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they thus obtain that guarantee for truth, so far as it extends, which is afforded by sincerity. From these various causes has arisen the modern acceptation of the proverb, Vox populi, vox Dei. This proverb, in its original sense, appears to be an echo of some of the sentences in the classical writers, which attribute a divine or prophetic character to common fame or rumour: words casually thrown out, or predictions flying about the mouths of the people, were supposed by the ancients to spring from a supernatural source. This was the proper sense of the adage in question; but of late years it has assumed a different meaning, and has been taken to express the supposed unerring truth of popular opinion. Understood in this general sense, the proverb is



Φήμη δ' οὔτις πάμπαν ἀπόλλυται, ἥντινα πολλοὶ
Λαοὶ φημίξωσι· θεός νύ τις ἐστὶ καὶ αὐτή.

Hesiod, Op. 764.

These verses are quoted by Aristot., Eth. N. vii. 14, to illustrate the position, that pleasure is the summum bonum, because all men and animals seek it. The universality of the feeling is taken as a proof of its divine origin. Compare Eschin., Timarch. § 127-8, where the divine and prophetic attributes of popular fame are illustrated. Virgil, Æn. iv. 173, deifies fame. See also Ovid Met. xii. 39–63. The sudden appearance of a popular feeling, without apparent reason, was ascribed to divine influence: hence póßos TаVIKós; in the same manner that epilepsy and sneezing were thought divine. The views of the Greeks on this subject are copiously illustrated by Mr. Grote, Hist. of Gr. vol. v. p. 260, note.

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Vox populi, vox Dei,” in vulgarem ob id jactatum est sermonem, quod populus interdum aliquid temere ac intempestive fundere soleat, quod perinde quasi divinasset, evenit. Cujusmodi vaticinium fuit illud populi Judaici supplicium Christi affectantis, cum repente exclamavit, "Sanguis ejus super nos, et super filios nostros." [Matth. xxvii. 25.] Id quod imprecationis plane contigit, et usque nunc durat, nam haud ita multo post insigni affecti calamitate a Vespasiano et Tito, tanti sceleris pœnas digno impietatis pretio, ut Hegesippus ait, persolventes, fere omnes cum patria periere. Unde est cunctis seculis observatum, non usquequaque vanum evadere, quicquid fuerit vulgi rumore jactatum, perinde Deus in mortalium ora quasi ante immittat, quod brevi tempore sit futurum.'-POLIDOR. VIRGIL. Adagia Sacra, No. 199. [Preface dated London, 1519. The allusion in this passage appears to be to a Latin translation of part of the Jewish War of Josephus, which was published under the name of Hegesippus, in 1511.]

Machiavel also, writing at the same time, refers this saying to the supposed prophetic qualities of popular opinion: E non senza cagione si assomiglia la voce d'un popolo a quella di Dio, perchè si vede una opinione universale fare effetti maravigliosi nei pronostici suoi, talchè pare che per occulta virtù ei prevegga il suo male e il suo bene.'-Disc. I. 58.

The Italian proverb, 'Voce di Dio, voce di popolo,' is in Pescetti, Prov. It. et Lat. (1618) p. 13 b. 'Voix du peuple, voix de Dieu,' is cited by Leroux de Lincy, (tom. i. p. 16,) from a collection of French proverbs of the sixteenth century. Körte, Sprichuörter der Deutschen, p. 455, gives the German proverb, 'Volkes Stimme, Gottes Stimme; but his explanation, which refers it to the interpretation of omens by heathen priests, seems untenable.

manifestly untrue: the utmost that can be said is, that the opinion of the multitude is sometimes right and sometimes wrong; according to the dictum of Horace

Interdum vulgus rectum videt, est ubi peccat. (Ep. II. 1, 63.)


Popular opinion (as has been just remarked) is peculiarly deserving of attention in cases where the people can be considered in the light of separate and independent witnesses; where the opinion relates to some fact, which admits of being observed and verified by each person for himself. Accordingly, (as Machiavel 1 has said,) popular opinion is more often right on particulars than on generals. Thus, the judgment of the public is more correct on questions of morality, and individual behaviour and conduct, than on questions of speculation and abstract truth, or of general expediency and a course of policy. Thus, too, in affairs of state, the opinion of the people is entitled to greater weight with respect to the existence of political evils, than with respect to their remedies. The people can, by their own feelings and observation, ascertain the existence of physical and patent evils—such as famine, high prices, mercantile ruin and panic, oppressive taxes, corrupt and partial administration of justice, insecurity of life and property. But what are the proper remedies for these evils, or, indeed, how far they may be remediable by the power of the government, the people are in general less able to form a correct opinion. Accordingly it may be observed that, when once satisfied that the existence of the evil is admitted, they are often disposed to defer to the authority of statesmen and political leaders with respect to the choice of a remedy. It should be added, that popular opinion is more to be relied on in reference to complaints against old, than against new laws and institutions. With respect to the former, the people judge, in general, from observed facts; against the latter, they are sometimes prejudiced by a few interested or passionate leaders, before the institution has been established, or the law been carried into effect, in such a manner as to be fairly judged by its results; and a popular clamour, not founded on any real suffering or inconvenience, is thus excited,3

1 Discorsi, i. 47.

The general voice of mankind,' (says Dr. Whewell,) which may often serve as a guide, because it rarely errs widely or permanently in its estimate of those who are prominent in public life, is of little value when it speaks of things belonging to the region of exact science.'-Hist. of Ind. Sci., vol. i. pref., p. x.

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The people cannot see, but they can feel;' 'The people are deceived by names, but not by things.'-HARRINGTON's Political Aphorisms, (ed. 1737,) p. 516.

Generally, it is true that public opinion is of great value, where it can be resolved into the testimony of a multitude of witnesses with respect to a matter of fact. Many persons on the look-out can observe better than a few; and hence it is more easy to deceive one than many,' except, indeed, in cases where special knowledge is requisite. For example: it would be easier to deceive a hundred ordinary persons by false jewels than a single jeweller; or a hundred ordinary persons by a copy of an old picture, than a single connoisseur in painting.

It may be observed, too, that popular sentiment, including large numbers of persons, is for the most part directed towards objects of extensive interest, though it may seek those objects by inadequate or perverse means; and that there is often something generous, humane, and comprehensive in its sympathies.2

§ 8. Aristotle, in several passages of his Politics, speaks of the defect of virtue, or knowledge, in the people, or majority of a state, considered as separate individuals, being supplied by their aggregate number; upon the ground that, though each person's share of virtue and good sense is small, yet, when these separate amounts are added together, they make a large quantity. In this manner, he thinks, the wisdom and virtue of the many may, in the aggregate, exceed those of the wise and virtuous few- as a feast formed of contributions of the guests may be more splendid than a banquet given by a single person. So, in judging of anything, the


Melius omnibus quam singulis creditur. Singuli enim decipere et decipi possunt; nemo omnes, neminem omnes fefellerunt.' PLIN. Pan. c. 62. Also Rochefoucauld, Max. 416: 'On peut être plus fin qu'un autre, mais non pas plus fin que tous les autres.' On the other hand, there is the proverbial verse of Publius Syrus, v. 698

2 ·

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Sous quelque idée de légèreté et d'inconsidération qu'on se plaise à nous représenter le peuple, j'ai éprouvé que souvent il embrasse à la vérité certaines vues, vers lesquelles il se porte avec chaleur, ou plutôt avec fureur; mais que ces vues ont pourtant toujours pour objet un intérêt commun, et d'une certaine généralité, jamais un intérêt purement particulier, comme peuvent être les ressentimens et les passions d'un seul homme, ou d'un petit nombre de personnes. Je hasarde même de dire, que sur ce point, le juge le moins faillible est la voix de ce peuple même.'-SULLY, Mémoires, lib. xiv. (tom. iv. p. 341; ed. 1778.)

According to Livy, xlii., 30, 63, the people generally favours the weaker side. It shows this disposition even in the public games. On the other hand, Juvenal says that the Roman people always sympathised with the strong against the weak.

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unskilled many may be equal or superior to the skilled few; for different persons will judge of different portions, and the judgments of the body, when put together, will exhaust the entire subject.1

It is true that, in cases where each person is, to a certain extent, capable of forming an opinion, an increase in the number of the judges may compensate the separate deficiency of each. But whenever either eminent virtue or wisdom is required, this process of arithmetical addition will not avail to produce a large amount, by clubbing the intelligence and honesty of many persons, each of whom is destitute of these qualities in a high degree. We cannot create great political ability and fitness by combining the opinions of a large body, as military power can be created by rendering an army or navy numerically strong, or as a large sum of money can be produced by the subscriptions of many persons of small means. As well might we attempt to make one great poet by combining the efforts of several minor poets; or a great painter, by employing several inferior artists on the same picture ; or a great captain, by combining the ideas of several military officers of moderate powers. For political and other purposes, in which capacity of a high order is requisite, there must be single persons possessing that degree of power, in order to arrive at sound practical conclusions. This want cannot be supplied by numbers, more than a wall could be battered down by musket-balls, however thickly poured in, though the same weight of metal, cast into cannon-shot, would instantly lay it prostrate.

§ 9. One form in which the general voice and sentiment embodies itself is Proverbs, or apophthegms whose authority is derived

1 III. 6. 8.

2 Speaking of a change in the financial department made in France in 1594, by which a board of eight members was substituted for the former office of superintendent, Sully observes, first, that the measure was ill-devised, because it is more difficult to find several persons fit to manage the finances than one. He proceeds to say--'L'erreur n'est pas moins visible de s'imaginer, que toutes ces personnes y apportant chacune de leur côté une bonne qualité différente, il en résultera le même effet que d'un homme qui les auroit toutes: puisque c'est supposer que cette bonne qualité ne sera pas rendue inutile et par ses propres défauts, et par ceux de ses associés.'-Mémoires, lib. VII. tom. II. p. 427.

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3 L'on n'a guère vu jusques à présent un chef-d'œuvre d'esprit qui soit l'ouvrage de plusieurs.'-LA BRUYÈRE, Caractères, c. 1. It has been justly objected to the Wolfian hypothesis respecting the Homeric poems, that it assumes the possibility of putting the genius of Homer in commission.-Compare the remarks of Comte, Cours de Philosophie Positive, tom. IV. p. 614-6.

from their popular reception. For this reason, the attention, both · of philosophers and practical men, has from an early date been directed to proverbs. Their importance has been recognised, as representing and concentrating the experience of many men, and even of many generations; as being the brief and pointed expression of the inferences which popular observation and sagacity have collected from human life. The Jews were guided by the proverbs of their wise king, and a moral apophthegm was attributed to each of the seven sages of Greece. Aristotle even thought that proverbs were the remains of the philosophy of an extinct race of men, which had been preserved on account of their conciseness and wisdom.2 Every modern nation possesses its collection of proverbs; many of which are, with the necessary changes of expression and form, common to all the European languages, and have a general currency by a sort of jus gentium.

Proverbs being maxims, in the nature either of observation or of precept, upon human life or conduct, are accredited by the tacit verification which they have undergone in their tradition from one individual and one generation or nation to another. If their truth or soundness had not been recognised by those who used them, and handed them on, they would soon have gone into oblivion.

In general, however, proverbs express only empirical laws of human nature 3—that is to say, being generalisations from partial experience, they are only true within certain limits, and subject to certain conditions. Before, therefore, a popular proverb can be safely used for philosophical purposes as evidence of a general truth, it must undergo a process of analysis; it must be limited according to the mental tendencies which it involves, and the circumstances in which it is applicable. In this manner, proverbs which are apparently contradictory may be reconciled, and the partial truth which they contain will be extracted and rendered profitable.



Thus, to take a familiar example of opposite proverbial precepts there are adages in all languages warning against precipitation-as Festina lente;'Hâtez-vous lentement;'Eile mit weile; Kommt zeit, kommt rath;' The more haste, the worse speed;'Haste makes waste.' On the other hand, there are proverbs against procrastination and delay, as- Baldgethan ist wohlgethan;' Delay not till to-morrow what may be


1 The wit of one man, and the wisdom of many,' is a definition of proverbs attributed to a living statesman.

2 See Schneidewin, Præf. ad Paræm. Gr. p. 1. Compare Rhet. II. 21.

See Mill's System of Logic, b. III. c. 16; b. VI. c. 5, § 1.

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