Изображения страниц

and melo-dramatic postures, would captivate a larger multitude than a series of paintings by Raphael. And, even in the culinary art, the taste of a student of the Almanach des Gourmands is, doubtless, more refined than that of a clown; and, in spite of Martial's saying, the judgment of a professed cook is to be regarded, although there may be many guests who would not appreciate his skill.

True excellence in each art is to be decided by the judgment of persons of exercised taste and observation in that art, and not by the opinion of the multitude. Nevertheless, as has been stated, success is measured by popular favour, and is often (at least for a time) independent of excellence tried by the correct standard.1 Artists cannot, in general, afford to be teachers; they are compelled to adapt their powers of invention and imitation to the varying demands of the popular temper. Actors must accommodate their representations to the public fancy, and must be contented to amuse their audience in the manner in which they desire to be amused, without undertaking to purify or elevate their taste.

The drama's laws the drama's patrons give;

For we who live to please, must please to live.

Even artists, however, of all sorts, who are compelled to adapt their performances to the public taste, appreciate the approbation of cultivated and refined judges, and often pursue a disinterested love for the higher departments of their art, without reference to profit or immediate fame. Men of genius, likewise, may create new tastes, and form in the public a new æsthetical sense. But this power, both of forming the appetite, and furnishing the food which it demands, is given to few.2

1 Anacharsis is said to have expressed his wonder that, among the Greeks, professional actors and musicians contended in the theatres for the prize, and that unprofessional judges decided on their merit-Diog. Laert. I. 103, where the commentators cite a passage from Quintilian: Felices artes essent, si de illis soli artifices judicarent.' Gellius tells the following anecdote of Menander: 'Menander a Philemone, nequaquam pari scriptore, in certaminibus comœdiarum ambitu gratiaque et factionibus sæpenumero vincebatur. Eum cum forte habuisset obviam; Quæso, inquit, Philemon, bona venia, dic mihi, cum me vincis, non erubescis ? '—-(N. A. XVII. 4.) Aristotle, however, says that the multitude are the best judges of the productions of music and poetry, Pol.

III. 11.

2 Valerius Maximus, III. 7, ext. 1, tells an anecdote of Euripides having been required by the Athenian people to expunge some sentiment from one of his tragedies; whereupon he came forward in the theatre, and said that he was in the habit of composing tragedies in order to instruct the people, not in order to learn from them.


Similar remarks apply to the works of the useful arts. Products of this kind must fall in with the general taste, and be suited to the wants and convenience of numbers, in order to be appreciated, and be in demand. In all vendible commodities, public favour is the test of success. The empire of fashion, with respect to taste in building, furniture, dress, gardening, and decoration of all sorts, is notoriously as capricious as it is paramount; and the shifting of public taste in these respects may sometimes remind us of the French proverb, that fools invent fashions, and wise men follow them.1 We may thus often find that the taste of the public is erroneous; that, in works both of the fine and the useful arts, the people may admire contrary to the opinion of competent judges; and may find excellence in works which the latter condemn, and fail to appreciate what the latter esteem highly; yet the general taste must be accepted as the criterion of success, whether deserved or undeserved.

The arbitrium popularis aura is decisive as a test of success, where a person seeks to obtain followers, supporters, admirers, or customers. But where he desires to submit his opinions to the standard of truth, it ought to be disregarded, in comparison with the sentence of the few competent judges, either contemporary or future.

§ 15. As the majority of the public are enabled to give currency to their own opinions and tastes, by making a conformity with them the condition of success and worldly prosperity, or, at least, the surest road to its attainment, they ought to be satisfied with this important influence, without attempting to enforce their own standard upon a reluctant minority. Experience,' (says Mr. Mill,) proves that the depositaries of power, who are mere delegates of the people—that is, of a majority-are quite as ready (when they think they can count on popular support) as any



Compare, also, the anecdote of Antigenidas, a musician, ib. 2, who, when a promising disciple of his own was not appreciated by the people, said to him: Mihi cane et Musis.'

Les fous inventent les modes, et les sages les suivent.'-LEROUX DE LINCY, Proverbes Français, tom. I. p. 160. Lord Bacon has a similar remark on superstition. 'The master of superstition is the people, and in all superstition wise men follow fools.'-Essay XVII.

'Il est étonnant qu'avec tout l'orgueil dont nous sommes gonflés, et la haute opinion que nous avons de nous-mêmes et de la bonté de notre jugement, nous négligions de nous en servir pour prononcer sur le mérite des autres. La vogue, la faveur populaire, celle du prince, nous entraînent comme un torrent. Nous louons ce qui est loué, bien plus que ce qui est louable.'-LA BRUYÈRE, Caractères, c. 12.

organs of oligarchy to assume arbitrary power, and encroach unduly on the liberty of private life. The public collectively is abundantly ready to impose, not only its generally narrow views of its interests, but its abstract opinions, and even its tastes, as laws binding upon individuals. And our present civilisation tends so strongly to make the power of persons acting in masses the only substantial power in society, that there never was more necessity for surrounding individual independence of thought, speech, and conduct, with the most powerful defences, in order to maintain that originality of mind and individuality of character which are the only source of any real progress, and of most of the qualities which make the human race much superior to any herd of animals.' 1

As soon as we are out of the province of civil government, it is most important to assert the principle of individual independence in matters of opinion, taste, and judgment, as against the principle of numerical preponderance. Whether an individual exercises this independence by forming his own conclusions, or choosing his own guide, it is equally desirable that the majority should not force their opinion upon him against his inclination, by the semipenal sanction of the popular censure.

1 Principles of Political Economy, vol. II. p. 508; compare vol. I. p. 248. See also some similar remarks of Mr. Grote, in reference to the Funeral Oration of Pericles, Hist. of Greece, vol. VI. p. 201-2.



§ 1. FROM what has been said above as to the qualifications of a trustworthy authority, and the province for its proper exercise, we perceive that the best guide is the opinion of persons specially conversant with a subject, and not the general opinion of persons having no peculiar information or experience in the matter; that, whenever an individual acts for himself, and is not fettered by legal rules, he ought to weigh opinions, and not to count them. Whence it follows, that the persons whose opinion on any subject is endowed with authority, always form a small minority as compared with the entire community.

There is, however, one subject in which it is necessary that opinions should be counted and not weighed; that the greater number should prevail over the less, without reference to the intrinsic value of their opinions, and should decide the practical course of action. This subject is Civil Government, so far as it depends on the decisions of Political Bodies. In the following remarks, I propose to examine the causes of this necessity, and the extent to which its consequences are moderated and counteracted in practice by a voluntary deference to the contrary principle.

§ 2. For this purpose, it will be necessary to trace briefly the historical origin of Political Bodies, and of the principle upon which their mode of action is founded.

In the earliest governments which history presents to us, viz., those of the great empires of Western Asia, everything, from the monarch down to the lowest civil functionary, was organised on the principle of individual action. Being all absolute or despotic monarchies, the principle of a political body was, indeed, neces

'As to all the Oriental governments of antiquity being despotisms, see the passages quoted by Grotius, De J. B. et P. I. 3, § 20; particularly Aristot. Pol. III. 14. See

sarily excluded from the form of their supreme government; the sovereignty always resided in a single person, and not in any council of nobles or popular assembly. But no trace of corporate action-no vestige of the existence of any board, or jury-court, or collegium-can be discerned even in any subordinate part of the political system of the purely Oriental States; nor have they, at the present day, advanced beyond this very simple and primitive organisation. In this respect, their civil government exactly resembles our military and naval constitution.' There is, it is true, a gradation of powers, and a subordination of authority, descending from the Emperor, or Rajah, or Shah, or Sultan, down to the petty head of a village, or the collector of revenue; but each officer acts for himself, on his individual responsibility, without colleagues, and not as a member of a body. In the Oriental States, whenever councils are mentioned, they either are consultative councils of the sovereign or of his minister, destitute of legal power, capacity for corporate action, and real freedom of speech; or else they are assemblies of high officers of state, (like the levees of European princes) in which each person attends in order to pay his court to the Sovereign, or to receive his audience on occasions of state ceremony. In authentic Oriental history, there is no example of an harangue or public address to a constituted deliberative body. Oriental civilisation has never yet reached the stage which is compatible with discussion concerning common interests, by a body of counsellors possessing equal rights, each of them entitled to give advice to the rest, and to express an independent opinion.2 The qualities essential to oral discussion in a numerous assembly are, toleration of contradiction and censure, with such a power of self-command and suspension of the judgment, as enables a person to listen to, and understand, arguments hostile to his own viewsto treat them with deference, and to give them a suitable answer. If these qualities do not prevail throughout the assembly, the assertion of adverse opinions, and their comparison and examination, are rendered impossible; the speaker is interrupted by clamour, vociferation, denials, insults, and threats-the entire assembly becomes a scene of turbulence and confusion, and intelligible debate is at an end. It is partly from the absence of the qualities just also the remarks of Heeren upon the character of the Asiatic despotisms, Ideen, I. 1, p. 423-8.

The reason why the military and naval services, in civilised States, are organised upon this principle, is stated lower down.

2 See Note A. at the end of the chapter.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »