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be wrong, – though it pretty generally was right, but nobody could ever mistake for a moment what it meant and where it was.
Few men ever kept apart in civil matters so well, what in medical matters would be called the “diagnosis” and the “prescription.” Most men mix, even to themselves, their view of what is with their suggestion of what should be: you could not have made Sir George Lewis mix the two, - his mind on such points was almost a tedious formality. He would say, “The facts proved are so and so; from these there are the following probable inferences. wish to alter the present circumstances and to produce others, you must do so and so.” When a man came to him with a plan, he asked, “What is your object?” Until he got a plain answer to that, and a proof that the object was good, he never looked at the plan. All this in theory may seem very obvious and very trite: nothing is so easy as to be sensible on paper. The only true theory of transacting business is a simple matter, which has been known for hundreds of years; any part of that theory in print looks stupid, and not worth saying: yet in real life, especially in political life, how few great actors are there! In politics the issues to be determined are for the most part plain and simple; but they are exciting, are embedded in rhetoric and overlaid with irrelevant matter: a certain strong simplicity sweeps away all these outside matters. Talking to Sir George Lewis on a pending political matter was like reading a chapter of Aristotle's “Politics": you might think the view incomplete, but there were the same pregnant strength and matter-of-fact simplicity.
One great advantage of this sort of mind Sir George Lewis noted in an article in the Edinburgh Review, which, though when published anonymous, may now be quoted as his :
" When Demosthenes was asked what was the first and second and third qualification of an orator, he answered, Delivery'; in like
VOL. III. – 15
manner, if we were asked what is the first and second and third quali-
He could never have appealed to the people by the felicitous attraction of his words, but he had an even surer source of popularity in the certain intelligibility of his plans.
The last words of his last book show the sort of grave moderation wíth which he regarded politics, as wise as any of which he ever made use. They are the judgment in which the reflective man of the world sums up the arguments of the advocates of different forms of government.
“Each one of you, in to-day's discussion, has been able to show specious — perhaps strong - grounds in favor of his ɔpinion. Monarchicus can say with truth that the testimony of experience is in
* Review of Lord John Russell's “Memorials of Fox," January, 1858 ; reprinted (with trivial changes for the worse) in “Administrations of Great Britain," as the “Addington, Pitt, and Grenville Administrations." This passage refers to Pitt's fast-and-loose course after resigning office in 1801 on' the Catholic question and virtually agreeing to bolster Addington. – ED.
his favor ; that the vast majority of nations, now and at all former periods of time, have been governed by monarchs; and that a plural or republican government is an intricate machine, difficult work and constantly tending to relapse into monarchy. Aristocraticus can argue that aristocracy is the government of intelligence and virtue, and that it is a just medium between the two extremes of monarchy and democracy; while Democraticus can dwell upon the splendid vision of a community bound together by the ties of fraternity, liberty, and equality, exempt from hereditary privilege, giving all things to merit, and presided over by a government in which all the national interests are faithfully represented. But even if I were to decide in favor of one of these forms and against the two others, I should not find myself nearer the solution of the practical problem: a nation does not change the form of its government with the same facility that a man changes his coat. A nation in general only changes the form of its government by means of a violent revolution ; this is not a moment when reason is in the ascendent, and when the claims of force can be safely disregarded. The party which is uppermost in the revolution dictates the form of government, and pays little attention to abstract theories unless it be those which coincide with its own views. The past history of a nation, its present interests, its present passions and antipathies, the advice of favorite leaders, the intervention of foreign governments, all exercise a powerful influence at such a crisis in determining the national decision. Such is the rude process by which one form of government is actually converted into another; very unlike the gentle and rational method which is assumed by the constructors of Utopias. Besides, the political preferences of a people are in general determined by habit and mental association; and though the newly introduced constitution may be intrinsically better than its predecessor, yet the people may dislike it and refuse it the benefit of a fair trial: it may therefore fail not from its own defectiveness, but through the ill-will and reluctance of those by whom it is worked.
“There are some rare cases in which a nation has profited by a revolution. Such was the English revolution of 1688, in which the form of the government underwent no alteration, and the person of the king was alone changed. It was the very minimum of a revolution ; it was remarkable for the absence of those accompaniments which make a revolution perilous, and which subsequently draw upon it a vindictive reactionary movement. The late Italian revolution has likewise been successful; by it the Italian people have gained a better government, and have improved their political condition. It was brought about by foreign intervention ; but its success has been mainly owing to the moderation of the leaders in whom the people had the wisdom to confide, and who have steadily refrained from all revolutionary excesses.
“The history of forcible attempts to improve governments is not, however, cheering. Looking back upon the course of revolutionary movements, and upon the character of their consequences, the practical conclusion which I draw is, that it is the part of wisdom and prudence to acquiesce in any form of government which is tolerably well administered, and affords tolerable security to person and property. I would not indeed yield to apathetic despair, or acquiesce in the persuasion that a merely tolerable government is incapable of improvement. I would form an individual model, suited to the character, disposition, wants, and circumstances of the country; and I would make all exertions, whether by action or by writing, within the limits of the existing law, for ameliorating its existing condition and bringing it nearer to the model selected for imitation : but I should consider the problem of the best form of government as purely ideal, and as unconnected with practice; and should abstain from taking a ticket in the lottery of revolution, unless there was a well-founded expectation that it would come out a prize." *
This sober simplicity is not to the taste of many people: many wish to find in politics a sort of excitement; they wish that public affairs should be managed in a rather theatrical way, in order that they themselves may have the pleasure of reading a stimulating series of brilliant events. People who went to Sir George Lewis for excitement were very likely to be disappointed: he was sure to knock the gloss off things. “People," he would observe, “who know how things are managed, know that the oftener Cabinets meet the better. Ignorant persons fancy that when Cabinets meet often there is something wrong; but that is a mistake, – it is in the long vacation and in the country that some ministers do something brilliant and extraordinary that is much objected to. When ministers get together, they can agree on something plain and satisfactory.” He always talked of the Cabinet as if it were a homely sort of committee.
*“Dialogue on the Best Form of Government."
At bottom, perhaps, he did not much object to be thought a little commonplace. “In my opinion, he said (and perhaps there is no harm in adding that it was in reference to the Suez Canal), “in nine cases out of ten, cure is better than prevention. If it be ever necessary to hold Egypt, then fight for Egypt. By looking forward to all possible evils, we waste the strength that had best be concentrated in curing the one evil which happens.” Those who wish that the foreign affairs of England should be managed according to a far-seeing and elaborate policy will not like such voluntary short-sightedness; but the English people themselves rather like to have the national course fixed by evident, palpable, and temporary circumstances.
Some people thought Sir George Lewis obstinate; and in one sense he was so. No one was a better colleague; no one, after full discussion, was readier to take a share in the responsibility for measures of which he did not entirely approve the whole: but though he gave up his proposals, he did not alter his opinion. It may be said of him that he could not alter it. Most men's conclusions are framed upon fluctuating considerations, some of which are very indistinctly present to their minds, and most of which it would puzzle them to state shortly: Sir George Lewis knew exactly what were the facts upon which he grounded his opinion, and what his inference from those facts; unless you gave him new facts, he could not help drawing the same inference. This was one of the comforts of dealing with him : you always knew exactly where you would find his mind; unless the data had altered, you might be sure his inference from the data would be unchanged.
It may be added that his inference was almost sure to be exactly sound. His data might be limited: as we shall show, there were some kinds of facts which, from a limitation of nature, he did not thoroughly appreciate; when such facts were in question,