Text: Edgar Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 7, July 1836, 2:???-???


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England in 1835. Being a Series of Letters written to Friends in Germany, during a Residence in London and Excursions into the Provinces. By Frederick Von Raumer, Professor of History at the University of Berlin, Author of the “History of the Hohenslaufen,” of the “History of Europe from the end of the Fifteenth Century,” of “Illustrations of the History of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” &c. &c. Translated from the German, by Sarah Austin and H. E. Lloyd. Philadelphia: Carey, Lea and Blanchard.

This work will form an æra in the reading annals of the more contemplative portion of Americans — while its peculiar merits will be overlooked by the multitude. The broad and solid basis of its superstructure — the scrupulous accuracy of its data — the disdain of mere logic in its deductions — the generalizing, calm, comprehensive — in a word, the German character of its philosophy, will insure it an enthusiastic welcome among all the nobler spirits of our land. What though its general tenor be opposed at least apparently to many of our long cherished opinions and deeply-rooted prejudices? Shall we less welcome the truth, or glory in its advancement because of its laying bare our own individual errors? But the England of Von Raumer will be sadly and wickedly misconceived if it be really conceived as militating against a Republicanism here, which it opposes with absolute justice, in Great Britain, and Prussia. It will be sadly misconceived if it be regarded as embracing one single sentence with which the most bigoted lover of abstract Democracy can have occasion to find fault. At the same time we cannot help believing that it will, in some measure, be effectual in diverting the minds of our countrymen, and of all who read it, from that perpetual and unhealthy excitement about the forms and machinery of governmental action which have, within the last half century so absorbed their attention as to exclude in a strange degree all care of the proper results of good government — the happiness of a people — improvement in the condition of mankind — practicable under a thousand forms — and without which all forms are valueless and shadowy phantoms. It will serve also as an auxiliary in convincing mankind that the origin of the principal social evils of any given land ore not to be found (except in a much less degree than we usually suppose) either in republicanism or monarchy or any especial method of government — that we must look for the source of our greatest defects in a variety of causes totally distinct from any such action — in a love of gain, for example, whose direct tendency to social evil was vividly shown in an essay on American Social Elevation lately published in the “Messenger.” In a word, let this book of Von Raumer’s be read with attention, as a study, and as a whole. If this thing be done — which is but too seldom done (here at least) in regard to works of a like character and cast — and we will answer for the result — as far as that result depends upon the deliberate and unprejudiced declaration of any well-educated man. We agree cordially with the opinion expressed by Mrs. Austin in her Preface to this American imprint. The book is the most valuable addition to our stock of knowledge about England and her institutions which America has ever received or which, in the ordinary course of things she is likely to receive.

Of Professor Von Raumer it is almost unnecessary for us to speak — yet a few words may not be amiss. He is a man of unquestionable and lofty integrity — the most highly esteemed living historian — second to none, living or dead, in all the high essentials of the historiographer — profoundly versed in moral and political science — and withal, a lover, and a connoisseur of art, and fully aware of its vast importance in actuating mankind, individually, and nationally. He is a member of the Academy of Sciences at Berlin, and Councillor of the Court Theatre in which he labors to keep up the moral influence of that establishment as a school of art. He has constantly opposed absolutism in every form — especially the absolutism of exclusive political creeds. “If,” says the Conversations Lexicon, “the much talked of juste milieu consists in endless tacking between two opposite principles, Raumer belongs rather to one of the extremes than to that. But if the expression is taken to denote that free and neutral ground on which a man, resting upon the basis of justice, and untrammelled by party views, combats for truth proved by experience, careless whether his blows fall to the right or the left — then Raumer unquestionably belongs to the juste milieu.” He has written the History of the Hohenslaufen and their Time — a history richer than the richest romance — a work On the Prussian Municipal System — a work On the Historical Development of the Notions of Law and GovernmentLetters from Paris in 1830, a series of papers printed precisely as they were written to his family, and evincing a spirit of foresight nearly amounting to prophecy — so accurately were his predictions fulfilled — Letters from Paris in Illustration of the History of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries — a History of Europe from the End of the Fifteenth Century, in six volumes, of which one is yet to be published — a History of the Downfall of Poland — in which although employed and paid by his government he did not hesitate to accuse this government of injustice — Six Dialogues on War and CommerceThe British System of TaxationThe Orations of Æschines and Demosthenes for the CrownCCI Emendationes ad Tabulas Genealogicas Arabum et TurcarumManual of Remarkable Passages from the Latin Historians of the Middle AgesJourney to VeniceLectures on Ancient History — and some other works of which we have no account. The present Letters are printed just as the author wrote them from day to day. We are even assured that some mistakes have been suffered to stand with a view of showing how first impressions were gradually modified.

Mrs. Austin, the translator, however, has taken some liberties in the way of omission, which cannot easily be justified. Some animadversions on her friend Benlhani are stricken out without sufficient reason for so doing. We learn this as well by her own acknowledgment as by ominous breaks in particular passages concerning the great Utilitarian. The latter portion of the book is translated by H. E. Lloyd.

The plan of Von Raumer’s work embraces, as may well be supposed, a great variety of themes — the political topics of the day and of all time — the present state and future prospects of England — comparative views of that country, France, and Prussia — descriptions of scenery about London, localities, architecture, &c, — social condition of the people — society in high life — and frequent disquisitions on the state of art and musical science. We will proceed, without observing any precise order, to speak of some portions which particularly interested us. The book, however, to be properly appreciated, should be read and thoroughly studied.

It appears that although Raumer was received with the greatest kindness by nearly all the leading men of all parties in Great Britain, he was treated with neglect if not with rudeness by Lord Brougham, who remained obstinately deaf to all overtures at an introduction. It does not appear from the course and tenor of these Letters that the harshness with which the traveller so frequently speaks of his Lordship, had its origin in this rude treatment. It is more probable that the rude treatment had its source in the knowledge on the part of Lord Brougham, that Runnier could expose many of his falsities in relation to municipal law and some other matters concerning Prussia. His Lordship’s Report on the State of Education is especially the theme of frequent censure.

The person (says our author) who judges the Prussian institutions most dogmatically is Lord Brougham. He says “It may matter little what sentiments are inculcated on all Prussian children by their military chiefs; but it would be something new in this country systematically to teach all children, from six to fourteen years of age, the doctrines of passive obedience and non-resistance, the absolute excellence of its institutions, and the wickedness and iniquity of every effort to improve them.” If the noble lord, in the excitement of debate, and the flow of his eloquence, let such notions and words escape him, we cannot wonder; but that, when called on by a parliamentary committee to give a dispassionate, true testimony, he should have uttered things so entirely false, nay, so utterly absurd, cannot in any way be justified, or even excused. Sir Robert Peel compassionately intimates that our school-children are tormented by theologians, and Brougham places them under the rod and cane of the corporal. That our military arrangements are a school of freedom, and for freedom, and the very antipodes of the English recruiting and flogging system, may, perhaps, be more unintelligible to an Englishman, than all the theological and scientific curiosities of Oxford to a German. But what have military arrangements to do with our schools? If Lord Brougham has read any thing but the title-page of Cousin’s work, he may and must know that all be said about the Prussian schools was entirely visionary, and could only serve to mislead those who believed him. The doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance, so long upheld by certain parties in England, is not known in our schools even by name; and if any Professor at Oxford should venture to speak of church and state as, thank heaven, any Prussian Professor is at liberty to do, it would certainly be said — the heretic brought church and state into danger. In our schools and universities we know of no theological intolerance, no exclusion of Dissenters, no idolatry of what exists for the moment, no forced subscriptions; yet we are not by this alienated from Christianity, but hold fast to the imperishable diamond of the Gospel without converting it into on amulet with thirty-nine points. In Prussia, then, it would seem the wickedness and impiety of every attempt to improve civil institutions is systematically enforced! In Prussia, which, without any boasting of journals and newspapers, silently effected the greatest reforms, and rose from a state of abject degradation, like a phoenix from its ashes — the aversion and opposition between citizens and soldiers, is abolished; the system of the defence of the country is easy, yet general and powerful; the regulations of commerce and of duties of custom freer than in any other part of Europe; the peasants are converted into land-owners; a municipal system introduced twentyseven years ago, which England is now copying; and schools and universities placed on so firm a basis that the calumnies of Lord Brougham can only recoil on his own head. From the descriptions of what is called the Prussian compulsory system, one would be inclined to believe that the children were coupled together like hounds, and driven every morning with blows to be trained! Should a parent be so wicked as not to give his children any education, and purposely keep them from school and church, the law justly gives the magistrates a right of guardianship. This remote threat may have had a salutary effect in individual cases, but I have never heard of the actual application of outward compulsion — obtorto collo. Morality, sense of honor, general custom, conviction of the great advantage of a careful education, suffice among us to excite all parents voluntarily to send their children to school. In perfect accordance with our school laws it is considered Bs equally sinful to withhold nourishment from their minds as from their bodies. If we duly appreciate tile spirit of the laws, cavils about the letter fall away; but even the letter has had a wholesome influence, and without the application of corporal restraint, in promoting the intellectual emancipation of the people.

Our author’s letter on the Finances of Great Britain will be read with surprise and doubt by many, but with respect by all. He commences with an analysis of finance in general, and with a brief survey of many financial distresses which are as old as history itself. His remarks on the absence of all finance in the middle ages will arrest attention. In these days men had no money, and yet did more than in modern times — they effected every thing, and we can effect nothing, without the circulation of the “golden blood.” Every individual in those days, garnered, says Raumer, without the medium of money, what he wanted; and the whole was entirely kept together by ideas. It is only since Machiavelli — since the power of the middle ages was lost in the feudal and ecclesiastical systems, that we have had to seek a new public law, and a science of Finance. In regard to England, our author runs through all the most important epochs of its monied concerns, and shows effectually that she has no reason to tremble at present. He alludes to what is called the enormous burden of her taxes, and of her debt — whose interest is more than 30,000,000l. per annum — far more than half of its revenue, and more than four years revenue of the whole Prussian monarchy! He admits, for the sake of argument, that England must sink under this intolerable pressure, and become bankrupt — but the public debt and its interest, he says, would then at once be annihilated. To the assertion that this remedy is worse than the disease, and would produce a degree of distress much exceeding what is now complained of, he replies, that such an assertion is it direct acknowledgment that the expenditure of the enormous interest above-mentioned is salutary. He proceeds with the affirmation that all the public debts being the property of individuals, there are cases in which this private property cannot remain inviolate without sacrificing the whole — and in this way, a reduction or annihilation of the debt must take place. He refers, for illustration, to the Redemption Bonds of Vienna, and to Solon’s Seisachthcia, and says, there can be no reason for doubting that England would as well survive such abrupt annihilation of her national debt as many other states have done — among whom are Athens, Rome, France, and Austria. He remarks, that Englishmen may as well rejoice that the country has such immense capital, as lament that it is burthened with so many debts — for every debt is there a capital. If these debts were of so little value that the price of stock indicated the loss, instead of the profit — if the interest could only be paid by new loans — if the debts were due to fund-holders out of the country, England would be in a desperate condition in the event of bankruptcy. But, he observes, if all the national debt were abolished, there would, in fact, as regarded the whole national wealth, be no change whatever. The stockholders would lose, of course, a revenue of 30,000,000l.; but, on the other hand, taxes might be abolished to the same amount. Individuals would be ruined — the nation not at all. He shows clearly, however, by statements officially certified by Sir Robert Peel, that England has very little need of apprehending a national bankruptcy — and that since 1816 she has reduced the principal of her debt by no less than $616,000,000. Certainly no state in Europe can boast of a similar progress.

Von Raumer presents a vivid picture of the miseries of Ireland.

When I recollect (says he, after some distressing narrations,) the well-fed rogues in the English prisons, I admire, notwithstanding the very natural increase of Irish criminals, the power of morality — I wonder that the whole nation does not go over and steal, in order to enjoy a new and happier existence. And then the English boast of the good treatment of their countrymen, while the innocent Irish are obliged to live worse than their cattle. In Parliament they talk for years together whether it is necessary and becoming to leave $100,000 annually in the hands of the pastors of 526 Protestants, or $10,759 to the pastors of 3 Protestants, while there are thousands here who scarcely know they have a soul, and know nothing of their body, except that it suffers hunger, thirst and cold. Which of these ages is the dark and barbarous — the former, when mendicant monks distributed their goods to the poor, and, in their way, gave them the most rational comfort; or the latter, when rich (or bankrupt) aristocrats can see the weal of the church and of religion, (or of their relations) only in retaining possession of that which was taken and obtained by violence? All the blame is thrown on agitators, and discontent produced by artificial means. What absurdity! Every falling hut causes agitation, and every tattered pair of breeches, a sans culotle. Since I have seen Ireland, I admire the patience and moderation of the people, that they do not (what would be more excusable in them than in distinguished revolutionists, authors, journalists, Benthamites, baptized and unbaptized Jews,) drive out the devil through Beelzebub, the Prince of the Devils. . . . . . I endeavored to discover the original race of the ancient Irish, and the beauty of the women. But how could I venture to give an opinion? Take the loveliest of the English maidens from the saloons of the Duke of Devonshire or the Marquis of Lansdowne — carry her, not for life, but for one short season, into an Irish hovel — feed her on water and potatoes, clothe her in rags, expose her blooming cheek and alabaster neck to the scorching beams of the sun, and the drenching torrents of rain — let her wade with naked feet through marshy bogs — with her delicate hands pick up the dung that lies in the road, and carefully stow it by the side of her mud resting-place — give her a hog to share this with her; to all this, add no consolatory remembrance of the past, no cheering hope of the future — nothing but misery — a misery which blunts and stupifies the mind — a misery of the past, the present, and the future — would the traveller, should this image of wo crawl from out of her muddy hovel, and imploringly extend her shrivelled hand, recognize the noble maiden whom a few short weeks before he admired as the model of English beauty? . . . . And yet the children, with their black hair and dark eyes, so gay and playful in their tatters — created in the image of God — are in a few years, by the fault of man and the government, so worn out, without advantage to themselves or others, that the very beasts of the field might look down on them with scorn is what I have said exaggerated, or perhaps, merely an unseasonable and indecorous fiction? or should I have suppressed it, because it may offend certain parties? What have I to do with O’Connell and his opponents? I have nothing either to hope or to fear from any of them; but to declare what I saw, thought, and felt, is my privilege and my duty. Discitc jnsliliam, moniti, et non temnere divos!

Our author speaks of the dissolution of the Union as of a measure which would and should naturally be opposed by any person who has never seen Ireland, and who considers the case merely in a general and theoretical point of view — but allows that he can easily conceive how well-disposed persons may rely on this alternative as the most efficient remedy. He does not, however, approve of the demand — although he goes even farther than O’Connell. His propositions are nearly as follows: First, that provisions should be equally made for the schools and churches of the Protestants and Catholics.out of the church property already existing or to be created. Secondly, that the tithes should be abolished — that is, as a mode of taxation — not the tax itself. It is observed, that to deprive the church of its due, and to make a present of it, without any reason, to the landlord, would not only be an act of injustice, but would operate to the prejudice of the poor tenants, since the clergyman has not so many means to distrain the cattle as the temporal landlord, and generally is less willing to employ them. Thirdly, that poor laws should be introduced, taking care to avoid their abuses. This idea is in opposition to that of O’Connell, who dreads the misapplication of the laws as in England. Raumer acknowledges the difficulty of introducing them, but insists upon the necessity. The difficulty proceeds from the want of a wealthy middling class in the country — the true basis of all finance. To obviate this want, be insists — Fourthly, upon a law respecting absentees. He denies the injustice of such law, and rejects as false that notion of private property which would impose on the land owner no duties, while it gives him unconditional rights. He does not, however, propose compelling the absentees to return home, but to pay more to the poor-tax than those who are present. “Is this impossible?” he asks — “have not the Catholics borne for centuries higher taxes than the Protestants? This was possible, without reason; and therefore the other would be very possible, with good reason.” He suggests — Fifthly, the complete abolition of the system of tenants at will, and the conversion of all these tenants at will into proprietors. “On reading this,” he says, “the Tories will throw my book into the fire, and even the Whigs will be mute with astonishment. The whole battery of pillage, jacobinism, and dissolution of civil society, is discharged at me; but it will not touch me — not even the assertion that I would, like St. Crispin, steal leather in order to make shoes for the poor. Even the Radicals ask with astonishment, how I would work this miracle. There is a Sybilline book, a patent and yet hidden mystery, how this is to be effected; and there is a magician who has accomplished it — the Prussian Municipal Law, and King Frederick William III of Prussia.” Granting that his proposal should be rejected unless both parties are gainers, our author proceeds to show that both parties will be so. That those who are raised to the class of land-owners would gain, is evident. That the present proprietors would gain, he asserts, is proved from the fact, that in the long run, the tenant-at-will is able to produce and to pay less than he who has a long lease, the latter less than the hereditary farmer, and the hereditary farmer less than the proprietor. The subject is discussed very fully and clearly in another letter on English Agriculture.

Professor Von Raumer makes a proper distinction between the nature and consequences of English agitation, and the agitation of many continental countries. In these latter we find anticipative and preventive polices — especially in France. When a movement breaks out under a government employing this system, it is because the preventive means are exhausted, and thus every thing rushes at once into disorder and irretrievable confusion. A similar movement, however, in England, (and the remark will apply equally to the United States, although Von Raumer does not so apply it,) is suffered to gather strength and flourish until the overt act, and the citizen who dwells under the influence of the preventive system, would of course, in observing us, expect the same irretrievable confusion to ensue with us as with him. If our own government, or that of England, should attempt to interfere before the overt net, the administration would meet with no support. But when the movement has grown to an open violation of the laws, the case is different indeed. “In short,” says our author, “what is regarded abroad as the beginning of a revolution, is, in reality, the crisis, and is, in a very different sense than in France, le commencement de la fin.”

Much of our traveller’s time, while in Great Britain was passed in close intimacy with her statesmen. Of Russell, Spring Rice, Sir Robert Peel, and O’Connell, he speaks in terms of evident respect. From many passages in which he mentions the latter, we select the following.

I suddenly conceived the project of going straight from P —— to his antagonist — to —— (H —— will be furious) to Daniel O’Connell. I found him in a small room, sitting at a writing table covered with letters, Id his dressing gown. I began with apologies for intruding upon him without any introduction, and pleaded my interest in the history and fate of Ireland, and in his efforts to serve her. When I found he had read my Historical Letters I felt on a better footing. I could not implicitly accept his opinion concerning Elizabeth (which he has borrowed from Lingard) as a good bill. We agreed, however, on the subject of the much disputed and much falsified history of the Catholic conspiracy of 1641 I am also perfectly of his opinion, that the tenants at will — those serfs — are in a worse condition in Ireland than any where, and that, both with regard to moral and intellectual culture, or physical prosperity, their position is not comparable to that of our thrice happy proprietary peasants. I told him that what he desired for Ireland had long been possessed by the Catholics of Prussia: and that hatred and discontent had expired with persecution The English Ministry first made this man a giant: but he is a giant too, by the strength of his own mind and will, in comparison with the Lilliputians cut out of reeds, which we call demagogues; and which are forced to be shut up in the Kopenick hot-house, or put under a Mainz forcing glass to rear them into any size and consideration Thank God, however, the governments of Germany do not prepare the ground for universal discontent. If this prevailed, and prevailed with justice, O’Connells must of necessity arise. Your dissertation on the greatness or smallness of German demagogues (I hear you say) is quite superfluous: you had much better have described to us what that arch agitator and rebel, O’Connell, looks like — What he looks like? A tall gaunt man, with a thin face, sunken cheeks, a large hooked nose, black piercing eye, malignant smile round the mouth, and, when in full dress, a cock’s feather in his hat, and a cloven foot. ’That is just what I imagined him!’ cries one. But, as it happens, that is just what he is not. On the contrary, he has a round, goodnatured face. In Germany he would be taken for a good, hearty, sturdy, shrewd farmer: indeed he distinctly reminded me of the cheerful, sagacious, and witty old bailiff Romanus, in Rotzis.

At page 391, Von Raumer alludes to some notices of his historical works in the British Quarterlies. He complains of injustice done him in a review of his “Letters from Paris in 1830.” The Reviewer states that our traveller did not court society, and that he professes to have seen and become acquainted only with what strikes the eyes of every observer in the streets, tavern, and theatre. This is denied by Von Raumer, who declares his chief associates to have been “wealthy merchants and distinguished literati, old and new peers, members of the Chamber of Deputies, the most celebrated diplomatists, and three of the present ministers of Louis Philippe.”

The remarks of our author upon Art, (in the extensive German signification of the word) are worthy of all attention and bespeak an elevated, acute, and comprehensive understanding of its properties and capabilities. Many pages of the work before us are devoted to comments upon the Architecture, the Painting, the Stage, and especially the Music of England, and these pages will prove deeply interesting to a majority of readers. At pages 143 he thus speaks of Mrs. Sloman.

Lady Macbeth, Mrs. Sloman, a fiendish shrew, who must have been the torment of her husband’s life long before the predictions of the witches. Even in the sleeping scene she betrayed only fear of discovery and punishment; and the exaggerated action, the rubbing of the hands, and seeming to dip them in water, and the rhetorical ’to bed!’ were very little to my taste. . . . . To sum up my impression of the whole — an excess of effort, of bustle, and of accentuation, with every now and then, by way of clap-trap, a violent and yet toneless screaming. Exactly those passages in which these stage passions were the most boisterous and distressing were the most applauded. There is not a single well-frequented German theatre (such as those of Vienna, Berlin or Dresden) in which so bad a performance as this would have been exhibited.

Our traveller is in raptures with Windsor, and censures the tasteless folly of Buckingham house. Of the Italian opera in England he speaks briefly and contemptuously — nor does the national music find any degree of favor in his eyes. His criticisms on sculpture and painting are forcible and very beautiful. In some observations on the attic bas-reliefs, and the works from the Parthenon and Phigalia, to be found in the British Museum, he takes occasion to collate the higher efforts of Grecian art with the rudeness of Roman feeling, and the still more striking rudeness of the German and Italian schools of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. His remarks here are too forcible and too fresh to be omitted.

These schools (the German and Italian) were, it is true, internally impelled by Christianity towards the noblest goal of humanity and of art, but they have unsuitably introduced the doctrine of election even into these regions. To the beautiful forms pardoned by God are opposed the ugly bodies of the non-elect; to the healthy, the sick; to the blessed, the damned. In theology, in philosophy, in history, this dark side of existence may be employed at pleasure, but when it appears in art I feel hurt and uncomfortable. . . . This capul mortuum may be wholly separated. It should evaporate and become invisible. Not till this is accomplished can we place Christian art above Greek art, as the Christian religion above the Greek religion. A great confusion of ideas still prevails, in considering and judging of these things. How often have modern works of art been praised in reference to the doctrine, and ancient works reprobated for similar reasons. But the demoniac is not a suitable subject for art, merely because he is mentioned in the Bible; or a Venus to be rejected, because the worship of the goddess has ceased. Music without discord is unmeaning and tedious, and painting and sculpture likewise need such discord. But every musical discord is necessarily resolved, according to the rules of art — while painters and sculptors often leave their dissonances unresolved, and eternized in stone. In every discord I feel its transition into euphony. It is but a motion, a creation of harmony; but no musician would ever think of affirming that to sing out of tune is ever permitted, much less that it is necessary in his art. The combats of the Centaurs and Lapithæ display a chain of discords, which originate, advance, and develop themselves — one could set them to music without violating the rules and euphony of the science. But were we to attempt a similar musical transposition with many celebrated statues, we should break all the strings of the instrument by the violence of the effort.

We had noted many other passages for comment and extract — (especially a lively Philippic against Utilitarianism on pages 398, 399, an account of Bentham’s penitentiary, and other matters) but we perceive that we are already infringing upon our limits. This book about England will and must be read, and will as certainly be relished, by a numerous class, although not by a majority, of our fellow-citizens. The author, we rejoice to hear, has engaged to translate into his own language the Washington Papers of Mr. Sparks. We will only add that Professor Von Raumer has the honor of being called by the English organ of the High Church and Ultra Tory Party, “a vagrant blackguard unfit for the company of a decent servants’ hall.”





[S:0 - SLM, 1836] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Criticial Notices (July 1836)