Thursday, 8 August 2013

Charlotte Bronte

All men, taken singly, are more or less selfish, and taken in bodies, they are intensely so. The British merchant is no exception to this rule: the mercantile classes illustrate it strikingly. These classes certainly think too exclusively of making money; they are too oblivious of every national consideration but that of extending England's - that is, their own - commerce. Chivalrous feelings, disinterestedness, pride in honour, is too dead in their hearts. A land ruled by them alone would too often make ignominious submission - not at all from the motives Christ teaches, but rather from those Mammon instils. During the late war, the tradesmen of England would have endured buffets from the French on the right cheek and on the left; their cloak they would have given to Napoleon, and then have politely offered him their coat also, nor would they have withheld their waistcoat if urged; they would have prayed permission only to retain their one other garment, for the sake of the purse in its pocket. Not one spark of spirit, not one symptom of resistance, would they have shown till the hand of the Corsican bandit had grasped that beloved purse; then, perhaps, transfigured at once into British bulldogs, they would have sprung at the robber's throat, and there the would have fastened, and there hung, inveterate, insatiable, till the treasure had been restored. Tradesmen, when they speak against war, always profess to hate it because it is a bloody and barbarous proceeding. You would think, to hear them talk, that they are peculiarly civilised - especially gentle and kindly of disposition to their fellow-men. This is not the case. Many of them are extremely narrow and cold-hearted, have no good feeling for any class but their own; are distant, even hostile, to all others; call them useless; seem to question their right to exist; seem to grudge them the very air they breathe, and to think the circumstance of their eating, drinking, and living in decent houses quite unjustifiable. They do not know what others do in the way of helping, pleasing, or teaching their race; they will not trouble themselves to inquire. Whoever is not in trade is accused of eating the bread of idleness, of passing a useless existence. Long may it be ere England really becomes a nation of shopkeepers!

- Shirley pp.127-8 (Wordsworth ed. 1993, originally written 1849)

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