페이지 이미지

sacrcdness to the heroic character; and it is this attachment of mystical sacredness which I hold to be demonstrably and intensely mischievous. That the tools should be put into the hands of him who can use them — that every appointment should be made on grounds of fitness, not of favoritism—that the foolish have a God-given claim to be ruled by the wise, and the wise a God-enjoined duty to rule the foolish—this is not only true, but is of that order of truth which, to the body politic, is what good bread and pure water are to the corporeal frame. To ascertain how these ends may be attained is the object of all political science. Constitutional freedom, electoral privilege, Parliamentary representation, have their raison d'etre in the vital necessity of sifting out a nation's best practical capacity and highest worth, in order that thus there may be provided a national brain, to do, for the nation, what the head does for the man. Of "hero-worship" thus understood, no one could have a higher appreciation than I have. But the other kind of hero-worship—that which assigns to the hero a character entitling him to reverence and adoration from common men—issues naturally in the consecration of despotism. Mr. Carlyle speaks of the man who is to be thus worshipped, sometimes as a hero, sometimes as a man of genius, but he always commands ordinary men to bow the knee before him. "He is above thee, like a god." Such are Carlyle's words in one of the concluding chapters of Past and Present. "He is thy born king, thy conqueror and supreme law-giver." He is apart from the community into which he is born. "He walks among men; loves men with inexpressible soft pity—as they cannot love him; but his soul dwells in solitude, in the uttermost parts of creation. In green oases by the palm-tree wells, he rests a space; but anon he has to journey forward, escorted by the Terrors and Splendors, the archdemons and archangels. All Heaven, all Pandemonium, are his escort. The stars, keen-glancing, from the immensities,

[merged small][ocr errors]

send tidings to him; the graves, silent with their dead, from the eternities. Deep calls for him unto deep."

I am perfectly alive to the difficulty of drawing the line between legitimate, nay, imperative and indispensable, respect for great men, and that respect which is idolatrous; but I can precisely state that, when I am required to say of any man, be he a Shakspeare or a Newton, a Julius Caesar or a Cromwell, that he is above me "like a god," I decline such hero-worship. It is practically and intensely pernicious. In polities it leads, as I said, to the consecration of despotism, to inhuman scorn for the multitude. In ethies it is subtly perversive of equity and righteousness. Ask reason, ask conscience, and they clearly tell you that there is no more merit in being born with the most powerful brain in the planet than there is in being born with the weakest. The sole title to respect is moral excellence; and the sole tenable definition of moral excellence is exertion of the will in unselfish goodness. But the irresistible tendency of hero-worship is to do injustice to the nobleness of common men, to the honest efforts of weak men, to virtues that have no brilliancy in them though they are of sterling quality, and to slur over and make light of the vices or crimes of the gifted. The course pursued ought to be exactly the reverse. The weak ought to be excused rather than the strong. The failings of men of genius—of a Mirabeau, a Danton, a Burns—are more blameworthy on account of their gifts. Because a man has been splendidly endowed, the more sacredly incumbent upon him is it to make good use of his gifts, to guard against temptation, to control passion. Mental power is the natural ally of virtue, and ought to re-enforce instead of betraying it; and the man of splendid endowment is a light set on a hill, and therefore more responsible than the crowd.

Under the influence of hero-worship these obvious but infinitely important considerations have been flagrantly set at naught. Every shortcoming of glittering spirits has been wept over, pitied, condoned, and the comparatively unsifted, unenlightened crowd have been fiercely reviled because those bright ones sinned and suffered. Mr. Carlyle, though in his essay on Burns he justly laid the blame of his misfortunes on the poet himself, has spoken many times since, and does partly even in that essay speak, as if Burns had been in some sense the victim of a generation that did not understand hero-worship; and in his delineations of Mirabeau, of Camille Desmoulins, of Danton, and most perhaps of all in his delineation of Frederick of Prussia, he makes genius cover, or at least palliate, a multitude of sins. Throughout all his later works, Mr. Carlyle has inveighed against the great body of his countrymen, and in this he has been accurately followed by Mr. Ruskin. On the highest authority, Divine and human, I affirm that in this they do wrong. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do," said Jesus Christ, dying upon the cross, the utterance being no less miraculous and Divine in its exact intellectual apprehension of the nature and extent of the culpability of the crowd, than in its infinite benevolence. Shakspeare, beyond all comparison the most clear-seeing and sagacious of mere men, discerns with nice precision that the people, if the Coriolanus will but condescend in seeking their leadership to "ask it kindly "—if the Brutus will but use rational precautions to prevent their being led away by the gleam of some counterfeit nobleness shown to them by an Antony— prefer capacity to charlatanism, virtue to vice. But Carlyle and Ruskin accuse the many and adore the few. "So far as in it lay," says Mr. Ruskin, "this century has caused every one of its great men, whose hearts were kindest, and whose spirits most perceptive of the work of God, to die without hope— Scott, Keats, Byron, Shelley, Turner. Great England, of the Iron-heart now, not of the Lion-heart; for these souls of her children an account may perhaps be one day required of her." I know not any true sense in which Walter Scott can be said

[merged small][ocr errors]

to have died without hope, nor any conceivable sense in which the author of Waverley and the Lady of the Lake experienced iron-hearted treatment from his contemporaries; but it is quite in accordance with the doctrine and practice of hero-worship, to lay the blame of Byron's frantic profligacy and Turner's avarice and sensuality upon " England." Mr. Ruskin explains that these great men "fell among fiends—took to making bread out of stones at their bidding, and then died, torn and famished; careful England, in her pure, priestly dress, passing by on the other side." The plain fact is, that England all but adored Byron until he infamously treated his wife, and that Turner was not only hailed with acclamation by the constituted art authorities of England, but weleomed with the most considerate friendship to their homes by the English landed gentry. No better illustration than Mr. Ruskin's passage could be found of the saturation of our atmosphere in these times by hero-worship. The brilliant souls are never to be told that they are to blame; sunt superis sua jura; the laws of honesty, of continence, of simple respect for God and man, are, it seems, for ordinary mortals; and if men of magnificent genius kick against the pricks of God Almighty's buckler, the blame is to be laid not upon them, but upon those who did not sufficiently hero-worship them. It is of course consistent with all that has been said, to add that scrupulous note should be taken of every allowance which can fairly be claimed for men of genius. Plato was certainly correct in alleging that a constitutional unsteadiness has been associated with many forms of genius. Perilous excitability, subtle disease, often attend it. Let men of genius be considerately, tenderly, delicately treated — only not worshipped.

I have been thus explicit on the subject of hero-worship because it is to his great mistake on this point that I trace everything to which I most seriously object in Mr. Carlyle's later writings. In some respects these arc superior to his earlier; but, on the whole, the canker of hero-worship eats into them more deeply; and though I should hesitate to say that his book on Cromwell reveals any trace of failing power, or is not, all things considered, his greatest achievement, I regard it as marred by the evil influence. Hero-worship bears therein its natural fruit of injustice toward such men as Hampden, Pym, Vane, and others, who toiled as faithfully in the cause of Puritanism and of England as Cromwell himself. Historically also the same influence depresses the value of the book; for the constitutional aspects of the struggle are slightly, almost scornfully, treated, and a certain amount of obscurity is thus inevitably thrown over the relation of the Puritan Revolution to the course of political development, since the seventeenth century, in England and America. Cromwell being viewed from the first as a hero, to be worshipped, an exaggerated idea is presented of the injustice that had been previously done him. This remark applies more particularly to the preliminary vindication of Cromwell in the Lectures on Heroes than to the Life and Letters; but the reference to preceding writers on Cromwell in the Lectures on Heroes remains to this day unaltered. "Few Puritans of note," it is there written, "but find their apologists somewhere, and have a certain reverence paid them by earnest men. One Puritan, I think, and almost he alone, our poor Cromwell, seems to hang yet on the gibbet, and finds no hearty apologist anywhere. Him neither saint nor sinner will acquit of great wickedness. A man of ability, infinite talent, courage, and so forth: but he betrayed the cause. Selfish ambition, dishonesty, duplicity; a fierce, coarse, hypocritical Tartufe; turning all that noble struggle for constitutional liberty into a farce played for his own benefit: this and worse is the character they give of Cromwell." I shall not say that any author of European reputation, at the time when this was written, had accurately stated in how far Cromwell could justly be charged with the "wickedness" of erect

« 이전계속 »