have planted a happy and virtuous community in the wilderness, and have made the desert blossom like a rose, will show that, after all, Utopia is not a wholly visionary place, and that, in the grey age of the world—we being now in its youth-we may perchance perfectionate, and reach a state of society infinitely more pleasant and virtuous than this.

Even an imperfect list of those who have projected Utopias will be instructive. We begin with Plato and his Republic, and we proceed to the New Atlantis of the philosophic Bacon; the City of the Sun of Campanella ; the Other World of Hall; the Isle of Pleasures, by Fénélon ; the Austral Discovery of Retif de la Bretonne; Gaudentia di Lucca, an account of an unknown country in the deserts of Africa, by Bishop Berkeley ; the Basilliade of Morelly; the Oceana of Harrington, our grand republican spirit; the dream of Perpetual Peace, by the Abbé St. Pierre ; The Fortunate Isles, by M. de Clairfonds; the History of the Troglodytes, by Montesquieu (a fragment); Micromegas, by Voltaire ; and, lastly, Universal Brotherhood; or, The Christian System of Mutual Assistance, by Goodwyn Barmby, published in London and New York about twenty years ago. This list is by no means perfect; but it contains the names of some very great men, who were bold enough to feel and to assert that, in their belief, whatever is, or was, is not and was not best; that “ a brighter morn awaits the human day ;” and that society in the bright future

“ Like a penitent libertine, shall start, Look back, and shudder at his younger days!

Of Plato's Republic so many people have written, and still write, that it is useless here to say anything. There have been many various estimates of the work. Some have taxed it with the grossest sensualism and cruelty. One gentleman has written to defend Socrates from any share in the suggestion of such a work : with others it is the very essence of political and moral beauty. Some assert that “this is not what Plato approved, but what Plato conceived to be the best compromise with the difficulties of the case under the given civilization.” “Now, on the contrary," writes De Quincey, “we have Plato's view of absolute Optimism, the true maximum perfectionis for social man, in a condition openly assumed to be modelled after a philosopher's ideal. There is no work, therefore, from which profounder draughts can be derived of human frailty and degradation, under its highest intellectual expansion, previously to the rise of Christianity.” This seems to us a true and philosophic view of the

In Plato we are called upon to admire that which our present feelings tell us to be cruel, brutal, sensual, and merciless : the training of women as soldiers ; the community of women; the gift of their embraces to those distinguished in arms, as a reward ; the fighting and wrestling of women, naked, with men ; the common rearing of children ; and the attempt to banish the maternal feeling as selfish and wrong. But what shall we say when we find that, in the latest Utopian, very nearly the same ideas are reproduced ?

case.

Mr. Goodwyn Barmby, who superadds to the dreams of the Utopian a dreamy and oily lubricity of style which it would be dangerous to describe, has many pages devoted to the “ Sexual Relations,” as well as a picture of the “ Beau-ideal of the Routine of a Social Community.” He declares “ that the sexes should enjoy their natural liberty ; that marriage should be abolished; that it produces much evil and misery; that it is the cause of all sexual crimes; that woman at present is an enslaved female ; and that in a state of sexual freedom alone can we enjoy 'the feast of reason and the flow of soul.'” Was there eve a poor, unhappy tation cruelly ill-used?

The truth is, that at the bottom of all these communistic and Utopian schemes there is some desperate rottenness. Those who oppose the philosophic consideration of these matters urge that the communist means the liberty of helping himself to every man's goods; but without going so far as that, and conceding that there is room for gradual improveinent, for lifting the labourers, and for extinguishing the tyranny of poverty, we must add, that they who wish for a happier state of society have been singularly led away by their leaders.

The Utopia of Sir Thomas More is a work singularly free from the faults and follies of others-of Plato, for examplebut it has many of its own, and a certain craftiness which may be traced by any acute observer, not only in the works, but in the portrait of its author, and from which, good as he was, Sir Thomas was never quite free. The institution of

« VorigeDoorgaan »