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Art. II.-OWEN'S NEW VIEW OF SOCIETY, &c.
1. A New View of Society; or Essays on the Principle of the
Formution of the Human Character, and the application of the
Hatchard. London, 1816. 2. An Account of the Origin, Principles, Proceedings, and Results
of an Institution for teaching Adults to read, established in the contiguous Parts of Bucks and Berks, in 1814. Dedicated to His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, Patron of the In
stitution. pp. 140. Hatchard. London, 1816. Ara
T a time when distress is so general as to employ all the intellect of the community in considering its origin, consequences, and means of removal : at a time when we learn from authority that above a hundred thousand children are growing up, in the metropolis alone, totally without the means of education; that crimes of all kinds have formidably increased in numerical amount; and that a generation of juvenile delinquents is overflowing in our streets, trained from infancy to the practice of robbery as their trade through life-at such a season a “ New View of Society” offers a prospect of no common interest. The idea of improvement in this “ work-day, world” is always agreeable: how consolatory then, at a time like the present, to learn, “ on the experience of a life devoted to the subject, that the members of any community may by degrees be trained to live without crime, without punishment, without idleness, and without poverty; for each of these is the effect of error in the various systems prevalent throughout the world.” (P. 36.)
It will be known to those of our readers who have visited the falls of Clyde, that Mr. Owen, the sanguine author of this Utopia, is the proprietor of one of those extensive manufactories which, in our heterogeneous land, so often surprise us in the midst of romantic scenery, and by a discipline more salutary than pleasing, force us abruptly to descend from the regions of fancy to the realities of life and labour. By great attention, pains, and skill, he has succeeded in bringing the population (and that not inconsiderable) under his immediate care into regular habits of order and sobriety.
His “principles, applied to the community at New Lanark, at first under many of the most discouraging circumstances, but persevered in for thirteen years, effected a complete change in the general character of the village, containing upwards of 2000 inhabitants, and into which, also, there was a constant influx of new comers.--But, as the
promulgation of new miracles is not for present times, it is not pretended that under such circumstances one and all are become wise and good; or, that they are free from error: but it may be truly stated, that they now constitute a very improved society, that their worst habits are gone, and that their minor ones would soon disappear under a continuance of the application of the same principles: that during the period mentioned, scarcely a legal punishment has been inflicted, or an application been made for parish funds by any individual among them. Drunkenness is not seen in their streets, and the children are taught and trained in the village school without corporal, and with little of any punishment. The community exhibits the general appearance of industry, temperance, comfort, health, and happiness.” (P. 31.)
Encouraged by this local success, the author has benevolently turned his mind to the reformation of the world at large. He confidently states the “principles on which he has proceeded to be universal, and applicable to all times, persons, and circumstances.” With an eagerness, in which, we doubt not, our readers will participate, though still, it must be owned, not without some misgivings, we unfolded the pages from which we were to learn how a reform so devoutly to be wished might have its consummation. Here, to our surprise, we found that all the crimes and all the disorders of life are to be ascribed to a single error which has prevailed in the world 6 from the earliest ages to this day, and is the true and sole origin of evil. It generates and perpetuates ignorance, hatred, and revenge. It severs man from man throughout the various regions of the earth, and makes enemies of those, who but for this gross error would have enjoyed each other's kind offices and sincere friendship.'
“ This error cannot much longer exist; for every day will make it more and more evident that the character of man is, without a single exception, always formed for him; that it may be, and is chiefly created by his predecessors; that they give him, or may give him, his ideas and habits, which are the powers that govern and direct his conduct. Man, therefore, never did, nor is it possible he ever can, form his own character.
“ The knowledge of this important fact has not been derived from any of the wild and heated speculations of an ardent and ungoverned imagination; on the contrary, it proceeds from a long and patient study of the theory and practice of human nature, under many
varied circumstances, and it will be found to be a deduction drawn from such a multiplicity of facts as affords the most complete demonstration.
“ And had not mankind been misinstructed from infancy on this subject, making it necessary they should unlearn that which they have been taught, the simple statement now given would render this truth instantaneously obvious to every rational mind.” (P. 23.)
It might have been imagined that an idea brought forward with such unusual parade would have at least the recommendation of novelty. But, to say nothing of its strong resemblance to the Hobbesian system of moral necessity (a rèsëmblance however which we fully believe to be accidental, and only attributable to the common family likeness which such opinions bear to one another), it is remarkable that Mr. Belsham promulgated the same doctrine, and equally absolved mankind from all responsibility for their delinquencies, full twenty years ago. “ The only difference,” he assures us, “ between the most virtuous and the most vicious person is that the former was placed in circumstances, and exposed to impressions, which generated virtuous habits and affections, and the latter in circumstances by which vicious principles and dispositions were produced.”* And yet, after these important discoveries, we continue to permit “ a comparatively few individuals unintentionally to occasion the rest of mankind to be surrounded by circumstances which inevitably form such and such characters, and afterwards to deem it a duty and a right to punish them even to death for possessing those characters which they themselves have been the instruments of forming." (Owen, p. 12,)
We shall not give weight to this mischievous illusion by undertaking its formal refutation. It is contradicted by the most cursory survey of human life. Are not the members of the same family, who are brought up on the same plan, at least as different in character as in feature?
“ Castor gaudet equis: ovo prognatus eodem,
Pugnis Are not an Amphion and a Zethus to be seen under almost every roof? In the course of his extensive commerce with the world, has Mr. Owen never found vice springing up in spite of the most careful cultivation? Has the fair flower of virtue never met him unexpectedly in the wild, rooted in the most unkindly soil, exposed to every blast, and nurtured with no other care than the common care of Heaven? Is he not aware that the crew of the same ship, the soldiers of the same regiment, the workmen of the same manufactory, the children of the same school, the members of the same profession, each in their own sphere, present us with an epitome of the world at large, in which good and bad are mixed together in every possible de gree and shade? On what secret causes the inequalities of character do mainly depend, this is not the occasion for discussing : but thus much is certain; the cause lies within, and is to be found in the individual, not in the circumstances of his situation.
Belsham's Elements, p. 291.
Quod petis, hic est, Est Ulubris, animus si te non deficit-." Otherwise, should we find the vicious in every age, in every condition of life, alike in habit and character; differing at the same time in education, in climate, in age, in birth, in fortune, as far as heathenism differs from Christianity, as far as the frigid from the torrid zone; differing in short in every external circumstance of advantage or disadvantage that can be put into the comparison—yet brought into the same circle, and reduced to the same level, by their vices alone.
In fact it appears that this enlightened author, at the very time that he is considering the rest of mankind as benighted in the thickest darkness, is himself completely a prey to those idola specủs described by Bacon as the besetting evil of local habits and associations. * These habits and circumstances have induced him to consider the world itself as either being, or at least as very capable of becoming, a vast manufactory; the individuals who inhabit it are the threads of the loom, which are to receive their station and their colour, their fineness or coarseness of texture, from the plastic hand of the master-mover of the whole, according to the pattern which he keeps before him. He alone is superior to partialities and prejudices, while all his fellow-creatures are blinded by their narrow views and professional interests. These 66
arrangements cannot be submitted to the mere commercial character, in whose estimation to forsake immediate gain would be to show symptoms of a disordered imagination: nor to the mere men of the law; for they are necessarily trained to endeavour to make wrong appear right, or involve both in a maze of intricacies, and to legalize injustice: nor to political leaders or their partizans; for they are embarrassed by the trammels of party which mislead their judgment : nor to those termed heroes and conquerors, or their followers; for their minds have been trained to consider the infliction of human misery, and the commission of military murders, a glorious duty and almost beyond reward.
“ Nor yet to the fashionable or splendid in their appearance; for these are from infancy trained to deceive and to be deceived, to accept shadows for substances, and to live a life of insincerity and consequent discontent and misery.
* And still less are they to be exclusively submitted to the official expounders and defenders of the various opposing religious systems throughout the world; for many of these are actively engaged in propagating many imaginary notions, which cannot fail to vitiate the rational powers of man, and perpetuate his misery.
“ These principles therefore, and the practical systems which they recommend, are not to be submitted to the judgment of those who have been trained under and continue in any of these unhappy combinations of circumstances ; but they are to be submitted to the dispassionate and patient investigation and decision of those individuals of every rank and class and denomination in society, who have become in some degree conscious of the errors in which they exist; who have felt the thick mental darkness by which they are surrounded; who are ardently desirous of discovering and following truth wherever it may lead; and who can perceive the inseparable connexion between individual and general, public and private good.” (P. 57.)
* De Augus. Scientiarum, lib. v. cap. iv,
On first arriving at these disgusting passages, we had thrown aside all idea of arresting the progress of this strange work towards that “ vault of all the Capulets to which it must quickly find its way; But upon reflecting again that these essays have been obtruded into notice with no slight parade; published by a respectable bookseller; severally dedicated (with wonderful consistency) to Mr. Wilberforce, the Manufacturers of Britain, the British Public, and even the Prince Regent; their author extensively known as an active and benevolent member of society, as well as the proprietor of a well-ordered manufactory: above all, when we remembered his connexion with some of the zealous and active promoters of public education among the lower classes, and his agreement with their universal, unexclusive, or compromising principle; all these considerations induce us to pay his speculations an attention of which in themselves they are utterly unworthy. Neither is it reasonable, when an author steps forth under the mask of general philanthropy to assail the National Faith, the National Church, and the National Education, that the mere absurdity of his errors should be pleaded in his defence, or the excess of his conceit protect him from exposure. Truly happy should we feel if any of the following reflections should purge his mental
of that mist which now overcasts it, and be instrumental in leading him to truths which he evidently has never yet examined at the fountain head; where he might find that there is something more in Christianity than can be understood from the Athanasian creed, or even from the Assembly's Catechism. The earliest apologists of our holy faith, with equal simplicity and justice, oply requested of their imperial persecutors that they might not be condemned without inquiry, without examination made as to what they professed and what they practised. The demand was reasonable, and sometimes listened to even in those iron times; but it does seem a little hard that in the present day there should be ground for addressing the same complaint to one who is himself called Christian.
We have made this serious prelude, because we wished the reader to be prepared against some degree of surprise, if not of horror, before he is told, as told he must be, that the vices