18 OCTOBER 1890, Page 7


PROFESSOR THOROLD ROGERS'S death has brought rather vividly before the world the very rough though highly intelligent and well-informed type of Radi- calism of which he was one of the ablest of the surviving representatives. It is wholesome sometimes to remind our- selves that the same political creed in different men often results from the most different elements of character. Sir Walter Scott and Dr. Johnson were undoubtedly Conserva- tives because they reverenced the Past ; Sir Robert Peel was a Conservative rather because he dreaded change, as a builder dreads meddling with a wall which he thinks likely to fall about his ears. Mr. Disraeli became a Conservative chiefly because he thought it easier to rule men by appealing to their old associations than by appealing to their love of innovation. And so it has been with Radicals. Cobden and Bright were Radicals chiefly because they had fully appreciated the mischief of the great Protectionist effort to improve upon Nature by a long series of artificial provisions of which they clearly discerned the folly. Shelley was a Radical because he fed his mind on an abstract ideal which he contrasted with the actual failures and injustices of life, and because he thought that by pulling down what was gross and evil, he should provide a breathing- space for loftier and sweeter emotions. Mr. Labouchere is a Radical probably because he despises the political institu- tions which he knows, not because he has much confidence in any that he hopes for. If idealism attaches itself to aspects of life which are venerable and fleeting, it makes a Conservative, and a hearty Conservative. If the same idealism attaches itself to visions of what may be, but has never yet been, it makes a Radical, and a hot Radical. Yet there is a very close resemblance in essence between the passionate idealism which clings to a dying past, and the sanguine idealism which builds castles in the air of the future. And it is the same with the realists. There is a realism which makes men Conservative because they cannot believe in any substantial change of the human nature they know; and there is a realism which makes men innovators because they cannot endure the foolish complacency with which the obvious stupidities and injustices of the past are treated by those who propose to perpetuate them. So that the very same attitude of mind which, when it concerns itself with the vacant-minded complacency of optimists, turns men into cynics who treat substantial improvement as all but impossible, when it concerns itself with that equally vacant-minded complacency towards evils which might certainly be greatly attenuated, if not removed, turns men into rough-and-ready reformers. It is worth while to remember this when we wax indignant with the mistakes of either party. Perhaps the most dangerous of all reformers are those who, like Shelley, are made reformers by their passionate and inexperienced idealism. Perhaps the most dangerous of all Conservatives are those Conserva- tives who are made so by their imaginative delight in forms of social and political action which are rapidly becoming obsolete and impossible. It is the ultra-idealist who makes alike the most reckless reformer and the most reckless Conservative ; and yet it is not the ultra-idealist whom we can ever in our hearts despise. We may think very badly of his sagacity and wisdom, but we can hardly think very badly of his eager devotion to even imprac- ticable aims.

Professor Thorold Rogers was not a Radical of a dangerous type, for his Radicalism was not only curbed and moderated by a very large knowledge of economic facts, —which are quite sufficient to prevent a man 1r crying for the moon, as reformers of the Shelley type are apt to do,—but he was both a student and a rough sort of wit, and the habit of mind of either a student or a wit is not one which suits well the sanguine political visionary. His weakness was rather his strong party feeling than his abstract creed. He never could endure to hear people pouring forth their satisfaction with the existing condition of things, without striking a blow at such Philistinism ; but he fell into similar Philistinism himself in his thick- and-thin advocacy of the democratic policy which was constantly quite as blind and undiscriminating, as that thick-and-thin advocacy of the Conservative policy which he resented with all his heart. He was a Radical of the Cobdenite type, but with somewhat less than Cobden's candour and openness of mind, for Professor Rogers had lived almost all his life amongst Oxford Conservatives of a very prosperous and comfortable school, and he rebelled against that prosperous Conservatism with all the heat of one who knew well what the physical sufferings of the masses have been, and, even though greatly ameliorated, must always continue to be, and he could not bear to see the serene satisfaction with which dignified and well-to-do persons who have won all their honours by a little diligence and a very moderate amount of talent, treat the miseries and troubles,—not all of them beyond amelioration,—of the great majority of their fellow-creatures. He was one of those Radicals who feel a strong impulse to make those persons uncomfortable who never realise how little merited is their own ease and com- fort. And a great deal of Radicalism is no doubt due to that very primitive instinct of Radicalism. For even genuine Radicalism is by no means wholly due to sympathy with the miserable ; a great deal of it is due to a sort of dis- interested wrath against the complacency of classes who are a great deal more fortunate than they deserve to be, and who yet are very apt to think that all their good luck is due to their merits, and all its deficiency to their wrongs. A considerable proportion of modern Radicalism,—and that, too, of by no means the most dangerous type,—is due to half-generous, half-peevish class-vindictiveness. And of that there was no doubt a very large dash in Professor Rogers. He cannot have thought the progress of democracy too slow, and he must have had his doubts at times as to whether it was not too rapid ; but he could not bear to throw his weight into the scale of resistance to what was called progress, if only on this account, that it so greatly alarmed those whom he loved to alarm,—for which he cared quite as much as he did to serve those whom he loved to serve. The Radicalism which exults when the prosperous Conservatives can be made to tremble, is ex- tremely common in this country, and is, in fact, more or less due to the existence of so much smug and unconscious conceit in the possessors of property and influence. It is the negative political current which seems to be excited by the mere strength of the positive current of sedate and complacent determination to hold fast by power and wealth and rank. We cannot regard Radicalism of this kind as an evil, because it is almost as much due to a natural force as the physical recoil of a gun ; but it is not at all the kind of Radicalism to which we can trust as a guide in matters of political judgment, and the wonder is that men so highly furnished as Professor Thorold Rogers was, with all the means of checking it by the teaching of history and of philosophy, should give them- selves up so frankly to its guidance. The truth is, we suppose, that he loved political buffeting as dearly as some men love boxing, and especially loved buffeting those who were quite unconscious of their own shortcomings. But he was by no means unaware of the follies to which eager Radicals are liable, and he would have been found one of the most strenuous foes of that Socialism which is the chief danger of modern Radicals. Perhaps we may think of Professor Thorold Rogers and of his class as the representatives of that Nemesis whom Nature prepares for the selfish and sleepy Conservatism of satisfied Englishmen. Such men will always prevent our settling down into self- complacency when we are disposed to think that we may "rest and be thankful." Indeed, Radicals of this class are rendered restless by the sight of rest, and feel under am imperious obligation to disturb the thankfulness of those who are thankful for their own merits.