« AnteriorContinuar »
body: to be a leader and dictator, he must be diplomatic in impertinence, and officious in every dirty work. He must not merely conform to established prejudices; he must flatter them. He must not merely be insensible to the demands of moderation and equity; he must be loud against them. He must not simply fall in with all sorts of contemptible cabals and intrigues; he must be indefatigable in fomenting them, and setting every body together by the ears. He must not only repeat, but invent lies. He must make speeches and write hand-bills; he must be devoted to the wishes and objects of the society, its creature, its jackall, its busy. body, its mouth-piece, its prompter; he must deal in law-cases, in demurrers, in charters, in traditions, in common-places, in logic and rhetoric-in every thing but common sense and honesty. He must (in Mr. Burke's phrase) “ disembowel himself of his natural entrails, and be stuffed with paltry, blurred sheets of parchment about the rights” of the privileged few. He must be a concentrated essence, a varnished, powdered, representative of the vices, absurdities, hypocrisy, jealousy, pride, and pragmaticalness of his party. Such a one by bustle and self-importance and puffing, by flattering one to his face, and abusing another behind his back, by lending himself to the weaknesses of some, and pampering the mischievous propensities of others, will pass for a great man in a little society.
Age does not improve the morality of public bodies. They grow more and more tenacious of their idle privileges and senseless self-consequence. They get weak and obstinate at the same time. Those, who belong to them, have all the upstart pride and pettifogging spirit of their present character ingrafted on the venerableness and superstitious sanctity of ancient institutions. They are naturally at issue, first with their neighbours, and next with their contemporaries, on all matters of common propriety and judgment. They become more attached to forms, the more obsolete they are; and the defence of every absurd and invidious distinction is a debt which (by implication) they owe to the dead as well as the living. What might once have been of serious practical utility they turn to farce, by retaining the letter when the spirit is gone: and they do this the more, the more glaring the inconsistency and want of sound reasoning ; for they think they thus give proof of their zeal and attachment to the abstract principle on which old establishments exist, the ground of prescription and authority.
The greater the wrong, the greater the right, in all such cases. The esprit de corps does not take much merit to itself for upholding what is justifiable in any system, or the proceedings of any party, but for adhering to what is palpably injurious. You may exact the first from an enemy: the last is the province of a friend. It has been made a subject of complaint, that the champions of the Church, for example, who are advanced to dignities and honours, are hardly ever those who defend the common principles of Christianity, but those who volunteer to man, the out-works, and set up ingenious excuses for the questionable points, the ticklish places in the established form of worship, that is, for those which are attacked from without, and are supposed in danger of being undermined by stratagem, or carried by assault!
The great resorts and seats of learning often outlive in this way the intention of the founders, as the world outgrows them. They may be said to resemble antiquated coquets of the last age, who think every thing ridiculous and intolerable but what was in fashion when they were young, and yet are standing proofs of the progress of taste, and the vanity of human pretensions. Our universities are, in a great measure, become cisterns to hold, not conduits to disperse
knowledge. The age has the start of them; that is, other sources of knowledge have been opened since their formation, to which the world have had access, and have drunk plentifully at those living fountains, but from which they are debarred by the tenor of their charter, and as a matter of dignity and privilege. They have grown poor, like the old grandees in some countries, by subsisting on the inheritance of learning, while the people have grown rich by trade. They are too much in the nature of fixtures in intellect: they stop the way in the road to truth; or at any rate (for they do not themselves advance) they can only be of service as a check-weight on the too hasty and rapid career of innovation. All that has been invented or thought in the last two hundred years they take no cognisance of, or as little as possible; they are above it; they stand upon the ancient land-marks, and will not budge; whatever was not known when they were first endowed, they are still in profound and lofty ignorance of. Yet in that period how much has been done in literature, arts, and science, of which (with the exception of mathematical knowledge, the hardest to gainsay or subject to the trammels of prejudice and barbarous ipse dixits scarce any trace is to be found in the
authentic modes of study, and legitimate inquiry, which prevail at either of our Universities! The unavoidable aim of all corporate bodies of learning is not to grow wise, or teach others wisdom, but to prevent any one else from being or seeming wiser than themselves; in other words, their infallible tendency is in the end to suppress inquiry and darken knowledge, by setting limits to the mind of man, and saying to his proud spirit, Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther! It would not be an unedifying experiment to make a collection of the titles of works published in the course of the year by Members of the Universities. If any attempt is to be made to patch up an idle system in policy or legislation, or church-government, it is by a Member of the University: if any hashedup speculation on an old exploded argument is to be brought forward “ in spite of shame, in erring reason's spite,” it is by a Member of the University: if a paltry project is ushered into the world for combining ancient prejudices with modern time-serving, it is by a Member of the University. Thus we get at a stated supply of annual Defences of the Sinking Fund, Thoughts on the Evils of Education, Treatises on Predestination, and Eulogies on Mr. Malthus, all from the same source, and through the same vent.