In those most benighted Feudal societies, full of mere tyrannous steel Barons, and totally destitute of Tenpound Franchises and Ballot-boxes, there did nevertheless authentically preach itself everywhere this grandest of gospels, without which no other gospel can avail us much, to all souls of men, "Awake ye noble souls; here is a noble career for you!" I say, everywhere a road towards promotion, for human nobleness, lay wide open to all men. The pious soul,--which, if you reflect, will mean the ingenuous and ingenious, the gifted, intelligent and nobly-aspiring soul,--such a soul, in whatever rank of life it were born, had one path inviting it; a generous career, whereon, by human worth and valor, all earthly heights and Heaven itself were attainable. In the lowest stratum of social thraldom, nowhere was the noble soul doomed quite to choke, and die ignobly. The Church, poor old benighted creature, had at least taken care of that: the noble aspiring soul, not doomed to choke ignobly in its penuries, could at least run into the neighboring Convent, and there take refuge. Education awaited it there; strict training not only to whatever useful knowledge could be had from writing and reading, but to obedience, to pious reverence, self-restraint, annihilation of self,--really to human nobleness in many most essential respects. No questions asked about your birth, genealogy, quantity of money-capital or the like; the one question was, "Is there some human nobleness in you, or is there not?" The poor neat-herd's son, if he were a Noble of Nature, might rise to Priesthood, to High-priesthood, to the top of this world,--and best of all, he had still high Heaven lying high enough above him, to keep his head steady, on whatever height or in whatever depth his way might lie!
A thrice-glorious arrangement, when I reflect on it; most salutary to all high and low interests; a truly human arrangement. You made the born noble yours, welcoming him as what he was, the Sent of Heaven: you did not force him either to die or become your enemy; idly neglecting or suppressing him as what he was not, a thing of no worth. You accepted the blessed _light_; and in the shape of infernal _lightning_ it needed not to visit you. How, like an immense mine-shaft through the dim oppressed strata of society, this Institution of the Priesthood ran; opening, from the lowest depths towards all heights and towards Heaven itself, a free road of egress and emergence towards virtuous nobleness, heroism and well-doing, for every born man. This we may call the living lungs and blood-circulation of those old Feudalisms. When I think of that immeasurable all-pervading lungs; present in every corner of human society, every meanest hut a _cell_ of said lungs; inviting whatsoever noble pious soul was born there to the path that was noble for him; and leading thereby sometimes, if he were worthy, to be the Papa of Christendom, and Commander of all Kings,--I perceive how the old Christian society continued healthy, vital, and was strong and heroic. When I contrast this with the noble aims now held out to noble souls born in remote huts, or beyond the verge of Palace-Yard; and think of what your Lordship has done in the way of making priests and papas,--I see a society without lungs, fast wheezing itself to death, in horrid convulsions; and deserving to die.
Over Europe generally in these years, I consider that the State has died, has fairly coughed its last in street musketry, and fallen down dead, incapable of any but _galvanic_ life henceforth,--owing to this same fatal want of _lungs_, which includes all other wants for a State. And furthermore that it will never come alive again, till it contrive to get such indispensable vital apparatus; the outlook toward which consummation is very distant in most communities of Europe. If you let it come to death or suspended animation in States, the case is very bad! Vain to call in universal-suffrage parliaments at that stage: the universal-suffrage parliaments cannot give you any breath of life, cannot find any _wisdom_ for you; by long impiety, you have let the supply of noble human wisdom die out; and the wisdom that now courts your universal suffrages is beggarly human _attorneyism_ or sham-wisdom, which is _not_ an insight into the Laws of God's Universe, but into the laws of hungry Egoism and the Devil's Chicane, and can in the end profit no community or man.
No; the kind of heroes that come mounted on the shoulders of the universal suffrage, and install themselves as Prime Ministers and healing Statesmen by force of able editorship, do not bid very fair to bring Nations back to the ways of God. Eloquent high-lacquered _pinchbeck_ specimens these, expert in the arts of Belial mainly;--fitter to be markers at some exceedingly expensive billiard-table than sacred chief-priests of men! "Greeks of the Lower Empire;" with a varnish of parliamentary rhetoric; and, I suppose, this other great gift, toughness of character,--proof that they have _persevered_ in their Master's service. Poor wretches, their industry is mob-worship, place-worship, parliamentary intrigue, and the multiplex art of tongue-fence: flung into that bad element, there they swim for decades long, throttling and wrestling one another according to their strength,--and the toughest or luckiest gets to land, and becomes Premier. A more entirely unbeautiful class of Premiers was never raked out of the ooze, and set on high places, by any ingenuity of man. Dame Dubarry's petticoat was a better seine-net for fishing out Premiers than that. Let all Nations whom necessity is driving towards that method, take warning in time!
Alas, there is, in a manner, but one Nation that can still take warning! In England alone of European Countries the State yet survives; and might help itself by better methods. In England heroic wisdom is not yet dead, and quite replaced by attorneyism: the honest beaver faculty yet abounds with us, the heroic manful faculty shows itself also to the observant eye, not dead but dangerously sleeping. I said there were many _kings_ in England: if these can yet be rallied into strenuous activity, and set to govern England in Downing Street and elsewhere, which their function always is,--then England can be saved from anarchies and universal suffrages; and that Apotheosis of Attorneyism, blackest of terrestrial curses, may be spared us. If these cannot, the other issue, in such forms as may be appropriate to us, is inevitable. What escape is there? England must conform to the eternal laws of life, or England too must die!
England with the largest mass of real living interests ever intrusted to a Nation; and with a mass of extinct imaginary and quite dead interests piled upon it to the very Heavens, and encumbering it from shore to shore,--does reel and stagger ominously in these years; urged by the Divine Silences and the Eternal Laws to take practical hold of its living interests and manage them: and clutching blindly into its venerable extinct and imaginary interests, as if that were still the way to do it. England must contrive to manage its living interests, and quit its dead ones and their methods, or else depart from its place in this world. Surely England is called as no Nation ever was, to summon out its _kings_, and set them to that high work!--Huge inorganic England, nigh choked under the exuviae of a thousand years, and blindly sprawling amid chartisms, ballot-boxes, prevenient graces, and bishops' nightmares, must, as the preliminary and commencement of organization, learn to _breathe_ again,--get "lungs" for herself again, as we defined it. That is imperative upon her: she too will die, otherwise, and cough her last upon the streets some day;--how can she continue living? To enfranchise whatsoever of Wisdom is born in England, and set that to the sacred task of coercing and amending what of Folly is born in England: Heaven's blessing is purchasable by that; by not that, only Heaven's curse is purchasable. The reform contemplated, my liberal friends perceive, is a truly radical one; no ballot-box ever went so deep into the roots: a radical, most painful, slow and difficult, but most indispensable reform of reforms!
How short and feeble an approximation to these high ulterior results, the best Reform of Downing Street, presided over by the fittest Statesman one can imagine to exist at present, would be, is too apparent to me. A long time yet till we get our living interests put under due administration, till we get our dead interests handsomely dismissed. A long time yet till, by extensive change of habit and ways of thinking and acting, _we_ get living "lungs" for ourselves! Nevertheless, by Reform of Downing Street, we do begin to breathe: we do start in the way towards that and all high results. Nor is there visible to me any other way. Blessed enough were the way once entered on; could we, in our evil days, but see the noble enterprise begun, and fairly in progress!
What the "_New_ Downing Street" can grow to, and will and must if England is to have a Downing Street beyond a few years longer, it is far from me, in my remote watch-tower, to say with precision. A Downing Street inhabited by the gifted of the intellects of England; directing all its energies upon the real and living interests of England, and silently but incessantly, in the alembics of the place, burning up the extinct imaginary interests of England, that we may see God's sky a little plainer overhead, and have all of us a great accession of "heroic wisdom" to dispose of: such a Downing Street--to draw the plan of it, will require architects; many successive architects and builders will be needed there. Let not editors, and remote unprofessional persons, interfere too much!--Change in the present edifice, however, radical change, all men can discern to be inevitable; and even, if there shall not worse swiftly follow, to be imminent. Outlines of the future edifice paint themselves against the sky (to men that still have a sky, and are above the miserable London fogs of the hour); noble elements of new State Architecture, foreshadows of a new Downing Street for the New Era that is come. These with pious hope all men can see; and it is good that all men, with whatever faculty they have, were earnestly looking thitherward;--trying to get above the fogs, that they might look thitherward!