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of Sweden, I shall risk being tiresome, and explain my views of them.
The main cause I conceive to be a radical defect in the construction of society in this country. The weight of public opinion upon the side of morality, and acting as a check upon private conduct, is lost in it by the too great proportion and preponderance in the social body of privileged classes of persons, whose living, well-being, distinction, social influence, or other objects of human desire, are attained by other means than public estimation gained by moral worth. The privileged classes in this community are not merely the hereditary aristocracy, the military, and members of the learned professions; but the tailor, the shoemaker, the smith, the joiner, the merchant, the shopkeeper; in short, every man exercising any craft,, trade, branch of industry, or means of living-that is to say, the whole of the upper and middle classes, down to the mere labourer in husbandry-belong to a privileged or licensed class or corporation, of which every member is by law entitled to be secured and protected within his own locality, from such competition or interference of others in the same calling as would injure his means of living. It is, consequently, not as with us, upon his industry, ability, character, and moral worth, that the employment and daily bread of the tradesman, and the social influence and consideration of the individual, in every rank, even the highest, almost entirely depends; it is here, in the middle and lower classes, upon corporate rights and privileges, or upon license obtained
from government; and in the higher, upon birth, and court or government favour. Public estimation, gained by character and conduct in the several relations of life, is not a necessary element in the social condition, even of the working tradesman. Like soldiers in a regiment, a great proportion of the people under this social system derive their estimation among others, and consequently their own self-esteem, not from their moral worth, but from their professional standing and importance. This evil is inherent in all privileged classes, but is concealed or compensated in the higher, the nobility, military, and clergy, by the sense of honour, of religion, and by education. In the middle and lower walks of life, those influences are weaker, while the temptations to immorality are stronger; and the placing a man's livelihood, prosperity, and social consideration in his station, upon other grounds than on his own industry and moral worth, is a demoralising evil in the very structure of Swedish society. It is observed by Miss Martineau or Mrs. Trollope, that in the United States of America-where all boast of being so free-every one is a slave to the dread of public opinion; and even the children calculate what people may think of their most indifferent and trifling actions. This is not to be laughed at. In a country in which every man can work out a living, and even wealth, whatever may be his moral worth, this excessive and morbid care about the public opinion of their conduct, is evidently a strong self-reared guard upon morals; one created, as it were, for the want which
there must be of a check upon conduct in the society of a settling country. It is the best trait in the American character.
Akin to this cause is the injudicious meddling of government with its encouragements, rewards, and distinctions, in those matters which do not belong to the judgment of governments, but to the moral feelings, common sense, or private interests, of individuals. A bit of ribbon at the button-hole of a military man is in its proper place it covers a scar, or may some day do so, and is a suitable reward for the kind of merit kind not rewarded by any natural feelings of approbation in the human breast arising from moral or religious sentiment. But when the same distinction is applied to successful industry, good conduct and character, in the ordinary employments of life, in which a man's true reward is his own approbation and the estimation of the society in which he moves, it lessens the value of that estimation, and makes it less restraining upon human conduct. In the moral conduct of the members of a community, the vox populi is truly the vox Dei: it appreciates rewards, or punishes unerringly, and the substitution of court distinctions, ribbons, and crosses, for it, in the affairs of society, is not a happy effort at good government in Sweden. The passion of the middle class of the Swedish people for these false social distinctions is quite extravagant, and to us, bred under different social arrangements, it is incomprehensible. It is at once the cause and the effect of their disregard for the real distinctions of
moral worth and conduct: and where the latter are shut out from their proper weight and importance in society, by a fictitious system of honours and privileges conferred by government, this extraordinary craving for paltry personal distinctions becomes naturally a principle of action in the middle classes, at the expense of moral principle. Those who can in no other way get at these personal distinctions, form themselves into orders, or clubs, with all sorts of medals, dresses, and such trifling decorations. Besides the hereditary distinctions of the nobility, of which there is a superabundant crop in Sweden, as every son, and not merely the eldest, succeeds to a title and privileges, as a nobleman; and besides the titles and distinctions attached to the offices of actual functionaries in civil or military service, there is a great class of personal distinctions totally unconnected with birth or function, bestowed by favour, and pervading with its influence the whole of the middle class of society. We have no idea in Britain of this kind of nobility, burgerliche adel, or plebeian nobility, as it is termed in Germany, where the same system flourishes with the same effects on the industry and morals of the people. With us a thriving tradesman, master manufacturer, or merchant, would think himself little honoured, and as little benefited, by the empty title of counsellor of war, counsellor of conference, counsellor of commerce, or any such idle distinction, to which not a shadow of duty or utility is attached; and a knighthood is accepted by men in ordinary civil station, generally with repugnance, with an awkward feeling of
its incongruity with our solid estimate of social distinction, and rather because, in some public situations, from custom, it cannot be declined, than because it is coveted. But in this country there are about seventeen different titles of personal distinction, besides those attached to noble birth or civil or military rank or office. Each has its place in the code and observances of etiquette; its degree of honour is defined, and claimed as strictly as if the bearers were so many dukes or peers at a coronation; but these titles, of which the highest in honour appears to be chamberlain and privy counsellor (nominal, not real), and the lowest, counsellor of conference or of war, are all equally empty and unconnected, even in idea, with corresponding office, duty, or congruity; for a counsellor of war has probably passed all his life as a prosperous dealer in herrings and tobacco, within his own shop. They are simply titles conferred lavishly on persons belonging to the middle classes, forming them into a kind of secondary temporary nobility, far more injurious to the moral interests of society than any hereditary aristocracy; because they give that social distinction, pre-eminence, and advantage to the bearers, which industry, integrity, ability, and moral worth, should alone be the means of attaining in their station in society. We have escaped this modern disease of society; and public estimation, founded on moral worth and industry, can alone confer any weight, honour, or advantage, on individuals in the ordinary stations of life in our social structure.