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alone. And wherefore? Is Jacobinism an absurdity, and have we no understanding by which to detect it? Is it productive of all misery and all horrors, and have we no natural humanity to make us turn away with indignation and loathing from it? Uproar and confusion, insecurity of person and of property, the tyranny of mobs or the domination of a soldiery; private houses changed to brothels, the ceremony of marriage but an initiation to harlotry, and marriage itself degraded to mere concubinagethese, the wiser advocates of aristocracy have said, and truly said, are the effects of Jacobinism! In private life, an insufferable licentiousness, and abroad an intolerable despotism. Once a Jacobin, always a Jacobin-O wherefore? Is it because the creed which we have stated is dazzling at first sight to the young, the innocent, the disinterested, and to those, who judging of men in general from their own uncorrupted hearts, judge erroneously, and expect unwisely? Is it, because it deceives the mind in its purest and most flexible period? Is it, because it is an error, that every day's experience aids to detect? An error against which all history is full of warning examples? Or is it because the experiment has been tried before our eyes and the error made palpable?
From what source are we to derive this strange phænomenon, that the young and the enthusiastic, who, as our daily experience informs us, are deceived in their religious antipathies, and grow wiser; in their friendships, and grow wiser; in their modes of pleasure, and grow wiser; should, if once deceived in a question of abstract politics, cling to the error forever and ever? And this too, although in addition to the natural growth of judgment and information with increase of years, they live in the age in which the tenets have been acted upon; and though the consequences have been such, that every good man's heart sickens, and his head turns giddy at the retrospect.
Truth I pursued, as fancy sketched the way,
I was never myself, at any period of my life, a convert to the Jacobinical system.* From my earliest manhood, it was an axiom in politics with me, that in every country where property prevailed, property must be the grand basis of the government; and that that government was the best, in which the power or political influence of the individual was in proportion to his property, provided that the free circulation of property was not impeded by any positive laws or customs, nor the tendency of wealth to accumulate in abiding masses unduly encouraged. I perceived, that if the people at large were neither ignorant nor immoral, there could be no motive for a sudden and violent change of government; and if they were, there could be no hope but of a change for the worse. The temple of despotism, like that of the Mexican God, would be rebuilt with human skulls, and more firmly, though in a different style of architecture. Thanks to the excellent education which I had received, my reason was too clear not to draw this circle of power round me, and my spirit too honest to attempt to break through it. My feelings, however, and imagination did not remain unkindled in this general conflagration; and I confess I should be more inclined to be ashamed than proud of myself, if they had. I was a sharer in the general vortex, though my little world described the path of its revolution in an orbit of its own. What I dared not expect from constitutions of government and whole nations, I hoped from religion and a small company of chosen individuals. I formed a plan, as harmless as it was extravagant, of trying the experiment of human * See Essay XVI. of this volume.--Ed.
To the best of my recollection, these were Mr. Southey's words in the year 1794.
perfectibility on the banks of the Susquehanna; where our little society, in its second generation, was to have combined the innocence of the patriarchal age with the knowledge and genuine refinements of European culture; and where I dreamed that in the sober evening of my life, I should behold the cottages of independence in the undivided dale of industry,—
And oft, soothed sadly by some dirgeful wind,
Strange fancies, and as vain as strange! yet to the intense interest and impassioned zeal, which called forth and strained every faculty of my intellect for the organization and defence of this scheme, I owe much of whatever I at present possess, my insight into the nature of individual man, and my most comprehensive views of his social relations, of the true uses of trade and commerce, and how far the wealth and relative power of nations promote or impede their welfare and inherent strength. Nor were they less serviceable in securing myself, and perhaps some others, from the pitfalls of sedition and when we at length alighted on the firm ground of common sense from the gradually exhausted balloon of youthful enthusiasm, though the air-built castles, which we had been pursuing, had vanished with all their pageantry of shifting forms, and glowing colors, we were yet free from the stains and impurities which might have remained upon us, had we been travelling with the crowd of less imaginative malcontents, through the dark lanes and foul by-roads of ordinary fanaticism.
But oh! there were thousands as young and as innocent as myself who, not like me, sheltered in the tranquil nook or inland cove of a particular fancy, were driven along with the general current! Many there were, young men of loftiest minds, yea, the prime stuff out of which manly wisdom and practical greatness are to be formed, who had appropriated their hopes and the ardor of their souls to mankind at large, to the wide expanse of national interests, which then seemed fermenting in the French republic as in the main outlet and chief crater of the revolutionary torrents; and who confidently believed, that these torrents, like the lavas of Vesuvius, were to subside into a soil of inexhaustible fertility on the circumjacent lands, the old divisions and mouldering edifices of which they had covered or swept away-enthusiasts
of kindliest temperament, who to use the words of the poet, having already borrowed the meaning and the metaphor, had approached
Of human nature from the golden side,
And would have fought even to the death to attest
My honored friend Mr. Wordsworth has permitted me to give a value and relief to the present essay, by a quotation from one of his unpublished poems, the length of which I regret only from its forbidding me to trespass on his kindness by making it yet longer. I trust there are many of my readers of the same age with myself, who will throw themselves back into the state of thought and feeling in which they were when France was reported to have solemnized her first sacrifice of error and prejudice on the bloodless altar of freedom, by an oath of peace and good-will to all mankind.
Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy !
For mighty were the auxiliars, which then stood
But to be young was very heaven;-Oh! times,
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
When reason seem'd the most to assert her rights,
A prime enchanter to assist the work,
All powers of swiftness, subtilty, and strength
To wield it;--they too, who of gentle mood
Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where,
The peace of Amiens deserved the name of peace, for it gave as unanimity at home, and reconciled Englishmen with each other. Yet it would be as wild a fancy as any of which I have treated, to expect that the violence of party spirit is never more to return. Sooner or later the same causes, or their equivalents, will call forth the same opposition of opinion, and bring the same passions into play. Ample would be my recompense, could I foresee that this present essay would be the means of preventing discord and unhappiness in a single family; if its words of warning, aided by its tones of sympathy, should arm a single man of genius against the fascinations of his own ideal world, a single philanthropist against the enthusiasm of his own heart. Not less would be my satisfaction, dared I flatter myself that my lucubrations would not be altogether without effect on those who deem themselves men of judgment, faithful to the light of practice, and not to be led astray by the wandering fires of theory ;—if I should aid in making these aware, that in recoiling with too incautious an abhorrence from the bugbears of innovation, they may sink all at once into the slough of slavishness and corruption. Let such persons recollect that the charms of hope and novelty furnish some palliation for the idolatry to which they seduce the mind; but that the apotheosis of familiar abuses and of the errors of selfishness is the vilest of superstitions. Let them recollect, too, that nothing can be more incongruous than to combine the pusillanimity, which despairs of human improvement, with the arrogance, supercilious contempt, and boisterous anger, which have no pretensions to pardon, except as the overflowing of ardent anticipation and enthusiastic faith. And finally,