LETTERS TO THE PRESS (8)
Is the Marriage Contract Eternal?
[Again, Buchanan’s two letters on this subject, written in response to Gladstone’s piece about divorce in the December 1889 issue of the North American Review, were printed in The Daily Telegraph (which I have not seen), then reprinted in The Coming Terror, and other essays and letters (London: William Heinemann, 1891). Buchanan’s original letter is dated ‘London, Dec. 14, 1889’ according to a reprint in The Straits Times of 20th January, 1890, which also has a précis of Gladstone’s article before Buchanan’s letter. Whether this is also reprinted from The Daily Telegraph, I don’t know, but it is available here. The second letter refers to the imminent burial of Robert Browning, which took place on 31st December, 1889 at Westminster Abbey, so could have been published near this date. Although this is all a bit haphazard, I thought Buchanan’s letters should be added to this section, and when The Daily Telegraph archives do appear online, I will be able to sort all this out in a more satisfactory manner. One last point, which is rather speculative, but I think worth mentioning. Buchanan’s play, Man and the Woman received its first (and, as it turned out, only) performance at a matinée at the Criterion Theatre on 19th December, 1889. The theme of the play was a ‘bad marriage’ and so it could be the case that either Buchanan’s letters were prompted by his current interest in the problem, or, perhaps, he was trying to drum up a bit of publicity for his play.]
From The Coming Terror, and other essays and letters (William Heinemann, 1891 - p.261-279)
IS THE MARRIAGE CONTRACT ETERNAL?
To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’
Mr. Gladstone’s ideas on the subject of ‘Marriage and Divorce,’ as set forth in the current number of the North American Review, have been familiar to us all ever since the publication of his paper on the same subject which appeared among the ‘Ecclesiastical Essays.’ For my own part, much as I dissent from the views expressed, I honour and reverence them, as symbolic of a perfectly stainless and beautiful wedded life. I know that every word they contain comes from the bottom of one of the kindest hearts beating on this planet, and in presuming to correct so apostolic a person as Mr. Gladstone, a man who belongs to the high-priesthood of human nature, I am restrained by no little reverence and affection. But I know well, as all sane men must know by this time, that this great leader would prefer to any half-hearted acquiescence a firm yet respectful contradiction. ‘Great is the truth, and it must 262 prevail,’ has been his watchword throughout his life,’ and he will forgive now, for the Truth’s sake, the denial of one who sympathizes, but who is not a disciple.
Veiled in the golden cloud of a happy destiny, crowned with the lilies and roses of that perfect conjugal peace which Swedenborg justly thought the noblest blessing of human life, Mr. Gladstone, confident of his individual happiness, forgets the conditions of human nature. His appeal to Christian documents, his erudite citation of the Christian Fathers, to prove a point which can only be established by human Science, may be gently set aside for the present as irrelevant. To contend upon Biblical evidence that Marriage is a Contract for Eternal Life, never to be entered into with a new individual after bodily and spiritual separation from another, is not much more tenable than to hold carnal Love itself a thing to be avoided because the Apostle Paul rebuked the fleshly appetites and held matrimony only a little better than concupiscence. Surely that Protestantism which Mr. Gladstone loves so well decided long ago that human Conscience is superior to any constituted authority; and surely also Free-Thought, the heir male of Protestantism, has convinced us at last that Knowledge is antecedent to, and supreme over, the domination of any Documents. As I have elsewhere written, the man who says that a Book can corrupt his Soul ranks his Soul lower than a Book; 263 and even when a Book is wise beyond the possibility of corruption, it is poorer and feebler at best than the human inspiration out of which it came. Unless the sun of human intelligence, like the sun of Joshua, has stood and is standing still, the later inspiration must supplement the earlier, and the Bible of Humanity remain incomplete, until many another Book is written. Generations ago Milton added to it one luminous page—that in which, starting from Mr. Gladstone’s side of the compass, he vindicated the right of Divorce in the name of the Christian documents; and Milton, were he living now, had he learned what Man knows now, would have uttered truer, though not mightier, words in the name of human inspiration.
For surely, the hour has come when the rights and needs of human nature are no longer to be decided by the straggling traditions, the vagrant and often feeble utterances, of those who were Martyrs and Apostles of Liberty once, but who, were they living now, and waging the same conflict against social science, would be regarded as fit subjects for Bedlam. Since the age of St. Athanasius we have had the age of St. Servetus, whom I, for my own part, value more highly than most saints in the Church’s Calendar. We have drained our cities, reformed our manners, invented soap as an adjunct to water, and become, if a little less credulous of documents, a great deal more tolerant to Inspiration. The Poet and the Philosopher may 264 now get in a word occasionally in the intervals of pastoral homilies and domiciliary exhortations. True, many of our discoveries, and a little even of our inspiration, are of comparatively small value. To find magnesium in the moon is perhaps not much more precious than to ascertain, with Panurge, that the moon is made of green cheese; while to establish the caudal ancestry of man is merely to corroborate the irony of Voltaire, and to verify the fanciful flights of Lord Monboddo. Even Goethe’s discovery of the intermaxillary bone, though precious to sheer scientists, has had very little effect on human knowledge. A larger and certainly less doubtful discovery is the quasi-legal one—that no contracts are really binding when the very nature of a contract is unintelligible to the contracting individuals; and since, pace Christian documents, the Marriage Contract is very seldom made in Heaven, and is very frequently entered into by practically irrational persons, the corollary of our discovery in this direction is—that such a Contract as Marriage should certainly not be eternal.
To argue this part of the question thoroughly out would far transcend the limits of a brief letter. Far more important to the present issue is Mr. Gladstone’s extraordinary suggestion that the laxness of public opinion on the subject of the Marriage Contract is the main cause of the loose morals of Modern Society! Even here, up to a certain point, I am with the modern apostle. I believe true Marriage 265 to be in its very nature Divine, but that is only another way of saying that conjugal Love is of necessity eternal.Well has it been said that ‘he who loves once can never love again.’ Perfect love between man and woman means complete fusion of two beings into one immortal Soul. But when this Love comes—and it does come, since miracles are daily wrought—we do not talk any longer of a contract; it is abolished, it has vanished; for the parties to it have no separate identity—they are
‘Two souls with but a single thought,
Two hearts that beat as one.’
Unfortunately, however, the miracle, if it happens at all, only happens once in a life-time, and after, in the majority of cases, many episodes of dishallucination. Are we to be told, in the face of experience, of reason, of knowledge in ourselves and around us, that, because a man or a woman has blindly signed one contract, has reached out loving arms and clasped only corruption, has awakened from a dream of Heaven to the realizations of an Inferno, that he or she is to be precluded for ever from that moral redemption which Love alone can give? Through the imperfection of even our present civilization many individuals commit in lawful marriage an innocent and pitiful adultery. Is the sin so committed, by those who in thought are sinless, to be ratified, to be eternalized and christened ‘holy,’ by any so-called Law of God, by any belated Spectres 266 of the Apostles? Is eternal solitude, eternal isolation from all that makes life beautiful, eternal misery and shame, to be the portion of the creature who has been blinded, who has been hoodwinked, who has been charmed by Circe, poisoned treacherously by the Siren, polluted shamefully by the Satyr? If Christianity had taught this, it would have long ago been cold and dead as the stones of the Sepulchre. It has not taught, and it does not teach it. At its highest point of aspiration it embraces and uplifts, instead of corrupting, misleading, and destroying, poor human nature. It teaches us that the one Divine thing in Humanity is Love. It convinces us that when Love attains its apogee, it is not when stooping to sign a contract, but when soaring to an apotheosis.
If the morals of modern society are lax (as Mr. Gladstone premises, and as may possibly be the case), it is precisely because we have elevated Marriage, as an institution, as a contract, and have lowered the standard of conjugal Love; it is because there has come, following Man’s conventional scorn of Woman, Woman’s revolt against and contempt for Man. I do not myself believe that Humanity has suffered in the least from the clear laws of Rationalism; I do believe that it has suffered, and is still suffering, from the miasma of moral Superstition. I have no respect whatever for the Marriage Contract, for any contract, per se. I want first to know the character of the contracting 267 parties, and their physical and spiritual relation to each other. When asthmatic January weds buxom May, I know the wedding-bells are being rung by the Devil. When two mistaken Souls embrace in the sanctuary, and discover sooner or later that Nature never meant them to mingle into one, I say, ‘Tear that blundering contract; put the poor creatures back to back, and let them march, far as the ends of earth, from one another.’ When one Soul turns apart in cold disdain, and another Soul vainly tries to draw it back, I think ‘all this is hopeless—say the sad word, Farewell.’ For unless a union of Souls is consecrated by Love, that union is an embrace of dead branches on two withering trees. Shall the light and the dew and the pure air fall on neither—and for ever? Set the trees asunder, and each may grow; the eglantine shall come to one and the woodbine to the other, and both may become green and glad in the garden of the World.
True Marriage, indeed, is but the symbol (beautiful, like all symbols of things spiritual) of which the reality is Love. But reason teaches us, experience warns us, that there may be a symbol for things bodily as well as one for things spiritual. To the great majority of human beings the marriage contract means no more than a pledge to be kind and faithful, to resist temptation, to fulfil gently and affectionately the duties of the household. Such a contract is excellent, and 268 suffices for the needs of large classes of the community; but surely there is nothing in its nature to warrant the assumption that it cannot be broken, if by no slighter cause, at least by the death of the individual.Out of the Body it grew, and it perishes with the Body. Love had little to do with it, indeed nothing; for Love is of the Soul.
I have no space, at least now, to traverse the whole ground of an argument which Mr. Gladstone carefully confines to the region of orthodox belief: The Dome of Heaven is wider than that of St. Peter’s or St. Paul’s, and the Bible of Humanity is broader even than the Old and New Testaments and the whole library of the Christian Fathers. It is sad, yet pitiful, in this nineteenth century, in the era of religious freedom and moral emancipation, to behold a great and good man gazing mildly backwards on the Fairylands of Palestine and Judæa, and in order to find some vanished star of Love, waving aside such cloudy apparitions as the countless wives and concubines of Solomon.Most strange of all it is to be told at the present period of social despair, that a Man or a Woman has only one solitary stake for happiness, and that, although the Bride is a Faustina, or the Bridegroom a Trimalchio-Cæsar, the Marriage Contract is nevertheless eternal!
To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’
I regret for many reasons that your correspondent ‘Realist,’ in commenting upon the subject of Marriage and Divorce, has imparted into the discussion that polemical bias which so often sets honest arguers by the ears. This is no question of Œcumenical Councils, of Papal influences, of Infallibility, of Agnostic Cardinals; it can be debated, I think, without awakening the religious prejudices of any class of believers. There are many Roman Catholics sound to the core who are in sympathy with the intellectual progress of mankind; nay, there have been far-seeing and saintly souls even at the Vatican. The hope and moral salvation of the world lie now in the fusion of the creeds into one High Creed of Humanity, and the healing of the world lies in its thousand nameless saints. Whatever my creed may be, I bow my head before Father Damien and that noble priest—truly, priest of God—who during the recent trouble which threatened our whole social system stepped bravely forward and proved the one infallibility—that of Goodness. Let us not drift backward to these old charges and counter-charges, these battles of the books, these vilifications of one creed by another. It is not merely because he is a dogmatic Christian, but because he is a thinker 270 open to all the gentle influence of spiritual forces, that Mr. Gladstone has become the champion of Marriage as an Eternal Contract, never to be broken save at the risk of moral destruction. There can be no doubt that he would think as he thinks on this subject even if he were as free a rationalist as Mr. John Morley. It is his temperament, not merely his religion, which makes him regard the marriage bond as a holy thing. The documents in which he believes seem to verify his human instinct, that is all.
The history of the Churches is one thing; the history of the Christian ideal is another. Baffled for centuries by the adamantine and indestructible logic framed by the Apostles, from John downwards—those Titans who scaled the very walls of Heaven, and only just failed in their attempt to set the Cross above the seat of Jehovah—Religion has at last resolved to seek its premises, not in any religious dogma, not in any metaphysical chimera, not in any crude physical discovery, but in the highest Science of all, that of human Sentiment. This Science —a product of all moral and religious inspiration—has established as one of its cardinal principles that nothing is really holy which conflicts either with the natural instincts or with the verified insight of human nature. It has rejected the dogma of Eternal Punishment because that dogma is repellent to common justice and common-sense, and it has rejected the no less dreary rationalistic 271 dogma that Man is only one of the beasts that perish, because that dogma, too, though promulgated so eagerly by the philosophic undertaker, is opposed at every point to common instinct. It utterly refuses also, in the light of social knowledge, to regard Marriage as invariably and essentially sacramental. To accept a sacrament of any kind a man or a woman must be purified, must be ‘born again.’ Beautiful indeed is Marriage when the recipients of its happiness can accept it as a sacrament. How many do so? For how many is to do so possible? To the great majority of human beings, Love is (as I said in my first letter) of the Body. Now the time is long past when the Science of Human Sentiment is content to assume that Man is a spiritual being only, without flesh and blood, without passions, without animal instincts, without those corporeal attributes which are often the beauty, and now and then the glory, of Humanity. By his mouth is he fed; by his appetites is his life conditioned. ‘Carnal, carnal!’ cried St. Simeon of the Pillar, and so cry the Saint’s emasculated modern descendants. But the very spirit of Christian theology asserts in its supremest sacrament that Flesh and Blood may be themselves divine. During the fierce asceticism of the early centuries of Christianity (see the great historian of Rationalism, passim) every human sentiment, every natural affection, was repudiated as carnal, as emanating from the Spirit of Evil. Fathers, to 272 prove their spirituality, dashed out the brains of their little children; sons, to prove their purity, turned in loathing from their own mothers. To be indifferent to every human tie, scornful of every human impulse, was to be certain of the hall-mark of Salvation.
Well, that is all over. There is no danger to poor human nature in that direction. Science, which is only Religion veiled, has taught us to reverence the abodes of flesh in which we dwell, has proved to us that, so surely as we desecrate them, so surely shall the House of Life fall in ruins about our ears. We believe now that there is sweetness and wholesomeness in every human function, that neither Asceticism (which degraded the body of man) nor Virginity (which became a rock of wretchedness for women) is necessarily holy in itself. Purity, like Love, attains its apogee when the Soul fulfils, through the perfect organization of natural passions and instincts, the sane and lovely laws of life.
As I write these words, there bounces in upon me, flushed and fluent, the ‘Wife and Mother’ who has told you, in resonant periods, that the highest bond of love is all nonsense, and that she is content, for her part, to take her husband as he is (a very fragile specimen of humanity), and to shake hands with him for ever at the gates of Death. Now this frank, honest, dish-and-all-swallowing matron pleases me well, as the rooks 273 in the rookery and the cattle in the fields please me. Right honestly she admits that the father of her children is a cleverer being than herself, and must, therefore, have plenty of rope to wander astray with.
‘ “Oh, naughty, naughty world!” she cries;
“Men are a dear, immoral set!”
And flirts her fan and winks her eyes,
And gaily turns a pirouette.’
She is, doubtless, one of those purely beautiful creatures who have made men what they are. Talking the other day with a friend of fair intelligence, I was assured by him that Man, being an intellectual being, was independent of the moral restrictions incumbent on Woman, who is not intellectual. Men of genius more particularly, my friend averred, were to be allowed to do exactly as they pleased. The question of the relative intelligence of men and women is too long to be discussed here; but in a remarkable work recently published—Dr. Campbell’s book on the ‘Causation of Disease’—the evidence will be found fairly weighed. I should say myself, from the little I have observed, that the average man is in no respect superior intellectually to the average woman, while the names of Mary Somerville, of Georges Sand, of Mrs. Browning, and of many others, are sufficient to establish that women of genius are tall and strong enough to stand beside men of genius now and for ever. But Genius—so called—is to me a very unknown 274 quantity. I deny that it has any privileges whatever, or that it can make any laws for itself outside the laws of love and sympathy by which the highest and the lowest live. So far as this very question of Marriage is concerned, our men and women of genius have often got into very serious trouble—not, I think, because they have erred in their interpretations of its sanctions, but because they have generally, in the face of public opinion, overlooked the contract and searched everywhere for the sacrament. Nothing proved so completely the necessity of a Science of human Sentiment, as opposed to the still lingering dogmas of unhuman spirituality, than the conduct of men like Shelley and women like Georges Sand. Twenty-fold intellectual power would not save them from condemnation. Unless Genius is a synonym for Goodness, it is a sham and a phantom; and Goodness, the Soul of human sentiment, believes that no intellectual power whatever can justify the shameless profanation of any one human function, the cruel rending asunder of any one human tie.
The point upon which I am now touching is more important than it may seem at first sight. For many centuries Man has justified his infamies to Woman on the score of his intellectual superiority, while individual men of genius have considered themselves entitled—on the score of their flatulent ‘inspiration’—to base their pyramid of 275 greatness on broken hearts. Lacking the temper of hero-worship, and having little or no reverence for mere cleverness, I follow the records of certain famous lives with much the same feeling that I peruse the ‘Newgate Calendar,’ and I could, with little or no compunction, see Rousseau whipped at the cart’s tail, or Alexander Pope put in the pillory. The right of indiscriminate and limitless aberration claimed for men of genius is claimed, in most matters of conduct, for men generally. Common-sense recognises neither claim. If his artistic gift does not render a man saner and wiser it is a false counter, worth nothing. If the superior cleverness claimed by men over women does not enable them to keep their souls saner and their bodies purer, it is only the cleverness of the parrot or the ape. Physiologists and Sociologists are very fond of telling us that since there is a radical difference between the two sexes it is absurd to lay down laws of conduct for both alike. While the wife sits at home among her children, the husband is free to amuse himself at his own sweet will. It is indeed in the very nature of things that, to quote the vulgarism, he ‘may do as he darn pleases’! The majority of women accept this condition as inevitable. Even women of genius are found ready to proclaim the superior intellectual power, and the greater moral freedom of men. And thus, in the very land where a gray modern apostle proclaims that Marriage 276 is Eternal, we find the eternal parade of the two meanest of all privileges, that of Intelligence and that of Sex; we find that to be a little cleverer than one’s neighbour is only to be a little baser, a little fouler both in mind and appetite; we find that to be a man, hailed as the highest of creatures, is only to exist on the same plane of passions as the beast. No wonder the world is getting tired of the religious ideal, of the faith which recognises only one privilege—that of truth, of goodness, of purity, both personal and spiritual. No wonder the laughter echoes from club to club at the mere notion that the Matrimonial Farce, the humour of which consists of jokes about male hypocrisy and female toleration, is to be played on for ever!
In asking whether Marriage is an Eternal Contract, we mean by the word ‘Eternal’ simply the period of moral consciousness.Whether or not we believe in eternal Life is neither here nor there. It matters little whether a Soul is married or single when it has been absorbed into such abstract states of practical nonentity as the ‘Immanence’ of Spinoza, the ‘Will’ of Schopenhauer, or the ‘Unconscious’ of Hartmann. Marriage, be it contract or sacrament, is a relation only possible to a state of individuality. The whole question, therefore, narrows itself thus, So long as we are conscious creatures, whether in this world or another, have we the right to marry a second time? I have answered that question in the 277 affirmative, while asserting that, when Marriage is really and absolutely sacramental, it must of its own nature be permanent. The fusion of two perfectly united Souls lasts for ever, survives all bodily conditions. This, I am aware, is regarded by the world in general, and by your merry ‘wife and mother’ in particular, as the very madness of sentimental optimism. Well, it is the optimism of the Science I arn upholding, that of human Sentiment. Just as surely as the moment of supreme insight comes with the sacrament of Death, touching our tearful eyelids with the euphrasy of glorious pain, so does the moment of supreme Marriage come with the sacrament of Love. There are men who can stand in a death-chamber and see only the stone mask and the shadow of mysterious dread. There are men who can come fresh from Belshazzar’s Feast—fresh from the very Handwriting on the Wall—and put on over their uncleanness and their impurity the white robes of the bridegroom. For such men Marriage may serve as a contract; it is all they need for self-protection, all Society needs for its security. To tie such creatures by a Sacrament is monstrous; they are incapable by very temperament of understanding its nature. But, over and above the lower strata of Humanity, there exist those who have seen Death transfigured and known Love unveiled; men and women, many of them, who are stained and fallen, who have experienced endless dishallucinations, who have 278 been in revolt against the conventions— nay, even against the very sanctities—of Society. These men know that Love, like Death, comes to the Soul but once; that Love and Death may come hand in hand, that once, together. Far, far more beautiful than the sight of a Shelley standing on Harriet Westbrook’s grave, or running from his next wife’s chamber to follow the frisky heels of homebred or foreign ladies, is the picture of poor Byron, besmirched with his own mad sensuality from head to foot, yet still dreaming of the sacrament, the sublime moment, the eternal passion, which never came. The old couple sitting side by side and crooning ‘John Anderson, my Joe,’ as gentle Death opens its arms to receive them, are diviner still. In a few short hours* all England will be looking reverently on while the body of Robert Browning is committed to its native dust. The crown and glory of that great man’s life was its consecration to one serene and sacramental passion. Through all these years of loneliness, amid literary detraction or coterie fume and incense, in the midst of the busy world or out of it, in the silence of his own chamber, Browning listened to that immortal voice which sings of eternal love:
‘O, lyric Love, half angel and half bird,
And all a wonder and a wild desire!’
Thus, for the instruction and beatification of humanity, the supremely great remained the
—* Written just after Browning’s death.—
279 supremely good, and in his great song his great goodness, completed in a transfiguration of Love and Death, eternally survives. It is better, perhaps, even in these days of unbelief, to listen to the song of the poet than to the purr of the contented Matron, who looks cheerfully forward to the inevitable moment of saying, ‘Good-bye, old fellow; we’ve got along very comfortably on the whole, and we part on the best of terms.’ Poor little Matron!Does she really live, or is she only a male cynic masquerading in a petticoat? If she lives, I see no reason why she should not be very happy. The legal contract was made for her, and suits her admirably. I see no reason, moreover, why she should not, if occasion offers, renew it just as often as she pleases. The Sacrament of Love is another thing.
[The two letters in The Coming Terror are followed by a ‘Note on the Preceding: Mr. Gladstone’s Ecclesiastical Essays’ which is available here.
I also came across the following comments in the provincial Press.]
The Yorkshire Post (17 December, 1889 - p.4)
Mr. Robert Buchanan maintains that the marriage contract is not eternal, and tells Mr. Gladstone—with a deal of periphrases and seeming respect, it is true—that it he says the contrary he does not know what he is talking about. Mr. Gladstone’s own marriage has been so happy that he must have imagined everybody else’s is or ought to be the same, thereby, in Mr. Buchanan’s language, “forgetting the conditions of human nature.” Mr. Buchanan invites those thousands who took part in the Daily Telegraph controversy, “Is Marriage a Failure?” to draw the pen once more and decide whether, in spite of Mr. Gladstone, the Fathers, the Church of Rome, and (some may think) the Bible, the marriage tie should under any and every conceivable circumstances be everlasting. The invitation, if responded to, will be productive of a much bigger boom than the Telegraph has been trying to work up during the dull season over the question of justice to workwomen. Mr. Buchanan has no doubt whatever on the subject himself. If Asthmatic January marries Buxom May. or a Soulful body marries a Soul-less, then the contract becomes invalid and should be dissolved, for Mr. Buchanan knows that the wedding bells are rung by that very objectionable personage whose name we are as naturally loth to mention as Mr. Gladstone is to mention Mr. Chamberlain’s. Copying Mr. Gladstone’s methods, we should say it begins with a “D” and ends with an “l.”
Aberdeen Evening Express (17 December, 1889 - p.2)
MR GLADSTONE’S VIEWS ON DIVORCE.
Mr Robert Buchanan writes a letter to the “Daily Telegraph” in reply to the article by Mr Gladstone on divorce. Mr Buchanan says Mr Gladstone’s appeal to Christian documents, his erudite citation of the Christian fathers to prove a point which can only be established by Christian science, may be gently set aside for the present as irrelevant. Surely that Protestantism which Mr Gladstone loves so well decided long ago that human conscience is superior to any constituted authority, and surely also free thought, the heir male of Protestantism, has convinced us at last that knowledge is antecedent to, and more supreme than, the domination of any documents. To the great majority of human beings the marriage contract means no more than a pledge to be kind and faithful, to resist temptation, to gently and affectionately fulfil the duties of the household. Such a contract is excellent, and suffices for the needs of large classes of the community; but surely there is nothing in its nature to warrant the assumption that it cannot be broken, if by no slighter cause, at least be the death of the individual.
Are Men Born Free and Equal?
[Another series of letters from The Daily Telegraph, reprinted in The Coming Terror. This time, Buchanan was responding to Professor Huxley’s article, ‘The Natural Inequality of Men’, published in the Nineteenth Century of January 1890. Buchanan’s first letter was printed on 16th January, 1890. Huxley’s first reply and Buchanan’s second letter appeared on 27th January. Huxley then wrote two letters, published on 29th and 30th January, to which Buchanan replied on 3rd February. I am not sure when the final letters of Huxley (dated 3rd February) or Buchanan were published. I have repeated the whole exchange as it appears in The Coming Terror, with Herbert Spencer’s letter and Buchanan’s final note. As I mentioned before, when the archives of The Daily Telegraph appear online I will revise this section.]
From The Coming Terror, and other essays and letters (William Heinemann, 1891 - p.43-97)
ARE MEN BORN FREE AND EQUAL? *
NO more crowning illustration of the incapacity of the scientific mind to grasp philosophical propositions could possibly be found than the criticism of the Socialistic theories of Rousseau, just published by Professor Huxley in the Nineteenth Century. Admirably as he is equipped for the light skirmishing of popular knowledge, Professor Huxley fails altogether to understand the great French idealist, just as surely as he fails, in his perversion of Herbert Spencer, to grasp the meaning of our greatest English philosopher; and both in the matter of his argument and in the manner of its expression, he exhibits the logical insecurity of the specialist transformed into the dilettante. Great wisdom and insight, attaining to almost prophetic vision, cannot be combated by the random shots of mere intelligence, and all the Professor’s cleverness, all his liberal culture,
— * The following letters appeared in the Daily Telegraph in January and February, 1890. They originated in the attempt of Professor Huxley to discredit Mr. Spencer’s theory of absolute political ethics. —
44 does not save him from the fate of those who criticise great propaganda unsympathetically, and from the outside. So serious a social issue, however, hangs on the advocacy by a distinguished man of retrograde and anti-human political theories, that it may be worth while to point out the fallacy, nay, the absurdity, of Professor Huxley’s main contention.
Nothing is easier, as we all know, than to ridicule the extravagances into which Rousseau was carried by his discovery, viâ Hobbes and Locke, of the natural equality of men, by showing how his splendid imagination ran riot among extraordinarily fanciful pictures of primitive perfection. He was careful, nevertheless, to warn us that these pictures were possibly imaginary and illusory—as Science has, indeed, proved them to be—and were rather premonitions of what would be than visions of what had been. When, however, he asserted that men were born free and equal, and that Civilization had destroyed to a perilous extent their natural freedom and equality, he never meant to say—as Professor Huxley makes him say—that the physical and intellectual faculties of individuals were uniform in quality. His thesis was a sane and a sublime one, already recognised in our jurisprudence, that so far as moral rights were concerned, all human beings, by the law of nature, stand in the same practical category. Gifts of genius and of insight, although the birthright 45 of individuals, confer no prescriptive rights of moral exemption; they distinguish certain men, as colour and odour distinguish certain flowers, as fleetness and beauty distinguish certain animals, but they do not free the possessors from the ordinary conditions of physical and moral being, to which conditions all men alike are born. Shakespeare the Seer resembles Hodge the boor in all the characteristics of an eating, drinking and sleeping animal, and, further, as a unit in the body political and social. The two are equal by nature in all the fundamental conditions of life, in all the limitations of human vitality. But Rousseau went a great deal further than this. He contended that intellectual culture, or civilization, so far from necessarily improving the individual man, not unfrequently led to moral deterioration—a monstrous assumption from the point of view of specialists like Professor Huxley, but a perfectly tenable one from the standpoint of those who set instinct and insight above special acquirement.The history of mankind, more particularly the biographies of great men, is full of incidents which establish the paradox that a wise man is frequently a fool, and that a man of strong reasoning power is often a moral weakling. It is questionable, in fact, whether the advance of the race in Sociology, in Art, in Literature, in Science, has been accompanied with any real advance of the individual—whether, to put the issue into other words, any amount of personal 46 culture renders a man superior to his fellows in those primary sympathies and affections which condition the lives of the lordliest and the least intelligent. Humanity has doubtless developed in power and knowledge, but individual men remain very much what they have been from the beginning of society. To grasp this point thoroughly, and to understand whither the mighty insight of Rousseau was directed, we must understand that in the eyes of the philosopher of Geneva, as in those of the founder of Christian ethics, moral qualities were absolute, while intellectual gifts were merely relative and subsidiary. Let us take, by way of analogy, one day of a great and wise man’s life, and contrast it for a moment with another of a life which is neither great nor wise.
William Wordsworth, Poet and Recluse, gets up in the morning, washes and dresses, and after a walk in his garden goes in to breakfast. Reads the news from London, and à propos of some new production of Keats or Shelley, avers that it ‘contains no more poetry than a pint-pot.’ Goes for a long walk over the mountains with his sister Dorothy, and being full of matter for a new poem, scarcely perceives that his companion is wearied out and waning in health. Towards afternoon, feels again the pangs of a hungry animal, and returns to feed. Possibly, like his pet terrier, has a little nap after dinner. Wakens, and listens to 47 a little music. In the evening, does his correspondence, and adds a few touches to a manuscript poem. A starry night: he stands at his door and surveys the constellations.Certain fine thoughts flow through his mechanism, as the wind agitating an Æolian harp. Feels convinced that there is a benevolent Personal God, and that, on the whole, it is a very beautiful and excellently regulated world. Prays to the Giver of all Good, and, being tired and sleepy, goes to bed early and sleeps the sleep of the Just.
Now, in all this, as possibly in most of the days of other Poets and Philosophers, there is nothing, except the power of writing fine poetry, to distinguish Wordsworth from the uneducated mountain Shepherd who lives in the neighbourhood, and who knows only one book—the Bible of his fathers. The Shepherd gets up, washes, dresses, and after driving his flock from the fold to their pasture, either returns to eat or feeds on bread and cheese on the mountain side. He reads no news, but meeting some neighbour, hears the latest gossip from the market town. Spends the day loafing on the mountain, and when he is hungry and thirsty eats and drinks again.If the weather is fine, has a nap among the heather. Drives home his flock in the evening, and sits down for a smoke among his family. Glances out at the shining night and feels—or, possibly, does not feel—a certain sense of awe and loneliness. Remembers what his 48 father has taught him, that there is a God up yonder. Prays to that God, and throwing himself down on his humble bed, sleeps the same sleep as his neighbour the poet at Rydal Mount.
These two men have all day fulfilled the same primary functions, and in every process of their day there is more resemblance than divergence; in other words, the preponderance both of action and feeling is in favour of natural equality. ‘Ah, but,’ cries the hero-worshipper, ‘you have left out the one sign distinguishing one from the other—that of superior intelligence, that of the poetic gift.’ I think Wordsworth himself would have been the first to admit that, apart from the accomplishment of written speech, the Shepherd’s insight, sympathy, and affections might have been fully equal to his own; for if the poet of Rydal has taught us anything, it is that the poor and uninstructed, the ignorant of men and books, are among the most beautiful souls of Humanity. The gift of song is glorious in a man, as it is in a nightingale, but it does not necessarily make him better as a human being, and certainly does not free him from the weaknesses and necessities of his human inheritance. Being a gift, it belongs rather to God than to himself. It certainly gives him no privilege of moral superiority.
Be that as it may, my illustration may help the reader to understand what Rousseau really meant when he proclaimed the natural equality of 49 human beings. He meant that men are born equal, inasmuch as they are subject to the same laws and entitled to the same advantages. He meant that no man, however powerful, had a right to accept any pleasure which any other man might not receive on the same terms.He meant that worldly knowledge, including book knowledge, is at the best a limited thing, seeing that all man knows is ‘that nothing can be known.’ He meant that class distinctions, class prejudices, class pride, class privileges, are the merest appropriation of unlimited selfishness, infringing the rights of Humanity at large. He meant that men would be happier without physical luxury, and purer without intellectual pride. True, in picturing his ideal state he went too far, but, going as far as he did, he reached and he defined the limits of the area of social and political freedom. He attained the apogee of his prophetic life when he wrote the ‘Savoyard Vicar’s Prayer,’ which embodies the noblest of his teaching, and answers still the innermost yearning of the heart of Man.
How far Professor Huxley is from understanding the Religion of Equality may be gathered from several of his own expressions. We already know that, speaking as a scientific specialist, he rejects Mr. Spencer’s masterly definition of absolute political ethics; but he goes farther, and finds nothing absolute in any ethics whatever. No man of philosophic perception could have affirmed that 50 ‘the equality of men before God is an equality either of insignificance or of imperfection;’ no man of political insight could have suggested that universal suffrage is synonymous with Laissez faire. Professor Huxley describes himself as among those ‘who do not care for Sentiment and do care for Truth,’ forgetting that there is no real Sentiment which is not a truth’s adumbration, and assuming, in the true spirit of the age, that what is sentimental must necessarily be false. The series of questions with which he cross-examines modern revolters on the thesis that ‘all men are born free and equal,’ is surely a reductio ad absurdum of the quasi-scientific manner. No one ever talked, as he makes his witnesses talk, of ‘the political status of a new-born child,’ no one ever contended that, because freedom is born within the human flesh, it becomes an actual factor before that flesh is conditioned into moral intelligence. But it is when we reach the Professor’s own conclusions that we discover what his derision of Equality and Freedom really means. His defence of the status quo, of the topsy-turvydom of modern society, of the condition of affairs which gives Jacob all the fruits of the earth and leaves Esau to starve in the wilderness, is founded on the plea of ‘practical expediency’—a plea on which even Nero might have justified himself to what he termed his conscience in planning the conflagration of Rome. ‘There is much to be said,’ Professor Huxley thinks, echoing poor 51 Carlyle, ‘for the opinion that Force, effectually and thoroughly used so as to render further opposition hopeless, establishes an ownership which should be recognised as soon as possible!’ ‘For the welfare of society, as for that of individual men,’ he continues, ‘it is surely essential that there should be a statute of limitations in respect of the consequences of wrong- doing!’ Surely here we have teaching worthier of Mr. Jonathan Wild than of a popular professor in a State whose very religion is founded on the à priori assumptions he despises. Science itself should have instructed Professor Huxley, just as surely as Religion does its votaries, that the penalties of wrong-doing are exacted even to the uttermost generation. Is there a statute of limitations to the law of heredity, to the law by which the sins and follies of the fathers are visited upon their children? If no such statute prevails in the physical, why should it do so in the social and political worlds? Only one thing can cure evil, and that is the destruction of it at any cost, at any sacrifice. So long as it exists it is a canker and a curse. Assume that our social system is founded on wrong-doing—and Professor Huxley has admitted it—by what possible standard of ethics would he keep it permanent? Because it ‘exists,’ and because, since it exists, it is ‘expedient.’ Talk of the ‘sham sentiment’ of Rousseau; it becomes sublime doctrine by the side of the sham reason of his critic, who, while 52 scorning and despising the gospel of Laissez faire, in the same breath preaches the essence of that gospel!
In a second letter I will, with your permission, endeavour to explain more fully than is at present possible the ethical standpoint of those propagandists who, in suggesting crucial reforms of our present social and political systems, base their arguments on the absolute principle of the natural freedom and equality of men.
I am, etc.,
[To the above letter Professor Huxley first replied as follows, but in the meantime an editorial article had appeared commenting somewhat adversely on my suggestions.]
To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’
I have read Mr. Robert Buchanan’s letter, which has been kindly sent to me. I would not on any account interfere with so characteristic a development of latter-day Rousseauism—so many people fancy that it is dead and buried, and that I have wasted my time in slaying the slain.
I am, faithfully yours,
T. H. HUXLEY.
3, JEVINGTON GARDENS, EASTBOURNE,
To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’
I had hoped, in the present discussion, to avoid current politics altogether; for it is impossible to touch on political issues—especially in the columns of a daily newspaper—without awakening a storm of prejudice and misunderstanding. I shall still endeavour to steer clear of contemporary broils, although your own comments on my, first letter do certainly invite polemical treatment. Will you permit me to say, however, that I am more astonished at your indirect championship of the doctrines of expediency than at your quite irrelevant diatribe on the personal character and conduct of Rousseau? Perhaps, however, you do not quite realize that your attack is less upon the religion of modern Socialism than upon the Creed of Christianity itself? The strongest, or, at any rate, the most accepted, argument against that creed has been that it is, although theoretically excellent, practically impossible. Society has refused from time immemorial to be ruled in the conduct of life by either its principles or its precepts. Men hoard up riches in this world, and when one cheek is smitten they do not offer the other. They pray in the Temple, but they curse and cheat in the market-place. Interrogated on this inconsistency, they explain that adherence to the absolute 54 tenets of their religion would be suicidal. Even some of our most Christian teachers have protested that the Christ was too superhuman, too transcendently impolitic, to be followed quite all the way along the thorny path of self-abnegation. So that when you say that Rousseau’s doctrine is refuted at every point by the facts of life, you should add that Christianity also is so refuted; and you would be, from the political and historical point of view, perfectly right.The Founder of Christianity, however, carefully distinguished between the adherence we may find it expedient to give to Cæsar and that higher adherence we must give to God. He paused at first principles and went no further, hoping against hope that those first principles were seeds which would grow surely in the conscience of humanity. ‘Love one another’ was his highest and holiest admonition—one which we, in this Christian country, carry out by allowing wealth to accumulate and men to decay; by permitting, as in the case of the deer forests of Scotland, the accidental wealth of one or two men to mean the destruction and expatriation of thousands; by suffering, as in Ireland, a landlordism without even the excuse of capital, to drive a whole Nation into despair and into crime.
You ask me, naturally enough, if somewhat flippantly, to name those absolute ethical principles on which I and far more able propagandists 55 would base the reconstruction of Society, while at the same time you seek to stultify my advocacy by suggesting that it is doubtless purely sentimental, and must conflict on every side with the results of daily experience. Now, it would be idle as well as impertinent for me, at the very time when the sanest and clearest intellect known to us at present on this planet has occupied itself with the exposition of absolute principles in ethics (to the great mental confusion of scientific Philistia and Professor Huxley), to attempt in my perfunctory way to define those principles. For their definition I must refer you to Mr. Herbert Spencer’s more recent writings—luminous as all that comes from that crystal pen, unanswerable as most of the arguments that come from that master mind. Mr. Spencer himself has told us, in words of dignified remonstrance, that his exposition has been misunderstood and perverted at every point by Professor Huxley; and so, if we examine the matter closely, we shall find the case to be. Mine is a far humbler task, to explain as far as possible to the hasty readers of a great daily newspaper, in as clear and popular language as is at my command, a few simple points of that propagandism which proposes to redress centuries of wrongdoing, and possibly to reconstruct society.
One word, before I proceed, concerning your own estimate of the teachings of Rousseau, which 56 estimate varies little, if at all, from that of Professor Huxley. Forgetful altogether that I began by agreeing with Rousseau on the subject of first principles, and not by approving the hastily-designed political and social structure he based upon them, you resort to the stereotyped mode of polemics, that of attacking the great doctrinaire’s personal character. Here, however, you unconsciously support my main thesis—that great intellect has little or nothing to do with moral goodness, and that Rousseau, in much of his conduct, was a sort of philosophical Jack Shepherd. It should be remembered, however, that Rousseau made no concealment whatever of his moral distemperature and social larcenies; that standing, as he expressed it, before the Judgment Seat, he made a clean breast of his sins and weaknesses, whereas most other men have chosen to hide, rather than to discover, their moral littleness. While I doubt the expediency of such revelations, I believe them to have been made in all sincerity, and I am also quite sure that the record of most men, if so made public, would shock propriety as much as the record of Rousseau.The one charge which you revive against the husband of poor Thérèse—that of abandoning his children to the foundling basket—is, though horrible enough, capable of some defence, in so much as the suppression of personal instincts it involves is quite consistent with the theory that the care of offspring 57 should devolve upon the community at large. It is superfluous, however, to extenuate the conduct of a man who was in the private concerns of life scarcely a sane agent, who was swept into endless folly and inconsistency by sheer force of temperament. For the rest, the good old fallacy resuscitated by you, that Rousseau was personally responsible for the excesses of the Revolution, was killed and buried long ago. The Revolution was the direct consequence of the wrong- doing of Society, causing the collapse of an ancient and effete political system, and had little or nothing to do, either directly or indirectly, with literature. It came from the masses who had never learned to read, and who sought not books, but bread. Rousseauism, and all the other ‘isms’ of the pre-Revolutionary period, were the amusement of the aristocracy of culture, and were to the masses of the French nation, previous to the promulgation of certain catchwords by the leaders of the national movement, about as intelligible as double Dutch. You suggest, moreover, that the points which I mention as illustrative of Rousseau’s insight are mere ‘truisms’ which no one denies or ever did deny, and that the really important matter in Rousseau’s teaching is the constructive portion of the ‘Social Contract.’ Had this been so Rousseau would have been forgotten long ago. It was his perception of those very ‘truisms’ which made him a Prophet and a Seer. 58 It is his insight into first principles which makes him living to this hour. How many of us admit even now, or prove by their conduct to their fellows, that moral goodness is better than intellectual power? How many of us feel in our hearts and illustrate in our lives that luxury and pride, arrogance of knowledge or of birth, are evil things? How many of us proclaim that the war between nations, like the war between individuals, daily mocks the commandment which said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’? Truisms, say you? Truisms to which almost every institution of our society, every glory of our civilization, gives the lie; truisms in the teeth of which a successful soldier may rise up and recommend to us, as General Wolseley did the other day, the example of a nation of atheists and martinets as one worthy of English imitation; truisms which no one practically admits to be true; truisms which, when advanced to justify the enthusiasm of Humanity, you and other publicists smile at, and relegate to the regions of sentimental superstition. Why, Christianity itself has become a truism—a fetish to swear by when. we rob our neighbour and corrupt our neighbour’s wife. Its excellent moral principles are admitted, even by those who dismiss its dogmas, as so firmly established as scarcely to be worth discussion. What I and other propagandists want, however, is for that religion, which is essentially the religion of equality, to be tried in practice. It has never been tried 59 yet, save by a few isolated individuals from Father Damien backwards. Who knows but that, after all, it might serve; that it might be better at any rate than the Gospel according to the Printer’s Devil and St. Mammon’s current Epistle to the Philistines? Who knows but that, with a little scientific adjustment, it might prove almost as practicable as the political creed which tells us that the status quo of the Impenitent Thief, who still holds the plunder his ancestor stole, is to be respected and consolidated, according to a certain ‘statute of limitations’?
The true political problem, placed before themselves by those propagandists who, like myself, are Socialists only in the good and philosophical sense, and who are not, like mere Communists, enemies of all vested interests whatsoever, is to regenerate Society without destroying that part of its structure which experience proves to be sound. The principle that men are born free and equal does not imply, as its opponents frequently suggest, that absolute intellectual equality is possible, or that men, being free, are free to do exactly as they please; it merely means, as I have said, that each unit of society has equal rights of membership, and complete liberty of action within the scope of the common organization. Absolute individual freedom is of course impossible, as citizenship, i.e., equality and fraternity, implies due recognition of the rights of others. The difficulty, then, is how 60 to adjust the relations of human beings in such a manner as to secure the utmost amount of liberty and equality possible. While the degrees of power and wealth can never be exactly the same, and while due allowance should be made for the rewards of individual energy and industry, care should be taken that the accumulation of power and wealth from generation to generation should not lead to the aggrandizement of one class at the expense of another, or to the security of any one individual through the social destruction of any of his fellows. This means, translated into other words, that the rights of acquired property are subservient to those of the general prosperity; that such luxury as an individual possesses in excess of his rational needs is conditioned by the destruction of certain other individuals to whom that luxury might have provided the necessaries of life. Here we reach, without turning aside into a very difficult region of political economy, a first great principle—that every working member of society has a right to a share of those necessaries which alone make existence possible. Can it be argued, in the face of the statistics of existing poverty, with the knowledge of the daily and hourly shipwreck of human lives, that the necessaries of life are so distributed?
Here, again, we touch one of those ‘truisms’ which everyone admits, but few or no men act 61 upon; and we shall find, indeed, that each principle of just Socialism is in the nature of a truism. We have already learned, however, contra Rousseau, that social freedom is limited, unlike natural or moral freedom, which is absolute. Certain rights of property would still remain intact, under any disintegration caused by the first principle, or truism, already named. ‘I do not want to touch your treasures,’ said even Robespierre, ‘however impure their source. I am far more anxious to make poverty honourable than to proscribe wealth; the thatched roof of Fabricius need never envy the palace of Crœsus.’
The second principle which I would name, as founded on the natural freedom and equality of men, is equal freedom of opportunity. This freedom is being to a large extent secured by the spread of national education, since no man can fulfil the rights of citizenship to whom social neglect and selfishness have denied the very vocabulary of civilization. It is possibly impracticable at present that every man should have exactly the same start in life, the same chance of securing social prosperity; but what the Socialist propagandum demands is some sort of approximation of starts and chances.The present arbitrary division of classes is founded on an arrangement which overworks and denies rational leisure to large classes of the community in order that other classes may ‘eat, drink, and be merry.’ Equal 62 freedom of opportunity, then, means just distribution of labour—means that Society should not be divided into idlers and drones, that all men should share to a certain extent in the practical work of the world. Is this the case? In the face of the ignorance and misery of our labouring classes, of the lives blackened out of human likeness by cruel and endless toil, of our sempstresses spinning out the thin thread of life for a few pence, can any sane man suggest that freedom of opportunity is, under our present social system, possible?
True, there will always be idlers, and possibly, until the Millennium, there will always be drones. The problem of the higher Socialism is to limit the number of both, by rendering the prizes and the honours of civilization open to all. How to solve that problern? Surely we should go a long way to its solution if we averaged the hours of leisure to all men, and so recognised that want of rest is as certain a sign of pauperization as want of bread.
Here, perhaps you say, is a manifest contradiction, since I postulated in my first letter that natural freedom and equality were, being absolute, altogether independent of relative culture or intellectual acquirement. What I did say was in no sense contradictory, being merely that intellectual culture did not necessarily imply moral advance. For a state of natural freedom and equality, however, the primary vocabulary of civilization is 63 essential. A blind man cannot see the sun, and a man-beast of burthen cannot perform the rational duties of society. I contended, however, that the accumulation of mere knowledge meant nothing, morally speaking—indeed, knowledge is specialism, and is only valuable is so far as it discovers those laws which become the common property of all. Thomas Carlyle would certainly be called a man of culture, of wide and phenomenal information, quite apart from his quasi-prophetic faculty; yet what was the culture worth which led him to rail against all mankind, and to revenge the natural freedom and equality of a troublesome liver by abusing the world at large? To St. Thomas of Chelsea, the nigger was ‘a servant’ by grace of God; Macaulay, a ‘squat, low-browed, commonplace object’; Coleridge, a ‘weltering, ineffectual being’; Wordsworth, a ‘small diluted contemptibility’; Keble, of the ‘Christian Year,’ a ‘little ape,’ and Keats’s poems ‘dead dog’; Charles Lamb, a ‘detestable abortion’; Grote, a person with a ‘spout mouth’; Cardinal Newman, one without ‘the intellect of a moderate-sized rabbit’; Mr. Gladstone, ‘one of the contemptiblest men, a spectral kind of phantasm’; and Mill, his dear friend Mill, a ‘frozen-out logic-chopping machine.’ True, great genius is great wisdom, and from this point of view great genius is very rare. Yet who can help thinking, in glancing over the lives of our cleverest and greatest men, that increase in special 64 knowledge too often means increase in obtusity, in folly? Even the gentle Darwin, a soul at peace with all men, and wise, surely, in his generation, has told us that the only imaginative delight of his age (when all his splendid faculties still remained intact) was to read trashy novels, that he ‘hated’ Shakespeare, and that to turn to a play of Shakespeare ‘made him sick!’ Reading these records of men, justly esteemed for their power and knowledge, one is almost disposed to exclaim, with Voltaire, that ‘the good folk who have no fixed principles on the nature of things, who do not know what is, but know very well what is not, these are our true philosophers.’
To illustrate all the principles which the higher Socialism accepts as absolute would be utterly impossible in the space of a newspaper letter. I will mention only one other, of the most paramount importance at the present juncture. A corollary of the thesis that men are born free and equal, morally speaking, is the certainty that no unnecessary or arbitrary limits should be made to freedom of private action and private conduct. Mr. Spencer has pointed out, with his own unequalled lucidity, the dangers which Society is at present running from over-legislation in matters social. The tendency of even modern philanthropy is to class groups of men and women in comfortable pigeonholes, and to arrange for them down to the smallest details the functions and 65 duties of life; and Science itself, like a gigantic Mrs. Pardiggle, is assuming the airs of a social censor and peripatetic district-visitor. Heaven forbid that the services which true Science has done to spread the common particles of Light, and to remedy human ignorance and human wretchedness, should be overlooked or forgotten! But moral legislation based on empirical knowledge, like religious legislation based on barren dogma, may go too far. Talking the other day with a London physician of great experience, and in full sympathy with the scientific reorganization of society, I was surprised to hear him express the opinion that the ‘model’ dwellings prepared for the working classes had been far from an unmixed blessing; that they were comfortless and cheerless for beings who were often unable to provide necessary food and fuel, and that they destroyed in a great measure the sense of personal independence. Elsewhere, indeed, we are threatened no longer, as of old, with the religious tyranny of the Priest, but with the presumption of the moral and social Legislator. County Councils, Vigilance Committees, Societies for moral sanitation, have encroached upon the liberty of the subject, even to the extent of determining what he may read and know. Not content with regulating his physical well-being, they have endeavoured to regulate the amount of Light and Knowledge he may enjoy; and hence the deathless bigotry of English Puritanism, collaborating in 66 despair with the new-born bigotry of scientific discovery, is limiting human freedom in almost every walk of life.
I have named three principles, on the triumph or failure of which depends the future of Society: equal freedom to share the necessaries of life, equal freedom of opportunity to advance, equal freedom to shape individual thought and action within the necessary limitations of political organization. If the status quo admits these principles, and if they are allowed free scope of activity, then nothing more is to be said. The higher Socialism contends that they may be recognised generally, even as ‘truisms,’ but that, in most of the affairs of life, in nearly all its practical conduct, they are entirely disregarded. Large bodies of the community have practically no food to eat, no freedom to earn even common sustenance; still larger classes, though they may gain the common necessaries of life, are, by the cruelty of their labour for bare bread and from the pressure of the organization around them, forbidden the opportunity to advance a single step; and classes even yet larger are, by the spirit of temporizing and compromising (approved as we have seen by even scientists like Professor Huxley), denied the natural freedom of human beings, on the plea that, under a political ‘statute of limitations,’ the force originally founded on wrong-doing ought to be respected!
Well, Rousseau’s sublime paradox still holds: 67 ‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.’ It is useless, or it seems useless, to argue against those who, like Professor Huxley and your wandering-witted ‘Hereditary Bondsman,’ contend that the freedom and equality of Nature means (what it was never supposed even by Rousseau to mean) that all men are alike, that there is no such thing as differentiation of power or character, and that one man, however degraded and uninstructed, is as good as any other. This is merely the reductio ad absurdum (very useful to the holders of vested interests) of the argument which proves that every member of the community has a born right to share the common benefits and privileges of Humanity; that, in other words, neither the aristocracy of power nor the aristocracy of culture is entitled, beyond the necessities of the common preservation, to limit the action of human freedom, human enjoyment, and human opportunity. Men advance more surely by freedom than by restraint, necessary as certain restraints may be. Before the outbreak of the English Revolution, personal prerogative, the arbitrary will of one sincere political bigot, had strangulated English Liberty. Englishmen arose en masse, and Liberty, in the political sense, was saved. Before the outbreak of the great French Revolution, Catholicism had almost destroyed the conscience of a great Nation. The inevitable cataclysm came, with what terrible accompaniments we all know. 68 At the present hour, at the very time when the free thought of England is at its brightest and best; when the scientific and historic methods have disintegrated the whole mass of religious superstition, another great upheaval is imminent, to the peril, perhaps the destruction, of our whole social system.
‘Le passé n’est pour nous qu’un triste souvenir;
Le présent est affreux, s’il n’est point d’avenir,
Si la nuit du tombeau détruit l’être qui pense.’
So sang Voltaire. A colossal Hand, which some call the hand of Destiny and others that of Humanity, is putting out the lights of Heaven one by one, like candles after a feast. It behoves us, then, to watch heedfully that the same Hand, having emptied the heavens, does not touch the lowly but life-illumining lights of Earth. The fairest of these lights is Liberty, is the principle of natural freedom and equality, without which individual growth would be impossible, and social organization, as men now understand it, an impossibility.
I am, etc.,
P.S.—Some idea of the absurdities of Over-legislation may be gathered from the regulations of Saint Just, quoted in Von Sybel’s ‘History of the French Revolution’: No servants, no gold and silver utensils, no child under sixteen to eat 69 meat, nor any adult to eat meat on three days of the decade; boys at the age of seven to be handed over to the national school, where they will be taught to speak little, to endure hardships, and to train for war; divorce to be free to all; friendship ordained a public institution, every citizen on attaining majority being bound to proclaim his friends, and if he had none, to be banished; if any one committed a crime, his friends were to be banished, etc. This, it must be admitted, is the Code of Nature with a vengeance!
[My second letter caused Professor Huxley to break his vow of silence, and answer as follows:]
To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’
I have already offered a cordial welcome to Mr. Robert Buchanan on the occasion of his début in the theatre of political speculation; and the sincerity of my wish that he may continue to exhibit the results of the poetic method, in its application to the dry facts of natural and civil history, is nowise affected by the circumstance that he considers me to be an advocate of ‘retrograde and anti-human political theories,’ a defender ‘of the topsy-turveydom of modern society,’ and, altogether, a scientific Philistine of the worst description.
70 I do not address you for the purpose of combating these opinions, or even to set forth some pleas for mercy which might weigh in my favour with any judge less confident of his competency. I would not even be so indecent as to linger too long on this side of annihilation; but, unless I be worse than other criminals, I trust you will permit me to send a few words to the scattered remnant of the people in whose minds the anathema just fulminated has not extinguished any little credit I may have hitherto possessed. It appears that there are ‘three principles on the triumph or failure of which depends the future of society: equal freedom to share the necessaries of life; equal freedom of opportunity to advance; equal freedom to shape individual thought and action within the necessary limitations of political organization. If the status quo admits these principles, and if they are allowed free scope of activity, then nothing more is to be said.’
Now, it seems to me that the political principles of which I have been a tolerably active advocate all my life, and of which I hope to remain an advocate so long as I have the power to speak or write, may be expressed, though somewhat clumsily, by just these words. Perhaps I deceive myself, but it really is my impression that I am hardly open to the charge of having failed to assert freedom of thought and action any time these five-and-thirty years.Unless I am dreaming, 71 I have done what lay in my power to promote those measures of public education which afford the best of opportunities for advancement to the poorer members of society; and that in the teeth of bitter opposition on the part of fanatical adherents of the political philosophy which Mr. Buchanan idolizes, the consistent application of which reasoned savagery to practice would have left the working classes to fight out the struggle for existence among themselves, and bid the State to content itself with keeping the ring.
As to equal freedom to share the necessaries of life, I really was not aware that anybody is, or can be, refused that freedom.* If a man has anything to offer in exchange for a loaf which the baker thinks worth it, that loaf will certainly be given to him; but if he has nothing, then it is not I, but the extreme Individualists, who will say that he may starve. If the State relieves his necessities, it is not I but they who say it is exceeding its powers; if private charity succours the poor fellow, it is not I but they who reprove the giver for interfering with the survival of the fittest. Logically enough, they ask, Why preserve Nature’s failures? That a philosophy of which these are the unvarnished results should rouse a humanitarian enthusiast, whose sincerity is beyond question, to be its champion is singular; though not more singular than the vilipending of Saint Just for
—* What, no one? —
72 over-legislation, by a worshipper of Rousseau. An ingrained habit of scientific grovelling among facts has led me to the conclusion that Jacobin Over-legislation was a direct consequence of Rousseauism. These gentlemen guillotined the people who did not care to be free and equal and brotherly in their fashion. If anyone doubt the fact, I would advise him to read M. Taine’s volume on the ‘Jacobin Conquest of France,’ which is all the more interesting just now, as it affords the best of commentaries on the Parnellite conquest of Southern Ireland.
The source of a great deal of the wrath which seems to have been raised by my essay appears to me to lie in the circumstance that my critics are too angry to see that the point of difference between us consists, not in the appreciation of the merits of freedom in the three directions indicated, but in regard to the extent of those ‘necessary limitations’ of freedom to which all agree. My position is that those limitations are not determinable by à priori speculation, but only by the results of experience; that they cannot be deduced from principles of absolute ethics, once and for all, but that they vary with the state of development of the polity to which they are applied. And I may be permitted to observe that the settlement of this question lies neither with the celestial courts of Poesy nor with the tribunals of speculative cloudland, but with men who are accustomed to live and work amongst 73 facts, instead of dreaming amidst impracticable formulas.
I am, sir,
Your obedient servant,
T. H. HUXLEY.
EASTBOURNE, January 27.
To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’
Unwilling to occupy your space, or to try the patience of your readers needlessly, I abstained, in my letter of the 27th, from dealing with a topic of some importance suggested by a sentence in Mr. Robert Buchanan’s second communication. On reflection, however, I am convinced that, in the interest of the public, the omission was an error, and I ask for an opportunity of making reparation. This is the sentence: ‘The true political problem, placed before themselves by those propagandists who, like Mr. Spencer, are Socialists only in the good and philosophical sense, and who are not, like mere Communists, enemies of all vested interests whatsoever, is to regenerate society without destroying that part of its structure which experience proves to be sound.’
Mr. Spencer, therefore, is declared by Mr. Robert Buchanan to be a ‘Socialist’ ‘in the good and philosophical sense.’ The other day the 74 Newcastle Socialists declared that their doctrine concerning land-ownership was founded upon Mr. Spencer’s early teachings, and that these had never been really disowned by him. If they are right in this contention, and if, in Mr. Buchanan’s eyes, their Socialism is of the ‘good and philosophical’ sort, then, of course, it may be proper to call Mr. Spencer a Socialist. I offer no opinion on this delicate subject; but I may be permitted to say that, hitherto, I have laboured under the impression that, whether he is always consistent or not, Mr. Spencer belongs to a school of political philosophy which is diametrically opposed to everything which has hitherto been known as Socialism.* The variations of Socialism are as multitudinous as those of Protestantism; but as even a Bossuet must be compelled to admit that the Protestant sects agree in one thing, namely, the refusal to acknowledge the authority of the Pope, so I do not think it will be denied that all the Socialist sects agree in one thing, namely, the right of the State to impose regulations and restrictions upon its members, over and beyond those which may be needful to prevent any one man from encroaching upon the equal rights of another. Every Socialistic theory I know of demands from the Government that it shall do something more than attend to the administration of justice between man and man, and to the protection of the State
—* For ‘Socialism’ read ‘Communism,’ and this is true.—R. B. —
75 from external enemies. Contrariwise, every form of what is called ‘Individualism’ restricts the functions of government, in some or in all directions, to the discharge of internal and external police duties, or, in the case of Anarchist Individualism, still further. Scientifically founded by Locke, applied to economics by the laissez-faire philosophers of the eighteenth century, exhaustively stated by Wilhelm von Humboldt, and developed, in this country, with admirable consistency and irrefutable reasoning (the premisses being granted) by Mr. Auberon Herbert, I had always imagined Individualism to have one of its most passionate advocates in Mr. Spencer. I had fondly supposed, until Mr. Robert Buchanan taught me better, that if there was any charge Mr. Spencer would find offensive, it would be that of being declared to be, in any shape or way, a Socialist. Can it be possible that a little work of Mr. Spencer’s, ‘The Man versus the State,’ published only six years ago, is not included by Mr. Buchanan among the ‘more recent writings’ of which he speaks, as, perhaps, too popular for his notice?
However this may be, I desire to make clear to your readers what the ‘good and philosophical’ sort of ‘Socialism’ which finds expression in the following passages is like:
‘There is a notion, always more or less prevalent, and just now vociferously expressed, that all social suffering is removable, and that it is the 76 duty of somebody or other to remove it. Both these beliefs are false’ (p. 19).
‘A creature not energetic enough to maintain itself must die’ is said to be ‘a dictum on which the current creed and the creed of Science are at one’ (p. 19).
‘Little as politicians recognise the fact, it is nevertheless demonstrable that these various public appliances for working-class comfort, which they are supplying at the cost of the ratepayers, are intrinsically of the same nature as those which, in past times, treated the farmer’s man as half-labourer and half-pauper’ (p. 21).
On p. 22, legislative measures for the better housing of artisans and for the schooling of their children; on page 24, for the regulation of the labour of women and children; on page 27, for sanitary purposes—meet with the like condemnation. And the whole position is neatly summed up in the answer to the question, ‘What is essential to the idea of a slave?’ put at page 34. It is too long to cite in its entirety, but here is the pith of it:
‘The essential question is, How much is he compelled to labour for other benefit than his own, and how much can he labour for his own benefit? The degree of his slavery varies according to the ratio between that which he is forced to yield up and that which he is allowed to retain; and it matters not whether his master is a single person 77 or a society: If, without option, he has to labour for the society and receives from the general stock such portion as the society awards him, he becomes a slave to the society. Socialistic arrangements necessitate an enslavement of this kind: and towards such an enslavement many recent measures, and still more the measures advocated, are carrying us’ (p. 35).
The words which I have italicised, as it seems to me, condemn Socialism of all kinds pretty forcibly; and I further suggest that they appear to be somewhat inconsistent with the acceptance of even a ‘good and philosophical’ form of that creed. But Mr. Robert Buchanan’s profound study of Mr. Spencer’s works may enable him to produce contradictory passages. I invite him to do so.
I am, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
T. H. HUXLEY.
EASTBOURNE, January 29.
To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’
I have certainly expressed myself very ill if I appeared to be accusing Professor Huxley of wholesale Philistinism, using the word ‘Philistinism’ to imply a class of intelligence outside of all sympathy with advanced ideals. No one can recognise more fully than myself the service 78 which Science has of late years done for Free-thought and for Humanity, and it was precisely because Professor Huxley was classed, and classed deservedly, among the most distinguished of those Scientists who have sacrificed leisure and comfort for the sake of their fellows, that I was aghast to find him ranging himself once, but I hope not for ever, with the opponents of human progress.
On what plea, may I ask, does Professor Huxley, in classing not only the uncrowned and unhonoured poet, but also the crowned and honoured philosopher, as equally impracticable, arrogate to himself the exclusive mastery of current and historical ‘facts’? Seemingly upon the plea that both philosophers and poets dwell in mere cloudland; while he alone, with mailed feet like those of Perseus, walks, dragon-slaying, on the common ground. It is idle to defend the Philosophers, but I think even the Poets have shown their capacity to realize practical problems. One of them, whom all the world honours, sounded the trumpet-note of human freedom when he wrote the ‘Areopagitica.’ Another of them, less appreciated and far less noble, struck off the bonds of Calas and touched the quick of human doubt when he sang of the Earthquake at Lisbon. Both these men were particularly distinguished—the second no doubt a little barbarously—by their consummate mastery of ‘facts.’ As to Mr. 79 Spencer, a philosopher pur et simple, he has marshalled in his ‘Principles of Sociology’ and in the compilations published as practical addenda to that work, an array of social and historical evidence unequalled certainly in this generation. Professor Huxley, on the other hand, burrows so deep among what he considers ‘facts’ that he becomes a sort of moral troglodyte, and loses knowledge of the upper sunshine and fresh air.
‘An tenebras Orci visat vastasque lacunas.’
And when he emerges into common daylight what has he to tell us? Not the grand truths which he and others have won honour by advocating, but trivial ipse dixit statements, not to be verified in any daylight whatever. His one ruling idea concerning men is that they must be ‘governed’—washed, cleaned, assorted, parcelled out and labelled, educated up to the theory that there is a political ‘statute of limitations,’ and that the force of a special governmental Providence is a thing not to be resisted.
Just look a little closer at his statements, that ‘there is much to be said for the opinion that force effectually and thoroughly used, so as to render further opposition hopeless, establishes an ownership that should be recognised as soon as possible,’ and that ‘for the welfare of society, as well as for that of individual men, there should be a statute of limitations in respect of the consequences of wrong-doing.’Let us ask ourselves, 80 in the first place, by what means men are to determine the hopelessness of opposition? The history of the Christian origins, of Society before the English or the French Revolutions—nay, above all, the story of Science itself, of its martyrs and its conquerors—is the record of struggles which, from the point of view of contemporary experience, were altogether ‘hopeless.’ Even the last French Empire, with its triumph over a generation, with its glorification of the gospel according to Belial and Baron Hausmann, threatened France with utter despair, crammed and fed France with all the physical comforts of sensualism and what Carlyle called ‘Devil’s dung.’ Then look at results; look at the conscience of Humanity hoping against hope, rejecting all the Devil’s moral prescriptions ‘to be quiet and yield to the powers which be and must be,’ but disintegrating the evil of political institutions by sheer persistency of opposition. Whenever Professor Huxley can show that there is no hope on the earth or above it, then assuredly, and not till then, we will sit down with him and ‘grovel among facts.’ Meanwhile, we can only grieve that the religion of Science, hailed by all of us as the birth of a new day, is fossilizing already into a religion of despair; that the New Politics of the Expert is a chaos, not a cosmos, has not even the glimmering of a cosmos. And the ‘statute of limitations’? Reduce it to common-sense, and 81 what does it mean? It admits that modern Society is founded on ancient wrong-doing, that Jacob robbed Esau long ago; but it asserts that—on the corollary, of course, that ‘opposition is hopeless’—Esau, having discovered the theft, and returned to claim his birthright, is to go back to the desert. Biblical History, being much shrewder than modern Science, tells us that he did nothing of the kind. The life corporate of Society, as Science and Philosophy alike agree, is practically an enlarged version of the life of the Individual. Thus, then—to make an illustration—I was knocked down and robbed of all I possessed, twenty, thirty years ago, by a person stronger than myself. For all these years I have been a pauper and an outcast through my enemy’s wrong-doing. To-day, after endless suffering, I discover my enemy, a rich and prosperous man, a member (say) of the City Council and the Vigilance Committee, enjoying the unearned increment as well as the original capital he stole. I go to him quietly and say, ‘You robbed me years ago; I am not malicious, and you may keep what has accrued, but I want you, my dear sir, to restore me my original capital.’ Am I to be answered, to be silenced, by the statement that the robbery took place such a very long time ago; and that, my case being hopeless, ownership established had ‘better be recognised as soon as possible’?
82 ‘As to freedom to share the necessaries of life,’ says our new Daniel come to Judgment, ‘I really was not aware that anybody is, or can be, refused that freedom,’ and he illustrates his contention by saying that ‘if a man has anything to offer which the baker thinks worth a loaf, that loaf will certainly be given to him.’ What a mockery of, not to say ‘grovelling in,’ facts, have we here! What a putting of the cart before the horse! Society begins by paralyzing a man, by denying to him ordinary light, leisure, instruction, the power of ‘having anything to offer’; it converts him into a mere pauper by refusing him the common vocabulary of civilization, and then, when he asks for bread,Society replies, ‘Certainly; what have you to give me in exchange?’ What Freedom and Equality mean is that every man should be invested with the power enabling him, by fair labour, to produce something which is a loaf’s value. Is this the case? If it is so, then I am stultified, and the Professor’s ‘facts’ are victorious.
So much for the Professor’s general statements. In the postscriptal letter published this morning in your columns, Professor Huxley suggests that I am possibly much mistaken in calling Mr. Herbert Spencer a ‘Socialist,’ and after quoting certain passages from the philosopher’s writings, invites me to quote from the same writings passages which are contradictory. So far as the 83 Land Question itself is concerned, and the attitude of the Newcastle reformers thereupon, I presume I need not go further than cite the following passage from ‘Social Statics’: ‘Equity does not permit property in land. For, if one portion of the earth’s surface may justly become the property of an individual, held for his sole use and benefit, as a thing to which he has an exclusive right, then other portions of the earth’s surface may be so held, and our planet may thus lapse into private hands. It follows that if the landowners have a valid right to its surface, all those who are not landowners have no right at all to its surface.’ Mr. Spencer has not been in the habit of disclaiming his own dicta, and the Socialists of Newcastle need have no fear, I fancy, that he will disclaim this one. But, Professor Huxley insists, Mr. Spencer’s later utterances are those, not of Socialism, but of Individualism, entirely overlooking the fact that the terms Socialism and Individualism are not contrary terms, but two facets of the same proposition.
So far as Socialism in our own country is concerned, I ought to know something of its inner nature, for I was born in its odour of popular unsanctity. My father was one of Robert Owen’s missionaries, and the personal influence of Owen—one of the greatest and best of doctrinaires—influenced all my early life. Now, Owen’s first and cardinal dictum, the one on which he insisted 84 with almost wearisome iteration, was that Man, though born free and equal in the sphere of moral rights, ‘was entirely the creature of circumstances,’ and the main mission of his life was the mission of Socialism generally—to modify those circumstances so as to produce, practically, a new Moral World. I have yet to learn that such Socialism conflicts to any unnecessary extent with Individualism; indeed, the history of the movement is full of amusing episodes illustrating the entire freedom of its believers in such matters of personal conduct, and even of opinion, as did not imperil the machinery of the social organism. The well-known and well-meaning Mr. Galpin went about clothed in a simple sack, and the divergences of individual opinion on moral questions led to strange manifestations at New Harmony. Across the Channel, and in France particularly, the story of Socialism is the story of infinite eccentricities. From the personal absurdities of St. Simon down to those of Auguste Comte, from the amazing performances of the speculative Enfantin to those of his pupil and practician Bazard, it is easy to perceive that Socialism postulates the right of a man to do what he pleases so long as he takes his turn at the task-wheel, and does not interfere with the privileges of his fellow- believers.
It is not for me to explain Mr. Spencer, who can so admirably explain himself.It is quite possible that he may disclaim being called ‘a 85 Socialist,’ since the word (as Professor Huxley well knows) is so connected in the public mind with an idea of state tyranny; but I wrote advisedly of ‘the higher Socialism,’ not of the lower, just as I might write of the higher Christianity, to distinguish it from the lower, the historical, and the dogmatic forms of that creed. Professor Huxley’s particular instances, in which he finds either an anarchic Individualism or an absurd contradiction, may be very summarily dealt with.
Mr. Spencer has stated, in the first place, that it is quite impossible to remove ‘social suffering’ altogether, a statement grounded on his experience that, so long as men are men, there will be individual victory and failure. I fail to see how that conflicts with the opinion that the chances in the competition should be equalized as far as possible—in one way, as we have seen, by preventing individuals from monopolizing the land. Strangely enough, Professor Huxley stigmatizes with the charge of dangerous Individualism the very man who says that Society should protect itself at all points from the encroachment of individuals!‘A creature not energetic enough to sustain itself must die,’ says Mr. Spencer again, which is surely true, and in no way at variance with the theory that the social organism must be restrained from cruelly crushing any creature out of life. Socialism contends that it is not 86 want of energy, but want of opportunity, that pauperises men and destroys individual vitality.
Professor Huxley’s next citation from Mr. Spencer—that ‘it is demonstrable that various appliances for working-class comfort, supplied at the cost of the ratepayers, are intrinsically of the same nature as those which in past times treated the farmer’s man as half-labourer and half-pauper’—and that in proportion to a man’s helplessness without social aid and superintendence is the degree of his ‘slavery’—would, I conceive, be subscribed to by most Socialists. For what men want is to start the social reformation at the beginning and forwards, not at the end and backwards.What the ‘good and philosophical’ Socialist says is clear enough: ‘I do not particularly care for Governmental interference with my private life and comfort, though I recognise the necessity of political and civic government, down to such general details as draining and lighting. What I do want is to have the weeds cleared away which prevent my progress as an individual member of society. You cannot help me much by compelling me to labour, without option, for the common benefit, while, at the same time, you confirm the institutions which allow large classes of men not to labour at all. I will not become a “slave to your society,” because I do not recognise that society as founded on absolute political ethics. I was born a free man, not a slave.’ I do not fancy that Mr. Spencer disagrees 87 on any essential point with the ‘good and philosophical’ Socialist.
Let me put the matter plainly. Professor Huxley misunderstands the higher Socialism as thoroughly as he misunderstands Mr. Spencer. He is ‘trimming,’ while Mr. Spencer is reconstructing. The triumph of Socialism, historically and morally, is the triumph of Individualism. Ecclesiasticism, for example, has gone down like a house of cards, because the free thought of Individualism—id est, Socialism—said, in face of huge majorities, that Ecclesiasticism was an interference with the right of private judgment in matters personal and spiritual. Protestantism decayed, from the moment it became, instead of the protest of a minority, the tyranny of a majority. Socialism itself, the lower Socialism, has collapsed in many of its organizations, because it forgot its first principles of freedom and equality; because (to take Professor Huxley’s illustration) it suggested to the Revolutionists the idea of sustaining common freedom and equality by guillotining each other, and because, as in the case of Enfantin and his group, by upholding a scientific and sensuous priesthood as ‘the Living Law of God,’ it adopted the insane vocabulary of superstition. ‘Father,’ said Bonheur to Enfantin, ‘I believe in you, as I believe in the sun. You are to my eyes the Sun of Humanity.’ Well might Lafitte exclaim to such enthusiasts, ‘You post 88 your advertisements too high—one cannot read them.’
Unhappily the leaning of most new creeds, as of all the old, is in the direction of social tyranny. And why? Simply because poor human nature finds it hard to understand, and far harder to carry out, absolute ethical principles. Socialism, like all other human efforts to secure the greatest happiness of the greatest number—like Christianity, like the Religion of Humanity—has failed again and again. But if Professor Huxley’s dicta of quasi-providential or Governmental interference with the conduct of life were to be universally accepted, Humanity might well despair for ever; for with the destruction of Individualism would end the last hope of the higher Socialism.Over-legislation would restore slavery to mankind, and preserve the semi-disintegrated feudality which is still so large a portion of our political system. The philosopher, not the quidnunc, holds the secret of wise legislation. The creed of the higher Socialism, not the creed of those who believe that Socialism conflicts with Individualism, is that which follows the Law of Nature, by basing individual chances on the natural freedom and equality of men.
To find Professor Huxley fighting for the status quo in Politics is to me a far sadder sight than to find him (for such a miracle may some day happen) fighting for the status quo in Religion. Religion, after all, can take care of itself. But the man 89 who argues in favour of Force as a proof of ownership, and of a Statute of Limitations in matters of secular wrong-doing, will one day have to cast in his lot with Ecclesiasticism and the Bishops. There is no way out of the dilemma, for Church and State stand or fall together. I shall watch with curiosity the process which may lead to the conversion of another Saul.
I am, etc.,
To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’
Your readers must take Mr. Robert Buchanan’s censures of me and my opinions for what they are worth; I am not concerned to defend myself against them. Mr. Buchanan thinks that ‘Socialism and individualism are not contrary terms, but two facts (? faces)* of the same proposition.’
Hence, it would seem to follow that when Mr. Spencer declares that ‘Socialistic arrangements necessitate enslavement,’ he also means that ‘individualistic arrangements necessitate enslavement.’
And I must leave that instructive development
—* ‘Facts’ in my letter was a misprint for ‘facets.’—
90 of absolute political ethics—together with the question whether Mr. Buchanan is entitled to cite a work which Mr. Spencer has repudiated—to be further discussed by those who may be interested in such topics, of whom I am not one (!).
I am, your obedient servant,
T. H. HUXLEY.
EASTBOURNE, February 3.
To the Editor of the ‘Daily Telegraph.’
Suffer me, like Professor Huxley, to say one last word, and that word shall be one of cordial acquiescence in the suggestion that the enslavement of Society is also the enslavement of the Individual. I have yet to learn that an individual, save in the sphere of absolute thought and ethics, is not in a certain sense the ‘slave’ of his own organism. Just as a society is held together by its laws of life, so is a man held together by identical laws. He cannot escape from the general discharge of functions and interchange of currents which condition his vitality. The microcosm is a society just as much as the macrocosm.So far the Scientist and I are agreed. We only part company at the point where the scientist treats both Society and the Individual as mechanical only, independent altogether of those absolute principles which, while they fail to ‘interest’ Professor 91 Huxley, are attacked so vehemently in his system of ‘Providence Made Easy.’
I am, etc.,
[This discussion ended with the following energetic letter from Mr. Herbert Spencer:]
To the Editor of the ‘ Daily Telegraph.’
Though the recent controversy carried on in your columns under the title ‘Are Men Born Free and Equal?’ has chiefly concerned certain political views of mine, I have thus far remained passive, and even now do not propose to say anything about the main issues. To Mr. Buchanan I owe thanks for the chivalrous feeling which prompted his defence. Professor Huxley, by quoting passages showing my dissent from what is currently understood as Socialism, has rendered me a service. I might fitly let the matter pass without remark, were it not needful to rectify a grave misrepresentation.
Describing the position of the penniless man, Professor Huxley says: ‘It is not I, but the extreme Individualists, who will say that he may starve. If the State relieves his necessities, it is not I, but they, who say it is exceeding its powers; if private charity succours the poor fellow, it is not I, but they, who reprove the giver 92 for interfering with the survival of the fittest.’ And the view thus condemned by implication he has previously characterized as ‘the political philosophy which Mr. Buchanan idolizes, the consistent application of which reasoned savagery to practice would have left the working classes to fight out the struggle for existence themselves.’
Professor Huxley is fertile in strong expressions, and ‘reasoned savagery’ is one of them; but in proportion as the expressions used are strong, should be the care taken in applying them, lest undeserved stigmas may result. Unfortunately, in this case he appears to have been misled by that deductive method which he reprobates, and has not followed that inductive method which he applauds. Had he looked for facts instead of drawing inferences, he would have found that I have nowhere expressed or implied any such ‘reasoned savagery’ as he describes. For nearly fifty years I have contended that the pains attendant on the struggle for existence may fitly be qualified by the aid which private sympathy prompts. In a pamphlet on ‘The Proper Sphere of Government,’ written at the age of twenty-two, it is argued that in the absence of a poor law ‘the blessings of charity would be secured unaccompanied by the evils of pauperism.’ In ‘Social Statics’ this view is fully set forth. While the discipline of the battle of life is recognised and 93 insisted upon as ‘that same beneficent though severe discipline, to which the animate creation at large is subject,’ there is also recognised and insisted upon the desirableness of such mitigations as spontaneously result from individual fellow-feeling. It is argued that privately ‘helping men to help themselves’ leaves a balance of benefit, and that, ‘although by these ameliorations the process of adaptation must be remotely interfered with, yet, in the majority of cases, it will not be so much retarded in one direction as it will be advanced in another.’
‘As no cruel thing can be done without character being thrust a degree back towards barbarism, so no kind thing can be done without character being moved a degree forward towards perfection. Doubly efficacious, therefore, are all assuagings of distress, instigated by sympathy; for not only do they remedy the particular evils to be met, but they help to mould humanity into a form by which such evils will one day be precluded’ (pp. 318, 319, 1st edit.).
Professor Huxley’s ingenuity as a controversialist, great though it is, will, I fancy, fail to disclose the ‘reasoned savagery’ contained in these sentences. Should he say that, during the forty years which have elapsed since they were written, my views have changed from a more humane to a less humane form, and that I would now see the struggle for existence, with resulting survival of 94 the fittest, carried on without check, then I meet the allegation by another extract. In the ‘Principles of Sociology,’ sec. 322, I have explained at some length that every species of creature can continue to exist only by conforming to two opposed principles—one for the life of the immature, and the other for the life of the mature. The law for the immature is, that benefits received shall be great in proportion as worth is small; while for the mature the law is, that benefits received shall be great in proportion as worth is great—worth being measured by efficiency for the purposes of life. The corollary, as appied to social affairs, runs as follows:
‘Hence the necessity of maintaining this cardinal distinction between the ethics of the family and the ethics of the State. Hence the fatal result if family disintegration [referring to a view of Sir Henry Maine] goes so far that family policy and State policy become confused. Unqualified generosity must remain the principle of the family while offspring are passing through their early stages; and generosity increasingly qualified by justice must remain its principle as offspring are approaching maturity. Conversely, the principle of the society guiding the acts of citizens to one another must ever be justice, qualified by such generosity as their several natures prompt; joined with unqualified justice in the corporative acts of the society to its members. However fitly in the battle of life among adults the proportioning of 95 rewards to merits may be tempered by private sympathy in favour of the inferior, nothing but evil can result if this proportioning is so interfered with by public arrangements that demerit profits at the expense of merit.’
Still more recently has there been again set forth this general view. In ‘The Man versus the State,’ pp. 64-67, along with the assertion that ‘society in its corporate capacity cannot, without immediate or remoter disaster, interfere with the play of these opposed principles, under which every species has reached such fitness for its mode of life as it possesses,’ there goes a qualification like that above added.
‘I say advisedly—society in its corporate capacity, not intending to exclude or condemn aid given to the inferior by the superior in their individual capacities. Though, when given so indiscriminately as to enable the inferior to multiply, such aid entails mischief; yet in the absence of aid given by society, individual aid, more generally demanded than now, and associated with a greater sense of responsibility, would, on the average, be given with the effect of fostering the unfortunate worthy rather than the innately unworthy; there being always, too, the concomitant social benefit arising from culture of the sympathies.’
In other places the like is expressed or implied, but it is needless to cite further evidence. The 96 passages I have quoted will make sufficiently clear the opinion I have all along held, and still hold; and everyone will be able to judge whether this opinion is rightly characterized by the phrase ‘reasoned savagery.’
LONDON, February 7.
FINAL NOTE ON THE DISCUSSION.
It will be seen that much of the question, ‘Are men born free and equal?’ became merged in the other question, ‘What is Socialism?’ My answer to that question—i.e., that true Socialism was a combination to protect the rights of individuals—was paradoxical enough to puzzle rny friend Mr. Spencer, and I had neither the time nor the opportunity to explain my meaning fully.I have no more sympathy than Mr. Spencer himself (as I have shown elsewhere) with any kind of tyrannous organization, whether framed in the name of vested interests or in the name of the people. True Socialism—the Science of Sentiment—to which I adhere, fetters no man’s moral activity, limits no man’s character, restricts no man’s evolution:
‘No man can save another’s Soul,
Or pay another’s Debt.’
And what the individual man cannot do, cannot be done by any organization of men. Thus I stand, with Mr. Spencer, for the spread of the sense of 97 moral responsibility, for individual effort and energization; while Professor Huxley stands for the status quo, for Beneficent Legislation, for Providence made Easy. As little as either of these teachers do I see hope or find comfort in the savagery of false Socialism, in the Anarchy of Ignorance, in the terrorism of the emerging Demogorgon. Far as I follow Mr. Spencer, however, in his masterly abstract statements, there is a point where even a disciple and a friend may hesitate. I cannot calmly leave the regeneration of things evil to the slow and certain evolution of the corporate conscience; I feel that there is much to be said for the advocates of a more active social reorganization, and I am not so convinced as Mr. Spencer of the necessary sacredness of contracts, or of the wisdom of holding them inviolable. It would not be difficult, I think, to define the limits within which even State Socialism is expedient and beneficial. Nothing certainly can be more terrible than the existing condition of things, both social and political, and all efforts to mend that condition, be they ever so revolutionary, have my sympathy. It is quite clear, therefore, that I do not follow the Prophet with my eyes shut, and I can quite understand that Mr. Spencer must have considered me, in more than one expression of opinion, a Devil’s Advocate.
The Belfast News-Letter (28 January, 1890 - p.3)
A BOLD attempt has met with a cruel failure. Mr. Robert Buchanan has tried to draw Professor Huxley into a Daily Telegraph controversy on the origin of society. Professor Huxley, in a recent magazine article, had been insulting the corpse of the “social contract,” as propounded by Jean Jacques Rousseau. It appears, however, that Mr. Buchanan is an admirer and disciple of that venerable phantom, and he challenged professor Huxley to an interchange of newspaper letters, each party to go on writing until he was convinced by the other. How does Professor Huxley treat the offer? He politely declines it, and insists upon regarding Mr. Robert Buchanan with the scientific curiosity due to an interesting survival of an extinct type. Provoking, is it not?
The Derby Daily Telegraph (28 January, 1890 - p.2)
Free and Equal.
A contemporary whose columns are always instructive and amusing, having disposed of the questions “Is Marriage a Failure,” and “Is Marriage Eternal,” is now finding space and seeing fair play, while a number of able and distinguished correspondents, notably Mr. Robert Buchanan and Professor Huxley, are discussing “Are men born free and equal?” Rousseau wrote “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,” and the watchword of almost all great social upheavals has been, as in France, “Liberty, equality, and fraternity.” Mr. Robert Buchanan writes in favour of regenerating society without destroying that part of its structure which experience proves to be sound, of adjusting the relations of human beings in such a manner as to secure the utmost amount of liberty and equality possible. He also advocates equal freedom of opportunity and equal freedom to shape individual thought and action within the necessary limitations of political organisation. In theory and in principle this is all very beautiful. That in practice it would be any improvement upon existing professions is not at all clear. Mr. Buchanan himself tells us that society has refused from time immemorial to be ruled in the conduct of life by either the principles or the precepts of Christianity. His mission he declares to be to explain a few simple points of that propagandism which proposes to redress centuries of wrongdoing, and, possibly, to reconstruct society. Of the present state of matters he writes:—“Men hoard up riches in this world, and when one cheek is smitten they do not offer the other. They pray in the temple, but they curse and cheat in the market-place. Interrogated on this inconsistency, they explain that adherence to the absolute tenets of their religion would be suicidal. Instead of loving one another we, in this Christian country, allow wealth to accumulate and men to decay; permit, as in the case of the deer forests of Scotland, the accumulated capital of one or two men to mean the destruction and expatriation of thousands; suffer, as in Ireland, a landlordism without even the excuse of capital to drive a whole nation into despair and into crime.” As a matter of fact all are not born free, either figuratively or literally, neither are they born equal mentally or physically, or with regard to prospects or opportunities. The tendency of our civilisation and of our legislation is all in the direction of removing artificial inequalities, and providing for the unfortunate and afflicted. That much remains to be accomplished in that direction, probably few would care to dispute. The objection even now does not seem to be so much against principle and profession as practice, and that appears always to have been a weakness of the human family. They are almost invariably immeasurably worse than their principles. How mere railing against that which is or even substituting other principles as likely to be set at naught can effect any good purpose is not quite so clear as the apostles of the new propaganda may imagine. It would be dangerous to prophesy or speculate. The promoters may at least receive the fullest credit for the very best intentions.
Hull Daily Mail (30 January, 1890 - p.2)
Mr Labouchere steps into the Daily Telegraph letter-writing fray, and deals a shrewd knock at his fellow Radical, Mr Robert Buchanan, whose contention that all men are born equal appears to Mr Labouchere to find a satisfactory and most welcome refutation in the fact that all men are not born Buchanans. The Huxley-Buchanan paper quarrel and the Labouchere comment thereon shows us harmlessly and ludicrously how small is the chance that the visionary schemes of those Radicals who talk so big and act so little will ever come to the point of doing practical harm to humanity. Should they ever get the upper hand of the party of common sense, they would infallibly tear each other in pieces as a preliminary to getting to work on their peaceable fellow citizens.
Punch. or the London Charivari (22 February, 1890)
’ARRY ON EQUALITY.
DEAR CHARLIE,—Bin down as a dab with that dashed heppydemick, dear boy.
I ’ave bloomin’ nigh sneezed my poor head orf. You know that there specie of toy
Wot they call cup-and-ball! That’s me, CHARLIE! My back seemed to open and shut,
As the grippe-demon danced on my innards, and played pitch-and-toss with my nut.
Hinfluenza be blowed! It licks hague and cholera rolled into one.
The Sawbones have give it that name, I’m aware, but of course that’s their fun.
I’ve ’ad colds in the head by the hunderd, but this weren’t no cold, leastways mine.
Howsomever, I’m jest coming round a bit, thanks to warm slops and QyNine.
Took to reading, I did as I mended; that’s mostly a practice with me.
When I’m down on my back that’s the time for a turn at my dear old D. T.
A party named ROBERT BUCHANAN, as always appears on the job,
Was a slating a chappie called HUXLEY. Thinks I, I’ll take stock of friend BOB.
Well, he ain’t much account, that’s a moral; a ramblinger Rad never wos.
Old HUXLEY’Swuth ten on him, CHARLIE, though he’s rather huppish and poz.
Are men really born free and equal? Ah! that’s wot they’re harguing hout.
BOB B., he says “Yus;” HUXLEY, “No;” and BOB’S wrong, there’s no manner of doubt.
“Free and equal?” Oh, NEBUCHADNEZZAR! how can they talk sech tommy-rot?
Might as well say as Fiz and Four-Arf should be equally fourpence a pot.
Nice hidea, but taint so, that’s the wust on it. There’s where these dreamers go wrong.
Ought’s nothink, and that as is, is; all the rest isn’t wuth a old Song.
Bad as BUGGINS, the Radical Cobbler, these mugs are. Sez BUGGINS, sez he,
Wos it Nature give Mudford his millions, and three bob a day to poor me?
Not a bit on it. Nature’s a mother, and meant all her gifts for us all.
It’s a Law as gives Mudford his Castle, and leaves me a poor Cobbler’s Stall.
All I’ve got to say, CHARLIE, is this. If so be Nature meant all that there,
She must be a fair “J.” as a mater. I’ve bin bested out of my share.
So has BUGGINS, and nine out o’ ten on us. If the few nobble the quids
Spite of Nature, wy Nature’s a noodle as cannot purtect her own kids.
Poor BUGGINS! He’s nuts upon HENERY GEORGE, WILLIAM MORRIS, and such.
He’s got a white face, and is humpy, and lives in a sort of a hutch
Smellin’ strong of wax-end and stale dubbin. Him born free and equal? Great SCOTT!
’Bout as free as a trained flea in harness, or sueties piled in a pot.
Nature’s nothink, dear boy, simply nothink, and natural right don’t exist,
Unless it means natural flyness, or natural power of fist.
It’s brains and big biceps, wot wins. Is men equal in muscle and pith?
Arsk BISMARCK and DERBY, dear boy, or arsk JACKSON the Black and JEM SMITH.
There’d be precious few larks if they wos, CHARLIE—where’d be the chance of a spree
If every pious old pump or young mug was the equal of Me?
It’s the up-and-down bizness of life, mate, as makes it such fun—for the ups.
Equal? Yus, as old BARNUM and BUGGINS, or tigers and tarrier pups.
He’s a long-winded lot, is BUCHANAN, slops over tremenjous, he do;
Kinder poet, dear boy, I believe, and they always do flop round a few,
Make a rare lot o’ splash and no progress, like ducks in a tub, dontcher know,
But cackle and splutter ain’t swimming; so ROBERT, my nabs, it’s no go.
Men ain’t equal a mite, that’s a moral, and patter won’t level ’em up.
Wy yer might as well talk of a popgun a holding its own with a Krupp.
’Ow the brains and the ochre got fust ladled hout is a bit beyond me,
But to fancy as them as has got ’em will part is dashed fiddle-de-dee.
Normans nicked? Landlords copped? Lawyers fiddled? Quite likely; I dessay they did.
Are they going to hand back the swag arter years? Not a hacre or quid!
Finding’s keeping, and ’olding means ’aving. I wish I’d a spanking estate
Wot my hancestors nailed on the ready. They wouldn’t wipe me orf the slate.
No fear, CHARLIE, my boy! I’d hang on by my eyelids; and so will the nobs,
Despite Mounseer ROOSSO’S palaver or rattletrap rubbish like BOB’S.
As HUXLEY sez, Robbery’s whitewashed by centries of toffdom, dear boy.
Poor pilgarlicks whose forbears wos honest rich perks earn’t expect to enjoy.
Life’s a great game of grab, fur’s I see, CHARLIE. Robbery? Well, call it that.
If you only lay hands on your own, mate, you won’t git remarkable fat.
There isn’t enough to go round and yet give a fair dollop to each,
It’s a fight for front place, and he’s lucky who gets the first bite at the peach.
High priori hideas about Justice, as HUXLEY declares, is all rot.
Fancy tigers dividing a carcase, and portioning each his fair lot!
“Aren’t men better than tigers?" cries BUGGINS. Well, yus, there’s religion and law;
Pooty fakes! But when sharing’s the word they ain’t in it with sheer tooth and claw.
Orful nice to see Science confirming wot I always held. Blow me tight,
If I don’t rayther cotton to HUXLEY; he’s racy, old pal, and he’s right.
The skim-milk of life’s for the many, the lardy few lap up the cream,
And all talk about trimming the balance is rubbish, a mere ROOSSO’S Dream!
Philanterpy’s all very nice as a plaything for soft-’arted toffs,
Kep in bounds it don’t do no great ’arm. Poor old BUGGINS, he flushes and coughs;
Gets hangry, he do, at my talk. I sez, keep on your hair, my good bloke,
Hindignation ain’t good for your chest; cut this Sosherlist cant, or you’ll choke.
Philanterpy squared in a system would play up Old Nick with the Great,
As ’cute Bishop MAGEE sez Religion would do—carried out—with the State.
Oh, when Science and Saintship shake hands, in a sperret of sound common sense,
To chuck over the cant of the Pulpit, by Jingo, old pal, it’s Himmense!
All cop and no blue ain’t my motter; I likes to stand treat to a chum;
And if I wos flush of the ochre, I tell yer I’d make the thing hum.
And there’s lots o’ the rich is good parters; bit here and bit there, dontcher know;
But shake up the Bag and share round, like good pals a pot-lucking? Oh no!
Wot these jokers call Justice means knocking all ’andicap out of life’s race;
“Equal chances all round,” they declare, wouldn’t give equal power and pace!
Wy, no; but if things weren’t made nice for the few with the power and the tin,
The ’andicapped many would be in the ’unt, and some on ’em might win.
Pooty nice state o’ things for the perkers! Luck, Law, and the Longheads, dear boy,
Have arranged the world so that the many must work that the few may enjoy.
These “Equality” jossers would spile it; if arf their reforms they can carry,
The enjoyers will ’ave a rough time, and there won’t be a look in for ’ARRY.
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