Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
Suffrage
By Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881)
 
From Latter-Day Pamphlets

ALAS, if such, not in their loose tongues, but in their heart of hearts, is men’s way of judging about social worth, what kind of new Aristocracy will the inconceivablest perfection of Spoken Suffrage ever yield us? Suffrage, I perceive well, has quite other things in store for us; we need not torment poor Suffrage for this thing! Our Intermittent Friend says once:
  1
  “Men do not seem to be aware that this their universal ousting of unjust, incapable, and, in fact, imaginary Governors, is to issue in the attainment of Governors who have a right and a capacity to govern. Far different from that is the issue men contemplate in their present revolutionary operations. Their universal notion now is, that we shall henceforth do without Governors; that we have got to a new epoch in human progress, in which Governing is entirely a superfluity, and the attempt at doing it is an offence, think several. By that admirable invention of the Constitutional Parliament, first struck out in England, and now at length hotly striven for and zealously imitated in all European countries, the task of Governing, any task there may still be, is done to our hand. Perfect your Parliament, cry all men: apply the Ballot box and Universal Suffrage! the admirablest method ever imagined of counting heads and gathering indubitable votes: you will thus gather the vote, vox, or voice, of all the two-legged animals without feathers in your dominion; what they think is what the gods think,—is it not?—and this you shall go and do.  2
  “Whereby, beyond dispute, your Governor’s task is immensely simplified; and indeed the chief thing you can now require of your Governor is that he carefully preserves his good humour, and do in a handsome manner nothing, or some pleasant fugle motions only. Is not this a machine; marking new epochs in the progress of discovery? Machine for doing Government too, as we now do all things by machinery. Only keep your free presses, ballot boxes, upright shafts, and cogwork, in an oiled, unobstructed condition; motive power of popular wind will do the rest. Here, verily, is a mill that beats Birmingham hollow, and marks new epochs with a witness. What a hopper this! Reap from all fields whatsoever you find standing—thistledowns, dockseed, hemlockseed, wheat, rye; tumble all into the hopper, see in soft, blissful, continuous stream, meal shall daily issue for you, and the bread of life to mankind be sure!”  3
  The aim of all reformers, parliamentary and other, is still defined by them as just legislation, just laws; with which definition who can quarrel? They will not have class legislation, which is a dreadfully bad thing; but all classes legislation, I suppose, which is the right thing. Sure enough, just laws are an excellent attainment, the first condition of all prosperity of human creatures; but few reflect how extremely difficult such attainment is! Alas, could we once get laws which were just, that is to say, which were the clear transcript of the Divine Laws of the Universe itself; so that each man were incessantly admonished, under strict penalties, by all men, to walk as the Eternal Maker had prescribed; and he alone received honour whom the Maker had made honourable, and whom the Maker had made disgraceful, disgrace: alas, were not here the very Aristocracy we seek? A new veritable Hierarchy of Heaven,—approximately such in very truth,—bringing Earth nearer and nearer to the blessed Law of Heaven. Heroic men, the Sent of Heaven, once more bore rule: and on the throne of kings there sat splendent, not King Hudson, or King Popinjay, but the Bravest of existing Men; and on the gibbet there swung as a tragic pendulum, admonitory to Earth in the name of Heaven,—not some insignificant, abject, necessitous outcast, who had violently, in his extreme misery and darkness, stolen a leg of mutton, but veritably the Supreme Scoundrel of the Commonwealth, who, in his insatiable greed and bottomless atrocity, had long, hoodwinking the poor world, gone himself, and led multitudes to go, in the ways of gilded human baseness; seeking temporary profit, scrip, first-class claret, social honour, and the like small ware, where only eternal loss was possible; and who now, stripped of all his gildings and cunningly devised speciosities, swung there an ignominious detected scoundrel; testifying aloud to all the earth: “Be not scoundrels, not even gilt scoundrels, any one of you; for God, and not the Devil, is verily king, and this is where it ends, if even this be the end of it!”  4
  O Heaven, O Earth, what an attainment were here, could we but hope to see it! Reformed Parliament, People’s League, Hume, Cobden agitation, tremendous cheers, new Battles of Naseby, French Revolution and Horrors of French Revolution—all things were cheap and light to the attainment of this. For this were in fact the millenium; and indeed nothing less than this can be it.  5
  But I say it is dreadfully difficult to attain! And though class legislation is not it, yet, alas, neither is all-classes legislation in the least certain to be it. All classes, if they happen not to be wise, heroic classes,—how, by the commonest jumbling of them together, will you ever get a wisdom or heroism out of them? Once more let me remind you, it is impossible for ever. Un-wisdom, contradiction to the gods: how, from the mere vamping together of hostile voracities and opacities, never so dextrously or copiously combined, can or could you expect anything else? Can any man bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No man. Voracities and opacities, blended together in never so cunningly devised proportions, will not yield noblenesses and illuminations; they cannot do it. Parliamentary reform, extension of the suffrage? Good Heavens, how, by the mere enlargement of your circle of ingredients, by the mere flinging in of new opacities and voracities, will you have a better chance to distil a wisdom from that foul cauldron, which is mere bigger, not by hypothesis better? You will have a better chance to distil zero from it; evil elements from all sides, now more completely extinguishing one another, so that mutual destruction, like that of the Kilkenny cats, a Parliament which produces parliamentary eloquence, only, and no social guidance, either bad or good, will be the issue, as we now in these years sorrowfully see.  6
 
 
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