Front Page Titles (by Subject) MR. CARLYLE ON MR. EYRE. ( From The Economist, 15 th September, 1866.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
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MR. CARLYLE ON MR. EYRE. ( From “ The Economist, ” 15 th September, 1866.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
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MR. CARLYLE ON MR. EYRE.
Mr. Thomas Carlyle has come out of his retirement and scornful remoteness from public affairs to “run into” one of the “public noises” of the day. In the tranquillity of “Ripple Court, Ringwould, Dover,” having received a “call” from one “Hamilton Hume, Esq., Hon. Sec. Eyre Defence Fund,” to join the committee of that enlightened body, Mr. Carlyle answered by declaring “the clamour raised against Governor Eyre” to be “disgraceful to the good sense of England”; Mr. Eyre being “a just, humane, and valiant man,” who, by slaying some hundreds of coloured folk of an “inhuman and half-brutish type,” causing a political opponent to be hanged on suspicion, and burning some thousand houses, thereby rendered services of “incalculable value” to this empire. Mr. Gordon, and the man who was stuck up at four hundred yards like a Wimbledon target, to be shot at, and those who were beaten with wire whips, only got, it seems, in the estimation of Mr. Carlyle, “their wages for their sad industry”. Mr. Carlyle, after a deliberate survey of the conduct of Mr. Eyre, is of opinion that “this Governor merits,” not “penalty and clamour,” but “honour, and thanks, and wise imitation”. Consequently the whole weight of Mr. Carlyle’s conviction and good wishes go with Mr. Hume and the other con amore defenders of Mr. Eyre and his cruelties to his political opponents and the coloured folk generally. Should there be a riot in London or Birmingham, Glasgow or Dublin, the “governors” there for the time being have in Mr. Eyre a model. They are to imitate his conduct and hold a six weeks’ carnival, proclaiming martial law, hanging, slaying, flogging, using God’s own image for target practice at four hundred yards, and then, when the festival of Justice, Humanity, and Valour is over, they are to have honour and thanks from the survivors. Is it possible to carry further the worship of brute force and of the sort of order in which brute force delights? If this is the authentic outcome of hero worship, it justifies, apart from other grounds, the distrust with which that new religion is regarded—a religion which dethrones law in favour of Caprice, and thrusts an usurping personal wilfulness into the seat of Justice. The English nation undoubtedly “loves order and the prompt suppression of seditions,” but we are not aware that the nation holds in reverence the names of Jeffreys and Kirke, or worships the authors of the massacre of Glencoe, or thinks those persons the perfection of their species who charged with the yeomanry at Peterloo. The English nation applauds the prompt suppression of seditions, but up to this time it has not applauded the perpetration of unnecessary cruelties in the process, and it has guarded, or sought to guard, in a thousand ways, against slaying on suspicion, and especially the slaying of a political opponent. Mr. Carlyle’s defence of Mr. Eyre means, if it means anything, that we are to reverse our system of government by law, based as nearly as may be on principles of justice, sweep away all the safeguards of personal liberty, and set up instead the will of one man, who may be an Aristides, but who may also be an Eyre. We say this would be a step backward towards barbarism—nay, it would be barbarism, for it would carry us back to the strife of the strong with the strong, and whether strength and justice were allied would be mere accident. On Mr. Carlyle’s principles of judging human actions, as exemplified in this Eyre case, Philip II. and Alva have a right to the honour and thanks of posterity. Hoorn, Egmont, and William the Silent only got their “wages for their sad industry,” when they were slain. In a small way the exploits of Mr. Eyre in Jamaica were not unlike those of the Council of Blood. Yet he had far less on him the stress of necessity. After the 15th he might have brought every criminal to justice without the aid of martial law, and, great as was his offence in causing Mr. Gordon to be hanged, his greatest offence is that he put an affront on the majesty of the law, and, for the time, cancelled the ripest fruits of ages of civilisation by abolishing the distinction between the savage and the cultivated man. That is the greatest offence of Mr. Eyre, who could only “govern” on the very rudest principles of club law, and we should certainly “consider it of evil omen to the country and to its highest interests in these times,” to use Mr. Carlyle’s own words, had there been no “clamour raised against Governor Eyre”. That would have been indeed “disgraceful,” not only to the “good sense,” but to the sense of justice of England. And it is because the English nation has not changed, and has some regard for its honour, that there is this clamour which is naturally so distasteful to the great prophet of Physical Force. Up to a certain point Mr. Eyre showed promptitude and energy in suppressing a riot; and for that let him have honour and thanks, but after that point promptitude and energy settled down into deliberate cruelty and malignity; and self-respect and the “highest interests” of the country bid us condemn these.
We cannot help thinking that this strange championship of a purely Muscular Morality by men of high intellectual reputation will have a very detrimental effect. If this is seen to be the legitimate outcome of literary culture, depend upon it literary culture will be more distrusted in the world of politics than ever it has been before. Even the squires, unless they are bitten by Mr. Bright, looking on these Jamaica transactions by the light of Quarter Sessions, feel that Game itself would not tempt them to commit such acts of naked injustice. It is of little importance that men of the stamp of Lord Cardigan should patronise wholesale illegality. Nothing better is expected of them. But Mr. Carlyle, and even Mr. Ruskin, occupy a far other place in the public estimation, and exercise a far other influence than the hero of the black bottle, to whose level for the moment they have descended; and we say that when they go out of their way to become the advocates of Jamaica—we shall no longer talk of Jedburgh—justice, they do a very grievous injury to the common cause which they as well as we have really at heart. If the active intervention of very highly cultivated men would bring about a feeling of ready acquiescence in the conduct of affairs based on an imitation of Mr. Eyre, then the less these very highly cultivated persons intervene the better for us and them, for they would stand quite as good a chance of sharing the fate of Gordon as we or any other of Her Majesty’s subjects. It is absolutely necessary in the interest of the highest as well as the meanest of Englishmen that the contemptuous disregard of the safeguards of personal liberty shown by Mr. Carlyle and his colleagues should receive public reprobation; and it is far more painful to witness their serious errors—because they ought to know better—than to read of the crimes and blunders of the poor coloured folk of Jamaica, whose very inferiority should have secured them the justest treatment.