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their full quota of frauds upon the New-York customhouse?! Let us at least be honest, — honest with ourselves, honest toward one another, — and admit that corruption is not a special vice of race or institutions, but a vice common to human nature under opportunity. It is the old plaint of Socrates and Plato about the “human race ;” and only when this shall be reformed “ will our ideal State have a possibility of life, and behold the light of day.” And, my dear Glaucon, the radical trouble is, that human nature refuses to be reformed, but is the one constant factor of evil in society, and we must do with it what best we can.
Rahel Varnhagen, who lived through the eventful experiences of Prussia in the beginning of the century, and whose observation of human nature was remarkably keen, wrote, “ We must not exact too much of mankind : they are all in a bad plight; full of inbred wrong; physically distorted and maimed; inheriting a nature which they have not gifts enough to understand, and therefore to use; apart quite from the consideration of the general politico-social deficit. If they do not lie and boast, that is all that can be expected of them: they are always paining as well as misunderstanding each other, because their nature is empty, foolish, and tiresome, ourselves included in the number. We must not, however, overlook our obligation, but see to this carefully.” Yet Rahel adds, “ The nature of great things, countries, and peoples, is essentially right when left to itself.”
Freedom of will, which is the most sublime, is at the same time the most perilous, endowment of human nature. Yet it should not, for that reason, be annihilated or suppressed, but guided by the sense of responsibility to a higher Power. John Adams had the true philosophy, when he wrote to Mrs. Adams, July 3, 1776, " The peoand shares in railway projects, have assumed obligations which often are far above their means. As such proceedings show a state of recklessness which is dangerous to the respect in which the rank of officials ought to be held, and which is incompatible with the interest of the state service, I hereby order that such swindling business on the part of officials shall be punished like gambling and debt-contracting according to the law of March 29 of this year. The chiefs of departments are to inform the officials of my determination in the most strictly private manner.
(Signed) “FRIEDERICH WILHELM. “SANS SOUCI, May 14, 1844.”
1 The adulteration of seeds by mixing quartz ground and dyed is very extensively practised in Germany.
ple will have unbounded power; and the people are extremely addicted to corruption and venality, as well as the great. But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.” Even the “ Positive Philosophy” teaches us that there is in the world a moral order, and that, sooner or later, society shall work out the behests of this invisible Power.
It must, however, be admitted, that a republican form of government affords, in some directions, facilities and temptations to official corruption, not common to the best ordered monarchies of Europe ; and also, that in the United States, for a few years past, the revelations of such corruption have been frequent, startling, and humiliating. But, in order fairly to weigh this evil as against the republic, we should ascertain how far it is exceptional, how far exaggerated; what is its proportion to the scale of population; what is the array of popular feeling, and of legal and moral forces, for arresting and subduing it.
That corruption is not the normal state of our body politic, nor the necessary fruit of our free institutions, is shown by the history of the government and of corporations down to the period of the war. Before that, peculation and corruption were on the scale of the copeck. The social demoralization so apt to follow a long war was increased, in our case, by the fact that it was a civil war, by the gigantic and often lavish outlays of the government, and by the creation of a fictitious medium of exchange. Men became accustomed to enormous figures in expenditure and debt; prices went up; speculation was stimulated; and the handling of money that the printing-press could multiply indefinitely, no doubt obfuscated the old-fashioned notions of economy, simplicity, and honest gains. Contemporary European nations have not escaped such demoralizing effects of war; but in the United States they have had larger license, partly because of the very suddenness and novelty of the experience.
Again : this corruption, which is in no small degree an exceptional phase of political society, has been exaggerated, at least in its impression abroad. The good citizen, intent upon reform, exaggerates the evil; the partisan, eager for political change, exaggerates it; the editor, who looks to sensations for his profits, exaggerates it; the stock-jobber, who speculates upon rumors and the public credulity, exaggerates it; and the cynic exaggerates it, whose profession it is to decry every thing, and to improve nothing. Hence one must learn to discount tales of detraction, whether told of individuals or of a people. For instance, since I have lived in Berlin, its foremost preacher has publicly denounced the city as a Sodom that nothing but fire from heaven could purify; and a prominent citizen, after serving as a juryman on criminal cases, affirms that Berlin is indeed a Sodom in beastly vices and crimes. As I would not pretend to be one of the ten exceptionally righteous, had I taken this literally, I should have hasted to flee from this doomed - city of the plain.” Three years ago, the foremost orator of Parliament inveighed against stock companies and speculators so roundly, that the Bourse felt called upon to send in a protest to the Reichstag. Yet, after what Prince Bismarck said lately, in the Reichstag, of the lying propensity of the press and of stock-jobbers, whom can we trust ? And, to crown all, the Imperial Parliament has twice called attention to the immorality of the city, even to the details of photographs in shop-windows; as though the average country. member was scandalized at the sights and doings of the capital, and Berlin was likely to become what every devout German has imagined Paris to be. Against such testimony I dare not maintain that human nature is here above its average in large mixed communities; yet, in all the outward decencies and privileges of civilization, Berlin is a fair average of great capitals, — better than some, if not so good as others. I find it only just to the great bulk of its population, that one should largely discount such sweeping denunciations, whether due to the fervor of piety, the energy of patriotism, or the zeal of reform. And if I refuse to take without qualification the testimony of pulpit, police, and parliament, against the fair fame of their own city, I may be indulged in discounting the wholesale charges of corruption in my native land,, exaggerated as these are by the fears and fancies of good men, the unscrupulous detractions of parties, the sensa
tional rumors of newspapers, the tricks of stock-jobbers, and the sneers of cynics. Much as the Senate of the United States has declined in the personal dignity and ability of its members, and the statesmanlike character of its debates and decisions, yet, if I read that the Senate as a body is corrupt, and open to sordid influences, I tell over the names of the men I know there, and say, “ This is a lie.”
An amusing illustration of the extent to which the cynical spirit will drive even noble minds in depreciating their country and age is found in Mr. Ruskin, in his “ Fors Clavigera.” Having had some sorry experiences of the tricks of mechanics and trades-people, he vents his indignation in this wise: “It is merely through the quite bestial ignorance of the moral law in which the English bishops have contentedly allowed their flocks to be brought up, that any of the modern English conditions of trade are possible ; for the modern English conditions of trade are, so far as I have had any experience of them, simply dishonest.” Having charged upon the bench of bishops the fraud of substituting sham ornaments glued upon his bookcases for the solid carving which he had paid for, Mr. Ruskin uses that same unlucky pot of glue to stick upon the English nation his pontifical sentence of major excommunication : 6 I do verily perceive and admit, in convinced sorrow, that I live in the midst of a nation of thieves and murderers; that everybody round me is trying to rob everybody else, and that not bravely and strongly, but in the most cowardly and loathsome ways of lying trade; that Englishman is now merely another word for blackleg and swindler, and English honor and courtesy changed to the sneaking and the smiles of a whipped peddler, an inarticulate Autolycus, with a steam hurdygurdy instead of a voice.” 1
I am not wanting in respect for Mr. Ruskin as a critic in morals as well as in art, and a master of English style; but this oracular entheasm of his in the 6 Fors” reminds one of Horace's insanire certa ratione modoque. If, however, upon the strength of Mr. Ruskin's piety and patriotism, I should take up his notion of English corruption, I
1 Fors Clavigera, October, 1875.
should do no worse than the Englishman who mistakes the cynical severity of “ The Nation ”l for a sober representation of American society. As it happens, I know England too well to be imposed upon even by so great a name. Setting aside my own countrymen, who are just now under arraignment, — I have found the English the most honest and straightforward, the most manly and upright, among peoples. This is saying no more, indeed, than that Englishmen were worthy to be our ancestors. The English have their foibles; but, so far as I know, they have but a single vice that can be said to be universal and incurable : this is their drawling, sing-song, slovenly way of speaking our noble mother-tongue. In this their 6 corruption” is, I fear, hopeless.
John Adams, like all men of vehement moods, had something of Mr. Ruskin's cynical intolerance. In 1776, in the midst of his enthusiasm for independence, some fit of indigestion moved him to write to his wife, “ The spirit of venality you mention is the most dreadful and alarming enemy America has to oppose : it is as rapacious and insatiable as the grave. ... This predominant avarice will ruin America, if she is ever ruined. If God Almighty does not interfere by his grace to control this universal idolatry to the Mammon of unrighteousness, we shall be given up to the chastisements of his judgments. I am ashamed of the age I live in." Whatever the venality was that Adams thus deplored, this could not have been due to republican independence, since that was but just thought of, and was in a deadly struggle for existence. It is more than likely that Adams had in view the venality of British colonists who were willing to sell to the British Government the liberties of America for office or gold. Such ayarice might, indeed, have threatened to ruin Ameri
1 As a critic of art, literature, science, morals, and affairs, the Nation is a journal of which every American has reason to be proud. Yet I venture to suggest to its conductor's, that the excessive use of satire weakens the effect of that instrument of reform; that the habit of treating persons and topics in a serio-comic way cheapens praise and blame alike; and that an extravagant Caudle-style of lecturing misleads foreigners, who cannot see behind the curtain. If the Nation were compelled to spend as much time as I do in explaining its burlesque and satire to the Teutonic mind. and in showing that its political sarcasms are not to be taken as Bible truths, it would either label its articles for the foreign market, or have recourse to plain, straightforward English in self-defence.