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Chapter 5

The English

And yet, with all thy theoretic platitudes, what a depth of
practical sense in thee, great England! A depth of sense, of
justice, and courage; in which, under all emergencies and world-
bewilderments, and under this most complex of emergencies we now
live in, there is still hope, there is still assurance!

The English are a dumb people. They can do great acts, but not
describe them. Like the old Romans, and some few others, _their_
Epic Poem is written on the Earth's surface: England her Mark!
It is complained that they have no artists: one Shakspeare
indeed; but for Raphael only a Reynolds; for Mozart nothing but
a Mr. Bishop: not a picture, not a song. And yet they did
produce one Shakspeare: consider how the element of Shakspearean
melody does lie imprisoned in their nature; reduced to unfold
itself in mere Cotton-mills, Constitutional Governments, and such
like;--all the more interesting when it does become visible, as
even in such unexpected shapes it succeeds in doing! Goethe
spoke of the Horse, how impressive, almost affecting it was that
an animal of such qualities should stand obstructed so; its
speech nothing but an inarticulate neighing, its handiness mere
_hoof_iness, the fingers all constricted, tied together, the
fingernails coagulated into a mere hoof, shod with iron. The
more significant, thinks he, are those eye-flashings of the
generous noble quadruped; those prancings, curvings of the neck
clothed with thunder.

A Dog of Knowledge has _free_ utterance; but the Warhorse is
almost mute, very far from free! It is even so. Truly, your
freest utterances are not by any means always the best: they are
the worst rather; the feeblest, trivialest; their meaning
prompt, but small, ephemeral. Commend me to the silent English,
to the silent Romans. Nay, the silent Russians too I believe to
be worth something: are they not even now drilling, under much
obloquy, an immense semi-barbarous half-world from Finland to
Kamtschatka, into rule, subordination, civilisation,--really in
an old Roman fashion; speaking no word about it; quietly hearing
all manner of vituperative Able Editors speak! While your ever-
talking, ever-gesticulating French, for example, what are they at
this moment drilling?--Nay, of all animals, the freest of
utterance, I should judge, is the genus Simia:_ go into the
Indian woods, say all Travelers, and look what a brisk, adroit,
unresting Ape-population it is!

The spoken Word, the written Poem, is said to be an epitome of
the man; how much more the done Work. Whatsoever of morality
and of intelligence; what of patience, perseverance,
faithfulness, of method, insight, ingenuity, energy; in a word,
whatsoever of Strength the man had in him will lie written in the
Work he does. To work: why, it is to try himself against
Nature, and her everlasting unerring Laws; these will tell a
true verdict as to the man. So much of virtue and of faculty did
_we_ find in him; so much and no more! He had such capacity of
harmonising himself with _me_ and my unalterable ever-veracious
Laws; of cooperating and working as _I_ bade him;--and has
prospered, and has not prospered, as you see!--Working as great
Nature bade him: does not that mean virtue of a kind; nay, of
all kinds? Cotton can be spun and sold, Lancashire operatives
can be got to spin it, and at length one has the woven webs and
sells them, by following Nature's regulations in that matter: by
not following Nature's regulations, you have them not. You have
them not;--there is no Cotton-web to sell: Nature finds a bill
against you; your 'Strength' is not Strength, but Futility! Let
faculty be honoured, so far as it is faculty. A man that can
succeed in working is to me always a man.

How one loves to see the burly figure of him, this thick-skinned,
seemingly opaque, perhaps sulky, almost stupid Man of Practice,
pitted against some light--adroit Man of Theory, all equipt with
clear logic, and able anywhere to give you Why for Wherefore! The
adroit Man of Theory, so light of movement, clear of utterance,
with his bow full-bent and quiver full of arrow-arguments,--
surely he will strike down the game, transfix everywhere the
heart of the matter; triumph everywhere, as he proves that he
shall and must do? To your astonishment, it turns out oftenest
No. The cloudy-browed, thick-soled, opaque Practicality, with no
logic-utterance, in silence mainly, with here and there a low
grunt or growl, has in him what transcends all logic-utterance:
a Congruity with the Unuttered! The Speakable, which lies atop,
as a superficial film, or outer skin, is his or is not his: but
the Doable, which reaches down to the World's centre, you find
him there!

The rugged Brindleys has little to say for himself; the rugged
Brindley, when difficulties accumulate on him, retires silent,
'generally to his bed;' retires 'sometimes for three days
together to his bed, that he may be in perfect privacy there,'
and ascertain in his rough head how the difficulties can be
overcome. The ineloquent Brindley, behold he _has_ chained seas
together; his ships do visibly float over valleys, invisibly
through the hearts of mountains; the Mersey and the Thames, the
Humber and the Severn have shaken hands: Nature most audibly
answers, Yea! The man of Theory twangs his full-bent bow:
Nature's Fact ought to fall stricken, but does not: his logic-
arrow glances from it as from a scaly dragon, and the obstinate
Fact keeps walking its way. How singular! At bottom, you will
have to grapple closer with the dragon; take it home to you, by
real faculty, not by seeming faculty; try whether you are
stronger or it is stronger. Close with it, wrestle it: sheer
obstinate toughness of muscle; but much more, what we call
toughness of heart, which will mean persistance hopeful and even
desperate, unsubduable patience, composed candid openness,
clearness of mind: all this shall be 'strength' in wrestling
your dragon; the whole man's real strength is in this work, we
shall get the measure of him here.

Of all the Nations in the world at present we English are the
stupidest in speech, the wisest in action. As good as a 'dumb'
Nation, I say, who cannot speak, and have never yet spoken,--
spite of the Shakspeares and Miltons who skew us what
possibilities there are!--O Mr. Bull, I look in that surly face
of thine with a mixture of pity and laughter, yet also with
wonder and veneration. Thou complainest not, my illustrious
friend; and yet I believe the heart of thee is full of sorrow,
of unspoken sadness, seriousness,--profound melancholy (as some
have said) the basis of thy being. Unconsciously, for thou
speakest of nothing, this great Universe is great to thee. Not
by levity of floating, but by stubborn force of swimming, shalt
thou make thy way. The Fates sing of thee that thou shalt many
times be thought an ass and a dull ox, and shalt with a god-like
indifference believe it. My friend,--and it is all untrue,
nothing ever falser in point of fact! Thou art of those great
ones whose greatness the small passer-by does not discern. Thy
very stupidity is wiser than their wisdom. A grand _vis
inertiae_ is in thee; how many grand qualities unknown to small
men! Nature alone knows thee, acknowledges the bulk and strength
of thee: thy Epic, unsung in words, is written in huge
characters on the face of this Planet,--sea-moles, cotton-trades,
railways, fleets and cities, Indian Empires, Americas, New-
Hollands; legible throughout the Solar System!

But the dumb Russians too, as I said, they, drilling all wild
Asia and wild Europe into military rank and file, a terrible yet
hitherto a prospering enterprise, are still dumber. The old
Romans also could not _speak,_ for many centuries:--not till the
world was theirs; and so many speaking Greekdoms, their logic-
arrows all spent, had been absorbed and abolished. The logic-
arrows, how they glanced futile from obdurate thick-skinned
Facts; Facts to be wrestled down only by the real vigour of
Roman thews!--As for me, I honour, in these loud-babbling days,
all the Silent rather. A grand Silence that of Romans;--nay the
grandest of all, is it not that of the gods! Even Triviality,
Imbecility, that can sit silent, how respectable is it in
comparison! The 'talent of silence' is our fundamental one.
Great honour to him whose Epic is a melodious hexameter Iliad;
not a jingling Sham-Iliad, nothing true in it but the hexameters
and forms merely. But still greater honour, if his Epic be a
mighty Empire slowly built together, a mighty Series of Heroic
Deeds,--a mighty Conquest over Chaos; _which_ Epic the 'Eternal
Melodies' have, and must have, informed and dwelt in, as it sung
itself! There is no mistaking that latter Epic. Deeds are
greater than Words. Deeds have such a life, mute but undeniable,
and grow as living trees and fruit-trees do; they people the
vacuity of Time, and make it green and worthy. Why should the
oak prove logically that it ought to grow, and will grow? Plant
it, try it; what gifts of diligent judicious assimilation and
secretion it has, of progress and resistance, of _force_ to grow,
will then declare themselves. My much-honoured, illustrious,
extremely inarticulate Mr. Bull!--

Ask Bull his spoken opinion of any matter,--oftentimes the force
of dulness can no farther go. You stand silent, incredulous, as
over a platitude that borders on the Infinite. The man's
Churchisms, Dissenterisms, Puseyisms, Benthamisms, College
Philosophies, Fashionable Literatures, are unexampled in this
world. Fate's prophecy is fulfilled; you call the man an ox and
an ass. But set him once to work,--respectable man! His spoken
sense is next to nothing, nine-tenths of it palpable _nonsense:_
but his unspoken sense, his inner silent feeling of what is true,
what does agree with fact, what is doable and what is not
doable,--this seeks its fellow in the world. A terrible worker;
irresistible against marshes, mountains, impediments, disorder,
in civilisation; everywhere vanquishing disorder, leaving it
behind him as method and order. He 'retires to his bed three
days,' and considers!

Nay withal, stupid as he is, our dear John,--ever, after infinite
tumblings, and spoken platitudes innumerable from barrelheads and
parliament-benches, he does settle down somewhere about the just
conclusion; you are certain that his jumblings and tumblings
will end, after years or centuries, in the stable equilibrium.
Stable equilibrium, I say; centre-of-gravity lowest;--not the
unstable, with centre-of-gravity highest, as I have known it done
by quicker people! For indeed, do but jumble and tumble
sufficiently, you avoid that worst fault, of settling with your
centre-of-gravity highest; your centre-of-gravity is certain to
come lowest, and to stay there. If slowness, what we in our
impatience call 'stupidity,' be the price of stable equilibrium
over unstable, shall we grudge a little slowness? Not the least
admirable quality of Bull is, after all, that of remaining
insensible to logic; holding out for considerable periods, ten
years or more, as in this of the Corn-Laws, after all arguments
and shadow of arguments have faded away from him, till the very
urchins on the street titter at the arguments he brings. Logic,
--[Greek] the 'Art of Speech,'--does indeed speak so and so;
clear enough: nevertheless Bull still shakes his head; will see
whether nothing else _illogical,_ not yet 'spoken,' not yet able
to be 'spoken,' do not lie in the business, as there so often
does!--My firm belief is, that, finding himself now enchanted,
hand-shackled, foot-shackled, in Poor-Law Bastilles and
elsewhere, he will retire three days to his bed, and _arrive_ at
a conclusion or two! His three-years total stagnation of trade,
alas, is not that a painful enough 'lying in bed to consider
himself?' Poor Bull!

Bull is a born Conservative; for this too I inexpressibly honour
him. All great Peoples are conservative; slow to believe in
novelties; patient of much error in actualities; deeply and
forever certain of the greatness that is in LAW, in Custom once
solemnly established, and now long recognised as just and final.
--True, O Radical Reformer, there is no Custom that can, properly
speaking, be final; none. And yet thou seest _Customs_ which,
in all civilised countries, are accounted final; nay, under the
Old Roman name of _Mores,_ are accounted _Morality,_ Virtue, Laws
of God Himself. Such, I assure thee, not a few of them are;
such almost all of them once were. And greatly do I respect the
solid character,--a blockhead, thou wilt say; yes, but a well-
conditioned blockhead, and the best-conditioned,--who esteems all
'Customs once solemnly acknowledged' to be ultimate, divine, and
the rule for a man to walk by, nothing doubting, not inquiring
farther. What a time of it had we, were all men's life and trade
still, in all parts of it, a problem, a hypothetic seeking, to be
settled by painful Logics and Baconian Inductions! The Clerk in
Eastcheap cannot spend the day in verifying his Ready-Reckoner;
he must take it as verified, true and indisputable; or his Book-
keeping by Double Entry will stand still. "Where is your Posted
Ledger?" asks the Master at night.--"Sir," answers the other, "I
was verifying my Ready-Reckoner, and find some errors. The
Ledger is--!"--Fancy such a thing!

True, all turns on your Ready-Reckoner being moderately correct,
--being _not_ insupportably incorrect! A Ready-Reckoner which has
led to distinct entries in your Ledger such as these:
_'Creditor_ an English People by fifteen hundred years of good
Labour; and _Debtor_ to lodging in enchanted Poor-Law Bastilles:
_Creditor_ by conquering the largest Empire the Sun ever saw;
and _Debtor_ to Donothingism and "Impossible" written on all
departments of the government thereof: _Creditor_ by mountains
of gold ingots earned; and _Debtor_ to No Bread purchasable by
them:'--_such_ Ready-Reckoner, methinks, is beginning to be
suspect; nay is ceasing, and has ceased, to be suspect! Such
Ready-Reckoner is a Solecism in Eastcheap; and must, whatever be
the press of business, and will and shall be rectified a little.
Business can go on no longer with _it._ The most Conservative
English People, thickest-skinned, most patient of Peoples, is
driven alike by its Logic and its Unlogic, by things 'spoken,'
and by things not yet spoken or very speakable, but only felt and
very unendurable, to be wholly a Reforming People. Their Life as
it is has ceased to be longer possible for them.

Urge not this noble silent People; rouse not the Berserkir-rage
that lies in them! Do you know their Cromwells, Hampdens, their
Pyms and Bradshaws? Men very peaceable, but men that can be made
very terrible! Men who, like their old Teutsch Fathers in
Agrippa's days, 'have a soul that despises death;' to whom
'death,' compared with falsehoods and injustices, is light;--'in
whom there is a range unconquerable by the immortal gods!'
Before this, the English People have taken very preternatural-
looking Spectres by the beard; saying virtually: "And if thou
_wert_ 'preternatural?' Thou with thy 'divine-rights' grown
diabolic wrongs? Thou,--not even 'natural;' decapitable;
totally extinguishable!"--Yes, just so godlike as this People's
patience was, even so godlike will and must its impatience be.
Away, ye scandalous Practical Solecisms, children actually of the
Prince of Darkness; ye have near broken our hearts; we can and
will endure you no longer. Begone, we say; depart, while the
play is good! By the Most High God, whose sons and born
missionaries true men are, ye shall not continue here! You and
we have become incompatible; can inhabit one house no longer.
Either you must go, or we. Are ye ambitious to try _which_ it
shall be?

O my Conservative friends, who still specially name and struggle
to approve yourselves 'Conservative,' would to Heaven I could
persuade you of this world-old fact, than which Fate is not
surer, That Truth and justice alone are _capable_ of being
'conserved' and preserved! The thing which is unjust, which is
not according to God's Law, will you, in a God's Universe, try to
conserve that? It is so old, say you? Yes, and the hotter haste
ought _you,_ of all others, to be in to let it grow no older! If
but the faintest whisper in your hearts intimate to you that it
is not fair,--hasten, for the sake of Conservatism itself, to
probe it rigorously, to cast it forth at once and forever if
guilty. How will or can you preserve _it,_ the thing that is not
fair? 'Impossibility' a thousandfold is marked on that. And ye
call yourselves Conservatives, Aristocracies:--ought not honour
and nobleness of mind, if they had departed from all the Earth
elsewhere, to find their last refuge with you? Ye unfortunate!

The bough that is dead shall be cut away, for the sake of the
tree itself. Old? Yes, it is too old. Many a weary winter has
it swung and creaked there, and gnawed and fretted, with its dead
wood, the organic substance and still living fibre of this good
tree; many a long summer has its ugly naked brown defaced the
fair green umbrage; every day it has done mischief, and that
only: off with it, for the tree's sake, if for nothing more;
let the Conservatism that would preserve cut _it_ away. Did no
wood-forester apprise you that a dead bough with its dead root
left sticking there is extraneous, poisonous; is as a dead iron
spike, some horrid rusty ploughshare driven into the living
substance;--nay is far worse; for in every windstorm
('commercial crisis' or the like), it frets and creaks, jolts
itself to and fro, and cannot lie quiet as your dead iron
spike would!

If I were the Conservative Party of England (which is another
bold figure of speech), I would not for a hundred thousand pounds
an hour allow those Corn-Laws to continue! Potosi and Golconda
put together would not purchase my assent to them. Do you count
what treasuries of bitter indignation they are laying up for you
in every just English heart? Do you know what questions, not as
to Corn-prices and Sliding-scales alone, they are _forcing_ every
reflective Englishman to ask himself? Questions insoluble, or
hitherto unsolved; deeper than any of our Logic-plummets
hitherto will sound: questions deep enough,--which it were
better that we did not name even in thought! You are forcing us
to think of them, to begin uttering them. The utterance of them
is begun; and where will it be ended, think you? When two
millions of one's brother-men sit in Workhouses, and five
millions, as is insolently said, 'rejoice in potatoes,' there are
various things that must be begun, let them end where they can.

Thomas Carlyle