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crowds, as they pass through this transitory life ; but as the worshippers descend to the cavern with passions and prejudices ever differing, so the idol which each troop places on the vacant altar receives but the homage of those who placed it; and when they have left, is cast down to make room for the idol of the next comer.
Whoever, in the earlier aristocratic ages, would occupy the shrine must be brave*-for that is of the essence of an aristocracy – frank to his dependants, hospitable and trustworthy by those to whom he has pledged his word; he must rule his conduct according to what he believes to be right, however bad that conduct may be according to the views of other times and other nations. The merely doing what he believes to be right is sufficient to give him the self-respecting, self-reliant bearing which added to his position as one of the superior race will entitle him to this idolatry. So much for one of his faces — that which is
. turned towards the worshippers. He wears another, of the existence of which they are perfectly conscious, butwithout any deception or concealment on the part of the idol -- the worshippers refuse to regard it. For this he may be vindictive, cruel, insolent, cunning, and may commit, almost with the frequency of habit, acts which another age would consider base and disgraceful. The worshippers know of all these arts and vices, but notwithstanding these, provided that he profess the virtues which they require, they will adore him for a demigod, and give weight to his opinions. In aristocratic ages, when position gives prominence and influence to the members of the superior race, they by mere force of circumstances acquire a largeness of character, a certain greatness of soul and majesty of motion, which not only develope and make more conspicuous their virtues, and their reputed virtues, but
* It has been remarked of the times of Henry IV. of France, when the scene was crowded with what were then great men, that the historian can find only three virtues then in existence : courage, friendship, and filial obedience.--Smyth's Lectures on Modern History, i. 300.
amplify those passions and give strength to those habits for which posterity, but not their contemporaries, condemn them. What Cardinal de Retz observes of Richelieu is true of most human beings. Each of their great qualities is the result or the cause of some great defeat. These warrior aristocrats more upon the stage of life like the persons of a tragedy, stirred by great emotions to good and to evil, so as to make the same man appear ages a great hero, and to others than his own a great villain. He does acts exceeding in generosity and nobleness the acts of the men who live after him, but he proceeds rather on sudden impulses than from fixed principles of regard or sympathy towards the individuals, or from a determination never to act otherwise than nobly and generously; and in the boldness of his spirit, when the bad is aroused within him—it may be by those to whom he has before been noble and generous, but who in thwarting some little end, exasperate him—he resorts to no petty arts of evasive trickery, but startles by the unrelenting atrocity of his vengeance those who are not blinded, nor have, like many, their admiration captivated by the open daring and bravery of the deed. Lord Bacon, a notable example of the combination of good and evil, says*: “ Those that are first raised to nobility are commonly more virtuous but less innocent than their descendants,” an observation true not only of those raised in their own persons to nobility, but of the nobles who live in the ages when nobility itself is recent.
In Froissart and Philippe de Comines this species of worship is wonderfully conspicuous. They wrote, kneeling in the cavern of hero idolatry. They were fully aware of the bad in their idol, they record with minuteness his vices and his crimes. In short, they show both faces of their Janus, but neither of these writers and in this respect they but reflect the spirit of their age-speaks a word of disparagement, or qualifies his lofty eulogies, or even seems himself to think the worse of the subject of his narrative
* Essay of Nobility.
because of vices or of crimes, if only that subject is a being
a who however bad in other respects fulfils the conditions of the hero-worship of the day. I do not think that the vices and crimes of the heroes, though known to the people of those ages, were looked upon by them as subjects of censure. As in the Greek and Latin languages, and among our Germanic ancestors, there was the same word for “good ” and for “aristocratic; ” the “good men were the noble men, the “bad” men were the ignoble men. So let the nation but place the superior race upon this altar, and all their attributes are good and commendable; the ethical line between good and bad is the line between the idol and the worshipper. As a nation advances, the prevailing character of the superior race remains long the model of the virtuous character, and it is possible for a member of the superior race to forfeit respect if he differs from the prevailing character of his fellows-the character which entitles them to their heroworship. When I say, therefore, that in aristocratic ages, the influence of a speaker depends mainly upon his character, I mean that it depends upon his possessing the qualities which raise him to this shrine of hero-worship. He must have the good side of the Janus face, and if he possesses that his vices are immaterial. Let such a man arise in the scene painted by Virgil, and he has no need of the rhetorician's exordium to gain the opinion and the affection of his audience; his mere rising will calm the tumult, and the words which he utters carry persuasion if only because they are his
Magno in populo quum sæpe coorta est
* See this well illustrated in Grote, iii. 62, note; and Welcher's prolegomena to his edition of Theognis.
In less rugged and more refined aristocracies there is not so much of the bold bluff honesty of the older aristocrats, but the conditions of the beau-ideal are still of the same type. Montesquieu tells us what was required of the French aristocrat; and Lord Chesterfield* sends that list of virtues and vices to his son, to form himself upon them. The great man must have noble virtues, a frank character, and a polite bearing. Beauty rather than goodness, grandeur rather than justice, striking originality rather than good sense, were required of him in action. For this he might indulge in gaming, drinking, and adultery; he might resort to trickery and deception when united with the idea that his soul was yet lofty, or the affairs he had in hand important. So that the finesses which would have been mean and degrading in private life or for small ends, were admired in the grand and lofty sphere of politics.
Thus men worship in aristocratic ages, and those who fulfil the conditions of their idolatry, however deficient they may be in many of the first requisites of true virtue, can stand upon that altar of hero-worship, and from it command their fellows. And by means of this, aristocratic statesmen, provided only that they possess the qualities necessary to those who would ascend that altar, may acquire their enormous personal power, unaffected by office, unchanged by adversity. The philosopher of the nineteenth century despises these idols and their worshippers, but he worships too in that cavern. His idols are different, dare we hope that they are better?
When the conditions of this worship change, when later generations
with them other idols to that altar, when this, the simplest avenue of the human soul, is closed, the man who by speech would command the nation must obtain another vantage ground than that from which the old statesmen addressed their audience,
* Letter cxcvi.
then must have studied deeply the knowledge of men, he must possess a pleasing elocution, a graceful but unstudied action, an elegance of person and of style, an animated countenance, a sonorous and flexible voice, a great command of harmonious expression, a quick imagination, and above all, an earnestness of tone and manner, which is the principal means of transmitting enthusiasm and passion. He must begin with an exordium to gain the affections of his audience; and having by such art obtained something of that favourable standing with them that the old aristocrats possessed without resort to art, he must do more than they were bound to do: he must address the reason of his audience, so as to make them, with apparent spontaneity, come to his conclusion, and be able to say, after they have done it, that they so concluded for such and such reasons; and not let them feel what is, in truth, generally the case — that they have been led captive by their passions, aroused and swayed by his oratorical tricks, just as they were formerly overawed by the authority of the old speakers; and that reason has next to nothing to do with their vote.
Thus as personal preeminence declines, oratory increases. Oratory is one of the means by which, in constitutional countries, new men rise to the ranks of statesmen, and the rise of these new men alters the character of the class into which they enter.