A German Baron and English Reformers: A Chapter of Autobiography
I LEFT Hofwyl sadly, as if departing from a life-home ; a fair Latin scholar, an indifferent Hellenist, thoroughly grounded in mathematics, with a minutely detailed knowledge of German history, that has served me but little since ; in the other college branches pretty well up ; in one only, according to the judgment of our teachers, had I outstripped my fellows, namely, in literary composition.
M. de Fellenberg bought, for my brother and myself, a stout, light, open caleche ; we took post-horses, and, passing by way of Zurich and Basel, and travelling by easy stages, we descended the Rhine. What an era in one’s life is that !
I shall not describe our journey. Half a century ago, when it was made, its details might have interested the American public. Now, the Rhine is almost as well known to us as our own Hudson. To me, in those days, that magnificent valley was hallowed ground. I had imbibed, during three years of German thought and German study at Hofwyl, a portion of that love, tinged with veneration, which the entire German family entertain for their Great River. Every town, almost every castle, along its banks had, for me, historical associations ; and the verses we used to sing in its praise were familiar as household words.1' Thus I
A few incidents, that especiallystamped themselves on my memory, may be worth recalling.
The great work, the masterpiece of all that ever came from Danneckers chisel, the colossal statue of Christ, on which he was then engaged, and had been for five years. It was an order from the Dowager Empress of Russia, and was afterwards presented by her to her son Alexander I. ; but it was not completed and sent to St. Petersburg until three years after I saw it. The head, throat, and shoulders, however, were finished ; at least, I thought them so : and never have I seen, in sculpture or in painting, such an expression of mingled grandeur and sweetness, filling my conception of the Great Teacher, as on that wonderful countenance. It was something to remain stamped on the memory for a lifetime. A more princely gift was never, I think, presented by mother to son.
At Mannheim we hired a boat of size sufficient to float us with our carriage down past Mayence and “ Bingen on the Rhine,” to Coblentz, through that world-renowned valley, narrow, hedged closely in by mountain ranges. Is its scenery, with all the romantic accessories, equalled, within the same number of miles, on any other rivercourse in the world ?
I know not. But when I recall my emotions during that dreamlike and luxurious trip, drifting down silently and without perceptible motion past towering walls of cliff, abrupt as the sides of a Yosemite cañon, and scarce leaving, sometimes, between their base and the river-bank apparent space for a bridle-path ; past time-worn fortresses perched on what seemed inaccessible rock-pinnacles, where clouds might settle ; then gliding by many gentler banks that slope far back and are clothed, to their top, with terraced vineyards ; then coming, here and there, on some quaint old remnant of a walled and moated town, cramped, struggling for room between mountain and river, but adorned with gray cathedral, rising from narrow and crooked streets that were darkened by the projection of massive gable fronts ; then occasionally spying, far up on the heights, a solitary peasant-hut, or perhaps the slate roof and pointed spire of some lone cloister, aspiring toward heaven, — when I recall what I felt while there swept before me, lighted by bright autumnal skies, that magical panorama of beauty and romance, — I am tempted to join that most eloquent and artistic of all eccentrics, — adorer of Turner and detester of steamer and rail-car, — John Ruskin, in his notable crusade against all desecrating innovations in travel, and all modern scientific encroachments on time-honored modes of locomotion. Lazily floating on at the rate of five miles an hour, we certainly revelled in enjoyments which elude the time-pressed traveller of our day, busy and swift as bee on the wing, thinking no “ shining hour ” improved in which five times five miles are not left, forever, behind him.
Our trip was made at an interesting period. Napoleon’s meteor career had ended at Waterloo six years before ; and, as the result of his fall, the valley of the Lower Rhine (from Carlsruhe down) had been freed from what Germans called French desecration. They might well exult ! The French rule on the Rhine, whenever their armies reached that river, had commonly been a rule of iron. We witnessed some of the desolation it had left behind. We found the luckless town of Speyer (Spires) still half in ruins, just beginning, under Bavarian rule, to recover from the atrocities which it suffered at the hands of France under her “ Grand Monarch ” and later, — atrocities with the details of which our professor of history, narrating to our class with flashing eyes that terrible episode which the Germans still call the Mordbrenner Krieg (the Murder and Burning War), had made us familiar. We thought of the miserable inhabitants driven forth by beat of drum ; of the seven-and-forty streets of the town ablaze for three clays and nights ; and of the miners afterwards employed to blow up walls, fountains, convents, the cathedral, even the tombs of the Emperors ; till what had been Speyer was but a desolate heap of rubbish.
Mannheim fared little better. After the French general had announced to the townspeople that his master (Louis the Great !) had resolved to raze their city to the ground, he told them that, as a special favor, they would be allowed twenty days in which to complete the work of destruction themselves. When they refused to execute this atrocious order, they too were driven forth like cattle, and the soldiers did the work of destruction ; leaving fourteen houses only standing. We found this town fully rebuilt, but in rectangular monotony.
I remember that at Coblentz we visited a trifling but characteristic memento of the recent decadence of the Empire. In the square fronting the Church of St. Castor we found a pretty fountain, erected in 1812, during a season of elation, by the French. It was intended as a monument of triumphs still to be achieved ; bearing an inscription to commemorate the passage through the city of the French Emperor on his way to Russia. Little more than a year later, the Russians passing through the city in pursuit of the miserable remnant of one of the greatest armies of the world, their commander Priest left this monument, with its pompous boast, intact ; but we found below the French inscription the formal and quiet, but bitterly significant words : “ Vu et approuvé par nous,
Commandant Russe de la Ville de Coblentz, Janvier 1er, 1814.” 2
On the opposite bank we inspected another remembrancer of then recent political revolutions ; finding the celebrated Ehrenbreitstein, as Byron had done a few years before, still
Cologne — encompassed by its seven miles of castellated walls with their eighty-three picturesque flanking towers and their twenty-four redoubt-defended gates, and exhibiting perhaps the most perfect remaining example of the great fortified cities of the Middle Ages — seemed to have escaped the invader’s destroying hand, but not her own folly. From her high estate — her period of prosperity and splendor, five centuries ago, when she could send thirty thousand men into the field — she had fallen, not by the ravages of war, but by the madness of intolerance. They showed us the Hebrew quarter of the city where, in 1349, the principal Jews who occupied it, to escape intolerable persecutions, shut themselves up with their wives and children, set fire to their houses and perished in the flames. In 1425 every Jew, and in 1618 every Protestant, had been ignominiously exiled. The absolute rule of bigoted ecclesiastics worked desolation as real as that by fire and sword ; and the deserted city had little left in the way of consolation save the reflection that there rose from her religious buildings as many spires as there are days in the year.
Her cathedral, too, remained to her ; an unfinished dream, indeed, but when to artistic dreamer ever came such a magnificent conception of beauty embodied in stone ? — its towers to reach nearer to heaven than Egypt’s pyramids ; its choir, from floor to ceiling full a hundred and sixty feet. We ascended one of the unfinished towers on. which, they told us, one layer of stone had lain undisturbed for three centuries before the next layer was superimposed. After six centuries we found the estimated cost of its completion still put at five millions of dollars.
From Düsseldorf, where modern art had not then established a school of painting we crossed, chiefly, by level, sandy roads, through Hanover to Hamburg. One of our Hofwyl college mates, Adolph von Münchausen, had given us a letter of introduction to his father, an old baron living a few miles from Hanover, and had exacted a promise that the letter should be delivered in person.
It was a charming visit, and we, fresh from legends of which the story of Götz von Berlichingen is the type, were at an age thoroughly to enjoy it. The Baron’s château, a few centuries old, was moated and turreted, though no portcullis rose to admit us. Without, despite the clustering ivy, it had a touch of stately gloom about it ; but within, from the first moment, we found bright cheerfulness and a cordial welcome. A few minutes after we had sent up our letter of introduction, there rushed rather than swept into the room the eldest daughter of the house, who, when I advanced to meet her, gave me both hands, led me to the sofa, and seating herself beside me, exclaimed: “ And so you have seen my dear, dear Adolph ; and you ’ve lived three years with him ! I’m so glad he gave you that letter to us. You must tell me all about him,—everything.”
The deep blue eyes that met mine were moist with emotion ; and their owner, a blonde of some twenty summers, without being regularly beautiful, had a face singularly expressive and attractive. Abashed, at first, by such unwonted cordiality, I found myself, after half an hour, conversing with her as frankly as if she had been my sister, instead of Adolph’s. Then came in the father and mother; and it has never been my good fortune since to see a finer or more favorable specimen of the old noblesse, in its paternal type. Dignity was allied in their kindly features to a simple and benevolent grace. The white hair dropped to the Baron’s shoulder, and the gray curls stole from under the bright old lady’s cap ; and nature had set her grand seal of goodness on these genial faces, an earnest that was fulfilled, if four or five days’ visit enabled me to judge, in that worthy couple’s daily demeanor.
At a mid-day dinner we were introduced to a feudal dining-hall, its lofty walls half covered with old family portraits ; and we had an opportunity of realizing what used to be meant by the expression, “ below the salt.” The Baron and Baroness sat at the head of the long table, opposite each other ; next to them my brother and myself ; then the young ladies, for there was a second daughter, prettier but less interesting, I thought, than the first ; then some relatives of the family ; and below them the house-steward, the factor who managed the estate, a gamekeeper, and two or three other dependants. It had a patriarchal look ; and it was pleasant to hear the kindly tone in which the Baron occasionally addressed some remark or behest to those sitting at the lower end of the board.
During the afternoon, which was bright and warm, we strayed, under guidance of the young ladies, through the large, old-fashioned garden and over the stately park. When, on our return, we found the table already laid for supper, the elder exclaimed to her mother, “ Liebe Frau Mutter, it’s a shame to stay in the house losing a glorious sunset. Can’t we have the evening meal (Abendessen) out on the lawn, in the shade ? ”
“ Certainly, if you ’ll take the trouble, my children,” said the old lady.
“ It will be fun.” Then to us: “ You ’ll help us ? ”
But there seemed little need. In a twinkling, covers and dishes were removed to the side-board, and the two girls were about to carry off the table, when William and I interposed. The table laid (under one of several magnificent limes just in front of the house), my brother and I returned for the chairs ; but we were not suffered to take peaceable possession. The damsel who had first welcomed me, bounding lightly over a low ottoman while I was walking quietly round it, pounced upon the chair I had my eye on, and laughingly carried off the prize before I had recovered from my astonishment.
That little improvised banquet, literally “unter den Linden,” has never faded from my memory. It was a jovial merry-making. Parents and children kept up the light shuttlecock of jest; and so catching was the genial laughter of that charming old couple, so winning the frank and graceful familiarity of the girls, that, ere the meal was over, two bashful college lads began to feel as if they were at home for the holidays with some fairy godfather and godmother, and two newly found sisters, “wonder-beautiful” as the Germans phrase it, to match. We asserted brotherly authority over chairs and table, restricting woman’s rights to the transport of plates and dishes, until all was in due order again.
Next day Baron von Münchausen conducted us over his farms, which seemed to be admirably managed. As we neared a pretty cottage, a young peasant-girl of fourteen or fifteen, with comely features imbrowned by exposure, approached us, but stopped at some distance, shy and embarrassed, courtesy ing.
“ Come hither, my daughter,” said our host, in his cheery tones ; and the girl, encouraged, came up to us. “ Ah, it is thou, Lisbethchen ? How thou’rt grown ! we shall have a woman of thee, one of these days ; and then a wedding, no doubt. I see thou hast a story to tell ; what is it ? ”
The girl made some humble demand on behalf of her parents, which the Baron granted on the spot ; dismissing her with a kiss on the forehead, while she reddened with pride and pleasure.
We had a cordial invitation, earnestly pressed by parents and daughters, to remain with them for a month, and the promise of a ball which was to come off the following week. I was sorely tempted to stay ; but anxiety to reach home, and a promise to my mother not to delay on the journey, hurried us off. If fate had detained us there a month or two, I am not sure but that my father might have had a chance of having a German daughter-inlaw ; at all events I dreamed several times of the deep blue laughing eyes, before we reached Hamburg; and I have preserved to this day, warm in my memory, a tender recollection of that fine old château, with its largehearted, bright-spirited inmates.
At Hamburg we came upon traces, recent then, of French inhumanity during the Empire. In 1810 the city had been conquered, its Constitution abolished, and the city declared a French town. In 1813 the inhabitants, who hated their conquerors, welcomed the Russians, who restored the old Constitution ; but toward the close of that year the French, under Marshal Davoust, retook the place, and were afterwards besieged by the allies. During that siege Davoust robbed the bank of Hamburg of three millions and a half of dollars ; and drove out, in the very depth of winter, forty thousand of the inhabitants. Of that number eleven hundred and thirty-eight perished miserably, from famine and exposure. We visited the monument that had been erected to their memory at Altona, which is close to the city.
Windbound for three weeks, we sailed, at last, in a British vessel, to meet with heavy gales and foul weather. Thrice we were compelled to put back to Cuxhaven, the last time under circumstances of great danger. We had been three days beating about some seventy or eighty miles on our way, dead-lights up all the time, and without a glimpse of the sun at noonday, whence to determine our exact position ; off a sand-bar coast too, and a lee-shore. The captain’s state-room was next to ours ; and the third evening we overheard this : —
Mate. The dead-reckoning brings us awfully near them cursed sandbars.
Captain. We carried on too long. She’s a jewel, close-hauled, and I hated to put back the third time ; but it won’t do : three hours more of this, and the masts would have to go to lighten her. We must lay her for Heligoland. We ought to see the light by eight bells, or soon after.
Mate. And if we miss it ?
Captain. God help us ! But the wind’s in our favor ; and we must trust to luck to make it. Go up and put her about at once.
Pretty serious ! we thought it was. On cross-questioning the captain, he admitted that the coast to leeward of us and toward which, beating up under a heavy norwester, we had all day been drifting, was a very dangerous one, often strewed with wrecks. He said, however, that he thought we had a fair chance to make the lighthouse on Heligoland between twelve and one that night. If we did, it would give us our precise position, and the chief danger would be over.
“ But if we did not ? ” I asked, as the mate had done.
The captain saw, I think, that I took it quietly ; for after a pause he said, “ I ’ll tell you the truth. We may be out in our reckoning, having only the log to trust to ; and we might run on some sand-bar, inside the island, and have to take to the boats. But say nothing to the rest about it.”
I asked him if we might lie down ; and he said yes, in our clothes ; and that he would wake us in time, if there was any danger.
In the cabin we found that the bad news had already spread. Some were bitterly bemoaning their hard fate ; others sat, their heads buried in their hands, sobbing or rocking themselves to and fro : a small minority remaining self-possessed. My brother and I turned in, tired and sleepy, having been all day on deck, and never opened our eyes till seven o’clock next morning. Then we sprang up eager for the news.
“ What ! ” said one of the passengers, — for they were all still assembled in the cabin, where they had passed sleepless night, — “ don't you know that we made the lighthouse at one o’clock ? Did n’t you hear the rejoicing? Where have you been, in God’s name ? ”
“ Asleep, ” we told him ; “the captain had promised to wake us up in good time.”
They all stared ; and I believe that our avowal caused us to be credited rather with callous apathy than with fortitude. I think youth and sound health and nerves braced by hardy exercise had more to do with it than either.
We made a fourth start, deserted, however, by some of the passengers ; and a short run to London, under favorable winds, repaid us who still held to the vessel for past mishaps.
At home we found our father doing well in business; but, as a radical reformer, having lost much ground in public estimation.
He had been misled by prosperity, by benevolent enthusiasm ; and there had been lacking, as steadying influence, thorough culture in youth. He had risen, with rare rapidity and by unaided exertion, to a giddy height. At ten years of age, he had entered London with ten dollars in pocket; at forty-five, he was worth quarter of a million. Then his Essays on the Formation of Character, backed by his success, pecuniary and social, at New Lanark, had won him golden opinions. He had been received, respectfully and sometimes with distinction, by those highest in position : by Lords Liverpool, Sidmouth, Castlereagh, and by Mr. Canning; by the Royal Dukes York, Cumberland, Sussex, Cambridge, and especially by the Duke of Kent; by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Sutton) and the Bishops of London, St. David’s, Durham, Peterborough, and Norwich. Besides Bentham, his partner, he was more or less intimate with Godwin, Ricardo, Malthus, Bowring, Francis Place, Joseph Hume, James Mill, O'Connell, Roscoe, Clarkson, Cobbett, Vansittart, Sir Francis Burdett, the Edgeworths, the statistician Colquhoun, Wilberforce, Coke of Norfolk, Macaulay (father of the historian), and Nathan Rothschild, the founder of his house. He had received as guests at Braxfield, among a multitude of others, Princes John and Maximilian of Russia, the Duke of Holstein Oldenburg, Baron Goldsmid, Baron Just, Saxon Ambassador, Cuvier, Henry Brougham, Sir James Mackintosh, and Lord Stowell, father-in-law of Lord Sidmouth. When he visited Paris, he took letters from the Duke of Kent to the Duke of Orleans (Louis Philippe), and from the French ambassador to the French Prime Minister ; and he was invited to a visitor’s chair by the French Academy. In Europe he made the acquaintance of La Place, Humboldt, La Rochefoucault, Boissy d’Anglas, Camille Jourdain, Pestalozzi, Madame de Staël, Pastor Oberlin, and many other celebrities. Then, too, his popularity among the masses quite equalled the favor with which men of rank and talent received him.
Is it matter of marvel that a selfmade and self-taught man, thus suddenly and singularly favored by fortune should have miscalculated the immediate value of his social methods, and overestimated the influence of the position he had gained ?
He worked, at that time, to disadvantage in another respect. He saw the errors of orthodox theology, and keenly felt their mischievous influence ; but he did not clearly perceive the religious needs of the world.
He was a Deist. He stated his belief in an “ eternal uncaused Existence, omnipresent and possessing attributes whereby the world is governed ” ; and that “ man, the chief of terrestrial existences, has been formed by a Power, in our language called God, that eternally acts throughout the universe, but which no man has yet been able to comprehend.” 3
As to religion he said, “ I am compelled to believe that all the religions of the world are so many geographical insanities.” Nor did he except Christianity, for he added : “ I should therefore as soon attempt to contend against the Christian religion in a Christian country as to contest any question with the inmates of a lunatic asylum.” 4
His strong, original mind, lacking the habit of critical study, tempted him to discard in gross, without examining in detail ; and to overlook a fact of infinite importance in morals and legislation, to wit, that reverence, acting on man’s spiritual part, is a legitimate and cogent motive that has influenced human actions in all ages of the world.
He was one of those who, like many of the ablest scientists in all countries, need experimental proof to convince them that, when the body is discarded at death, the man himself does not die, but passes on to another and higher phase of being ; and till he was nearly eighty years old he never obtained such proof.
Through all the active portion of his life he was a Secularist ; not denying a world to come, but believing that man had no proof of it, could have no knowledge of it, and ought not to trouble himself about it. Therefore he omitted from his system, as a motive to human conduct, all reference to another life ; believing that men can be made to see so clearly how much it is for their interest to be temperate and industrious, just and kind, that, in virtue of such insight and without other prompting, they will act uprightly through life. He trusted to man’s desire for happiness, aside from religion, to reform the world.
It may be set down, also, as partly due to his lack of critical scholarship, that he failed correctly to estimate Christianity ; freely admitting, indeed, the truth and beauty of its precepts of peace and charity and loving-kindness, yet rating it no higher than Socrates’s philosophy or the religion of Confucius. When he spoke of Christianity he meant, not the teachings of Christ himself, as an exact and patient student may fairly construe them from the narrative as it comes down to us through the synoptical gospels, but that orthodox theology, loaded down by extrinsic dogmas, which, especially in its Calvinistic phase, may properly be termed an Augustinian commentary on certain scholasticisms of St. Paul.
Some of the very truths he perceived tended further to discredit the Christian record in his eyes. He rejected, as an enlightened portion of mankind are learning to reject, the miraculous and the infallible ; and he supposed, because King James’s translators told him so,5 that Christ claimed for himself miraculous powers. It did not suggest itself to him that the gifts or powers exercised by Jesus, though spiritual, might be natural, as occurring strictly under law. He did not believe that they occurred at all. He thought, as Rénan does, that Christ, governed by expediency, lent himself to imposture ; and this, in his eyes, tended to disparage the person of Jesus and to cast suspicion on the narrative of his life.
So, also, as to inspiration. Unable to accept it, in its orthodox sense, as a special and miraculous gift direct from God, it did not occur to him that it might be an element of culture, traceable throughout the history of all ages and nations ; a class of influences, ultramundane but not miraculous, coming to us, in virtue of intermundane laws, from a higher phase of being ; and that, in this broad lease, inspiration more or less pure might be, as Bishop Butler suggests,6 the original of all the religions of the world.
But for these errors and oversights, I think a spirit like my father’s — benevolent, merciful, forgiving — would have felt that there are no such lessons taught by ancient philosophy, Oriental or European, as are embodied in parables like that of the Pharisee and Publican at prayer, and of the Prodigal Son ; or in the record of that memorable scene in the Temple when the woman, who was a sinner, was brought up for judgment before Christ.
Robert Owen’s mistakes, then, as a practical reformer, were, in my judgment, twofold.
First. He regarded self-love, or man’s longing for happiness, rationally educated, as the most trustworthy foundation of morals. I think that the hunger and thirst after the Right,7 which is induced by culture of the conscience, is a higher motive, and, because higher, a motive better fitted to elevate our race, than selfishness, however enlightened. Honesty is the best policy ; truth is the safest course. But he who is honest and true for the sake of the Right is more worthy, alike of trust and of love, than he who is honest and true for the sake of profit to himself.
Secondly. He limited his view of man to the first threescore and ten years of his life, ignoring the illimitable future beyond. But the Secular school can never prevail against the Spiritual. It has nothing to offer but this world, and that is insufficient for man.
Acting upon his ardent convictions, and subordinating to these all considerations of money or fame, my father, in the autumn of the year 1817, after elaborate preparation, held three public meetings in the great hall of the City of London Tavern. In the two first he set forth his views on education and on the social arrangement of society ; and these seem to have been favorably received, eliciting commendatory notices from the Times and other leading journals. Thereupon several sectarian papers called upon him to declare his views on religion, which, till then, he had withheld. And this appears to have produced a sudden resolution which he disclosed to no one, wishing to take the sole responsibility ; namely, at the third meeting (as he himself expresses it), to “ denounce and reject all the religions of the world.”
The day before this meeting (August 20) he had an interview, by appointment, with Lord Liverpool, who received him graciously; and when my father asked permission to place his name and the names of other members of the Cabinet on the committee of investigation the appointment of which he proposed to move at the meeting next day, the Minister replied, “You may make any use of our names you please, short of implicating the government.”
The meeting was crowded by thousands, and thousands more went away unable to find even standing room. My father began by putting the question, “ What has hitherto retarded the advancement of our race to a high state of virtue and happiness?” The words of his reply clearly indicate the enthusiastic excitement under which his mind was laboring : “ Who can answer that question ? who dares answer it but with his life in his hand? — a ready and willing victim to truth, and to the emancipation of the world from its long bondage of error, crime, and misery. Behold that victim ! On this day ! in this hour ! even now ! shall those bonds be burst asunder, never more to reunite while the world lasts ! ”
Then he proceeded to declare that the arrest of human progress toward a rational state was due to the “ gross errors underlying every religion that has hitherto been taught to man.”8
These sweeping and extravagant sentiments were doubtless uttered with the same sincerity, and in somewhat the same state of feeling, that prompted the monk Telemachus to confront in the arena of the Coliseum the anger of Roman Emperor and populace, in an effort to put an end to the barbarity of gladiator shows. My father spared no cost in publishing
what he had said ; purchasing of the London newspapers which appeared on the day succeeding each of his three lectures respectively thirty thousand copies. These papers, then heavily stamped, sold at fifteen cents apiece. In addition to this he printed forty thousand copies of each in pamphlet form, at a cost of more than six thousand dollars. In two months he had expended, for paper, printing, and postage, twenty thousand dollars.9 The London mails, on the three days succeeding his lectures, were delayed, by the unexampled increase of mail-matter, twenty minutes beyond their set time.
My father, with fervid and exaggerated ideas of his mission, was evidently prepared for violence, even for outrage ; 10 and he had enough of the martyr in him to face it: yet he need not have feared. The ages have long gone by when a self-sacrificing reformer imperils life, or loses it as the noble Roman monk did at the hands of the very sufferers for whose liberties and lives he was pleading, 11 by an honest endeavor to benefit his race. The day is past, even, when, in a free-minded country like England, one incurs personal risk by expressing, however boldly, if only honestly and decorously and without exciting to revolutionary violence, any opinions, no matter how extreme or unpopular.
What he did incur was a certain measure of ostracism. The Times led on, wheeling into line against him, and other periodicals followed its lead. He lost caste in the eyes of the pious, the conservative, and, in a general way, of the influential classes ; though some of these last, including the Duke of Kent and Lord Brougham, stood by him to the end. A few of his personal friends avoided his society, and many more were alarmed and dispirited.
He retained his hold, however, upon the working classes ; and in the sequel he extended and fortified an influence over them which is sensibly felt, alike in its truths and its errors, to this day. An official Report on Religious Worship, made in connection with the British census of 1851 to the RegistrarGeneral, speaks of the prevalence of secularism among the laboring classes; its principal tenet, the reporter says, being that, as another world is matter of uncertainty, it is wise not to waste our energies on so remote a contingency, but to restrict our thoughts and exertions to the present life, adding : “ This is the creed which probably with most exactness indicates the faith which, virtually though not professedly, is entertained by the masses of our working population.” 12 Thirty years ago the Westminster Review had said: “The principles of Robert Owen are, in one form or another, the actual creed at the present time of a great portion of the working-classes.” 13
The reviewer speaks here, of course, of my father’s ideas on co-operative industry as well as on religion. I learned recently from an English gentleman who has taken the lead in forming co-operative unions, that the amount of capital now invested in cooperative stores, manufactories, and the like, throughout Great Britain, exceeds eight millions of dollars ; that, with scarcely an exception, these have been a financial success ; and that they are rapidly on the increase.
While all earnest believers in a better world than this must regret the prevalence of materialistic opinions among England’s laborers, it is an open question whether the fallow ground of secularism be not better fitted to receive the good seed of vital religion than the dogmatic field of theology, often choked with a thousand noxious weeds.
There are various niches to be filled by those who would render service to
their fellows ; and the ultra-reformer’s is one of these. It needs a violent wrench to unsettle the deep-seated errors of centuries, before quiet truths and well-considered opinions — the sober second-thought which succeeds agitation — can take their places.
The pioneer, meanwhile, suffers for his rashness. Yet, on my return to Braxfield, I found my father as sanguine as ever, busy in perfecting his educational reforms, and apparently thinking little, and caring less, about the loss of his popularity. I myself was much occupied, for several years, in the personal supervision of the village schools, both day and evening. Several incidents that influenced, more or less, my after-life grew out of this occupation.
In the summer of 1824, when I was twenty-two years old, the first book I ever wrote, a small octavo volume of a hundred pages was published in London and Glasgow: its title, An Outline of the System of Education at New Lanark. It was favorably received by the public ; and, in glancing over its pages, now after an interval of half a century, I do not find much to retract. Left free by my father to say just what I pleased, I did not follow his religious lead. In our schools he had not only scrupulously excluded all opinions, such as he himself held, against the religions of the day, but he allowed brief portions of the Scriptures to be statedly read by the children, because their parents wished it. Their time, however, was mainly occupied, aside from lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic, in mastering the more important facts taught by natural science, geography, and history.
The ground I assumed was this : “ A knowledge of these facts is a necessary preliminary to the study of the science of religion ; and a child, at an early age, should become acquainted with them, instead of being instructed
in abstruse doctrinal points. . . . . An
acquaintance with the works of the Deity, such as these children acquire, must lay the basis of true religion ; because true religion must be in unison with all facts.” 14
In those days Jeremy Bentham was my favorite author, and I was deeply read in his Principles of Morals and Legislation. From him and from my father I accepted the theory that utility is the test and measure of virtue ; and this caused me to fall in with what I now regard as one of Robert Owen’s mistakes ; to wit, the assuming enlightened selfishness as the most trustworthy basis of elevated morality. In the introduction to the account of our school system I find myself saying : “ A clear knowledge and distinct conviction of the necessary consequences of any particular line of conduct is all that is necessary to direct the child in the way he should go ; provided common justice be done to him in regard to the other circumstances which surround him in infancy and childhood.” 15
The publication of these and similar opinions procured for me, some time afterwards, an interesting introduction. Having accompanied my father on one of his visits to London, I told him that I much wished to make Jeremy Bentham’s acquaintance. He replied that Bentham’s aversion to new faces was such that his most intimate friends could not take the liberty even to propose an introduction, unless he had himself expressed a desire on the subject. But a week or two later he informed me that he had visited Bentham, who said to him, in his abrupt way : “Owen, I like that son of yours. I’ve been reading his book. Send him to see me, will you ? No, I ’ll write him myself.”
Ten days later I had an invitation to his symposium, as he sometimes called his seven - o’clock evening meal ; at which, however, there was abundance to eat as well as to drink : the pro-
fane vulgar would have called it a late dinner — and a very good one.
I preserve a most agreeable recollection of that grand old face, beaming with benignity and intelligence, and occasionally with a touch of humor, which I did not expect. The portrait of him which is prefixed to the later English editions of his Morals and Legislation is very like him, as I saw him then, at the age of seventy-eight, six years before his death.
I do not remember to have met any one of his age who seemed to have more complete possession of his faculties, bodily and mental ; and this surprised me the more because I knew that, in his childhood, he had been a feeblelimbed, frail boy, precocious, indeed,— taking his degree of A. M. at eighteen, — but with little of that health of body which is sometimes spoken of as indispensable to health of mind. I knew, also, that, in his early years, in that gloomy “ Lincoln’s Inn garret ” (as he himself called it), and before he had made the acquaintance of the cheerful and talented circle at Lord Shelburne’s, he had been sad and desponding, dispirited by the world’s lack of appreciation of youthful efforts, which to-day are admitted to have given evidence of marvellous acuteness and promise. Add to this that his later attempts to have his principles of jurisprudence adopted, at first by his own government, afterwards by the United States, and, not long before I saw him, by Spain, bad all been unsuccessful; and yet there I found him, having over-passed by nearly a decade the allotted threescore years and ten, with step as active and eye as bright and conversation as vivacious as one expects in a hale man of fifty.
Our dinner-party consisted of John Neal of Maine, the author of Logan and other novels, and then, I think, an inmate of Bentham’s house ; and three or four others whose names I can no longer recall. I shall never forget my surprise when we were ushered by the venerable philosopher into his diningroom. An apartment of good size, it was occupied by a platform about two feet high, and which filled the whole room, except a passage-way, some three or four feet wide, which had been left so that one could pass all round it. Upon this platform stood the dinnertable and chairs, with room enough for the servants to wait upon us. Around the head of the table was a huge screen, to protect the old man, I suppose, against the draught from the doors.
The dinner passed cheerfully, amid the lively, and to me most interesting conversation of our host; but I observed that he did not touch upon any of the topics of the day, nor allude to recent events, political or social; while his recollections of the past were vivid and ready. His talk ran chiefly on those principles of morals and jurisprudence which have made his name famous.
When the cloth was drawn and we had sat for some time over our “wine and walnuts,” Bentham pulled a bellrope that hung on his right. “John, my marmalade ! ” he called out to the servant who entered ; then, to us : “ That Scotch marmalade is an excellent digester. I always take a little after dinner.”
When another half-hour had passed, he touched the bell again. This time his order to the servant startled me : “ John, my nightcap ! ”
I rose to go, and one or two others did the same ; Neal sat still. “Ah ! ” said Bentham, as he drew a black silk nightcap over his spare gray hair, “ you think that’s a hint to go. Not a bit of it. Sit down ! I ’ll tell you when I am tired. I’m going to vibrate a little ; that assists digestion, too.”
And with that he descended into the trench-like passage, of which I have spoken, and commenced walking briskly back and forth, his head nearly on a level with ours, as we sat. Of course we all turned toward him. For full half an hour, as he walked, did he continue to pour forth such a witty and eloquent invective against kings, priests, and their retainers, as I have seldom listened to. Then he returned to the head of the table and kept up the conversation, without flagging, till midnight ere he dismissed us.
His parting words to me were characteristic : “ God bless you, — if there be such a being ; and at all events, my young friend, take care of yourself.”
Bentham’s standing as a reformer of jurisprudence was not, at that time, what it afterwards grew to be, especially in England ; thanks to the translations and able editing of his works by Dumont, he was more highly appreciated in France. Yet his posthumous fame was greater than his reputation while living. I heard him often spoken of as an ultra radical by those who thought that one of the gravest terms of reproach. It is true that after I saw him, but while he yet lived, Mackintosh admitted that “ Bentham had done more than any other man to rouse the spirit of judicial reformation.” But it was years after his death that Macaulay paid him this higher tribute : “ Posterity will pronounce its calm and impartial decision ; and that decision will, we firmly believe, place in the same rank with Galileo and with Locke the man who found jurisprudence a gibberish and left it a science. In some of the highest departments in which the human intellect can exert itself, he has not left his equal nor his second behind him.”
With John Neal I kept up the acquaintance thus begun. My father, ardent in his love of civil and religious liberty, had brought me up to think highly of America and Americans ; and the young man’s enthusiastic admiration of Bentham fell in well with my own. He was then engaged in writing, for Blackwood, sketches of the literary and political celebrities of the United States, which I read eagerly; and the stories he told of his native country had for me all the charm of romance.
One day, when I was walking with him in Hyde Park, we met Henry Brougham, who accosted me, Neal sauntering on. I had spent several days of the previous week near Birmingham, with the Hills; Rowland, afterwards Sir Rowland, author of the penny-postage system, and for many years at the head of the British postoffice ; together with two other brothers, Frederick and Matthew ; the former noted in later years for his work on Crime and its Causes ; the latter, for his exertions in procuring law reform. They were then conducting a large boarding-school or private college for boys, justly celebrated in its day ; and, as Brougham knew of my visit, he had stopped me to learn what I thought of that institution. I spoke of it, as I felt, in terms of the warmest approval. I remember that one trifling peculiarity which I related to him took his fancy, as it had taken mine : we were roused in the morning, not by the harsh clang of a bell, but by the soft tones of a cornet, gradually swelling until the musician concluded that they were loud enough to awaken the sleeping population of the house, — a most pleasant and harmonious ushering in of a new day, it had seemed to me.
Our conversation ended, I rejoined Neal. “ Some schoolmaster, was it not ? ” he asked in an indifferent tone.
“ No, indeed,” said I ; “ that was Henry Brougham. I should have introduced you, if you had n’t walked off.”
Neal stopped dead short, and stared at me. “ Henry Brougham ! ” he cried out at last. “ The man of all others I wanted to see and know ! What an ass I was ! not to see, in his face, the power and talent he has, — to mistake him for some old pedagogue.”
Henry Brougham, though then without title, had been, for years, a distinguished member of Parliament, eminent for his passionate eloquence and vehement invective ; famous, too, as the legal defender of Queen Caroline. He had also been chosen a year or two before, though Walter Scott was his competitor, Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow, and his recent work On the Education of the People was attracting universal attention. No wonder, then, that my friend Neal, sanguine, impressible, and a worshipper of genius, was provoked with himself for having missed an introduction.
I may state here that there was, between Brougham and my father, so great a personal resemblance, alike in face and person, that the one was frequently mistaken for the other. A year or two after Brougham obtained his title, my father, passing through Macclesfield in the mail-coach, was accosted, while it stopped there, by a gentleman who said he was glad to see his Lordship again so soon. My father, guessing the mistake, protested that he was not Lord Brougham ; but the other rejoined, “ You wish to travel incognito ; but you forget that I had the honor of dining with your Lordship three weeks ago.” This was noised about ; a crowd collected ; and when the coach started again, they gave three hearty cheers for Lord Brougham, the people’s friend.
My father, while I was with him in London, introduced me to a noted author, already known to me through two of his works, — Political Justice and Caleb Williams, — and as the husband, thirty years before that time, however, of the celebrated Mary Wollstonecraft. William Godwin was then seventy years old ; but he seemed to me older than Bentham. Feeble and bent, he had neither the bright eye nor the elastic step of the utilitarian philosopher. In person he was small and insignificant. His capacious forehead, seeming to weigh down the aged head, alone remained to indicate the talent which even his opponents confessed that he had shown, alike in his novels and in his graver works. His conversation gave me the impression of intellect without warmth of heart; it touched on great principles, but was measured and unimpulsive ; as great a contrast to Bentham’s as could well be imagined.
His face, however, twenty years before, if one might judge by what seemed a capital oil-painting that hung over the mantel-piece, must have had a noble expression. A head of Mary Wollstonecraft, in another part of the room, was inferior as a picture. But the face, less masculine than I had figured it to myself, was very beautiful ; a peculiar soft and loving expression about the eyes mingling with a look of great intelligence. Godwin assured me that it was an excellent likeness. I gazed at it, calling to mind some of the sad passages of her life as recorded by her husband, and wondering whether her brief union with him had made up tor previous sufferings.
My visits to London were occasional only, when my father needed an amanuensis.
At New Lanark I spent part of my time, during two or three years, in my father’s counting-house, greatly to my after-advantage. I mastered, also, every operation by which cotton yarn is produced : for my father left me manager in his absence, intending that I should by and by take his place. This was not to be.
Meanwhile there occurred what forms one of the most romantic episodes of my life ; of which I propose to give the details in the next chapter.
Robert Dale Owen.
- “Am Rhein, am Rhein, da wachsen unsere Reben ;↩
- Gesegnet sey der Rhein !” etc. seemed to be journeying through a fairy-land of legend and of song.↩
- The form used in viséing passports was adopted : “ Seen and approved by us, Russian Commandant of the City of Coblentz, January 1, 1814.”↩
- Debate between Robert Owen and the Rev. J. H. Roebuck, London and Manchester, 1837, pp. 7 and 25.↩
- Debate quoted, p, 106.↩
- Every tyro in Greek knows that dunamis (which, in accordance with King James’s instruction to his translators that “ the old ecclesiastical words should be kept,” is rendered, in our authorized version, miracle) means simply “ power, faculty, efficacy ” : the word “ dynamics ” (certainly not a miraculous science) being derived from the same root.↩
- Analogy of Religion, Part II. Chap. II, pp. 195, 196, of London ed. of 1809.↩
- Matthew v. 6.↩
- Autobiography, p. 161.↩
- Autobiography, p. 156.↩
- Ibid., p. 161.↩
- Telemachus was slain by the gladiators themselves, incensed at his interference, about A. D. 400, under the Emperor Honorius.—Milman’s History of Christianity, Vol. III., Book IV, Chap, II.↩
- Report on Religious Worship made by Horace Mann, barrister of Lincoln’s Inn, to the RegistrarGeneral, under date December S, 1853.↩
- Westminster Review for April, 1S39,↩
- New Lanark Schools, pp. 52, 53, 56, 57.↩
- Work cited, pp. 12, 13, 16. I admitted elsewhere, however, that convictions as to our true interests might be counteracted by the influence of evil associates ; confessing that “ man is gregarious ; and he might choose to traverse a desert in the company of others, though it led to danger and death, in preference to a solitary journey, though it conducted through gardens to a paradise.” — p. 21.↩