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[THE original purport of these conversations has been greatly
changed. At the time they commenced it was hoped that the termination of the war between France and Prussia would not long be deferred. Mr. Milverton had prepared his views upon several subjects connected with general culture, and had hoped to discuss them with his friends. But general culture has, comparatively speaking, faded away from men's thoughts; and people now, in almost every quarter of the globe, can hardly think of anything else but war, present or to come.
We were all assembled in the study, and there had been the discussion which takes place daily upon obscure telegrams of obscure battles, a disoussion ending in nothing but hazardous conjecturés. Mr. Milverton was evidently in very bad spirits; and Sir John Ellesmere, to comfort him, had reminded the friends of a metaphor which Mr. Milverton had often used on previous occasions. He had said, the advance of civilization is like the advance of the in-coming tide, which, for any given moment, appears to the bystander to be as much of a retreat as of an advance; but still the tide comes on. Sir John asked him whether the metaphor did not still hold good.]
Milverton. One is very loath to give up a metaphor which has become a favourite one for oneself, but I hardly venture to say that
I could use it now. The world seems to me to have
mad of late
years. I picture to myself some superior being looking down upon us, and I think what he would say. “ Here are these poor wretched creatures, men, ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, not having as yet attained the first elements of civilization, and they must employ all their spare time, thought, and energy in tearing one another to pieces.' Almost the worst of it is, that we cannot imagine a superior being making any of these severe comments upon our doings which should be other than commonplace remarks. We know it all, just as well as he does. We, at least those of us who have any pretension to the power of thinking, think as I conjecture he would. But nothing in the way of remedy occurs to any
For my own part, I can only go back to what I have said a hundred times before. And it appears to me like a doleful old song, which a bewildered sick man goes on droning out to wearied listeners; and the attendants at the bed-side say to themselves, “If he were in health again, he would sing to us some other song, for we have heard this a hundred times."
Ellesmere. Let us hear the song for the hundredth and first time.
Milverton. Well, all the present mischief seems to me to arise from certain wild and mistaken ideas which governing people have taken, from time immemorial, of what are the duties, and what should be the object of government. It is the old story over again, that some wonderful felicity will occur for mankind from the accretion of certain territories under one headship, subject to
one form of government. If a well-known and admirable suggestion of Lord Melbourne's, addressed to certain fussy people of his time, had been adopted by sundry governing persons who have had great power for the last ten years, it would have been a grand thing for the world. “Can't you leave it alone ? ” was what he was wont to say; and if they had left it alone, how wisely they would have acted.
Ellesmere. Lord Melbourne, as far as I know anything about him, was a man after my heart. He seemed to me to have an element of wisdom in him, of a kind of wisdom which has gone out of fashion in the present day. I have no doubt that there are many things which these governing persons, whom you allude to, would have done well to leave alone. What other defects, or superabundancies, have you to note in them?
Milverton. It is an extraordinary remark to make, but I think it is a true one, that there is a total absence of generosity in the dealings of States with one another, and even in the dealings of individual Governments with the sections of people under them. I would make an exception for our own government, because it has once or twice, in the course of the last half-century, given examples
of singular generosity; but I can seldom find a trace of this generosity elsewhere.
Mauleverer. I should be much obliged by your telling me what we have ever done that is generous.
Milverton. Our conduct in the abolition of slavery was generous. Our attempts, of late years, to conciliate Ireland have been generous. Our free-trade policy is generous. I am one of those who are convinced that free-trade triumphed, not so much because it was thought to be for our own interest, but because it was thought to be just ; and the classes who supposed that they should suffer most, ultimately resolved to bear that suffering, on the ground that the policy in question would conduce to the public good. I could give other instances of generosity, but these will suffice to illustrate what I mean.
But there has been a terrible want of generosity to be seen throughout the political world in modern times. What a splendid opportunity for generous behaviour Louis Napoleon had at one time, but never used it. I am the last person to run down that prince, for whose conduct throughout his difficult reign there is a great deal to be said both in praise and in extenuation ; but I always thought, and have not waited for his downfall to express my thought, that he missed a golden opportunity of showing that he was a great man, when he retained power beyond the time that had been allotted to him as President of the Republic,
Everywhere there has been a great misuse of power. I call it a great misuse of power, when a powerful State absorbs smaller States, upon next to no provocation. I never shall be brought to see the especial beauty, or loveliness, of great empires thus formed. It is clear that we have not yet passed through the robber era of the world ; and that Christianity has not made any effectual resistance to Fraud and Force.
Mauleverer. Yes: we are still thorough barbarians; and your folly, my dear friend, is in not having seen that before.
Milverton. I deserve this reproach for having over-stated my case. Christianity has made a stout resistance to the evil passions of mankind, and has even had some effect upon the conduct of nations towards one another—at any rate, has had some effect upon their mode of conducting warfare. Captured garrisons are no longer put to the sword; women have been respected in this war.
Ellesmere. The innocent are only starved, not put to death ; and the excuse of the necessities of war is always put forward when a village or a town is burnt.
Milverton. What grieves me, what makes me desponding, what I cannot see my way out of, is this—that the thoughts and wishes of the really cultivated men of the world have so little influence upon
the conduct of national affairs. This failure of just influence greatly arises from that terrible centralization which many of you think to be so fine a thing. A few people get into their hands the management of the material wealth, and the other resources of a nation. Their interests, their amusements, their objects, are essentially different from those of the masses of the people whom they govern. This statement has nothing to do with the form of government. It is frequently as true of a republic as of an absolute monarchy. The poor peasant does not amuse himself with diplomacy, he only pays for it; not only with his money, but often with his blood. Two crafty persons, highly placed, set to work to contend with one another, and to see which of them can make the country he sways greater, or rather bigger, than the other country; and the fortunes of millions of people are played away in the most reckless manner by these transcendent gamesters.
We, I mean we British people, are at this moment suffering from that which has been one of the severest causes of suffering in all ages. Everybody pays a huge price, and has ever paid it, for being a little in advance in civilization and humanity of those persons who surround them. Almost all martyrdom simply means this. The prophets, and the martyrs, and the wise men who cannot conceal their wisdom, all suffer in the same way. And the same rule applies to nations. We have come to the conclusion, rather late in the day, but still anticipating other nations, that conquest is a dangerous thing, and that the accession of territory does not always bring strength. We are, therefore, peaceable. I believe that there is scarcely a man amongst us, certainly not a thinker, who would not willingly say we have territory enough, and perhaps more than enough to govern well, and that we may now devote ourselves to that which ought to be the main business of all government--namely, the welfare of the individuals governed. But there are States who are far behind us in thought upon these matters, and who still believe that there is some wonderful joy and delight to be found—something which will raise the individual as well as elevate the nation in the accretion of territory. Themistocles said that he could not fiddle, but that he could make a small State into a great one. that I think that much may be said for the fiddler; and, that if he were a good fiddler, he was perhaps a more serviceable citizen even than Themistocles.
Ellesmere. I admit that there is something in what you say ; but you will persist in overlooking a motive—a very plausible motivewhich has great influence with the persons whom you most condemn. It is that they suppose that safety is coincident with the greatness, or to use your word, the bigness, of a State, and that this safety will ensure peace.
I must say
Milverton. I admit that it is quite right to remind me of this argument in favour of the huge follies and wickednesses of governing people. But I contend that it is a fallacious argument. You may distribute, or redistribute, territory in any way that you please ; you may set up, or put down, the Pyrenees; you will not thereby produce peace—that is, unless you advance to either of the two extremes which are not the least likely, at any rate in our time, to become realities. A universal empire means peace. In the best times of the Roman Empire, as I have shown you before now, the peace of Europe, of Asia Minor, and of what was known of Africa, was maintained by 300,000 soldiers, who may almost be looked upon as policemen.
Again, if you could imagine Europe to be divided into small states, and the de-centralization, which I know you think I dote upon, to be carried into effect, peace would be maintained upon, comparatively speaking, small armies; and the wars would, at any rate, be petty. There would not be these huge conflagrations of war.
Now you are often taunting me (by you I mean Ellesmere and Mauleverer) for my being unpractical, for my being an enthusiast, for my taking Utopian views. I now mean to carry the war into your own country. Are you not unpractical, enthusiastic, and Utopian, if you mean to contend that the results of the present ambitions of certain European nations will lead inevitably to peace ?
Sir Arthur. I think Milverton has you there.
Cranmer. Yes. I don't agree with Milverton in many things, but I must own that he makes a palpable hit when he asks Ellesmere and Mauleverer whether the present state of things promises peace.
Maulererer. My good people, I never said that I approved of the present state of things, or of any state of things that, as far as I can see, can be brought about upon this earth. I merely protest against Milverton's dreams. I do not support any other dreamer.
Ellesmere. Pray do not suppose that I think that any conglomeration of individuals, whether large or small, will produce wisdom in the governors, or the governed, among those individuals.
Milverton. I am very much pleased to have brought you both to this point. It leaves a free field for me.
Ellesmere. Yes; but what do you propose ? What remedy have
you in view ?
Milcerton. Well, my only remedy is to go on endeavouring to prove to mankind that they should not suppose that any great good will happen to them from being massed into large nations; that the thought of the world, as at present directed, does not lead to the maintenance of peace, does not tend to ensure the comfort and happiness of private individuals. Tyranny ever follows in the wake of war; and, if you wish to be allowed to think or to act, with that