MR. MAURICE ON THE HISTORY OF REPRESENTATION.*
• The Workman and the Franchise. Cbspters from Fnglish History on the Repre-
sentation and Education of the People. By Frederick Denison Mati,ce, Loa. don : Strohm. 1866.
Tuts is a book whose direct influence on current representative theories is not likely to be very great or immediate, but whose indirect influence on all the great formative principles which go to determine political character will only be underrated by the shallowest and most ignorant criticism. There are three great historical impressions left upon us by the study of these lec- tures,—all true, all of wide political bearing, and all too often forgotten in the hasty ripple of temporary politics. The first is that the power of self-organization is a premonitory symptom of the fitness of any class for being formally recognized in the constitution of the nation and State. Such a power was shown by the old feudal Barons in the contest with the Crown which ended in Magna Charta ; such a power, again, was shown by the burghers and freemen of the. cities in the organi- zation of those great municipal bodies which compelled a recog- nition in the first summons of the House of Commons ; such a power, again, the great manufacturing capitalists showed in the first quarter of the present century just before our great Reform Bill ; and such a power the working class have shown ever since 1848, in the sudden success and unexampled spread of those great co-operative societies and trades' unions, which have raised up a new power in the State. The second great historical impression conveyed is that the actual function of representing' not only great popular bodies, but even political ideas of far wider reach than the area of any one nation, changes hands in all ages in the most strik- ing way, the natural' representatives either of classes or thoughts often ending by opposing those very notions which they began by most earnestly advocating, and their antagonists actually ac- cepting and executing the duties which they had first denounced as a breach of trust. Lastly, Mr. Maurice leaves upon us the deep impression of an overruling providential order, bringing truer and truer conceptions of the various services of which each section of the people is capable to the whole nation, out of every great political excess and shortcoming, arrogant or indolent, into which we have been successively betrayed ; and though he does not diminish our sense of the importance of wise and considerate action, Mr. Maurice certainly does much to remove that undue trepidation lest any error which honestly developes the tendencies of the day should be final and irremediable, which eager political, in conjunction with a slender historical, feeling is too apt to engender.
Mr. Maurice is very happy in his illustration of the necessity of the capacity for social organization, and even of the necessity of the consciousness of capacity for such organization, to fit any class whatever for political power. Until its members feel the obli- gation of their duties to each other, they are not competent to take upon them their share of the duties of the State. His first illustration of this notion is taken from Shakespeare's Coriolanus, and must have produced a very profound effect on the working men for whom it was written, if we may judge at least by the effect it produced on the minds of working men for whom it was not written
• "There is a passage in Coriolanus which states, as well as any prose narrative could, a great fact in Roman history, a fact that marks a crisis in it, and which, at the same time, reveals most strikingly the temper of the Roman aristocrat, and the light in which ho regarded, not the people, but the commons. Caius Martins is talking with his more moderate and reasonable friend, Monenius Agrippa, about 801110 concessions which had been made to the plebeians by the Senate, con- cessions which, of course, seem to him cowardly and ignominious.. Menenins asks-
' What is granted them ?
'Mar. Five tribunes to defend their vulgar wisdoms,
Of their own choice : one's Junius Brutus, Sicinins Velutus, and I know not.—'Sdeath !
The rabble should have first unroof'd the city, Ere so provail'd with me : it will in time Win upon power, and throw forth greater themes For insurrection's arguing.
' Men. This is strange.
'Mar. Go, get you home, you fragments ! '
That word fragments is chosen with marvellous skill. It expresses better than any epithet could the scorn of Martins for a mere crowd. It has nothing organic in it ; nothing of the fellowship which belongs to a race ; nothing of the cohesion which is in an army. He despises those who form the crowd for this reason. And if the assumption were a true one, if these plebeians had been only fragments, one would recognize in the scorn the sentiment of a gallant soldier who entered Corioli alone, who felt in himself how much manhood is above multi- tude. But Caius Martins was uttering a falsehood—a falsehood whielr has been odious in those who have repeated it in later days, if it was not so in him. These mon were not fragments. They belonged to families. They had mothers, if not so stately as Volumnia: wives, if not so full of fears as Virgila. They had a past in their ancestors, as he had in his : a future in their children, as much as he could have in his. And they were members of the same city, whether he thought so or not. How could that be proved? How could it be shown that they were not fragments ; that they were organic ; that they had a common mind? It was shown by that demand for tribunes which the Senate, in spite of its own reluctance, in spite of the remonstrances of such men as Cain. Martins, was forced to concede. When the plebeians elected tribunes, they refused to bo treated as portions of a mass or a mob. They proved themselves an integral portion of the Commonwealth."
And Mr. Maurice follows this idea steadily throughout his book. fie shows how uniformly those 'vho have once forced them- selves into the organization of the State have treated those still outside the recognized political barrier as fragments,' and too often wished to keep them fragments ;—how strangely the attempts. made at different times (in former centuries by the Franciscan friars, quite lately by the democratic levellers of the French Revolution) to organize these fragments en masse rather by obliterating all the existing distinctions between the different. classes of popular duties and functions, instead of encourag- ing the minute beginnings of characteristic social organization as subsidiary to greater and nobler political functions, have failed,—and yet not failed, because they have kept alive from century to century the final purpose of all civilization, to bring out that ' liberty, equality, and fraternity' in men which cannot truly exist without a diversity of functions, but which are too often hidden and lost in the confusion caused by the traits of super- ficial diversity.
The second great feature of Mr. Maurice's book is equally important in itself and characteristic of its author. Of the ability with which he illustrates the strange and striking fluctuations between the representative character of different elements in the State, and sometimes of different States in a great international struggle, we must speak briefly, but can scarcely speak too strongly. We can but take a few very scat- tered illustrations. He shows, for instance, how Henry VIII., at the very moment when he was striving most eagerly to represent the Orthodox Church against the heretics, became in spite of himself the representative of the national feeling against the Orthodox Church ;—how, in the eighteenth century, the Tories. who professed to be the representatives of the personal authority of the Crown, became through the change to the Hanoverian dynasty the representatives of constitutional jealousy of the Crown, and the Whigs, who had represented the latter feeling, became, in their anxiety to support the new dynasty, representatives of the former ;—how, again, in the great war at the beginning of this century France, who had started with the idea of emancipating the nations, became the representative of the idea of an imperial suppression of all national liberty, and England, who had started with the idea of supporting all the hereditary and prescriptive rights of kings against nations, ended with being the champion of the national liberties of Europe against their imperial op- pressors. In none of these cases have we chosen the best, but only the simplest and most popular, of Mr. Maurice's illustrations of the truth that, after all, men very seldom do represent exactly what they undertake and are expected to represent, but often become, by the power of circumstances and of sympathies too strong for abstract principles, the repre- sentatives of precisely the opposite cause to that which we should expect, as the Bishops who in one reign represented the Stuart despotism, in the next but one became, under James II., the-repre- sentatives of the popular liberties. The great interest of this vein of thought in the book is, that it teaches us how much greater is the law which governs the whole nation than the law of any little bit of organic arrangement which we may suppose to provide for the health of a specific vital function in the national constitution. Suddenly a certain organism appears to have lost its natural action ;
we should suppose that the whole body will fall into decay ; and to our great astonishment the part which seems least likely to take up the special function thus paralyzed appears to be fulfilling it, so that two important political organs have for a time interchanged their specific work. Nothing can teach one more instructively tow deep is the sympathy between different elements of a great nation,—how identical after all are the general conditions of poli- tical feeling underlying the most important differences of circum- stantial influence and hereditary tradition.
But naturally enough with such a writer, the conviction impressed sin this book which perhaps outweighs both the others, is the convic- tion that all the vicissitudes of political history which seam to the actors of such immense and overwhelming significance, are really overruled and guided by a divine power which is not in danger of being checkmated by defects of statesmanship, or even the most dangerous spasms of popular error,---so long as the character of the nation grows in fidelity and strength. No conviction can be so important to any political class as that which Mr. Maurice so finely expresses in the following passage, after sketching the poli- tical history of the Civil War and the Protectorate :—
" Any one who contemplates this series of events, may feel exceed- ing gratitude to Mr. Carlyle for scattering some of the mists in which court, clerical, constitutional, and republican historians 'had enveloped the life of Cromwell. It is not the exaggeration of a hero-worshipper to say that Cromwell interprets the Puritan movement of the time, redeems it from its merely sectarian character, shows it to have had a might which the preachers could not have imparted to it, and which no parliamentary government.could express. The exaggeration of the hero-worshipper only appears when the man is glorified to the denial of the very truth which the man asserted ; when the belief in a divine government, permanent through all changes of outward events, is treated as having perished with him, and as needing the avatar of some similar champion to restore it. Supposing he was right—supposing what he said, and strove, amidst strange confusions, to translate into action, was not a phantasy,—it ought to be good for all the previous and for all' the subsequent stages of English history. An interruption in the sequence of that history must then have been permitted, not really to break the chain of it, but to show how closely all the links of it are bound together ; to explain what truth was hidden under the arbitrary claims of monarchs, under the ambition of churchmen, as well as under all the protests against those arbitrary claims and that ambition ; to discover the groat worth of a representative assembly, as well as the limits of its worth; to give us -some scale for ascertaining the power of a religious conviction in prometing moral and political freedom; some test of the check which the same conviction imposes on moral and political freedom, whan it loses its life and passes into the symbol of a smaller or a largc r, a patronized or a militant school."
Perhaps there is no more serious error which politicians, even as politicians, can make, than the error of panic at any political change, however undesirable they may think it, and however seriously they may feel it to be their duty to oppose it. We be- lieve it to be not only a needless mistake, on the ground that, as Mr. Maurice shows, the self-righting power of ally great national character under the guidance of God is so immense,—but also a dangerous mistake, tending to increase the risk of the special evil
feared. Take the case of a democratic change now so reason- ably feared, and objected to, as we think, on very adequate grounds. The notion that the evil, if it comes, is likely to be without compensation and irreparable, both paralyzes the judgment of the more conservative reformers, and leads theni to take up that excited line of defence which persuades their assailants (justly or unjustly) that they arc fighting for a selfish mono- poly and not for justice. Those who think with Mr. Maurice that any change, however mistaken it appears to our eyes, if gravely adopted by the nation after honest argument and warn- ing, will, even though an error, teach us something which we could not have learnt so well perhaps even by a wiser course, and probably itself provide the political discipline by which, in a generation or two, the error may be more than retrieved, will have infinitely more advantage in the temper in which they resist, than those who think that the destiny of the nation hangs absolutely on the cast of the die. Moreover, nothing is more likely to render an excluded class politically greedy, than to believe that they can really gain all the power and privilege they look for by a single effort. If Mr. Maurice can but teach them to believe that there is a restraining rule over every greedy class that clutches unduly at power, which is able to punish them more severely by granting their wish in the fullest way than by
denying it, we shall have them discussing the matter in a very different spirit. In fact nothing is politically more 'danger- ous for any class than the false dream that they can command their own future by a pushing move or two. The intimate convic- tion that we are all working under conditions so-strict that we may after all gain more by losing our game than by winning it, if we only lose it honestly, is the most sobering and at the same time the most inspiriting creed which ever regulated the hot game of politics, and preserved the different parties concerned at once against either a wish for unjust advantage, or a pusillanimous desire for leave of absence from the straggle.