« PreviousContinue »
aphorism): it is not, then, surprising, when we consider the multiplicity of men's caprices, the extent of their ignorance, and the complication of their interests, that their opinions should fluctuate in an unceasing change, and that mankind should still continue discarding and receiving notions, like a loo-player, with a run of ill-luck; that is to say without at all improving the hand by the operation, The vulgar errors of to-day are never those of yesterday; and the opinions most in vogue at the passing moment will to-morrow infallibly be as out of date as a stale newspaper. In the present condition of society, in which opinions weigh so much more than facts, when success in life depends so much more on the cut of a man's creed (not only in religion and politics, but in a thousand other nameless particulars) than on his conduct and morals, it would be difficult to point out a work more useful, more indispensable, than a periodical census of current notions, a plain direction of what it is right to think and safe to believe, and an index of what should be utterly repudiated and decried—a sort of " Every Man his own Sense-keeper, or infallible guide to court politics, fashionable religion, and dandy sentiment;" which being got up, in point of type and form, uniformly with the Court Calendar, might be bound up with that useful compendium, and with it would form a complete circle, or encyclopædia of necessary knowledge. A moment's consideration will point out the utility of such a
work : for surely it is by no means less essential to know or what," than to be informed of "who" is in, and who out. A mere catalogue of barren dames is the least essential part of the lore of life. Of what avail is it to enquire whether Mr. Canning or Mr, Brougham be placed at the helm of affairs, whether the Bishop of Peterborough, or of Norwich, is to be your patron, unless you have at the same time a short method of getting at their opinions, and working upon their frail humanity by flattering their prejudices and echoing their sentiments. Without accurate information on this point, a pliant insinuating rogue is no better off than the most stiff-necked man of independence that rusticity and much reading of the classics ever produced. The most contemptible sycophant that ever wriggled his way to place and to consideration, would, thus unprovided, be as likely to be taken for “ black sheep" as Sir Pertinax’s squeamish chaplain himself, -- and would have quite as little chance of " rising in the Church.”
There are, it is true, a favoured few, possessed of that intuitive force, that they can catch at a glance the peculiarities of the passing moment; and in arriving at a levee, or a cabinet-dinner, can determine with precision, at the first coup-dæil, the exact shade of cant which will put them in unison with the great man of the society ; but this is not every one's lot; and there are thousands of pretty fellows possessed of every other talent pour parvenir, who fail for want of a delicate tact to seize with adroitness the nuance du jour. Nature, which has provided the insect tribe with antennæ to guide their steps in the dark, and to vibrate to the slightest shock of external bodies, has not gifted the human race with any cerebral boss, or protuberance, for directing them intuitively in the labyrinth of opinion, and teaching them "the way they should go.” To add also to the mischief, the great are so confoundedly uncertain, that there is no counting on experience. A great man who will at one time almost let you give him the lie without taking offence,
will, at another, turn you adrift for ever upon some trifling neglect of etiquette or of assentation. Nay, he will even encourage you to familiarity, and when he has warmed you into a notion of friendship and of admitted equality, he will turn short at a tangent, petrify you with a look, and blight all your hopes of advancement in their bloom, like a frosty night in the month of May.
In respect to popular errors there are two ways of going wrong. We may reject a fashionably current opinion, or we may stick to a mistake which it is no longer bon ton to maintain. It is needless to say which of these errors is the most dangerous ; for the latter draws on you only the contempt, while the former brings on your head the hatred of society; and it is obviously better to be laughed at than stoned--better to be quizzed by a half-witted pretender, than railed at by an Attorney-general, or preached to death by a sentencing Judge. Who, indeed, ever heard of any one's getting into a scrape for believing too much, except the Irish Catholics : whose chance it has been to get more abused and ill-treated for believing in the “real presence," than the Jews have for reviling and denying the great object of all Christian veneration ? but in this, as in all other earthly matters, il n'y-a que heur et malheur, and luck 's a lord.
It must, however, be admitted as not a little hard upon those oldfashioned persons, who still fancy it ill-luck to spill the salt, who tremble at the ticking of a death-watch, object to your sitting cross-legged, or insist upon kicking a thirteenth person out of company, that they should even be treated with the unmeasured contempt to which they are usually exposed. Why should mankind be so hard upon the simplicity which believes an elephant to bave no joints, or that a hazel-rod will indicate the presence of metals in the earth ? Few persons entertaining these notions so far forget themselves as to set about explaining how such matters come to pass ; but contenting themselves with what they take for experience, grope their way quietly in the dark; and the wisest and best do no more. The popular errors, on the contrary, which are now in vogue, are wilful confusions of ideas, the results of false and Aimsy reasonings, contradictions in terminis bolstered up by sophisms, and more the creatures of pride and self-interest than of simplicity and ignorance. In strict justice, is not an adorer of legitimacy a much fitter object for contempt than the poor girl who sees a winding-sheet in a tallow-candle ? and is not an advocate of corn-laws and anti-combination acts more worthy to be despised, than a washerwoman who looks for a coach and six, or a love-letter, in the bottom of her tea-cup? Besides, the retailers of by-gone errors do not cry out“ mad dog" after those who differ from them, and have never been known to keep reviews and Sunday-papers in their pay, for the purpose of reviling and slandering all who are sceptical enough to doubt that a woman has one rib less than a man, or to deny the witch-expelling efficacy of a horse-shoe nailed to the door-sill of the house.
Among the many vulgar errors noted in that very curious volume written by Thomas Browne, Doctor of Physicke, there are none more flagrant than his own proposition, that was for popular errors, they are more nearly founded upon an erroneous inclination of the people, as being the most deceptible part of mankind, and ready with open arms to receive the encroachments of error." For the people, of all the classes
of society, are the least prone to mistake concerning those matters which are within the scope of their observation. Within their limited sphere of action, they go more directly to their ends, and make fewer errors in their calculations than the privileged classes. Their perception of the self-contradictions and false colourings of their betters is, indeed, far too acute for the selfish interests of the Corinthian capital. They may be deceived by a false analogy, and think an egg " bad for
the bile" because it is yellow; but they can trace the injurious operaetion of a tax and perceive the mischievous consequences of a bad law,
when their superiors in education are quite led astray by the false lights of too much learning. I defy the whole round of popular absurdities to produce a blunder that shall match the parliamentary doétrine of starvation from over-production, or of the abstract merit of time as a cure for national evils ; without reference to the manner in which that time shall be expended, whether its lapse shall be marked by a per. severance in waste, or a return to wholesome and beneficial economies.
The errors of the common people, moreover, are the leavings of their instructors ;' and when the humbler classes fall astray, it is by the misleading of those who look on their mistakes with so much contempt. If a nurse-tender stifles and roasts her patient, does she not derive the practice from that of the physician of the olden time? and is not the water-doctor of the poor the lawful descendant of the court Galens of two centuries back? So likewise the days are not very far distant, when even kings affected with small-pox were wrapped in scarlet cloth, on account of the sympathy of colour between the dis. eased skin and the clothing. Yet with all this prostration of intellect to the authority of the learned, it may be questioned whether the people, with the same means of forming their judgment that the upper classes possess, would fall incontinently into the belief that Pope was no poet, because some wiseacre or two of note chose to assert it: and they are far too knowing to put their thoughts and tongues implicitly into the keeping of an academy of belles-lettres, and submit their pleasures to be modelled by forty pretending pedants, on the credit of a royal patent for the monopoly of words and sentences.
On many accounts, the vulgar errors of the great are by far the most important. I should therefore, strongly recommend the publisher who would embark in my proposed undertaking, to invent a new appellation for his book, and by no means to call it a Review of Vulgar Errors. In the first place it is not good to affront your reader at the moment you solicit his custom; and even a common box-lobby lounger would reject a magazine as "cursedly low," if it bore such a title. After all, in spite of the fraternizing influence of the Fancy," with its dog-fights and rat-slaughters,-in spite of the narrow minds, coarse feelings, and intellectual vulgarity of some of the " lords of the creation," there is a distinction between the great and the little vulgar; and it is a mere confusion of terms to include the vulgarity of both in one common denomination. The opinions of the little vulgar have no interest save as an object of curiosity for the antiquary and moral pliilosophet, or as themes for a Scotch novel ; and they would form a very subordinate part of the proposed volume. What matter is it to “ les gens comme il fant," how the common people think, provided they be properly restrained from printing their thoughts? "I grant it would be desirable
that they should say their catechism and submit themselves to all in authority over them; but that, reader, you know, has little to do with thinking. To call the proposed work "vulgar errors" would, indeed, be a double misnomer ; for, first, such a work should not treat so much of the errors of the valgar, as of the more profitable dogmas, " which taken at the tide lead on to fortune :" and secondly, the errors of the great are not errors at all, but durante bene placito good and lawful truths, and a legal tender in all societies and upon all occasions, which it is highly penal to refuse, until, being discarded as no longer serviceable or modish, they are consigned to the gentlemen of the second table, along with the cast suits of the corporeal wardrobe. tots..
To treat the matter, indeed, logically, it is not quatenus truth or error, but quatenus fashionable or heterodox, that an opinion is important. Although, therefore, it is scarcely possible to treat of the “quid rerum atque decens," the loyal, proper, and decent opinions, which it is right that “all Christian men" should maintain, without hinting, at least exclusirė, at what is the contrary, yet (as the Jansenist priest said of the belief in a Deity) cela n'est pas l'essentiel, and it would be wrong to put this part of the subject too forward. Rather let the publisher and his friends endeavour after a more taking title, such, for instance, as (a Greek name always does well) “ The Court Noometer, or Pantisocratic view of men and things," “ The intellectual Diorama for the year 18.-," "The Laureate's directory, or Church and State manual ;" which are all in their way as good as “Highways and Byways,” or the cramped grimgribber of the Northern " secondary novelists,” which have all succeeded so admirably in catching the eye of the public.
Next, as to the choice of an Editor. This, indeed, is a grave matter, and not lightly to be determined upon. The personage in question should possess no ordinary tact, and no trifling experience, to perform his functions creditably and beneficially; especially in these latter times, when unanimity is no longer deemed essential to the management of state affairs. Orthodoxy, said a wag, is my doxy; and Heterodoxy another man's doxy; but now-a-days there are so many standard-bearers whose my is worthy of consideration, that the case is by no means so simple. Who, for instance, can say from authority, whether the Lord Chancellor's doxy or Mr. Canning's is the orthodoxy of the day; whether Lord Liverpool's or Mr. Robinson's political economy are most in vogue “in the highest quarter;" or whether Mr. Plankett's or Mr. Peel's church polity is the sound doctrine of the current year? Then if we consult the ministerial journals to guide our researches, “ nil fuit unquam tum dispar sibi.” The best way would be to get an Editor appointed in Downing-street ; but if that cannot be done, the writer of the court-journals, or the Attorney-general for the time being, might be depended upon as safe men.
Another important consideration regards the periods of publication. On account of the Court Calendar, I should prefer an annual appearance; but it may be doubted whether quarterly or monthly publications would not better meet the public demand. Of late, the fluctuations of opinion have been very rapid ; and state orthodoxy has changed its tone as often, and by as abrupt dieses, as if government were one of Beethoven's concertos. On this point, however, experience is the best guide ; and there is no reason why a shorter period should not be adopted for this, no less than for the other periodical disseminators of " sound learning and religious education."
The most important part of the work, for consultation, would be the Historical Register, which should notice the slightest changes of shading in the current orthodoxy, and should be followed by an ample obituary of all principles and opinions defunet since the publication of the last numero. In the historical register the subjects should be separately classed; for which purpose the following may serve as a precedent:
POLITICS.--Since the publication of our last, none of the lights of the land” have been extinguished, and no rising young statesman has appeared on the horizon. Legitimacy, however, is two per cents on the decline. They talk more of civil liberty and of British commerce, of late; and it is less disloyal to speak ill of the Holy Alliance. The reform question much the same as at the last quotation. The currency question gone ad plures.-N.B. The tread-mill is for the present an wholesome exercise, and bread and water a sufficient diet for untried prisoners. RELIGION-SAINTSHIP daily acquires vogue :
" there must be some thing in it when great men's butlers look grave." The Hatton-garden Chapel looks downwards. Greek independence has positively nothing to do with Christianity, there being (as the licensers of the Koran long ago determined) nothing in that book contrary to the doctrine and disa cipline of the Catholic Church. Prince Hohenlohe a puzzle to some leading personages. Might not miracles be introduced to protect the establishment against innovators in matters of tithe? Catholic emancipation, see Obituary.
LITERATURE.-Las Cases' Journal very interesting, and Napoleon, like his great ally, not quite so bad as he has been painted. The Journey to Brussels a striking portrait of its royal author. The Scorch novels just hold their own--the market overstocked. The Lakers, see Obituary. The three unities spoken slightingly of in some French ciri cles. The Literary Society in growing disrepute abroad and at home. New Monthly Magazine universally approved.
MISCELLANEOUS.-Tom and Jerry put down by acclamation. Gambling no longer a Christian virtue. Slave-trade discussions, for the present, are to be taken as the infallible occasions of Black insurrections. Natural infirmities during the ensuing winter will be deemed sufficient causes for penal inflictions. Horses the best actors; and real water and real fire are the only approximations to the truth of Náture, which should be encouraged on the stage. N. B. Mr. Larpent, à better judge of tragedy than Aristotle. Religious steam-boats ought to be exempted from the searches of custom-house officers; as smuggling is no bar to sanctity, and piety and prudence are by no means incompatibles.
In the present state of literary adventure it is not necessary to add more in the way of illustration. A hint is sufficient to the wise. That the speculation would succeed, hardly admits of doubt. There are so many points on which the best judges know not what to think, that I should not despair of seeing bishops and cabinet councillors becoming subscribers. If the publisher played his cards tolerably well, his book would be distributed by the Tract Societies, and whole editions would be disseminated for the edification of the poor. The aphorisms and