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Appendix A Taylor’s Statesman (1837) - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIX - Essays on Politics and Society Part 2 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XIX - Essays on Politics and Society Part II, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Alexander Brady (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977).
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London & Westminster Review, V & XXVII (Apr., 1837), 1-32, headed “Art. I. / the statesman. / The Statesman. By Henry Taylor, Esq., author of Philip van / Artevelde. Duodecimo, pp. 267. [London:] Longmans, 1836.” Running head: “Taylor’s Statesman.” Signed “Φ”; not republished. JSM’s bibliography identifies, as his, “Part of the article on Taylor’s ‘Statesman’ in the same number of the same review.” (I.e., as that containing his review of Fonblanque’s England Under Seven Administrations.) (MacMinn, 48.) There is no copy in the Somerville College Library. In the library of the University of London (Senate House), there is a copy with George Grote’s signature, identifying him as the co-author of this review.
the statesman is a short volume of essays, by the author of Philip van Artevelde:[*] and whoever has read with the same feelings as ourselves that very beautiful poem, alike distinguished for noble sentiment, beauty of expression, and interest in the story as well as in the characters, cannot have turned without elevated expectations to a fresh production of the same hand. Van Artevelde himself, the hero of that poem, as he appears both in the acquisition and in the exercise of supreme authority over his fellow-citizens of Ghent, is indeed a splendid conception, evincing that Mr. Taylor had attentively studied the essential characteristics of an effective popular leader—a leader who performs what Xenophon calls “the divine work of ruling over willing men,”[†] without any pre-established associations of rank or superstition, by the simple union of distinguished virtue and force of character. Assuredly this is a most interesting topic of contemplation, for every one who concerns himself at all about the larger interests of mankind, and Mr. Taylor has evidently bestowed upon it much deeper reflection than is common in the foundation of a modern poem. Both the text and the notes evince that the traits which form the striking character of his hero are not caught up at a hazard, merely as suitable themes for poetry, but that they are collected from an attentive perusal of history and its philosophical commentators.
A work, therefore, from the pen of Mr. Taylor, bearing the title of The Statesman, was calculated to raise considerable expectation. One might have imagined that it would be a delineation, in prose, and with reference to the circumstances of the present day, of the same idéal which the author had already exhibited in his political drama.
Such are the anticipations which the title of the present volume is calculated to suggest. But its contents will not fulfil these anticipations. Its merits are of another kind, and fall very short of the name bestowed upon it by the author.
A work fully corresponding, or even partially corresponding, to the full exigencies of so lofty a title as The Statesman, would indeed be among the most valuable contributions to modern politics and philosophy. To trace the greater lineaments of such a character, as it ought to exist, or must exist, in a state of society so complicated as that of England—to mark out the ends at which the statesman must aim, and the means whereby he must seek to accomplish them, if he would earn for himself any substantive name or lasting esteem—to shew how the powers of government may be most effectively employed to develope all the good tendencies of the age, and to subdue or mitigate its many corruptions—this, we say, would have been a task worthy of the highest intellect which our nation can afford; a statesman, such as Plato or Xenophon would have conceived, had they lived in the present time with the advantage of enlarged recorded experience, and with political phenomena open to their view, transcending both in extent and variety all which the ancient world could furnish. To execute this undertaking properly—of course it must have reference to some one given country and society—the highest powers of philosophical observation would indeed be required; that rare combination of accurate knowledge of fact, with comprehensive reasoning, which alone can enable an author to trace the virtues and the defects, the comforts and the miseries, of any given people, to their genuine sources and principles. M. de Tocqueville’s work on the Democracy of America, though there is much of it in which we do not concur, furnishes a valuable specimen of enquiries undertaken in this spirit: and the picture of a statesman, such as he ought to be in this country, would be the deduction from a similar analysis, applied to the social and political phenomena of England. We are well aware indeed that such contemplations are usually stigmatised as visionary and Utopian: but they seem to us indispensably necessary, if it were only to keep alive in the mind of a statesman—that which official details have so great a tendency to obliterate—the obligation of acting with a view to results distant as well as results immediate, and of following out some coherent system of operations. Above all, they are necessary, if we are impressed with a due conviction of that important fact, without which moral and political science would be little better than a dreary void—the progressiveness of human nature; and the vast influence of good or bad government, as an accelerating or retarding cause of it. The goal which a wise statesman will seek to attain is a distant one, and his voyage of unknown length: he may often be driven out of his course, or altogether stopped, by temporary obstacles: but if the entire chart of the ocean in which he is sailing be open before him, both the deviations and the delay will be understood for what they are, and submitted to only so far as the iron hand of necessity may require: the exigencies of every day will be carefully provided for, even to their minutest details, yet with that constant reference towards the ultimate scope of the voyage, for which the captain of the vessel is especially responsible.
Certain it is, that if any future author shall sit down to compose a work called The Statesman, in the spirit which we have described, he will not be able to borrow much from the character of any minister whom England has produced for the last two centuries. Perhaps there are some who will consider this as a compliment to the English character, as well as to the English government: we need not say that, in our opinion, it is among the heaviest of all reproaches both to the one and to the other. To lay down any large principles of political action—to have any pre-conceived ends, with a scheme of means for attaining them—has been a proceeding either repudiated with scorn by English statesmen, or at least foreign to all their intellectual habits. Starting as they do, and as they always have done, from the hypothesis of absolute perfection in existing institutions, it is enough for them if they leave things in statu quo—if they provide for the pressing exigency of the day, with little or no thought for the morrow. Hence, during the last half century prior to 1830, while the individual energy of Englishmen has effected such miracles in the arts, in civilization, and in the acquisition of wealth, the proceedings of the government present only the spectacle of inglorious nullity, without the smallest evidence of superior wisdom or reach of thought—without any one lasting bequest to fix the eye and esteem of posterity. Yet during this same period there have been memorable evidences of statesmanlike activity in the countries around us: the Code Napoleon in France; the Federal Constitution in the United States of North America, deliberately planned and systematically reasoned out by its authors, freely accepted and faithfully obeyed by the people; while in Prussia, the condition of the entire population has been changed, by the abolition of glebe-servitude, the creation of municipal communities, and the universal diffusion of education,—all emanating from the direct scheme and unwearied interference of the government. What is there in the conduct of the English government, during the same interval, to attest either comprehensive design or forward beneficence?
If there be one quality more than another for the possession of which the mass of English citizens are distinguished, it is commercial activity, expertness in money-getting, and in turning their capital to account. It might reasonably be expected, therefore, that the public finances of such a nation would be administered with peculiar skill: yet when we look back upon the proceedings of the last war, in which financial affairs were not only of pressing importance, but conducted on the largest scale, how slender are the proofs of penetration and foresight on the part of the managing statesmen! Are we not now suffering under an unnatural increase of the national debt, arising out of the delusive trick of keeping up a sinking fund without any real surplus revenue? Have we not been deprived of the greatest of all facilities for diminishing the charge of the national debt during time of peace, by the practice of borrowing loans in stock at a low denomination of interest, and thus swelling the nominal amount of the capital funded? Look at the suspension of cash-payments by the Bank of England in 1797; did not the government of the day mainly contribute to bring on that calamitous event (the seeds of all the subsequent perilous disputes respecting currency), by the immense loans borrowed from the Bank Directors, and not repaid, in spite of the urgent remonstrances of the latter, who were thus stript of their principal means of controlling the amount of circulation? If such has been the improvidence of English statesmen, on their own ground of finance, in sacrificing future consequences to the convenience of the moment, can we wonder that they have left no monuments behind them in the shape of legislative amendment or improved institutions?
We are ready indeed to admit, that since the passing of the Reform Act, this utter apathy respecting legislative measures of permanent result has ceased to be in so great a degree the characteristic of English statesmen. Such is the first fruit of the newly acquired power of the people. Nor is it practicable under the prevailing keenness and activity of public discussion, that any minister can safely avoid attempting the settlement of important national grievances, from time to time, on some principles or other.
It is a considerable step thus to have roused the English statesman from absolute lethargy: nor ought we to forget that the great provocative cause of it—popular demand—in spite of all the obstructions and diversions which can be thrown in its way, is likely to increase rather than diminish for the future. But still this is not all. Public opinion may compel the minister to propose some measure or other; but it can hardly compel him, against his own inclination, to propose either a large measure or a wise one. He may think it sufficient just to stave off the loudest objectors, without concerning himself in any way about the substance or principle of the mischief: and whether he does so or not, will depend partly upon the reach of his own understanding, partly upon the idea which he has formed to himself of the obligations attached to his post. Hence the immense importance of keeping up the standard of duty in the mind of the statesman—of impressing on him the conviction that nothing except what is founded on large, sound, and comprehensive principles, can possibly either deserve or obtain lasting fame. There is so much in the daily life of an English minister which tends to extinguish all ideas of improvement, and to keep him buried under a load of routine, (not to mention the sinister interests under which he still lives and moves)—that if any sense of distant obligation, or any relish for lasting and critical esteem, is to be preserved in his mind, inspiring and instructive books are among the few aids to be reckoned upon for the purpose.
For the reasons which we have assigned, we think that a work really corresponding to the title of the Statesman, and applied to the present social and political state of England, would have been of signal utility; and we may be permitted to regret that, so far as regards the volume before us, the task still remains unperformed.
Mr. Taylor’s book does not fulfil, and does not even attempt to fulfil, the promise of its title; which title in fact has no connexion with the design of the work, and must have been a very infelicitous after-thought. A more proper name would have been “Thoughts on Public Life,” or “Reflections, Moral and Prudential, on a Political Career;” and the chapters should not have been called chapters, that is, parts of a whole, but essay first, essay second, and so on.
Mr. Taylor had a specific object, which he partially explains to us in his preface. He complains that writers on government and society have in general attended too much to scientific analysis, and too little to things in combined existence—that “while the structure of communities, and the nature of political powers and institutions have been extensively investigated, the art of exercising political functions, which might seem to be no unimportant part of political science, has occupied hardly any place in their speculations.” (P. vi.) He remarks that those who have been practised in political affairs have written upon politics much better than philosophers, and he quotes Bacon, Burke, Machiavel, and Tacitus, as illustrations of this superiority. But these writers, he says, “still leave unattempted the formation of any coherent body of administrative doctrine.” (P. x.) This deficiency, Mr. Taylor tells us, it would have been the height of his wish to supply, if he could have commanded leisure for the enterprise. Unfortunately he has not had leisure for any thing more than a few desultory disquisitions, tending towards the same point.
In the conclusion—which is in reality a second part of the preface—we find the reasons why the author thinks it peculiarly important at the present season to draw the attention of the public to questions of administrative government.
Of the two classes of political questions—those concerning forms of government, and those concerning its administration—there are seasons for both. I would sedulously guard myself against the error of undervaluing that class of questions of which I know least. I admit that under very many aspects of political society, questions concerning forms of government exceed all others in importance. I am far indeed from subscribing to that couplet of Mr. Pope’s, which has obtained such singular celebrity,
No rational man did ever dispute that a good administration of government is the summum bonum of political science: but neither can it be reasonably denied that good forms of government are essential to its good administration: they are contested on this ground; and to dismiss the contending parties with the epithet applied to them by Mr. Pope appears to be hardly worthy of an instructed writer.
But with all due respect for questions of form, and for an exclusive attention to them in their paramount season, what I would suggest is, that a time may come in which these questions should be degraded to a secondary rank, and questions of administration should take their place. I would observe that the contest concerning forms may be so engrossing and so long continued, as to defeat its own end. It may do so, not only for the time, but in its ultimate result.
Whilst all men’s minds are agitated by these contests, whilst, owing to this agitation, administrative efficiency is suspended, and administrations are fugitive and precarious, it is clear that the end in view is sacrificed for the time being. And though it be not equally clear, it may yet be reasonably offered for consideration, that after constitutional reforms have been carried far enough to make it the interest of the government to engage in administrative reforms, the further progress of the former will be rather retarded than accelerated by the suspension of the latter.
The foregoing extracts exhibit the general scope and origin of Mr. Taylor’s work. We are very far from concurring in the estimate which he forms of the value of analytical writers on politics; though, as we also fully admit the importance of studying Machiavel and Tacitus, we are not curious in measuring whether one class of authors be a little above or a little below the other in the scale of utility. It is one thing to be master of general principles, and to be able to reason from them under assumed hypothetical circumstances: it is another thing to possess the talent of justly appreciating actual circumstances, so as to regulate the application of principles to any given case. A man may possess the former who is totally destitute of the latter; but there cannot well be a first-rate statesman or administrator who does not combine the two, any more than there can be a first-rate physician who does not unite a comprehensive acquaintance with the principles of physiology and pathology, to enlarged experience and an expert eye for observation. “A coherent body of administrative doctrine,” as we understand the meaning of the words, is not to be deduced from the authors whom Mr. Taylor extols. A statesman’s skill in the contentious part of his business, the gaining of adherents and the struggling with rivals, may be improved by the insight which their writings afford into the passions and dispositions of men both individually and in masses—but not his knowledge of the business of administration properly so called, as we see it exemplified in the admirable life of a statesman like Turgot. Take the Poor-Law Commissioners, to whom so important a branch of the national administration is confided: suppose them seeking to prepare for themselves a stock of administrative doctrine, we doubt whether they would derive any special aid either from Bacon or Burke; but we are sure that they would find many parts of Mr. Bentham’s works eminently conducive to their purpose—who comes, nevertheless, under the class set aside by Mr. Taylor as “analytical.”
Nor do we concur in the opinion expressed by Mr. Taylor, that the progress of administrative reforms is retarded by the popular demand for constitutional reforms. We know that there are other countries in which much has been done in the former and little or nothing in the latter: but it is our clear opinion that in England increased responsibility to the people is the most effective way of creating in the minds of our administrators such dispositions as will insure the advance of administrative reforms. There might indeed be some force in Mr. Taylor’s argument, if the fact were as he thinks, that “constitutional reforms have been carried far enough to make it the interest of a government to engage in administrative reforms.” But is this so? Suppose those popular feelings, in which the demand for farther constitutional reform originates, to be extinguished among the constituencies, what would be the result? We should have the Tories restored to power without delay; and how many grains of administrative reform should we obtain from them? We doubt not that they would meditate attentively on the subjects of some of Mr. Taylor’s chapters—On the Arts of Rising—On the Getting and Keeping of Adherents—Concerning Rank as a Qualification for High Office—On the Administration of Patronage—Concerning the Amusements of a Statesman; but they would adjourn to the Greek Calends his “Reform of the Executive,” and they would skip over altogether his chapter “On the Conscience of a Statesman.”
Mr. Taylor conceives that “the greatest want of the people, though the least felt, is that of moral, religious, and intellectual instruction.” [P. 265.] Let us ask, by whom this want is most felt, and by whom least? Much, by the people themselves; most of all, by the most popular-minded public men, whose influence would be increased by the increase of popular control, and who would thus be better enabled to provide for the supply of the want than they are now; least of all by the aristocratical classes in this country, whose passive instruments English statesmen have hitherto been, and from whose paralyzing grasp the executive government is yet but half extricated. If this first and greatest of all popular wants is ever destined to be supplied, it will be by a government emanating from keener popular control, and more deeply impressed with the necessity of rendering the people worthy to exercise control, than any which England has yet seen.
Although, however, we do not participate in Mr. Taylor’s wish to draw away the attention of the public from constitutional reform, we are well pleased to see it invited towards administrative reform; and to this end, the first of all requisites is an improvement in the character, the abilities, and, most of all, the purposes, of administrators. Mr. Taylor’s first chapter treats of the education of youth for a civil career, for which, as he complains, no special provision is now made, nor any definite course marked out. After remarking that historical studies, in this point of view, have been rated above their comparative value, he says,
A general knowledge of the laws of the land, and of international law, of foreign systems of jurisprudence, and especially a knowledge of the prominent defects of the system at home, should be diligently inculcated; and political economy should be taught with equal care, not less for the indispensable knowledge which it conveys, than as a wholesome exercise for the reasoning faculty—employed in this science less loosely than in ethics or history, less abstractedly than in mathematics.
These are just recommendations; but if the study of political economy be useful, as most assuredly it is in a very high degree, surely the philosophy of the human mind and the philosophy of politics are no less so. Why should Mr. Taylor depreciate analysis in the latter, and extol it in the former? If the exceptions which he takes in his Preface against the analytical writers on government be of any avail, are they not equally applicable against political economy?—nay, have they not been actually advanced against it, almost in the precise terms employed by Mr. Taylor, a thousand and a thousand times over? The scheme of science is one and the same in every department of human thought and action to which analysis can be applied: deny its utility in any one, and you virtually disallow it in all.
It is somewhat surprising to us also that Mr. Taylor takes no notice whatever of classical studies. If there be any one vocation of active life to which classical studies belong with the most exact pertinence and speciality, it is that of a statesman; not merely from the consummate perfection of the ancient compositions in themselves, and the exquisite sense of what is appropriate and beautiful which they are thus calculated to create; though this too is of signal value, even if we consider statesmanship as a mere craft for individual advancement. But if it be true that the statesman exists not for himself merely, but for the public whom he serves—if the interests of that public require that the sense of obligation should in his case be peculiarly exalted, seeing that the circumstances around him tend for the most part to deaden and debase it—then, the study of the best works of classical antiquity comes recommended by still higher considerations; for the public obligations stood in the foreground of all the ancient morality; the idea of the commonwealth, as the supreme object of his duty and solicitude, attracted to itself the strongest emotions in the bosom of every virtuous man.
Now this tone of thought, when caught up and idealized by poets, orators, and philosophers, goes far to kindle and sustain that sense of enlarged patriotism which the details of a statesman’s life are perpetually tending to supplant; at least it does as much as books can do towards that end, and much more in our opinion than modern books are at all calculated to do: for although the fulfilment of duties between man and man, and the forbearance from individual injury are carried now to a higher pitch than they were in antiquity, yet the ties which bind each individual to the community at large are comparatively far less seen and felt: they are neither recognizable in modern literature, nor in modern actual life; and hence the statesman comes to look upon himself as engaged only in one out of a variety of profit-seeking occupations, subject to no higher laws than those prescribed by the etiquette of the profession which he has chosen.
We shall now quote some of the most important of our author’s counsels to statesmen, beginning with a chapter of which the title is the marrow of a whole treatise. “A Statesman’s most pregnant function lies in the choice and use of instruments.” [Chap. ii, p. 13.]
The most important qualification of one who is high in the service of the state is his fitness for acting through others; since the importance of his operations vicariously effected ought, if he knows how to make use of his power, to predominate greatly over the importance which can attach to any man’s direct and individual activity. The discovery and use of instruments implies indeed activity as well as judgment, because it implies that judgment which only activity in affairs can give. But it is a snare into which active statesmen are apt to fall, to lose, in the importance which they attach to the immediate and direct effects of their activity, the sense of that much greater importance which they might impart to it, if they applied themselves to make their powers operate through the most effective and the widest instrumentality. The vanity of a statesman is more flattered in the contemplation of what he does, than of what he causes to be done; although any man whose civil station is high ought to know that his causative might be, beyond all calculation, wider than his active sphere, and more important.
Therefore, no man who contemplates a public career should fail to begin early, and persist always in cultivating the society of able men, of whatsoever classes or opinions they may be, provided only they be honest. In every walk of life it were well that such men should associate themselves together, in order that combination may give increased effect to their lives; and in some of the middle walks of life the association does to a certain degree take place; but amongst those who are destined for a civil career, or are born to such a station in life as is likely to lead them into that career, the paramount importance of the object appears to be overlooked. Men in early life, seeking for enjoyment in society and for agreeable qualities only in their associates, their appetite for power yet unawakened, or their juvenile ambition anticipating the pleasures of power without foreseeing its wants, get themselves surrounded by companions who, though not perhaps unadorned with talents, are yet fit for no purposes in life but that of pleasing. At the entrance upon a public career, and in the first stages of it, the aspirant is not seasonably apprised by circumstances that this is against him, and that in his ascent and advancement, as he comes to have more and more scope for instruments, hardly any thing would be of so much moment to him as the number and serviceable quality of his associates, or of those with whom he has such intermediate connexion as may serve for requisite knowledge.
No easy opportunity should be omitted of trying and proving men, and of recording the result. But so little is this somewhat obvious truth recognized, or such is the indifference of some statesmen to every thing but what is forced upon their attention, that men have been at the head of departments of the state, who might have had Bacon and Hooker in their service without knowing it.
On this indifference of English public men to the value of intellectual ability, in comparison with some slight atom of trouble to themselves, hear our author in another place:
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 that 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.
Well does Mr. Taylor continue:
Till the government of the country shall become a nucleus at which the best wisdom in the country contained shall be perpetually forming itself in deposit, it will be, except as regards the shuffling of power from hand to hand and class to class, little better than a government of fetches, shifts, and hand-to-mouth expedients.
Till a wise and constant instrumentality at work upon administrative measures (distinguished as they might be from measures of political parties) shall be understood to be essential to the government of a country, that country can be considered to enjoy nothing more than the embryo of a government,—a means towards producing, through changes in its own structure and constitution, and in the political elements acting upon it, something worthy to be called a government at some future time. For governing a country is a very different thing from upholding a government. Alia res sceptrum, alia plectrum.
There being no sufficient amount of ability in the executive, and no sufficient desire to supply this want on the part of those on whom the task of supplying it would devolve, the following is the mode in which, according to our author, the ability which is neither had nor wished for, is done without. We do not think the tricks of mediocrity in high place were ever so pungently characterized in so few words. Mark how it is hit off to the life:
The far greater proportion of the duties which are performed in the office of a minister are, and must be, performed under no effective responsibility. Where politics and parties are not affected by the matter in question, and so long as there is no flagrant neglect or glaring injustice to individuals which a party can take hold of, the responsibility to parliament is merely nominal, or falls otherwise only through casualty, caprice, and a misemployment of the time due from parliament to legislative affairs. Thus the business of the office may be reduced within a very manageable compass, without creating public scandal. By evading decisions wherever they can be evaded; by shifting them on other departments or authorities, where by any possibility they can be shifted; by giving decisions upon superficial examinations—categorically, so as not to expose the superficiality in propounding the reasons; by deferring questions till, as Lord Bacon says, “they resolve of themselves;” by undertaking nothing for the public good which the public voice does not call for; by conciliating loud and energetic individuals at the expense of such public interests as are dumb, or do not attract attention; by sacrificing every where what is feeble and obscure, to what is influential and cognizable: by such means and shifts as these, the single functionary granted by the theory may reduce his business within his powers, and perhaps obtain for himself the most valuable of all reputations in this line of life, that of “a safe man;” and if his business, even thus reduced, strains, as it well may, his powers and his industry to the utmost, then (whatever may be said of the theory) the man may be without reproach—without other reproach at least than that which belongs to men placing themselves in a way to have their understandings abused and debased, their sense of justice corrupted, their public spirit and appreciation of public objects undermined.
Far other is our author’s conception of what is due to a nation from those who voluntarily undertake the sacred trust of guarding those of its interests on which all others are dependent.
Turning (I would almost say revolting) from this to another view of what these duties are, and of the manner in which they ought to be performed, I would, in the first place, earnestly insist upon this: that in all cases concerning points of conduct and quarrels of subordinate officers; in all cases of individual claims upon the public, and public claims upon individuals; in short, in all cases (and such commonly constitute the bulk of a minister’s unpolitical business) wherein the minister is called upon to deliver a quasi-judicial decision, he should, on no consideration, permit himself to pronounce such decision unaccompanied by a detailed statement of all the material facts and reasons upon which his judgment proceeds. I know well the inconveniencies of this course; I know that authority is most imposing without reason alleged; I know that the reasons will rarely satisfy, and will sometimes tend to irritate the losing party, who would be better content to think himself overborne than convicted. I am aware that the minister may be sometimes, by this course, inevitably drawn into protracted argumentation with parties whose whole time and understanding is devoted to getting advantages over him; and, with a full appreciation of these difficulties, I am still of opinion, that, for the sake of justice, they ought to be encountered and dealt with. One who delivers awards from which there is no appeal, for which no one can call him to account (and such, as has been said, is practically a minister’s exemption), if he do not subject himself to this discipline,—if he do not render himself amenable to confutation, will inevitably contract careless and precipitate habits of judgment; and the case which is not to be openly expounded will seldom be searchingly investigated. In various cases also which concern public measures, as well as those which are questions of justice, ample written and recorded discussion is desirable. Few questions are well considered till they are largely written about; and the minds and judgments of great functionaries transacting business inter mœnia, labour under a deficiency of bold checks from oppugnant minds.
The truth and wisdom of these remarks must strike every one who has been largely conversant with public business, and whose conscience has not been seared by the exercise of irresponsible power, nor his intellect enslaved to habits of routine. A security against bad measures worth all others put together, and essential to the complete efficacy of every other, is the obligation of writing down the reasons of whatever is done. Our vast empire in India is governed upon this system. There is not an act of that government, from the greatest to the most trivial, the grounds of which are not extant upon the face of recorded documents, communicated generally to the parties interested, and always to the controlling authorities in England. The same system is largely acted upon by the home authorities in their own proceedings; and the result is a degree both of purity and wisdom in the conduct of Indian affairs, far enough from perfect, though progressively and constantly improving, but such as, we will venture to say, never were exemplified in circumstances of similar difficulty by any government upon earth, and such as no earthly expedient could have rendered possible, except that of compelling the grounds of every proceeding to be registered “upon the face,” as our author says, “of producible documents.” [P. 51.]
Mr. Taylor next animadverts upon that quality of our public men, which, most of all, deprives them of all title to the name of statesmen; their never thinking it any business of theirs to originate improvements, nor to bestir themselves for any purpose whatever, except what is forced upon them by “pressure from without:”[*]
Further, it is one business to do what must be done, another to devise what ought to be done. It is in the spirit of the British government, as hitherto existing, to transact only the former business; and the reform which it requires is to enlarge that spirit, so as to include the other. Of and from amongst those measures which are forced upon him, to choose that which will bring him the most credit with the least trouble, has hitherto been the sole care of a statesman in office; and as a statesman’s official establishment has been heretofore constituted, it is care enough for any man. Every day, every hour, has its exigencies, its intermediate demands; and he who has hardly time to eat his meals cannot be expected to occupy himself in devising good for mankind. “I am,” says Mr. Landor’s statesman, “a waiter at a tavern, where every hour is dinner-time, and pick a bone on a silver dish.”[*] The current compulsory business he gets through as he may; some is undone, some is ill done; but at least to get it done is an object which he proposes to himself. But as to the inventive and suggestive portions of a statesman’s functions, he would think himself an Utopian dreamer if he undertook them: and such he would be if he undertook them in any other way than through a re-constitution and reform of his establishment.
And what then is the field for these inventive and self-suggested operations; and if practicable, would they be less important than those which are called for by the obstreperous voices of to-day and to-morrow?
I am aware that under popular institutions there are many measures of exceeding advantage to the people, which it would be in vain for a minister to project, until the people, or an influential portion of the people, should become apprized of the advantage, and ask for it; many which can only be carried by overcoming resistance; much resistance only to be overcome with the support of popular opinion and general solicitude for the object. And looking no further, it might seem that what is not immediately called for by the public voice was not within the sphere of practical dealing. But I am also aware that in the incalculable extent and multifarious nature of the public interests which lie open to the operations of a statesman in this country, one whose faculties should be adequate would find (in every month that he should devote to the search) measures of great value and magnitude, which time and thought only were wanting to render practicable.
The sequel of the passage is truly admirable:
He would find them—not certainly by shutting himself up in his closet, and inventing what had not been thought of before—but by holding himself on the alert; by listening with all his ears (and he should have many ears abroad in the world) for the suggestions of circumstance; by catching the first moment of public complaint against real evil, encouraging it and turning it to account; by devising how to throw valuable measures that do not excite popular interest into one boat with those that do; by knowing (as a statesman who is competent to operations on a large scale may know) how to carry a measure by enlargement such as shall merge specific objections that would be insurmountable in general ones that can be met; in short, by a thousand means and projects lying in the region between absolute spontaneous invention on the one hand, and mere slavish adoption on the other; such means and projects as will suggest themselves to one who meditates the good of mankind, “sagacious of his quarry from afar,”[*] but not to a minister whose whole soul is and must be in the “notices of motions” and the order book of the House of Commons, and who has no one behind to prompt him to other enterprize, no closet or office statesman for him to fall back upon, as upon an inner mind. This then is the great evil and want; that there is not within the pale of our government any adequately numerous body of efficient statesmen, some to be more externally active, and answer the demands of the day, others to be somewhat more retired and meditative, in order that they may take thought for the morrow. How great the evil of this want is, it may require peculiar opportunities of observation fully to understand and feel: but one who with competent knowledge should consider well the number and magnitude of those measures which are postponed for years, or totally pretermitted, not for want of practicability, but for want of time and thought; one who should proceed with such knowledge to consider the great means and appliances of wisdom which lie scattered through this intellectual country, squandered upon individual purposes, not for want of applicability to national ones, but for want of being brought together and directed; one who, surveying these things with a heart capable of a people’s joys and sorrows, their happy virtue or miserable guilt on these things dependent, should duly estimate the abundant means unemployed, the exalted ends unaccomplished, could not choose, I think, but say within himself, that there must be something fatally amiss in the very idea of statesmanship on which our system of administration is based; or that there must be some moral apathy at what should be the very centre and seat of life in a country—that the golden bowl must be broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern.[†]
Mr. Taylor’s suggestions for remedying these evils, or rather, for rendering it possible that they should be remedied, are contained in his chapter “On the Reform of the Executive.”
He begins by describing what the constitution of a government office is, and the number as well as description of the persons who fill it. First, the minister: next, one or more political and parliamentary subordinates (under-secretaries of state, lords of the Treasury and Admiralty, &c.): thirdly, an officer of similar rank, not in Parliament, and permanent in the office, without reference to changes of ministry: fourthly, a private secretary, who comes and goes with his principal: fifthly, about twenty clerks, divided into three or four degrees of subordination.
Mr. Taylor delivers a strong opinion that this establishment is altogether insufficient for the public purposes which it ought to answer, and which it might, if enlarged, be made to answer.
The duties of councillor and legislator, he thinks, are quite sufficient to occupy all the time and energies of the minister himself, who ought to be relieved from all the office-business, in so far as regards the actual transaction and superintendence of it; retaining only that general familiarity with what is done, which may render him competent to explain or defend it in the House of Commons or in the Cabinet. The parliamentary assistant ought also to enjoy a similar exemption during the session of Parliament. Further, he thinks, that
Whatever other things be necessary (and they are many)—it is indispensable that every minister of state charged with public business should be provided with four or six permanent under-secretaries, instead of one—that all of these should be efficient closet-statesmen, and two of them at the least be endowed, in addition to their practical abilities, with some gifts of philosophy and speculation, well cultivated, disciplined, and prepared for use.
We fear that Mr. Taylor’s suggestions of enlargement in the official establishment will be only of partial efficacy in rectifying that which is “fatally amiss” in the idea of English statesmanship and in the working of English administration.
We should indeed entertain greater hopes from his proposal, if we could believe that it was only the absorption of the minister’s time which had hitherto stood in the way of administrative improvement. But is this the fact? The hindrance, we fear, is far more deeply seated, and more difficult to be removed.
Were we indeed to assume that the new persons introduced into the office would be of the superior character and dispositions which Mr. Taylor contemplates, and that their influence would be predominant in determining its proceedings, we should anticipate considerable improvement in matters of administration. But neither of these two essential conditions appears to us likely to be realized; for who are the persons in whose hands the appointment of the new under-secretaries would naturally be vested? The reader has seen the opinion Mr. Taylor himself entertains of their indifference to the value of pre-eminent mental endowments. They are not surely persons who would be disposed—we speak with no particular reference to the present cabinet—to seek out distinguished capacities such as Mr. Taylor’s description prefigures; scarcely even to sustain or countenance such men, when pointed out to them either by public celebrity or by accidental causes.
Again, admitting that perfectly appropriate individuals were discovered and appointed, would they be allowed to exercise any predominant influence over official proceedings? Would they not be more likely to sink down to the pre-existing official level, than to elevate others to their own? The head of the office, who represents it both in the Cabinet and in Parliament would still remain as he is now, in possession of supreme and undiminished ascendancy. There is nothing in the scheme to render him more favourable to improvement than he is now: nor is it conceivable that improvement should ever be realized to any conspicuous extent, if he continued averse, or even backward in it.
For these and other reasons, we are far from expecting that the mere enlargement of the official establishment, in the way that Mr. Taylor recommends, would produce any considerable effects in the way of amended administration. It may be very true, as he contends, that the establishment as at present constituted is inadequate, and that if we assume ever so great a regeneration in the characters of the men composing it, they would still be too much loaded with the drudgery of details to discharge the higher functions effectively. Still, the change of spirit and purpose, in the bosoms of official leaders, would be the great victory to be achieved, and the main cause on which all the good to be done by the office, whether fully or sparingly mounted, must depend.
Mr. Taylor seems to think that it would be easy to distinguish administrative measures from the measures of political parties. However practicable it may be in the abstract to frame a classification in which the two shall stand pointedly apart, we doubt the possibility of causing such a distinction to be practically adhered to in England. If there be any one object which might reasonably have been expected to unite the favourable wishes of contending parties, it is the education of the people, and the cares of government for its universal diffusion: the more so, as we know that both Prussia and the United States of America, though differing as much as possible in respect of political constitution, have yet been alike distinguished for the solicitude of both governments to render education universal among the people. If we look at the manner in which this important question has been dealt with by the aristocracy and the Tories in England, we shall find that they have uniformly set themselves, as a party, in opposition to popular education; and that they have never been induced to acquiesce in it even partially, except as a means of rendering the people subservient to their own political church. To draw a measure within the sphere of political conflict, it is sufficient if one powerful party in the state choose so to deal with it: and when we remark the sectarian acrimony which has been displayed in opposition to such a cause as the education of the people, what hope can we indulge that administrative improvements of any kind will be discussed and opposed simply on their own specific merits?
However the case may be in other countries, it seems to us that in England political improvement and administrative improvement must emanate from the same hands and the same impulses. The friends of the former may not always be equally zealous friends of the latter; but the opponents of the former will always be the most vehement opponents of the latter, if it be undertaken on any considerable scale. Nothing but strong popular sympathy, which can only be earned in the present day by statesmen who are at least believed to be friendly to political reforms, will impart either boldness for projecting large administrative reforms, or power for accomplishing them. In truth, we think that the secret of the general degeneracy of English administration is, to a great degree, the working out in detail of the sinister political purposes which have animated English statesmen in the gross. Are not the vices, the prejudices, and the negligence, of our colonial management deducible chiefly from the corrupt use which our aristocracy has always proposed to make of the colonies for their own patronage and emolument? Suppose the additional under-secretaries proposed by Mr. Taylor to be attached to the Colonial Office—would it be possible for them to accomplish any perceptible improvement in that branch of administration, if they were tied down still to extract from the colonies the same amount of jobs and appointments as heretofore for the benefit of the aristocracy? It is only by political improvement that the general spirit and purposes of English administrators can be amended: when this is done, we are sensible that much remains for administrative ability to accomplish; but we think it chimerical to expect that those who are by the supposition averse or indifferent to the larger ends involved in political improvement, will be earnest in accomplishing the comparatively smaller objects included in administrative details.*
We do full justice to the spirit in which this chapter of Mr. Taylor’s volume is conceived, nor do we express any opinion unfavourable to such an extension of the executive as he recommends; but we are bound to state our belief that it will not change the spirit of official proceedings to the extent that he anticipates; and we must again repeat that the prosecution of administrative reforms apart from political reforms, seems to us, as a general rule, altogether hopeless in England.
In another place (p. 210) Mr. Taylor says:
With the narrow limits which opinion, as it exists, assigns to the duties of the executive government and its servants (to which narrowness of duty the government and its servants naturally confine themselves), responsibility for defect of law falls nowhere; or if it be held to fall upon the legislature, it is so diffused over that numerous body, as to be of no force or effect. When evil manifests itself, in however cognizable a shape, there is no member of the government, whether or not he be also a member of the legislature, or any servant of the public, who does not think that his case for non-interference is complete so soon as he makes out that the evil is owing to a fault in the law. The question, whose fault is it that the law is faulty, is asked of no man, and naturally no man asks it of himself. But that must needs be regarded as an imperfect system of administrative government which does not lay these faults at the door of some individual functionary, in the numerous cases in which it would be perfectly practicable to do so. Did C observe the evil and report it to B? if not, let him answer for it: did B consider of it, and suggest a remedy to A? if not, let B’s neglect be denounced: did A adopt B’s suggestion, or devise something better, and go to parliament for a remedial law? if not, let the charge lie against A.
This is a just and forcible paragraph. But we think that the excuse here offered on behalf of “the Government and its servants,” as if their spontaneous activity was chilled by a prevalent “opinion,” is something more creditable than history has proved them to deserve. Has it not been the fashion for “the Government and its servants,” up to the last year or two at the least, to denounce in unmeasured language every one who was forward in pointing out imperfections in the law, and to put forth all their ingenuity for the purpose of screening or denying the reality of abuse, instead of preventing or redressing it? Let the inestimable labours of Mr. Hume, and the incessant repulses which he has experienced, serve as a reply.
If then it be true that opinion tends to circumscribe unduly the functions of the executive, it is at least equally true that this boundary, how narrow and miserable soever, has been fully coextensive with the wishes and ideas of official persons themselves. We admit, however, with Mr. Taylor, that such an opinion has prevailed. The class from whom statesmen are usually taken have been but too well disposed to encourage the idea that the business of the executive was to be assimilated as much as possible to that of a private counting-house, in respect of the duties to be performed—that regularity in answering letters and applications, and plausibility in eluding parliamentary inquiry was the highest excellence attainable in their craft: above all, that anything which touched, however remotely, on the verge of theory was alike insane and pernicious. Popular-minded men, on the other hand, having observed—what has been uniformly the fact up to the last few years—that the efforts and purposes of English statesmen have been directed to exalt the aristocracy and keep down the people, have thought themselves fortunate if they could only restrict the sphere of such pernicious agency. Not being able to render the executive beneficent, they have been content to see it inert and languid. Thus the opinion has gained ground, among persons of opposite political sentiments, that it is a virtue in the executive to do nothing, and to let things take their own course. Of late, since the passing of the Reform Act, the popular masses have begun to take an altered measure of what the dispositions of the executive ought to be, and to conceive new hopes from its wakefulness and its activity. And we think that if a statesman of the present day does not discharge with tolerable zeal the important duties which this chapter of Mr. Taylor’s work points out, it will be much more owing to his own reluctance, than to any bridle put upon him by opinion from without.
Chapter the tenth, on the Conscience of a Statesman, is one of the best in the volume.
The conscience of a statesman should be rather a strong conscience than a tender conscience: for a conscience of more tenderness than strength will be liable in public life to be perverted in two ways;—1st. By reflecting responsibilities disproportionately to their magnitude, and missing of the large responsibilities whilst it is occupied with the small. 2nd. By losing in a too lively apprehension of the responsibilities of action the sense of responsibility for inaction.
No doubt the most perfect conscience would be that which should have all strength in its tenderness, all tenderness in its strength, and be equally adapted to public and private occasions. But I speak of the consciences of men as they exist with their imperfect capacities, bearing in mind the truth, “ut multæ virtutes in vitia degenerant, et quod magis est, sæpe videas eosdem affectus, pro temporum sorte, nunc virtutes esse, nunc vitia.”* And these dilemmas of virtue duly considered, it will be found to be better for the public interests that a statesman should have some hardihood, than much weak sensibility of conscience.
After illustrating “the mismeasurements of a conscience tender to weakness,” our author proceeds:
2nd. As to the conscience becoming, from an exceeding tenderness as to acts and deeds, too insensible on the point of inaction or delay. It is very certain that there may be met with, in public life, a species of conscience which is all bridle and no spurs. A statesman whose conscience is of the finest texture as to everything which he does, will sometimes make no conscience of doing nothing. His conscience will be liable to become to him as a quagmire, in which the faculty of action shall stick fast at every step. And to this tendency of the conscience the worldly interests of a statesman will pander. Conscience is, in most men, an anticipation of the opinions of others; and whatever the moral responsibility may be, official responsibility is much less apt to be brought home to a statesman in cases of error by inaction, than in contrary cases. What men might have done is less known than what they have actually done, and the world thinks so much less of it, and with so much less definiteness and confidence of opinion, that the sins of omissions are sins on the safe side as to this world’s responsibilities.
The concluding paragraph is excellent:
Above all, it is to be wished that the conscience of a statesman should be an intelligent and perspicacious conscience—not the conscience of the heart only, but the conscience of the understanding—that wheresoever the understanding should be enabled to foresee distant consequences, or comprehend wide ones, there the conscience should be enabled to follow, not failing in quickness because the good or evil results in question are less palpable, and perhaps less certain than in private life, are not seen with the eyes and heard with the ears, but only known through meditation and foresight. Many magnify in words the importance of public duties, but few appreciate them in feeling; and that, not so much for want of feeling, as for want of carrying it out to whatever results the understanding reaches. It is impossible that the feeling in regard to public objects should be proportionate to the feeling for private ones, because the human heart is not large enough; and it is too often found that when the conscience is not sustained by a sense of due proportion, it gets thrown out altogether. It sometimes happens that he who would not hurt a fly will hurt a nation.
The mental quality here indicated is of the highest importance, and we maintain that the best and most effectual method of imparting it is that training in analytical philosophy which Mr. Taylor’s preface tends so much to depreciate. If a man is to be qualified for “foreseeing distant consequences or comprehending wide ones,” he must be taught to distinguish the constant from the accidental sequences in human affairs—he must be familiarised with those larger classifications which alone serve as a basis for propositions extensively true and applicable,—his mind must be imbued with principles in their pure and uncombined state, and initiated in the art of applying them to real life, by previously reasoning from them in hypothetical cases. Such lessons form the only discipline for guarding the statesman against the exclusive surrender of his mind to what is near and present, and for enabling him to look both backward to causes and forward to results. If by any inherent acuteness of his own he should fall naturally into the same track in which analysis would have placed him, this is a mere fortunate accident, forming an exception to the ordinary rules of probability.
The chapter on this subject might be much enlarged, and there is one topic in particular which might have been insisted on with advantage. The feeling of obligation as it now exists, towards different individuals and different classes in the same community, is lamentably unequal. The comfort and suffering of one man, on the foreknowledge of which all rational sense of obligation towards him is based, counts in general estimation for something infinitely more than that of another man in a different rank or position. The great mass of our labouring population have no representatives in Parliament, and cannot be said to have any political station whatever; while the distribution of what may be called social dignity is more unequal in England than in any other civilized country of Europe, and the feeling of communion and brotherhood between man and man more artificially graduated according to the niceties of the scale of wealth. Assuming perfect rectitude of intentions on the part of a statesman, it is hardly possible that his moral calculations should not be more or less vitiated by the impurities of such an atmosphere. In laying his grounds for public measures, or in establishing administrative regulations, he will be almost unconsciously led to under-estimate the interests of the poorer multitude, and to give undue preponderance to those of the few who are clustered around him—whose pains and pleasures he has been accustomed to identify with his own, and whose complaints he readily anticipates even before they actually assail him. Some taint of this kind seems to us almost unavoidable, in a statesman who presides over such a society as ours, even though he be well intentioned, and perfectly free from the grosser corruption of oligarchical immorality; and warnings against it would find an appropriate place in any work professing to guide or rectify his conscience.
We question much, however, whether a conscience, such as Mr. Taylor would wish to create in his Statesman, will ever be found in one who has practised the Arts of Rising as they are described in his fourteenth chapter. These arts, he remarks [p. 92], “have commonly some mixture of baseness;” and we cannot say that they are divested of that quality in his description of them.
We pass to chapter the sixteenth—On the Ethics of Politics; a very important subject, which is not very successfully handled. Mr. Taylor takes a distinction between private and public life, in regard to the observance of the rules of morality. He admits that the primary test of right and wrong is, the balance of all the consequences of an act; and he thinks that, judging by this test, exceptions to the ordinary rules of morality are occasionally admissible in public life, but never under any circumstances justifiable in private life. He says,
Morality can only be maintained by the submission of individual judgments to general rules. Let us take this principle, and see whether it be equally applicable to private and to political life. The law of truth stands first in the code of private morality. Suppose this law adopted absolutely by statesmen acting in this country and in this age as members of a government. Not one in ten of the measures taken by the cabinet can win the sincere assent of every member of that cabinet. The opinions of fifteen or twenty individuals can never be uniformly concurrent. The law of truth would require the dissentient members not to express assent. Under this law, when the Speaker of the House of Commons bids those that are of this opinion to say aye, and those who are of the contrary opinion to say no, the dissentient members of the cabinet must say “no” accordingly. But if every such diversity of opinion is to be publicly declared, it is manifestly not in the nature of things, as society is at present constituted, that a plural government should exist. To this the moralist answers,—Ask not whether it can exist or no, but maintain truth and the immutable principles of right and wrong, and trusting to them, dare all consequences. I reply, If they be immutable principles of right and wrong, trust to them of course; but that is itself the question at issue.
I recur, therefore, to the primary test of right and wrong, namely, the balance of all the consequences, near and distant, obvious and involved; and I estimate the consequences of relaxing the law of truth in private life to shew a vast balance of evil; and the consequence of relaxing that law in public life to shew a serious array of evil certainly, but I hesitate to say a balance, because I feel myself unable to calculate the magnitude of the moral evils, and the extent of the destruction of moral principles, which would ensue either by a dissolution of the general frame of society, or by the secession of scrupulous men from the government, and the consequent delivery of it into the hands of the unscrupulous.
Mr. Taylor seems to be somewhat ashamed of having gone so far as to admit the possibility of exceptions to the ordinary rules of morality in public life, and he shelters himself by displaying an extremity of rigour in regard to private life. We think his doctrine altogether untenable, and inconsistent with itself. If a man believes that the rules of morality derive their entire authority from a certain simple feeling called the moral sense, he puts the consideration of the consequences of acts altogether out of the question, and no exception to a moral rule, arising out of such consequences, can ever find a place in his system. But if we once admit as the supreme test of right and wrong in an act, the balance of all its consequences, by what approach to omniscience can we pretend to predict that such balance must always be on one side, in every conceivable diversity of cases? How can we foreknow individual circumstances in such manner as to assure ourselves that in no imaginable incident of private life can the specific evil of telling truth outweigh the general evil of telling falsehood? To admit the balance of consequences as a test of right and wrong, necessarily implies the possibility of exceptions to any derivative rule of morality which may be deduced from that test. If evil will arise in any specific case from our telling truth, we are forbidden by a law of morality from doing that evil: we are forbidden by another law of morality from telling falsehood. Here then are two laws of morality in conflict, and we cannot satisfy both of them. What is to be done but to resort to the primary test of all right and wrong, and to make a specific calculation of the good or evil consequences, as fully and impartially as we can? The evil of departing from a well-known and salutary rule is indeed one momentous item on that side of the account; but to treat it as equal to infinity, and as necessarily superseding the measurement of any finite quantities of evil on the opposite side, appears to us to be the most fatal of all mistakes in ethical theory.
When, after reading these remarks of Mr. Taylor on the morality of private life, we pass to what he says on that of public life, we are forcibly struck by the contrast. Considering that he thinks the law of truth-telling so inexorable, that the maximum of private evil can never in any case justify a deviation from it, we are surprised to find him speaking without disapprobation of the very questionable practice of forensic advocacy as now conducted, involving, as it does, not merely simulation on the part of the advocate himself, but the greatest exertions of ingenuity on his part to entrap the honest witness into falsehood, as well as to bolster up the deception of the mendacious witness. Then again Mr. Taylor seems to treat the manifestation of any dissent among the members of a plural cabinet as an evil sufficient to overbalance at once the obligations of veracity in public life. Even admitting, which we by no means do, that there is on the whole a balance of advantage in favour of this simulated unanimity, the contrary system is surely, to say the least of it, exceedingly practicable; and we shall find no difficulty in producing abundant cases of private life, wherein the specific evil to be weighed against the general obligation of veracity is infinitely greater than the inconvenience of a cabinet being known and avowed to be partially and occasionally dissentient.
It seems to us that all the reasons by which Mr. Taylor establishes the necessity of recognising exceptional cases to general rules of morality in public life are no less applicable to prove the like necessity in private life. There is no generic distinction between the two departments; though it may happen that the cases requiring specific calculation of good and evil are more numerous in public life, because the acts of the statesman are liable to affect directly large masses of men, while those of a private individual seldom directly reach any one beyond his own circle. The real difficulty is, in both cases, that which Mr. Taylor states it to be in regard to public life only—“in discriminating the cases of exemption: in the delimitation of those bounds within which a statesman’s dispensation should be confined.” (P. 116.) We must remark, however, that the use of such words as exemption, or dispensation, leads to a most erroneous conception of the case; for the necessity of weighing specific mischief against the evil of departure from a general rule, is in reality the heaviest of all obligations which can possibly be imposed either upon a statesman or upon a private individual; and moral acting would be rendered easier, instead of more difficult, if it could be reduced in every case to a blindfold obedience to some one pre-established rule. Unfortunately this cannot be done, because the moral rules are perpetually liable to clash with one another, and actually do so clash in all those exceptional cases now under consideration, so as to leave us no resource except in a direct appeal to the supreme authority from whence all moral rules are derived.
We know that those who hold this doctrine are accused of licensing immorality, and we admit that the process not only carries with it a serious responsibility, but will be ill performed if there enter into it either bad faith or want of intelligence. But is not the same thing true of the difficult conjunctures in every man’s daily walk or profession—in trade, in navigation, in medical practice? And do we really assist a virtuous man in these moral emergencies, by enjoining him to shut his eyes to all the evil on one side of the question? It is rather curious to remark, that the charge against the philosophical moralists, who maintain the necessity of resorting to specific calculation in certain exceptional cases, is the direct reverse of the reproach which is addressed to philosophers in other departments of science. In other sciences, philosophers are censured for attending exclusively to classes, and despising individuals—for looking only to essential qualities, and neglecting altogether what is accidental or particular to the case before them—for a barbarous readiness to inflict any amount of specific evil, if it be necessary in the carrying out of their theories. In moral philosophy, the analytical writers incur the opposite imputation. Because they maintain the necessity of specific calculation in certain exceptional cases, they are treated as if they annihilated all moral rules—as if the individual action was everything, and the class of actions nothing, in their estimation—as if they suffered themselves to be absorbed by that which is accidental and special to the case before them, and were incapable of fully appreciating the more comprehensive considerations on the other side. Philosophy commands that in dealing with any particular case, the whole of the circumstances, without exception, should be taken into view, essential as well as accidental: and if a man wilfully overlooks the latter, when they are pregnant with mischievous consequences, he cannot discharge himself from moral responsibility by pleading that he had the general rule in his favour. What should we say to a physician, who communicated an agonising piece of family intelligence, in reply to the inquiry of our sick friend, at a moment when the slightest aggravation of malady threatened to place him beyond all hope of recovery? In a case like this, surely there is no man of common sense or virtue, who would think for a moment of sheltering himself under the inexorable law of veracity, and refusing to entertain any thought of the irreparable specific mischief on the other side.
We have gone to considerable length in pointing out the fallacy of that distinction which Mr. Taylor takes between public life and private life, in regard to the moral rules, because we think that such a distinction is not favourable to the genuine morality of either. Much more remains to be said on the subject: but we have already reached the utmost limit which we can allow it to occupy.
In Chapter the nineteenth, On Ambition, it is remarked, “that where there are large powers with little ambition, nature has given the machinery without the vis motrix. Hardly anything will call a man’s mind into full activity, if ambition be wanting: where it is least forthcoming as a substantive and waking passion, there are various indirect adjuncts of other passions whereby it may be quickened—such as love, philanthropy, timidity, friendship in particular cases.” (Pp. 132-3.) We doubt much whether ambition be so necessary as Mr. Taylor imagines to develope the maximum of mental powers, though it may be necessary to induce a man to undergo the fatigue, disgust, and anxiety inseparable from a training for high office in this country. Those statesmen in modern history, who have done the greatest honour to the character, such men as Turgot, Washington, Jefferson, have been, for the most part, men but moderately animated by ambitious feelings. And we may add, that Plato lays it down as a part of his idea of a perfect ruler,* that the unwillingness to exercise power is a necessary concomitant of those dispositions and capacities which enable a ruler to exercise it with the full measure of benefit to the governed. He considered that an eagerness to possess power was a strong presumptive proof of the absence of any superior fitness for exercising it. Ambition alone may be able to call forth the efforts necessary for crushing a man’s rivals, and defending his power against assaults from without; but we question whether any high degree of it will ever co-exist, except by accident, with the nobler purposes of a statesman.
We dissent equally from the distinction which Mr. Taylor draws in the following passage between the state of mind suitable for the statesman, and that appropriate to the philosopher:
The independent thinking of persons who have trained and habituated themselves to philosophic freedom of opinion is unfavourable to statesmanship; because the business of a statesman is less with truth at large, than with truths commonly received. The philosopher should have a leaning from prescription, in order to counterbalance early prepossessions, and place the mind in equilibrio: the statesman, on the contrary, should have a leaning towards it. Having to act always with others, through others, and upon others, and those others for the most part vulgus hominum, his presumptions should be in favour of such opinions as are likely to be shared by others; and the arguments should be cogent and easily understood, which shall induce him to quit the beaten track of doctrine. His object should be, first to go with the world as far as it will carry him; and from that point taking his start, to go farther if he can, but always as much as may be in the same direction, that is, guided by a reference to common ways of thinking.
This, without much further explanation, appears to us both unsound and dangerous doctrine.
We are at a loss to conceive why, in describing the ideal perfection of a character like the statesman, we should enjoin either a leaning to, or a leaning from, prescription. Both the one and the other are defects, greater or less as the case may be: the grand and paramount interest is that of truth, which suffers by both of them. It is not the business of a philosopher to appear as standing counsel against received opinions; nor to strike out ingenious paradoxes: his task is to expose error, though it may happen to be accredited—to elicit and sustain truth, known or unknown, neglected or obnoxious. Sir Richard Phillips is the only physical philosopher of the present day who has called in question the Newtonian theory: we do not know that this leaning from prescription has ever obtained for him any peculiar compliment. On the other hand, it seems to us still more mischievous to number the leaning to prescription as among the virtues of a statesman; to treat him as the last man who ought to seek escape from the prejudices of his age. Surely this is not the light in which historical criticism views the statesmen of past times. A statesman of the fifteenth or sixteenth century, who had actively discountenanced the burning of heretics, would appear in the eyes of the present day a person deserving of superior admiration, precisely on account of his having dared to set a bad prescription aside. We cannot even concede so much to Mr. Taylor as to admit, that the leaning from prescription is a greater defect in a statesman than the leaning to it—if we are compelled to take our choice between the two, and if we compare them with reference to the supreme end, the public good—not with reference to the subordinate end, the personal ease and popularity of the individual. It is indeed necessary that he should take due account of the opinions and feelings prevalent around him, and that he should undertake nothing without having calculated beforehand this important element: but the accuracy of the calculation will not be assisted by any pre-existing bias in his own mind.
In chapter the ninth, Mr. Taylor examines how far the practice of granting personal interviews is convenient or useful to a statesman. He thinks that interviews seldom conduce to any good result, and are often the means of giving unjust preponderance to one side of a disputed case. We concur in most of his remarks on this head: but the most curious part of the chapter is the description which he gives, authenticated as it is by his own personal observation, of the incredible want of preparation in suitors or claimants, when they approach the minister at the appointed hour of interview:
It may be supposed that the interests which they have, or conceive themselves to have, at stake—the importance to themselves of the objects which they have in view—would infallibly induce such parties as these at least to take the utmost pains beforehand to make the interviews which they seek available to them. Yet most men who have been in office will have observed with how little preparation of their own minds even this class of persons do commonly present themselves to profit by the audience which they have solicited. One man is humble and ignorant of the world, has never set eyes on a minister before, and acts as if the mere admission to the presence of such a personage was all that was needful; which being accomplished, he must naturally flourish ever after. Another is romantic and sanguine; his imagination is excited, and he has thought he can do everything by some happy phrase or lively appeal, which, in the embarrassment of the critical moment, escapes his memory, or finds no place, or the wrong place, in the conversation. A third brings a letter of introduction from some person who is great in his eyes, but possibly inconsiderable in those of the minister; he puts his trust in the recommendation, and appears to expect that the minister should suggest to him, rather than he to the minister, what is the particular object to be accomplished for him; he “lacks advancement,” and that, he thinks, is enough said. A fourth has not made up his mind how high he shall pitch his demands; he is afraid on the one hand to offend by presumption, on the other to lose by diffidence; he proposes, therefore, to feel his way, and be governed by what the minister shall say to him; but the minister naturally has nothing to say to him—never having considered the matter, and taking no interest in it. Thus it is that, through various misconceptions, the instances will be found in practice to be a minority, in which a claimant or suitor, who obtains an interview, has distinctly made up his mind as to the specific thing which he will ask, propose, or state. Still less does he forecast the several means and resources, objections and difficulties, conditions and stipulations, which may happen to be topics essential to a full development and consideration of his case.
In short, it may be affirmed as a truth well founded in observation, though perhaps hardly to be credited upon assertion, that even in matters personally and seriously affecting themselves, most men will put off thinking definitively till they have to act, to write, or to speak. There is no reason why the time of a minister should be employed in listening to the extempore crudities of men who are thus trusting themselves to the fortune of the moment.
We doubt whether an American citizen, who goes to submit a case for the consideration of the executive functionaries at Washington is at all beset by the flutter of indefinite expectation which is alleged thus to unman an ordinary English applicant in Downing-street. We suspect that the American knows better both what his government can do for him, and what it ought to do for him; a species of knowledge which Mr. Taylor’s testimony proves to be deplorably deficient amongst a class of the English community neither very poor nor very uneducated.
There are in Mr. Taylor’s volume several other matters on which we differ from him, and several on which to show how far we agree with him or not, would involve us in too long a discussion. We prefer to cite (it need not be at great length) some few miscellaneous remarks which present themselves in turning over the pages of the volume.
The following remark is original, and shows much knowledge of the world:
The arts of plausibility would not be practised with so much assurance and so little skill and caution, if plausible men were not more deceived than deceiving: but what they pretend to be, other men pretend to take them for. For men of the world, knowing that there are few things so unpopular as penetration, take care to wear the appearance of being imposed upon; and thus the man of plausibilities practises his art under the disadvantage of not knowing when he is detected, and what shallows to keep clear of for the future.
In the following, a fact often noticed, is, perhaps for the first time in print, philosophically explained.
If there be in the character not only sense and soundness, but virtue of a high order, then, however little appearance there may be of talent, a certain portion of wisdom may be relied upon almost implicitly; for the correspondencies of wisdom and goodness are manifold; and that they will accompany each other is to be inferred, not only because men’s wisdom makes them good, but also because their goodness makes them wise. Questions of right and wrong are a perpetual exercise of the faculties of those who are solicitous as to the right and wrong of what they do and see; and a deep interest of the heart in these questions carries with it a deeper cultivation of the understanding than can be easily effected by any other excitement to intellectual activity. Although, therefore, simple goodness does not imply every sort of wisdom, it unerringly implies some essential conditions of wisdom; it implies a negative on folly, and an exercised judgment within such limits as nature shall have prescribed to the capacity. And where virtue and extent of capacity are combined, there is implied the highest wisdom, being that which includes the worldly wisdom with the spiritual.
That “universal mediocrity of mankind” by which Madame Roland was so much astonished when she first mixed in the world, and became an observer of its most admired characters,[*] is, in truth, owing to nothing so much as to the fact, that not one man in a thousand feels any real interest in anything which he hears or sees, unless it somehow affects his own miserable vanities and worldlinesses. Let a person, of the most ordinary capacity, once acquire a sincere and lasting interest in anything, capable of affording exercise to the understanding, and see how that interest will call forth faculties never previously observed in him. This is one reason why periods of scepticism, though they may produce extraordinary individuals, are seldom rich, compared with other periods, in the general stock of persons of talent. For in an age of strong convictions, the second and third-rate talents, being combined with earnestness, grow up and attain full development, and fructify: but in an age of uncertainty, none but the very first order of intellects are able to lay for themselves so firm and solid a foundation of what they believe to be truth, as they can build upon afterwards in full self-reliance, and stake the repose of their consciences upon without anxiety. The people of second-rate talent feel sure of nothing, and therefore care for nothing, and by an inevitable chain of consequences, accomplish nothing.
In the following passage, the uses of imaginative culture to the perfection even of the thinking faculty, are strikingly sketched, though cursorily, and in a manner which will be intelligible only to those who already have the ideas intended to be conveyed:
The imaginative faculty is essential to the seeing of many things from one point of view, and to the bringing of many things to one conclusion. It is necessary to that fluency of the mind’s operations which mainly contributes to its clearness. And finally, it is necessary to bring about those manifold sympathies with various kinds of men in various conjunctures of circumstance, through which alone an active observation and living knowledge of mankind can be generated.
The pretext for indecisiveness is commonly mature deliberation; but in reality indecisive men occupy themselves less in deliberation than others; for to him who fears to decide, deliberation (which has a foretaste of that fear) soon becomes intolerably irksome, and the mind escapes from the anxiety of it into alien themes. Or if that seems too open a dereliction of its task, it gives itself to inventing reasons of postponement; and the man who has confirmed habits of indecisiveness will come in time to look upon postponement as the first object in all cases, and wherever it seems to be practicable will bend all his faculties to accomplish it. With the same eagerness with which others seize opportunities of action, will these men seize upon pretexts for foregoing them; not having before their eyes the censure pronounced by the philosopher of Malmesbury, who says, “After men have been in deliberation till the time of action approach, if it be not then manifest what is best to be done, ’tis a sign the difference of motives the one way and the other is not great: therefore not to resolve then, is to lose the occasion by weighing trifles; which is pusillanimity.”[*]
On another very common and very fatal weakness:
A minister should adopt it as a rule, subject to few exceptions, that he is to make small account of testimonials and recommendations, unless subjected to severe scrutiny, and supported by proved facts. Men who are scrupulously conscientious in other things, will be often not at all so in their kindnesses. Such men, from motives of compassion, charity, good-will, have sometimes given birth to results which the slightest exercise of common sense might have taught them to foresee, and which, if foreseen, might have alarmed the conscience of a buccaneer. I have known acts of kindness done by excellent persons in the way of recommendation, to which a tissue of evil passions, sufferings, cruelty, and bloodshed have been directly traceable; and these consequences were no other than might have been distinctly anticipated. The charity of such persons might be said to be twice cursed; but that the curse which it is to others may be remitted to them (let us hope) as too heavy a visitation for the sin of thoughtlessness.
With the following passage, on faults of manner, we shall conclude:
What is conventional and immaterial in manner may be taught: but in regard to what is important, there is only one precept by which a man can profit; and that is, that so often as he shall be visited with any consciousness of error in this kind (which will not be infrequently in the case of the young and susceptible), he should search out the fault of character from which the fault of manner flows; and disregarding the superficial indication except as an indication, endeavour to dry up that source. Any want of essential good-breeding must grow out of a want of liberality and benevolence; any want of essential good taste in manner, out of some moral defect or disproportion; and when a man stands self-accused as to the out-growth, he should lay his axe to the root. The sense of shame for faults of manner would not be so strong a thing in men as it is, if it came out of the mere shallows of their nature, and were not capable of being directed towards some higher purpose than that of gracing their intercourse with society. At the same time nothing will accomplish this lesser purpose more effectually than merging the trivial sensitiveness upon such matters in an earnestness of desire to be right upon them in their moral point of view; and if a man shall make habitual reference to the principle of never doing anything in society from an ungenerous, gratuitously unkind, or ignoble feeling, he will hardly fail to obtain the ease and indifference as to every thing else which is requisite for good manners; and he will lose in his considerateness for other persons, and for principles which he feels to be worthy of consideration, the mixture of pride and disguised timidity, which is in this country the most ordinary type of inferiority of manner. There is a dignity in the desire to be right, even in the smallest questions wherein the feelings of others are concerned, which will not fail to supersede what is egoistical and frivolous in a man’s personal feelings in society.
What is here said of faults of manner, is true of all faults of taste. De gustibus non est disputandum is a maxim as faulty in its philosophy as in its Latinity. Tastes, indeed, where they are not positively noxious to other people, are not proper subjects of condemnation in themselves; but they may be indications of faults of character or of intellect, to any conceivable extent; for there is hardly anything which goes so far into the inmost depths of a man’s nature as his tastes. Most actions are the result of some one quality or deficiency only; but in determining the things which a man habitually takes pleasure in, every quality of his mind and heart has a share; his tastes are the aggregate result of his entire character, and are that by which, more than by all other symptoms, it is made outwardly manifest.
One word respecting the style of the Statesman. Both the phrases and the sentences indicate that close familiarity with the authors of the first half of the seventeenth century which enabled Mr. Taylor to impart such peculiar beauty to the versification of Philip van Artevelde, but which is not of equally happy effect in a prose volume. The perhaps unconscious and unintentional imitation of these models leads him occasionally into both obscurity and affectation.
[[†] ]See Oeconomicus, 21.5 and 12.
[[*] ]Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, in Works, ed. Joseph Warton, et al., 10 vols. (London: Priestley [Vol. X, Hearne], 1822, 1825), Vol. III, p. 115 (Epistle III, ll. 303-4).
[[*] ]See, e.g., Robert Peel, “Speech delivered at the Mansion House” (23 Dec., 1834), in Speeches by the Right Honourable Sir Robert Peel, Bart., during his Administration, 1834-1835, 2nd ed. (London: Roake and Varty, 1835), p. 11.
[[*] ]Walter Savage Landor, Imaginary Conversations of Literary Men and Statesmen, 5 vols. (London: Taylor and Hessey, 1824-29), Vol. I, p. 26.
[[*] ]John Milton, Paradise Lost, in The Poetical Works (London: Tonson, 1695), p. 166 (X, 281).
[[†] ]Pp. 159-61. For the closing image, see Ecclesiastes, 12:6.
[* ]In confirmation of this opinion we may refer to one of Mr. Taylor’s chapters, which treats of Special Commissions, and Committees of either House of Parliament, as aids to the statesman in his work. Mr. Taylor gives, most justly, the preference to the former. There cannot be the smallest comparison between the two in point of efficiency. The facts collected in evidence before a committee of parliament are often extremely valuable: the report is generally meagre and nugatory. The special commission, if composed of persons properly selected, furnishes a full and exhaustive view of the whole subject: evils together with their remedies—facts with the inferences deducible from them. In truth, it seems to us that as matters now stand in England, there is no other way of exposing all the facts of the case methodically to view, in sequence and coherence with each other, and with satisfactory assurance that nothing material is omitted: there is scarcely any other way of laying a broad and firm foundation for large administrative measures. Now it may not be amiss to remark, in reference to Mr. Taylor’s ideas of disconnecting administrative reform from political reform, that there is hardly any subject on which the Tories in the House of Commons are more vehement, than in their denunciation of special commissions, as useless jobs and waste of the public money. Sir Robert Peel has more than once condemned them, as indefensible contrivances for saving the time and trouble of indolent members of parliament, and for accomplishing objects which might be easily attained by a committee of ordinary diligence upstairs. It will be found that the champions of political abuses are in the main constrained to take their stand on the status quo, entire as it exists; occasionally perhaps venturing to meddle with some small and isolated evil, but dreading the contagion of any large and systematic improvement, even in matters of simple administration.
[* ]J. Barclaii Argenis. [John Barclay, Argenis (Paris: Buon, 1621).]
[* ]Plato, Republic [Vol. II, p. 142 (520d)], vii. 5. Ἐν πόλει ἠ̑ ἥκιστα πρόθυμοι ἄρχειν οἱ μέλλοντες ἄρξειν, ταυτὴν ἄριστα καὶ ἀστασιαστότατα ἀνάγκη οἰκεῖσθαι, τὴν δὲ ἐναντίους ἄρχοντας σχοῦσαν, ἐναντίως. The motive on which Plato relies for inducing the best men to accept of power, is the fear of its being exercised by worse men.
[[*] ]Jeanne-Marie Roland, “Notice historique sur la Revolution,” in Mémoires de Madame Roland, ed. St. A. Berville and J. F. Barrière, 2 vols. (Paris: Baudoin, 1820), Vol. I, p. 389.
[[*] ]Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, in The English Works of Thomas Hobbes, ed. William Molesworth (London: Bohn, 1839), Vol. III, p. 89.