It is curious for one who studies the action and reaction of national literature on each other, to see the humor of Swift and Sterne and Fielding, after filtering through Richter, reappear in Carlyle with a tinge of Germanism that makes it novel, alien, or even displeasing, as the case may be, to the English mind.
God does not weigh criminality in our scales. We have one absolute, with the seal of authority upon it; and with us an ounce is an ounce, and a pound a pound. God's measure is the heart of the offender,--a balance which varies with every one of us, a balance so delicate that a tear cast in the other side may make the weight of error kick the beam.
To me it seems not unreasonable to find a re-enforcement of optimism, a renewal of courage and hope, in the modern theory that man has mounted to what he is from the lowest step of potentiality, through toilsome grades of ever-expanding existence, even thought it have been by a spiral stairway, mainly dark or dusty, with loop-holes at long intervals only, and these granting but a narrow and one-sided view.
The true historical genius, to our thinking, is that which can see the nobler meaning of events that are near him, as the true poet is he who detects the divine in the casual; and we somewhat suspect the depth of his insight into the past who cannot recognize the godlike of to-day under that disguise in which it always visits us.
Scepticism commonly takes up the room left by defect of imagination, and is the very quality of mind most likely to seek for sensual proof of supersensual things. If one came from the dead it could not believe; and yet it longs for such a witness, and will put up with a very dubious one.
Men have their intellectual ancestry, and the likeness of some one of them is forever unexpectedly flashing out in the features of a descendant, it may be after a gap of several centuries. In the parliament of the present every man represents a constituency of the past.
Among the lessons taught by the French revolution, there is none sadder or more striking than this--that you may make everything else out of the passions of men except a political system that will work, and that there is nothing so pitilessly and unconsciously cruel as sincerity formulated into dogma.
No man can produce great things who is not thoroughly sincere in dealing with himself, who would not exchange the finest show for the poorest reality, who does not so love his work that he is not only glad to give himself for it, but finds rather a gain than a sacrifice in the surrender.
Democracy is nothing more than an experiment in government, more likely to succeed in a new soil, but likely to be tried in all soils, which must stand or fall on its own merits as others have done before it. For there is no trick of perpetual motion in politics any more than in mechanics.
The right of individual property is no doubt the very corner-stone of civilization, as hitherto understood; but I am a little impatient of being told that property is entitled to exceptional consideration because it bears all the burdens of the state. It bears those, indeed, which can be most easily borne, but poverty pays with its person the chief expenses of war, pestilence, and famine.