« FöregåendeFortsätt »
man did me harm, it was he; harm physical and moral. In all seriousness I believe that some of the nervous instability from which I have suffered from boyhood is traceable to those accursed hours of drill, and I am very sure that I can date from the same wretched moments a fierceness of personal pride which has been one of my most troublesome characteristics. The disposition, of course, was there; it should have been modified, not exacerbated.1
1. Draw up a list of the headings that might appear in a criticism
of military drill by standards, in a criticism by the historical method, and in a less purely personal appreciative criticism than the example here. Which of the criticisms, as judged from these headings, would be of most value to a reader of intelli
gence? 2. In a subject like this is so strong a personal reaction justified?
Is it possibly of real value? Does the criticism prove anything
about military drill? 3. Write an appreciative criticism of a thoroughly personal nature
of any of the following: Carpentry, Rug-beating, Chapel-attendance, Memorizing Poetry, Repairing Automobiles in the Mud, Fishing in the Rain, Cleaning House, Getting up Early, Being Polite to People Whom You Dislike, Being Made to Do One's Duty, College Politics.
XV. National Sentiment.
National sentiment is a fact and should be taken account of by institutions. When it is ignored, it is intensified and becomes a source of strife. It can be rendered harmless only by being given free play so long as it is not predatory. But it is not, in itself, a good or admirable feeling. There is nothing rational and nothing desirable in a limitation of sympathy which confines it to a fragment of the human race. Diversities of manners and customs and traditions are on the whole a good thing, since they enable different nations to produce different types of excellence. But in national feeling there is always latent or explicit an element of hostility to foreigners. National feeling, as we know it, could not exist in a nation which was wholly free of external pressure of a hostile kind.
And group feeling produces a limited and often harmful kind of morality. Men come to identify the good with what serves the interest of their own group, and the bad with what works against those interests, even if it should happen to be in the interest of mankind as a whole. This group morality is very much in evidence during war, and is taken for granted in men's ordinary
thought. Although almost all Englishmen consider the defeat of i George Gissing: The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, “Spring." By permission of the publishers, E. P. Dutton & Co., New York City.
Germany desirable for the good of the world, yet most of them honor a German fighting for his country, because it has not occurred to them that his action ought to be guided by a morality higher than that of the group. A man does right, as a rule, to have his thoughts more occupied with the interests of his own nation than with those of others, because his actions are more likely to affect his own nation. But in time of war, and in all matters which are of equal concern to other nations and to his own, a man ought to take account of the universal welfare, and not allow his survey to be limited by the interest, or supposed interest, of his own group or nation.1
1. Write a criticism of any of the following, judging by the results
produced: School Spirit, Capitalism, Living in a Small Town, National Costume, Giving up One's Patriotism, Family Loyalty, Race Loyalty, Class Distinction, Restriction of Reading
to the authors of One Nation. 2. Would Mr. Russell's criticism be of more value if it showed
more emotion, if it were less detached? Can a writer profitably criticize such a reality as national sentiment without introducing emotion?
XVI. A constitutional statesman is in general a man of common opin
ions and uncommon abilities. The reason is obvious. When we speak of a free government, we mean a government in which the sovereign power is divided, in which a single decision is not absolute, where argument has an office. The essence of the gouvernement des avocats, as the Emperor Nicholas called it, is, that you must persuade so many persons. The appeal is not to the solitary decision of a single statesman, - not to Richelieu or Nesselrode alone in his closet, - but to the jangled mass of men, with a thousand pursuits, a thousand interests, a thousand various habits. Public opinion, as it is said, rules; and public opinion is the opinion of the average man. Fox used to say of Burke, “Burke is a wise man, but he is wise too soon.' The average man will not bear this: he is a cool, common person, with a considerate air, with figures in his mind, with his own business to attend to, with a set of ordinary opinions arising from and suited to ordinary life. He can't bear novelty or originalities; he says, “Sir, I never heard of such a thing before in my life,” and he thinks this a reductio ad absurdum. You may see his taste by the reading of which he approves. Is there a more splendid monument of talent and industry than the Times? No wonder that the average man - that any one
believes in it. As Carlyle observes: “Let the highest 1 Bertrand Russell: National Independence and Internationalism. By courtesy of The Atlantic Monthly Company.
intellect, able to write epics, try to write such a leader for the morning newspapers: it cannot do it; the highest intellect will fail.” But did you ever see anything there that you had never seen before? Out of the million articles that every one has read, can any one person trace a single marked idea to a single article? Where are the deep theories and the wise axioms and the everlasting sentiments which the writers of the most influential publication in the world have been the first to communicate to an ignorant species? Sueb writers are far too shrewd. The two million or whatever aumber of copies it may be they publish, are not purchased because the buyers wish to know the truth. The purchaser desires an article which he can appreciate at sight; which he can lay down and say, “An excellent article, very excellent - exactly my own sentiments.” Original theories give trouble; besides, a grave man on the Coal Exchange does not desire to be an apostle of novelties among the contemporaneous dealers in fuel, - he wants to be provided with remarks he can make on the topics of the day which will not be known not to be his, that are not too profound, which he can fancy the paper only reminded him of. And just in the same way, precisely as the most popular political paper is not that which is abstractly the best or most instructive, but that which most exactly takes up the minds of men where it finds them, catches the fleeting sentiment of society, puts it in such a form as society can fancy would convince another society which did not believe; so the most influential of constitutional statesmen is the one who most felicitously expresses the creed of the moment, who administers it, who embodies it in laws and institutions, who gives it the highest life it is capable of, who induces the average man to think, "I could not have done it any better if I had had time myself.”
It might be said that this is only one of the results of that tyranny of commonplace which seems to accompany civilization. You may talk of the tyranny of Nero and Tiberius; but the real tyranny is the tyranny of your next-door neighbor. What law is so cruel as the law of doing what he does? What yoke is so galling as the necessity of being like him? What espionage of despotism comes to your door so effectually as the eye of the man who lives at your door? Public opinion is a permeating influence, and it exacts obedience to itself; it requires us to think other men's thoughts, to speak other men's words, to follow other men's habits. Of course, if we do not, no formal ban issues; no corporeal pain, no coarse penalty of a barbarous society is inflicted on the offender: but we are called “ eccentric"; there is a gentle murmur of "most unfortunate ideas," "singular young man," "well-intentioned, I dare say; but unsafe, sir, quite unsafe.” The prudent of course conform: The place of nearly everybody depends on the opinion of every one else. There is nothing like Swift's precept to
attain the repute of a sensible man, “Be of the opinion of the person with whom at the time you are conv
nversing." This world is given to those whom this world can trust. Our very conversation is infected: where are now the bold humor, the explicit statement, the grasping dogmatism of former days? they have departed, and you read in the orthodox works dreary regrets that the art of conversation has passed away. It would be as reasonable to expect the art of walking to pass away: people talk well enough when they know to whom they are speaking; we might even say that the art of conversation was improved by an application to new circumstances. "Secrete your intellect, use common words, say what you are expected to say,” and you shall be at peace; the secret of prosperity in common life is to be commonplace on principle.
Whatever truth there may be in these splenetic observations might be expected to show itself more particularly in the world of politics: people dread to be thought unsafe in proportion as they get their living by being thought to be safe. “Literary men,” it has been said, "are outcasts"; and they are eminent in a certain way notwithstanding. "They can say strong things of their age; for no one expects they will go out and act on them.” They are a kind of ticket-of-leave lunatics, from whom no harm is for the moment expected; who seem quiet, but on whose vagaries a practical public must have its eye. For statesmen it is different: they must be thought men of judgment. The most morbidly agricultural counties were aggrieved when Mr. Disraeli was made Chancellor of the Exchequer: they could not believe he was a man of solidity, and they could not comprehend taxes by the author of “Coningsby” or sums by an adherent of the Caucasus. “There is,” said Sir Walter Scott, “a certain hypocrisy of action, which, however it is despised by persons intrinsically excellent, will nevertheless be cultivated by those who desire the good repute of men." Politicians, as has been said, live in the repute of the commonalty. They may appeal to posterity; but of what use is posterity? Years before that tribunal comes into life, your life will be extinct; it is like a moth going into chancery. Those who desire a public career must look to the views of the living public; an immediate exterior influence is essential to the exertion of their faculties. The confidence of others is your fulcrum: you cannot – many people wish you could go into Parliament to represent yourself; you must conform to the opinions of the electors, and they, depend on it, will not be original. In a word, as has been most wisely observed, “under free institutions it is necessary occasionally to defer to the opinions of other people; and as other people are obviously in the wrong, this is a great hindrance to the improve
ment of our political system and the progress of our species.” 1 1 Walter Bagebot: “The Character of Sir Robert Peel,” Works, vol. II. Travelers Lasurance Company, Hartford, Conn.
1. Apply Bagehot's criticism of the effects of a democratic average
to the fate of Socrates, Jesus, Columbus, Galileo, Roger Williams, Benjamin Franklin, Abrabam Lincoln. Do your results
justify Bagehot's statements? 2. If Bagehot's theory is true, how do you account for any ad
vance in a democracy, for woman suffrage, for example, or the election of senators by popular vote, or the inaugurating of an
income tax? 3. Apply his remarks about literary men to the career of Thomas
Carlyle, Heine, Galsworthy, and others who have criticized
their times. 4. Does the Christian religion tend to make a man act on his own
XVII. Do you believe the following statement by a well-known musical
critic? If the statement is true, how far is it possible to extend it, to how many forms of art or business?
While the lover of music may often be in doubt as to the merit of a composition, he need never be so in regard to that of a performance. Here we stand on safe and sure ground, for the qualities that make excellence in performance are all well known, and it is necessary only that the ear shall be able to detect them. There may, of course, be some difference of opinion about the reading of a sonata or the interpretation of a symphony; but even these differences should be rare. Differences of judgment about the technical qualities of a musical performance should never exist. Whether a person plays the piano or sings well or ill is not a question of opinion, but of fact. The critic who is acquainted with the technics of the art can pronounce judgment upon a performance with absolute certainty, and there is no reason in the world why every lover of music should not do the same thing. There should not be any room for such talk as this: “I think Mrs. Blank sang very well, did n't you?” “Well, I did n't like it much.”
And there should be no room for the indiscriminate applause of bad performances which so often grieve the hearts of judicious listeners. Bad orchestral playing, bad piano playing, bad singing are applauded every day in the course of the musical season by people who think they have a right to an opinion. I repeat that it is not a matter of opinion but a matter of fact; and a person might just as well express the belief that a short fat man was finely proportioned as to say that an ill-balanced orchestra was a good one, and he might as well say that in his opinion a fireengine whistle was music as to say that a throaty voice-pro
duction was good singing.1 1 W. H. Henderson: What is Good Music! By courtesy of the publishers, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York City. Copyright, 1898.