Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

right and always reasoning, without ever being bound to look at anything. But our most ambitious schemes of philosophy now start quite differently. Mr. Darwin begins :

“When on board H. M. S. ‘Beagle' as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts, as will be seen in the latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the origin of species, – that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. On my return home it occurred to me, in 1837, that something might perhaps be made out on this question by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it. After five years' work I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions which then seemed to me probable; from that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision."* If he hopes finally to solve his great problem, it is by careful experiments in pigeon-fancying and other sorts of artificial variety-making. His hero is not a selfinclosed, excited philosopher, but “that most skillful breeder, Sir John Sebright," who "used to say, with respect to pigeons, that he would produce any given feather in three years, but it would take him six years to obtain head and beak." + I am not saying that the new thought is better than the old, -it is no business of mine to say anything about that; I only wish to bring home to the mind, as nothing but instances can bring it home, how matter-of-fact, how petty as it would at first sight look, even our most ambitious science has become.

In the new communities which our emigrating habit now constantly creates, this prosaic turn of mind is intensified. In the American mind and in the colonial mind there is, as contrasted with the old English mind, a literalness; a tendency to say, “The facts are so and so, whatever may be thought or fancied about them.” We used before the Civil War to say that the Americans worshiped the “almighty dollar”: we now know that they can scatter money almost recklessly when they will. But what we meant was half right: they worship visible value, - obvious, undeniable, intrusive result. And in Australia and New Zealand the same turn comes uppermost. It grows from the struggle with the wilderness : physical difficulty is the enemy of early communities, and an incessant conflict with it for generations leaves a mark of reality on the mind, - a painful mark almost to us, used to impalpable fears and the half-fanciful dangers of an old and complicated society. The “new Englands” of all latitudes are bare-minded (if I may so say) as compared with the “old.”

* Preface to the “Origin of Species." +"Origin of Species," Chap. i.

When, therefore, the new communities of the colonized world have to choose a government, they must choose one in which all the institutions are of an obvious evident utility. We catch the Americans smiling at our Queen with her secret mystery and our Prince of Wales with his happy inaction. It is impossible, in fact, to convince their prosaic minds that constitutional royalty is a rational government, that it is suited to a new age and an unbroken country, that those who start afresh can start with it. The princelings who run about the world, with excellent intentions but an entire ignorance of business, are to them a locomotive advertisement that this sort of government is European in its limitations and mediæval in its origin; that though it has yet a great part to play in the old states, it has no place or part in new states. The réalisme impitoyable which good critics find in a most characteristic part of the literature of the nineteenth century is to be found also in its politics: an ostentations utility must characterize its creations.

The deepest interest, therefore, attaches to the problem of this essay. If hereditary royalty had been essential to parliamentary government, we might well have despaired of that government: but accurate investigation shows that this royalty is not essential; that upon an average, it is not even in a high degree useful; that though a king with high courage and fine discretion - a king with a genius for the place is always useful and at rare moments priceless, yet that a common king, a king such as birth brings, is of no use at difficult crises, while in the common course of things his aid is neither likely nor required, - he will do nothing and he need do nothing. But we happily find that a new country need not fall back into the fatal division of powers incidental to a presidential government: it may, if other conditions serve, obtain the ready, well-placed, identical sort of sovereignty which belongs to the English Constitution, under the unroyal form of parliamentary government.

VOL. IV.-17

IX.

THE PREREQUISITES OF CABINET GOVERNMENT, AND THE

PECULIAR FORM WHICH THEY HAVE ASSUMED IN
ENGLAND

CABINET GOVERNMENT is rare because its prerequisites are many. It requires the coexistence of several national characteristics which are not often found together in the world, and which should be perceived more distinctly than they often are. It is fancied that the possession of a certain intelligence and a few simple virtues are the sole requisites: these mental and moral qualities are necessary, but much else is necessary also. A cabinet government is the government of a committee elected by the legislature, and there are therefore a double set of conditions to it: first, those which are essential to all elective governments as such; and second, those which are requisite to this particular elective government. There are prerequisites for the genus, and additional ones for the species.

The first prerequisite of elective government is the mutual confidence of the electors. We are so accustomed to submit to be ruled by elected ministers, that we are apt to fancy all mankind would readily be so too: knowledge and civilization have at least made this progress, that we instinctively, without argument, almost without consciousness, allow a certain number of specified persons to choose our rulers for us. It seems to us the simplest thing in the world; but it is one of the gravest things. The peculiar marks of semi-barbarous people are diffused distrust and indiscriminate suspicion. People in all but the most favored times and places are rooted to the places where they were born, think the thoughts of those places, can endure no other thoughts. The next parish even is suspected: its inhabitants have different usages,- almost imperceptibly different, but yet different; they speak a varying accent; they use a few peculiar words; tradition says that their faith is dubious. And if the next parish is a little suspected, the next county is much more suspected : here is a definite beginning of new maxims, new thoughts, new ways; the immemorial boundary mark begins in feeling a strange world. And if the next county is dubious, a remote county is untrustworthy: “vagrants come from thence," men know, and they know nothing else. The inhabitants of the North speak a dialect different from the dialect of the South: they have other laws, another aristocracy, another life. In ages when distant territories are blanks in the mind, when neighborhood is a sentiment, when locality is a passion, concerted co-operation between remote regions is impossible even on trivial matters : neither would rely enough upon the good faith, good sense, and good judgment of the other; neither could enough calculate on the other.

And if such co-operation is not to be expected in trivial matters, it is not [to] be thought of in the most vital matter of government, — the choice of the executive ruler. To fancy that Northumberland in the thirteenth century would have consented to ally itself with Somersetshire for the choice of a chief magistrate is absurd : it would scarcely have allied itself to choose a hangman. Even now, if it were palpably explained, neither district would like it ; but no one says at a county election, "The object of this present meeting is to choose our delegate to what the Americans call the 'Electoral College,'-to the assembly which names our first magistrate, our substitute for their President. Representatives from this county

« AnteriorContinuar »