Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of England in 1835,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. IX: Literary Criticism - part 02 (1902), pp. 53-64


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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 HOHENSTAUFEN,” 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.

[Southern Literary Messenger, July, 1836.]

THIS work will form an aera 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 [page 54:] 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 and 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 [page 55:] 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 Hohenstaufen 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 [page 56:] 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 Aeschines and Demosthenes for the CrownCCI Emendationes ad Tabulas Genealogicas Arabum et TurcorumManual 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 Benthami 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 [page 57:] 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 Raumer 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.

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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 [page 58:] 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 a 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 Seisachtheia, 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 [page 59:] 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.

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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 [page 60:] 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.

Von 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, he 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 [page 61:] 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 [page 62:] 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 act, 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.

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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 [page 63:] 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.

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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.

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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 [page 64:] 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.”

 


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Notes:

None.


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[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of England in 1835)