Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

II. EQUALITY.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

THERE is a maxim which we all know, which occurs in our copybooks, which occurs in that solemn and beautiful formulary against which the Nonconformist genius is just now so angrily chafing,—the Burial Service. The maxim is this: “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” It is taken from a chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians; but originally it is a line of poetry, of Greek poetry. Quid Athenis et Hierosolymis? asks a Father; what have Athens and Jerusalem to do with one another? Well, at any rate, the Jerusalemite Paul, exhorting his converts, enforces what he is saying by a verse of Athenian comedy,-a verse, probably, from the great master of that comedy, a man unsurpassed for fine and just observation of human life, Menander. POsipourly 707 zprol' ópedia. xaxa!—“Evil communications corrupt good manners."

In that collection of single, sententious lines, printed at the end of Menander's fragments, where we now find the maxim quoted by St. Paul, there is another striking maxim, not alien certainly to the language of

1 Address delivered at the Royal Institution.

the Christian religion, but which has not passed into our copy-books: “Choose equality and flee greed.” The same profound observer, who laid down the maxim so universally accepted by us that it has become commonplace, the maxim that evil communications corrupt good manners, laid down also, as a no less sure result of the accurate study of human life, this other maxim as well: “Choose equality and flee greed" — IGórnia d' aipoš zal nieuvažiav çirpa. .

Pleonexia, or greed, the wishing and trying for the bigger share, we know under the name of covetousness. We understand by covetousness something different from what pleonexia really means: we understand by it the longing for other people's goods: and covetousness, so understood, it is a commonplace of morals and of religion with us that we should shun. As to the duty of pursuing equality, there is no such consent amongst us. Indeed, the consent is the other way, the consent is against equality. Equality before the law we all take as a matter of course; that is not the equality which we mean when we talk of equality. When we talk of equality, we understand social equality; and for equality in this Frenchified sense of the term almost everybody in England has a hard word. About four years ago Lord Beaconsfield held it up to reprobation in a speech to the students at Glasgow ;a speech so interesting, that being asked soon afterwards to hold a discourse at Glasgow, I said that if one spoke there at all at that time it would be impossible to speak on any other subject but equality. However, it is a great way to Glasgow, and I never yet have been able to go and speak there.

But the testimonies against equality have been steadily accumulating from the date of Lord Beaconsfield's Glasgow speech down to the present hour. Sir Erskine May winds up his new and important History of Democracy by saying: “France has aimed at social equality. The fearful troubles through which she has passed have checked her prosperity, demoralised her society, and arrested the intellectual growth of her people.” Mr. Froude, again, who is more his own master than I am, has been able to go to Edinburgh and to speak there upon equality. Mr. Froude told his hearers that equality splits a nation into a “multitude of disconnected units," that “the masses require leaders whom they can trust,” and that “the natural leaders in a healthy country are the gentry.” And only just before the History of Demnocracy came out, we had that exciting passage of arms between Mr. Lowe and Mr. Gladstone, where equality, poor thing, received blows from them both. Mr. Lowe declared that “no concession should be made to the cry for equality, unless it appears that the State is menaced with more danger by its refusal than by its admission. No such case exists now or ever has existed in this country.” And Mr. Gladstone replied that equality was so utterly unattractive to the people of this country, inequality was so dear to their hearts, that to talk of concessions being made to the cry for equality was absurd. “There is no broad political idea," says Mr. Gladstone quite truly, “which has entered less into the formation of the political system of this country than the love of equality.” And he adds: “It is not the love of equality

« ZurückWeiter »