Carlyle and Froude on monarchy and religion
From Historical Sketches of Notable Persons in the Reigns of James I and Charles I (a manuscript recovered and edited by Carlyle’s nephew, Alexander):
Those dreadful Overbury-Somerset affairs being well over, and the parties either hanged or lodged in the Tower, his Majesty thinks he will relieve his royal heart by a bit of good public speaking. He proceeds, on the 20th of June, 1616, to the Star Chamber, and to the assembled Peers and Judges there pronounces with a most earnest face, and energetic Northern accent of voice, his world-famous ‘Discourse in the Star Chamber’;—intimating to all ranks of persons in this country how their respective duties are to be done.
As a universal Brood-hen and most provident assiduous Clucker, does this great Monarch gather the three Nations under his wings, and cluck-cluck to them: lulling, admonishing, caressing, reproaching them. He thinks, after these commotions, it will have a good effect in composing the general mind a little. A kinder heart beats not in any man or clucker; think also what a flashing fury there is, should danger, disobedience, or any devilry occur! A most vigilant, vehement, Royal Clucker, rolling large eyes on every side of him; coercing, compescing; ready, if need be, to fly out in flashes of fury, with his feathers up, and voice at a mere screech! Dread Sovereign! For we are an old and experienced King. And consider, Master Brook, whether it be a light matter to lead some millions of people, and be clucker over them?
This world-famous Discourse can still be read in King James’s Works; but I do not much advise the general reader to try it. Heaven knows, the British Nation did and does ever need to be admonished, rebuked, guided forward by some King! Some greatest man, who, with gold crown on his head and bodyguard round him, or totally without any such appendage and mark of recognition, is King of the country; is, I say, and remains King, the other King so-called being merely one of shreds and patches, with much broken meat, expensive cast apparel, and waste revenue flung to him, but with no real authority in this world or in any other,—a Morrice-dance King, most beautiful to the flunky; most tragic, almost frightful to every thinking heart.
The peculiarity of this King James is that he assumes the part of a real King, not in the least suspecting that he has become a sham-King. Hence our laughter at his cluck-clucking, which were otherwise very venerable. Nowadays your Sham-king knows his trade too well: it has been followed for above two hundred years now, and he ought to know it a little.
Make that four hundred, or so. I wrote to Larry Auster:
Is not this passage all that needs to be said of your Dead Island? Which suffers (along with the rest of the world) one and only one disease, kinglessness—of which all other pathologies are no more than symptoms.
It is possible to be kingless without a Sham-King. But it takes more work. Our presidency serves more or less the same function—providing the necessary symbol of executive authority, to conceal the fact that the reality has disappeared (there is nothing genuinely executive about our “executive branch”). The Hanoverian dynasty is remarkable, though, in that its monarchs have been shams from beginning to end, with perhaps a minor exception in George III’s attempts at a king’s party.
What do you think Americans respond to in “The Donald” and Gov. Christie? To the obvious kinginess of these figures. Supreme personal authority, generally male, is a normal human function and one we recognize instinctively. The job of King does not exist, at least not in the public sector, but the Trumps and Christies come as close to it as possible and are clearly biologically suited for the position.
Thus the genuine enthusiasm for these figures, who alas, win or lose, will never enjoy a fraction of the old Plantagenet, Tudor or Stuart royal prerogative. A true King could still save England, I think, or any of her far-flung children…
Froude, hunting the Bow of Ulysses in old Cuba, gives past a peek at present:
Don G— had been much in Spain; he was acquainted with many of the descendants of the old aristocracy, who lingered there in faded grandeur. He had studied the history of his own country. He compared the Spain and England of the sixteenth century with the Spain and England of the present; and, like most of us, he knew where the yoke galled his own neck.
But economical and political prosperity is no exhaustive measure of human progress. The Rome of Trajan was immeasurably more splendid than the Rome of the Scipios; yet the progress had been downwards nevertheless. If the object of our existence on this planet is the development of character, if the culminating point in any nation’s history be that at which it produces its noblest and bravest men, facts do not tend to assure us that the triumphant march of the last hundred years is accomplishing much in that direction.
I found myself arguing with Don G— that if Charles V and Philip II were to come back to this world, and to see whither the movement had brought us of which they had worked so hard to suppress the beginning, they would still say that they had done right in trying to strangle it. The Reformation called itself a protest against lies, and the advocates of it imagined that when the lies, or what they called such, were cleared away, the pure metal of Christianity would remain unsullied. The great men who fought against the movement, Charles V in his cabinet and Erasmus in his closet, had seen that it could not rest; there that it was the cradle of a revolution in which the whole spiritual and political organisation of Europe would be flung into the crucible.
Under that organisation human nature had ascended to altitudes of chivalry, of self-sacrifice, which it had never before reached. The sixteenth century was the blossoming time of the Old World, and no such men had appeared since as then came to the front, either in Spain or Italy, or Germany or France or England. The actual leaders of the Reformation had been bred in the system which they destroyed. Puritanism and Calvinism produced men of powerful character, but they were limited and incapable of continuance; and now the liberty which was demanded had become what the instinct of the great Emperor had told him from the first must be the final shape of it, a revolution which would tolerate no inequalities of culture or position, which insisted that no man was better than another, which was to exalt the low and bring down the high till all mankind should stand upon a common level—a level, not of baseness or badness, but a level of good-humoured, smart, vulgar and vulgarising mediocrity, with melodrama for tragedy, farce for comedy, sounding speech for statesmanlike wisdom; and for a creed, when our fathers thought that we had been made a little lower than the angels, the more modest knowledge that we were only a little higher than the apes.
This was the aspect in which the world of the nineteenth century would appear to Sir Thomas More or the Duke of Alva. From the Grand Captain to Señor Castelar, from Lord Burghley to Mr. Gladstone, from Leonardo da Vinci or Velasquez to Gustave Doré, from Cervantes and Shakespeare to ‘Pickwick’ and the ‘Innocents at Home;’ from the faith which built the cathedrals to evolution and the survival of the fittest; from the carving and architecture of the Middle Ages to the workmanship of the modern contractor; the change in the spiritual department of things had been the same along the whole line. Charles V, after seeing all that has been achieved, the railways, the steam engines, the telegraphs, the Yankee and his United States, which are the embodiment of the highest aspirations of the modern era, after attending a session of the British Association itself, and seeing the bishops holding out their hands to science which had done such great things for them, might fairly claim that it was a doubtful point whether the change had been really for the better.
It may be answered, and answered truly, that the old thing was dead. The Catholic faith, where it was left standing and where it still stands, produces now nothing higher, nothing better, than the Protestant. Human systems grow as trees grow. The seed shoots up, the trunk forms, the branches spread; leaves and flowers and fruit come out year after year as if they were able to renew themselves for ever. But that which has a beginning has an end, that which has life must die when the vital force is exhausted.
The faith of More, as well as the faith of Ken or Wilson, were elevating and ennobling as long as they were sincerely believed; but the time came when they became clouded with uncertainty; and confused, perplexed, and honestly anxious, humanity struggles on as well as it can, all things considered, respectably enough in its chrysalis condition, the old wings gone, the new wings that are to be (if we are ever to have another set) as yet imprisoned in their sheath.
Poor Froude! Poor us. “Not of baseness or badness”—no. Not yet. Not in 1898, anyway. Not, at least, by comparison. But can we conjure the Scipios and then Trajan, without seeing Heliogabalus, Caracalla, Honorius? Oh, honey, if only you knew.
Fortunately, however, I’ve retrieved Froude’s Tudors from the howling, copyfraud-haunted bitrot wasteland of Google Books. James Anthony Froude, History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Death of Elizabeth: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII. Knock yourselves out, kids. I myself have only read the first of these volumes, which is of course superb.
Can the bow of Ulysses be restrung? Probably not. But without the past, there is nothing.