« PreviousContinue »
on the other hand, they are apt to be smothered and blinded by details. They can seldom get far enough from their subject or high enough above it to view it as a whole and at a distance. Hence they are full of brilliant aperçus, seldom of complete or comprehensive surveys. They know more than other men ; they see more details; they take in more considerations ;-but their very minuteness and variety of observation is unfavourable to clear, wide-embracing, simple vision. Hence while our statesmen equal those of most other nations in practical talent, and surpass them in honesty, they are inferior to those of Russia, Austria, and France, in the higher qualities of philosophic statesmanship. Indeed, with rare exceptions, capacious and determined views of systematic policy they seem to have absolutely none. If you converse with a French minister or diplomatist, you rarely fail to be struck with the depth of his reflections, and the theoretic completeness of his plans. You see that he has looked far into the future; that he is not satisfied with living and acting from day to day; that he has a distinct and well-arranged conception of the object to be kept in view, and the means by which it is to be pursued. He is often over subtle and over clever; his projects are often too magnificent, and his means ill-chosen and inadequate. He is often misled and blinded by prejudice and passion; but he seldom fails to impress you with the conviction that he is not a politician merely, but a statesman, though it may be a somewhat flighty and unsafe one. The same may be said of Italians and of Austrians,—and of Russians, if you can ever induce them to be communicative and sincere. But conversation with an English minister or ex-minister, in five cases out of six, leaves you with the uncomfortable impression that the destinies of the country are committed to a man whose whole thoughts are too occupied with expedients to have any room for principles; that the policy of the nation is suggested by the accidents of the day; and that the vessel of the state is managed by a captain and a crew who will trim a sail, rig a jury-mast, meet a squall, caulk a shot-hole, as well as any; but who have little notion of the port they are steering for, and little thought for anything beyond the next tack.
In one respect the faults of the nation, and those of its rulers—the injudicious parsimony of the former, and the ignoble timidity of the latter --mutually aid and aggravate each other. The nation is ill served in its inferior and secondary posts, because, at the dictate of a poor and false economy, it will not pay the price of able and devoted service, and cannot rise to a perception of the truth that, in public affairs, able and devoted service is above all price. It reduces the remune
ration for the generality of functions to a pittance which no man, conscious of capacity and aspiring to eminence, will stoop to seek; and then it makes the incompetency of those functionaries, from whose body it has eliminated or frightened away all the better-qualified candidates, a plea for maintaining this wretched level of reward. For some years it has made such a God of retrenchment-or at least that school of politicians who assumed to expound its sentiments and to speak in its name (and whom it has never disavowed), have so preached and clamoured for this base idolatry—that ministers of every party have been, as it were, cowed and bullied into accepting the doctrine as a settled point; have deferred to the noisy outcry as if it were a national decree; have worshipped the false god and embraced or succumbed to the miserable creed. They have economized when they should have expended ; they have retrenched when they ought to have launched out; they have curtailed the numbers and the emoluments of the scantily remunerated and moderately competent, while the willing, the capable, and the well-paid, being too few, have been worked to death. We say, without fear of confutation, that the meagre pay allotted to the one set of functionaries is short-sightedness, shabbiness, and folly, and the overwhelming labour exacted from the other is a cruelty and a shame. And at a time when all the ministers and their really competent assistants are scandalously overpressed, and when they ought to call to their aid the wise and able men of the nation at any cost, and in any capacity, without regard either to the traditional etiquette of office, or to the formal protest of economists—they dare not do so, though conscious of the importance of the innovation, because they want courage to face, not the indignation of the people, but the clamour of the tribunes, who, without warrant, have constituted themselves its prophets and exponents. Let us hear what was said some years ago, by one of the few really superior and statesmanlike men whom we have been able to attract into and retain in the Permanent Civil Service :
“ Yet such is the prevalent insensibility to that which constitutes the real treasure and resources of the country-its serviceable and statesmanlike minds, and so far are men in power from searching the country through for such minds, or men in Parliament from promoting or permitting the search, that I hardly know if the minister has existed in the present generation, who, if such a mind were casually presented to him, would not forego the use of it, rather than hazard a debate in the House of Commons upon an additional item in his estimates.
* “ The Statesman,” by Henry Taylor, p. 163.
The crying sin of our public men is the lack of courage and of faith observed among them. Their little courage comes of their little faith, and their little faith of their little knowledge. They do not believe in the people, because they are not acquainted with them. They dare not trust in great motives and great thoughts, because in their own souls they have no experimental conviction of their magic efficacy. They do not understand the strength which lies in the assertion of a prolific principle and the assumption of a tenable position. They will not risk failure by hazardous daring, because they cannot see that honourable failure is often the shortest and the surest road to signal and entire success. Hence they truckle when they might defy; they temporize when they might insist; they compromise and bargain when they might conquer and command. Having no confidence in themselves, their cause, or their countrymen, they constantly suffer victory to escape them while wooing them to win it, and allow opposition to grow formidable and rampant, which might have been cowed and crushed by a gallant bearing and a timely blow.
Never to our thinking has the lack of these essential qualities in the statesmen of England been so manifest or so mischievous as during the present crisis. We have now heard the defences and explanations of them all; and we are compelled to say that they appear on their own showing to have entered into the war without any adequate conception of the magnitude of the contest, or without any definite aims or resolute purposes high enough and firm enough to justify the advent of bloodshed or confusion. They “ drifted into it,” because the circumstances that arose from day to day tended in that direction, and because the people, who took a far broader and juster view of the matter than their rulers, were bent upon that issue. They began hostilities for questions that did not warrant war, and they were willing to end them on terms that did not warrant peace. And when an angry and not altogether reasonable nation dismissed one set of ministers and placed another set at the helm, these last, from very feebleness of spirit, or confusion of purpose, or infirmity of will, threw away the finest opportunity ever offered to men of sagacity and courage “ to rule the whirlwind and direct the storm.
ART. II.-WILLIAM COWPER.
Poetical Works of William Cowper. Edited by Robert Bell.
J. W. Parker and Son. The Life of William Cowper, with Selections from his Corre
spondence. Being Volume I. of the Library of Christian Biography, superintended by the Rev. Robert Bickersteth. Seeley, Jackson, and Co. OR the English, after all, the best literature is the English.
We understand the language; the manners are familiar to us; the scene at home; the associations are our own. Of course, a man who has not read Homer is like a man who has not seen the ocean. There is a great object of which he has no idea. But we cannot be always seeing the ocean. Its face is always large; its smile is bright; the ever-sounding shore sounds on. But we have no property in them. We stop and gaze; we pause and draw our breath; we look and wonder at the grandeur of the other world. But we live on shore. We fancy associations of unknown things and distant climes, of strange men and strange manners. But we are ourselves. Foreigners do not behave as we should, nor do the Greeks. What a strength of imagination, what a long practice, what a fatility in the details of fancy is required to picture their past and unknown world! They are deceased. They are said to be immortal, because they have written a good epitaph ; but they are gone. Their life and their manners have passed away. We read with interest in the catalogue of the ships
“The men of Argos and Tyrintha next,
And of Hermione, that stands retired
But they are dead. “So am not I, said the foolish fat scullion." We are the English of the present day. We have cows and calves, corn and cotton; we hate the Russians; we know where the Crimea is; we believe in Manchester the great. A large expanse is around us; a fertile land of corn and orchards, and pleasant hedgerows, and rising trees, and noble prospects, and large black woods, and old church towers. The din of great cities comes mellowed from afar. The green fields, the halfhidden hamlets, the gentle leaves, soothe us with “a sweet inland murmur.” We have before us a vast seat of interest, and toil, and beauty, and power, and this our own. Here is our home. The use of foreign literature is like the use of foreign travel. It imprints in early and susceptible years a deep impression of great, and strange, and noble objects; but we cannot live with these. They do not resemble our familiar life; they do not bind themselves to our intimate affection; they are picturesque and striking, like strangers and wayfarers, but they are not of our home, or homely; they cannot speak to our “business and bosoms;" they cannot touch the hearth of the soul. It would be better to have no outlandish literature in the mind than to have it the principal thing. We should be like accomplished vagabonds without a country, like men with a hundred acquaintances and no friends. We need an intellectual possession analogous to our own life; which reflects, embodies, improves it; on which we can repose; which will recur to us in the placid moments, which will be a latent principle even in the acute crises of our life. Let us be thankful if our researches in foreign literature enable us, as rightly used they will enable us, better to comprehend our own. Let us venerate what is old, and worship what is far. Let us read our own books. Let us understand ourselves.
With these principles, if such they may be called, in our minds, we gladly devote these early pages of our journal to the new edition of Cowper, with which Mr. Bell has favoured us. There is no writer more exclusively English. There is no one-or hardly one perhaps—whose excellencies are more natural to our soil, and seem so little able to bear transplantation. We do not remember to have seen his name in any continental book. Professed histories of English literature, we dare say, name him; but we cannot recall any such familiar and cursory mention as would evince a real knowledge and hearty appreciation of his writings.
The edition itself is a good one. The life of Cowper, which is prefixed to it, though not striking, is sensible. The notes are clear, explanatory, and, so far as we know, accurate. The special introductions to each of the poems are short and