Page images




“ As the most perfect life is that which animates the most complex organisation, 80 that state is the noblest in which powers, originally and definitely distinct, unite after the varieties of their kind into centres of vitality, one beside the other, to make up a whole.”—NIEBUHR.

As in the schools of anatomy, when the knife of the professor lays open, for our instruction, the organism of the human body, we are first enlightened upon the elements of the outward beauty—the skin, the eyes, the hair-and the knife cuts but slightly, and only to show how these and familiar members are connected with, and derive their sustenance and their peculiarities from the inward members, which we never see in life, and it is not till after all this has been explained and understood that the deeper incisions commence, and the vitals are laid bare; so I have endeavoured, seizing upon the foreign glory of nations in their acme, their literature, their oratory, and their forms of statesmanship, which are, as it were, the outward signs and cuticle of national life, to portray and to examine these alone, and only slightly to open the delicate fibres and nerves by which they are connected with the interior organisation ; but now the time has arrived when, if ever it can be done, the mainsprings of the life of nations must be probed and exposed. Bear with me, if I do it in a fragmentary and unprenticed way. The

anatomy of the human body is yet far from being completely known, after three thousand years of study. How can the anatomy of the social body be fully understood in the first lecture-room established for its exposition?

Each of the social forces contributes its quota to the greatness of the nation in which it is present, and the measure of national greatness is given by the number of social forces which contribute to it, and the harmony in which they and their gifts unite; if they are all present, and all have their due rank and power in a nation, then is the development of that nation the realisation of the ideal, and a national development is rendered imperfect by the absence or undue prominence of any one or more of these forces. For, suppose any one of them eliminated*, the progress of the other elements would not, as a certain consequence, be stayed, the development would not necessarily be made to cease; but when the nation comes to the acme, the period in which there is no supremacy among the various elements, and where the greater the number of elements developed the greater the national splendour it is clear that by the deficiency of one or more the general effect is modified.

In a complete development it is necessary that the three secular elements—the monarchical, the aristocratical, and the democratical-should co-exist.

Philosophers of great and merited reputation have taken each of the three cardinal forms of government separately, and assigned to it a principle. There is this difference, says Montesquieu, between the nature of a government and its principle: its nature is that which makes it what it is; its principle, that which regulates its action. The one is its individual structure; the other, the human passions which move it. The same illustrious writer distinguished the principle of republics, meaning thereby both aristocracies and democracies, to be virtue, that is, love and

* The reader may refer to the scheme on p. 96.

regard for the republic; to monarchical government he assigned the principle of honour; and to despotism, fear.

Honour is the principle of aristocratic monarchies, because it is the ruling principle of the unconquered founders of nations. It prevails as much among


populations where there has been no conquest, like the Norwegian, as among the conquering tribe which becomes an aristocracy, but it does not prevail among the conquered. Those who live by the rule of honour never commit an act, which the opinion of the men whom they esteem would condemn. If by some happy dispensation the abstract rule of right made itself perceptible to all, and guided opinion, the life of those who live according to the law of honour would exemplify the perfection of human conduct. But the opinions of right among mankind vary continually, and those, therefore, who rule their life by the law of honour, not unfrequently pursue a system of action which calls forth the surprise and the censure of succeeding ages.*

Honour is the effect of deference to the opinion of a class, whom we have previously enshrined in our hearts as the models of feeling and of conduct. I hold it to be a mistake to lay down, as some have done, that it can only exist where there are social equalities, though it is perfectly true that when the aristocratic feelings die out of a nation, the spirit of honour perishes likewise. But honour was a ruling principle among the Scottish Highlanders in their days of predatory warfare, not binding merely on chieftains, but on every clansman ; it existed among some of the nobler tribes of the American Indians,

* The philosopher of utility, taking the law of honour as established among the more refined nobilities of Europe in the eighteenth century, expresses his sense of the sins, religious and moral, not thereby chastised. Paley, Moral Philosophy, bk. i. ch. 2. See Coleridge, The Friend, iii. 91; and De Tocqueville, Déni. en Amér., vol. iv. ch. 18. Mandeville, Fable of the Bees, Remark (R.) Mandeville, Inquiry into the Origin

of Honour.

and exists at this day in Norway, where all men have the feeling of aristocrats, though they have no class below them. The mistake seems to have arisen from the greater prominence of the rule of honour where there is social inequality, for there it draws a line not less marked than that of birth and property between the aristocrat and the roturier. The higher classes fix their mind upon certain qualities, which they repute honourable and worthy of the men of their race, such as courage *, hospitality, frankness, a scorn of servile labour. These are the characteristics of the more valiant tribes out of whom aristocracies are formed, and long continue to be the characteristics cultivated by their descendants. Those who fail in them are held to be unworthy members of a military aristocracy. Among the subjects there is not the same strict rule of conduct, their errors, except when penal consequences ensue, do not degrade their condition lower than it was before, and the opinion of their fellows acts with less force upon them, since they are not always masters of their actions. They have it scarce in their power to be hospitable; courage is for the stronger race, servile labour is their lot; and they can hardly condemn if one of their number seeks to overreach by craft those who oppress him by force.

Thus honour, when there is inequality of conditions, belongs especially to the aristocracy. As national progress advances, the views of the aristocracy respecting what is honourable alter &, but they never lose, so long

* Courage is the first and most vital principle of honour in aristocracies. Virtus meant originally manfulness and courage, which, at the time when the Roman language was formed, was regarded as the chief, if not the only virtue. The whole character of the great Romans is summed


in the sentence of Livy, “ Et facere et pati fortia Romanum


† The changeableness of the code makes honour one of the easiest things for authors to dogmatise about, each including or excluding some quality from the list, according to his taste. Thus, the author of the treatise, “ Laconics, or New Maxims of State and Conversation,” (2nd

as they are a distinct class, the feeling that honour ought to be their guiding principle. It comes in such an aristocracy as that of France under the later Bourbons, to be at last a rule of fashion, allowing all the sins of the decalogue, but requiring a strict observance of certain established forms of gentlemanly intercourse. In that country every attribute of aristocracy, which was allowed to continue its sway long after other elements were fitted to share that sway with it, has run to an absurd excess, and French “honour,” of which their military men are eternally talking, seems to amount only to the rule of summoning to mortal combat any one who gives their irritable vanity the least offence. In constitutional countries honour remains the principle of the aristocracy, and if the points of honour are solid and substantial virtues, and not flimsy bye-laws of etiquette, their influence over the public mind is one of incalculable benefit. A manly self-reliant class spreads through the nation a manliness of character which would not otherwise be attained. In England especially, the principle of honour has acted not merely upon the aristocracy, in the strict sense of the term, but upon all who can pretend to the name of gentlemen; for till lately there were few gentlemen, whether at the bar or in the counting-house, whose misconduct would not have dishonoured an ancient house, tarnished a respected name, or prevented their entering that class, to enter which was their highest aspiration.

Honour, which is in its essence a due respect for oneself and for one's order, when observed by the higher classes, inspires respect for them in the lower; and it is this principle of respect by which is mainly manifested the modified and beneficial influence exercised by an

edit. Lond. 1702, part ii. No. 484,) says, “A man without religion can have no honour.” What would the atheistic noblesse of France, who were all honourable men, according to their idea of honour, have said to this?

« PreviousContinue »