Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
Arminius Criticises
By Matthew Arnold (1822–1888)
 
From Friendship’s Garland

I SUPPOSE your Government will do so. But forgive me if I tell you that to us disrespectful foreigners it makes very little difference in our estimate of you and of the future whether your Government does so or not. What gives the sense and significance to a Government’s declarations is the power which is beyond the Government. And what is the power which is behind the Government of England at the present epoch? The Philistines.
  1
  Simply and solely the Philistines, my dear friend, take my word for it! No, you will say, it is the nation. Pardon me, you have no nation. France is fused into one nation by the military spirit, and by her democracy, the great legacy of 1789, and subsisting even amidst her present corruption. Germany is fused into one nation by her idea of union and of the elevation of her whole people through culture. You are made up, as I have often told you, through my poor disciple whom you so well know, of three distinct and unfused bodies,—Barbarians, Philistines, populace. You call them aristocracy, middle, and lower class. One of these three must be predominant and lead. Your lower class counts as yet for little or nothing. There is among them a small body of workmen with modern ideas, ideas of organisation, who may be a nucleus for the future; there are more of them Philistines in a small way, Philistines in embryo; but most of them are mere populace, or to use your own kindly term, residuum. Such a class does not lead. Formerly your aristocracy led; it commanded the politics of the country; it had an aristocracy’s ideas,—limited enough, but the idea of the country’s grandeur and dignity among them;—it took your middle and lower class along with it, and used them in its own way, and it made the great war which the battle of Waterloo crowned. But countries must outgrow a feudal organisation and the political command of an aristocracy; your country has outgrown it. Your aristocracy tells upon England socially; by all the power of example of a class high-placed, rich, idle, self-indulgent, without mental life, it teaches your Philistines how to live fast. But it no longer rules; at most it but administers; the Philistines rule. That makes the difference between Lord Grenville and Lord Granville. When Lord Grenville had to speak to Europe in 1793, he had behind him your aristocracy, not indeed fused with your middle and lower class, but wielding them and using their force; and all the world knew what your aristocracy meant, for they knew it themselves. But Lord Granville has behind him, when he speaks to Europe in 1870, your Philistines or middle class; and how should the world know, or much care, what your middle class mean? for they do not know it themselves.  2
  You may be mortified, but such is the truth. To be consequent and powerful, men must be bottomed on some vital idea or sentiment, which lends strength and certainty to their action. Your aristocracy of seventy years ago had the sentiment of the greatness of the old aristocratical England, and that sentiment gave them force to endure labours, anxiety, danger, and disappointment, loss, restrictions of liberty. Your ruling middle class has no such foundation; hence its imbecility. It would tell you it believes in industrial development and liberty. Examine what it means by these, and you find it means getting rich and not being meddled with. And these it imagines to be self-acting powers for good, and agents of greatness; so that if more trade is done in England than anywhere else, if your personal independence is without a check, and your newspaper publicity unbounded, your Philistines think they are by the nature of things great, powerful, and admirable, and that their England has only to speak with “promptitude and energy” in order to prevail.  3
  My dear friend, do not hold your notions in this mechanical fashion, and do not be misled by that magnificent Times of yours; it is not the failing to speak with “promptitude and energy” which injures you, it is the having nothing wise or consistent to say. Your ruling middle class have no great, seriously and truly conceived end; therefore no greatness of soul or mind; therefore no steadfastness and power in great affairs. While you are thus, in great affairs you do and must fumble. You imagine that your words must have weight with us because you are very rich and have unbounded liberty and publicity; you will find yourselves mistaken, and you will be bewildered. Then you may get involved in war, and you imagine that you cannot but make war well by dint of being so very rich; that you will just add a penny or two to your income tax, change none of your ways, have clap-trap everywhere, as at present, unrestricted independence, legions of newspaper correspondents, boundless publicity; and thus, at a grand high pressure of expenditure, bustle, and excitement, arrive at a happy and triumphant result. But authority and victory over people who are in earnest means being in earnest oneself, and your Philistines are not in earnest; they have no idea great enough to make them so. They want to be important and authoritative; they want to enforce peace and curb the ambitious; they want to drive a roaring trade; they want to know and criticise all that is being done; they want no restrictions on their personal liberty, no interference with their usual way of going on; they want all these incompatible things equally and at once, because they have no idea deep and strong enough to subordinate everything else to itself. A correspondent of your own Times wrote from Berlin the other day, “The complete control of this people by the state is most striking.” How would your Philistines like that? Not at all. But it is by sacrifices of this kind that success in great affairs is achieved; and when your Philistines find this out, or find that a raised income-tax, torrents of clap-trap, everybody saying what he likes and doing what he likes, newspaper correspondents everywhere, and a generally animated state of the public mind, are not enough to command success, they will be still more bewildered.  4
 
 
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