680: Inequality is the Source of All Delight.

Dr. Johnson, who sometimes let fall, in off-hand talk, sayings of such depth, simplicity, and significance that we must go back to the philosophers of antiquity to find the like of them, once remarked that “inequality is the source of all delight.” This saying, which must seem surprising to most modern ears, is absolutely true and even demonstrable.

All delight — not all pleasure, which is quite a different thing — will be found, when thoroughly examined, to consist in the rendering and receiving of love and the services of love. Hence the great and fortunately inextinguishable fountains of delight in the relationships of man and woman and of parents and children. It is true that a low and inorganic form of national polity may, to some extent, suppress even these pure springs of felicity; but, so long as there are women and children in the world, it can never become quite joyless. The doctrines of liberty, fraternity, and equality are known instinctively only by very bad children, and most women, when once they have been in love, repudiate such teaching indignantly, under whatever polity they may have been born.

“Between unequals sweet is equal love;”

and the fact is that there is no love, and therefore no sweetness, which is not thus conditioned; and the greater the inequality the greater the sweetness. Hence the doctrine that infinite felicity can only arise from the mutual love of beings infinitely unequal — that is, of the creator and the creature. Inequality, far from implying any dishonour on either side of the mutual compact of love, is the source of honour to both. Hooker, writing of marriage, says: “It is no small honour to a man that a creature so like himself should be subjected to him;” and we all know that the honour to woman which the chivalry of the middle ages made an abiding constituent of civilisation, was founded upon Catholic views of her subjection, and the obligation to give special honour, as of right, to the weaker vessel. Look also at the relations which usually subsist between an hereditary gentleman and his hereditary unequals and dependents, and compare them with the ordinary fraternal relations between a Radical master-tradesman and his workmen. The intercourse between the gentleman and his hind or labourer is free, cheerful, and exhilarating, because there is commonly in it the only equality worth regarding, that of goodwill; whereas the commands of the sugar-boiler or the screw-maker to their brothers are probably given with a frown and received with a scowl. Social inequality, since it arises from unalterable nature and inevitable chance, is irritating only when it is not recognised. The American plutocrat may be forced to travel for a week in the company of a hodman, because American theories discountenance first and third class carriages, but catch him speaking to him! Whereas an English duke, if by chance thrown into the companionship of an honest countryman, would be on the best of terms with him before an hour was over, and the good understanding between the two would be made all the easier should the latter have on his distinguishing smock-frock. The genuine Tory is the most accessible of persons, the genuine Radical the least so. The one takes things as they are and must be, the other views them as they are not and cannot be, and, kicking against imaginary evils, often pays the penalty of finding himself firmly saddled with the realities.

(Coventry Patmore, “Thoughts on Knowledge, Opinion, and Inequality,” The Fortnightly Review, Vol. XLII, 1887, pp. 264–265).

680: Inequality is the Source of All Delight.

662: Idols & Idolaters.

Why cannot the modernists live and let live? Do they think that by eating their grandfathers they will acquire all their virtue and reputation? It was not always so. Literature presents the spectacle of a long procession of great writers holding by each others’ robes, and, incidentally, with their hands in each others’ pockets. Virgil pays Homer the flattery of continuous imitation. To Dante, Virgil is the highest type of human reason. Milton bows to “blind Thamyris and blind Mæonides.” Even the leaders of a rival school, the earlier rationalists and realists, were true to their forbears. Voltaire held by the Greek tragedians. Pope and Dr. Johnson edited Shakespeare and praised him nobly. The great writers of the last century, — Goethe, Hugo, Scott, Tennyson, — prostrated themselves before their predecessors. Thackeray wanted to black Shakespeare’s boots. In general, every one who has become an idol has been an idolater.

(Charles Leonard Moore, “The ‘Waning’ Classics,The Dial, Vol. LX, 1916, p. 71).

662: Idols & Idolaters.

644: My Retrospect of Life.

‘Praise,’ said the sage with a sigh, ‘is to an old man an empty sound. I have neither mother to be delighted with the reputation of her son, nor wife to partake the honours of her husband. I have outlived my friends and my rivals. Nothing is now of much importance; for I cannot extend my interest beyond myself. Youth is delighted with applause, because it is considered as the earnest of some future good, and because the prospect of life is far extended; but to me, who am now declining to decrepitude, there is little to be feared from the malevolence of men, and yet less to be hoped from their affection or esteem. Something they may yet take away, but they can give me nothing. Riches would now be useless, and high employment would be pain. My retrospect of life recalls to my view many opportunities of good neglected, much time squandered upon trifles, and more lost in idleness and vacancy. I leave many great designs unattempted, and many great attempts unfinished. My mind is burdened with no heavy crime, and therefore I compose myself to tranquillity; endeavour to abstract my thoughts from hopes and cares, which, though reason knows them to be vain, still try to keep their old possession of the heart; expect, with serene humility, that hour which nature cannot long delay; and hope to possess, in a better state, that happiness which here I could not find, and that virtue which here I have not attained.’

(Samuel Johnson, History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1898, pp. 143–144).

644: My Retrospect of Life.

607: Barren Zeal.

Man is a transitory being, and his designs must partake of the imperfections of their author. To confer duration is not always in our power. We must snatch the present moment, and employ it well, without too much solicitude for the future, and content ourselves with reflecting that our part is performed. He that waits for an opportunity to do much at once, may breathe out his life in idle wishes, and regret, in the last hour, his useless intentions, and barren zeal.

(Samuel Johnson, Select Essays, Vol. 2. London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1889, p. 147).

607: Barren Zeal.

587: To Rid Themselves of the Day.

When we observe the lives of those whom an ample inheritance has let loose to their own direction, what do we discover that can excite our envy? Their time seems not to pass with much applause from others, or satisfaction to themselves: many squander their exuberance of fortune in luxury and debauchery, and have no other use of money than to inflame their passions, and riot in a wide range of licentiousness; others, less criminal indeed, but surely not much to be praised, lie down to sleep, and rise up to trifle, are employed every morning in finding expedients to rid themselves of the day, chase pleasure through all the places of publick resort, fly from London to Bath, and from Bath to London, without any other reason for changing place, but that they go in quest of company as idle and as vagrant as themselves, always endeavouring to raise some new desire, that they may have something to pursue, to rekindle some hope which they know will be disappointed, changing one amusement for another which a few months will make equally insipid, or sinking into languor and disease for want of something to actuate their bodies or exhilarate their minds.

(Samuel Johnson, Essays. London: Walter Scott, 1888, p. 248).

587: To Rid Themselves of the Day.

516: Much of a Muchness.

A greater concern was that meritocracy would produce an overweening centralized state. The Prussian precedent left Walter Bagehot wary of “establishing, virtually for the first time in England, an organized Bureaucracy.” On the floor of the House of Commons, MPs brandished warnings from Tocqueville and Montalembert against following imperial France’s example, which would inevitably lead to administrative tyranny, the creation of a political clerisy, and “a venal and servile humor” to supplant the English spirit of liberty. Gladstone replied that such worries were “idle, pusillanimous, and womanish,” since Parliament could be trusted to keep the civil service in its place. “In certain continental states the experiment may be perilous, but in England you may make the Civil Service as strong as you please.”

Hearing this, Robert Cecil (later Lord Salisbury) rose to say that “he did not regard that fear as so groundless and unfounded as the right honorable Gentleman appeared to do.” Salisbury’s comprehensive case against Northcote-Trevelyan was dismissed by Gladstone biographer John Morley as “the lazy doctrine that men are much of a muchness,” and no doubt this was Salisbury’s starting point. Beyond ensuring that candidates could spell and add, he thought that selecting the most intelligent men you could find was unnecessary — even positively harmful. Such men would be arrogant and argumentative, and would “look upon their duties as beneath their abilities.” This was not mere speculation, but the attested experience of their supervisors in departments where examination had been implemented. One bitter customs officer cited by Salisbury complained of “a self-sufficiency and presumption, from an imagined superiority in having undergone such examination, and a desire for literature in business, which I have been obliged to check.” This arrogance was bad enough around the office, Salisbury believed, but to the extent that it encompassed the public, it was a threat to their liberties.

More generally, Salisbury predicted that competitive examination would dangerously transform the spirit of government. As he saw it, reformers were seeking to automate the art of politics in a way “manifestly repugnant to the commonest and not the worst feelings of our nature.” Rattling off instances of patronage exercised nobly by Sir Walter Scott, Samuel Johnson, and Robert Peel, Salisbury asked whether it was worth abjuring such acts merely to keep out a handful of slow-witted copyists: “Why should favour and friendship, kindness and gratitude, which are not banished by men from private life, be absolutely excluded from public affairs?” And in the effort to eliminate all unmathematical considerations from the exercise of power, what other human qualities might not be driven out? Mercy? Flexibility? Loyalty to country? It was a dangerous and metastatic idea, this notion that statesmen could govern by formula.

(Helen Andrews, “The New Ruling Class,” The Hedgehog Review, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, 2016).

516: Much of a Muchness.