Famous Reviews eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 560 pages of information about Famous Reviews.
He finds that he may blunder without much chance of being detected, that he may reason sophistically, and escape unrefuted.  He finds that, even on knotty questions of trade and legislation, he can, without reading ten pages, or thinking ten minutes, draw forth loud plaudits, and sit down with the credit of having made an excellent speech....  The tendency of institutions like those of England is to encourage readiness in public men, at the expense both of fulness and of exactness.  The keenest and most vigorous minds of every generation, minds often admirably fitted for the investigation of truth, are habitually employed in producing arguments such as no man of sense would ever put into a treatise intended for publication, arguments which are just good enough to be used once, when aided by fluent delivery and pointed language.  The habit of discussing questions in this way necessarily reacts on the intellects of our ablest men, particularly of those who are introduced into parliament at a very early age, before their minds have expanded to full maturity.  The talent for debate is developed in such men to a degree which, to the multitude, seems as marvellous as the performance of an Italian Improvisatore.

But they are fortunate indeed if they retain unimpaired the faculties which are required for close reasoning or for enlarged speculation.  Indeed we should sooner expect a great original work on political science, such a work, for example, as the Wealth of Nations, from an apothecary in a country town, or from a minister in the Hebrides, than from a statesman who, ever since he was one-and-twenty, had been a distinguished debater in the House of Commons.

We therefore hail with pleasure, though assuredly not with unmixed pleasure, the appearance of this work.  That a young politician should, in the intervals afforded by his parliamentary avocations, have constructed and propounded, with much study and mental toil, an original theory on a great problem in politics, is a circumstance which, abstracted from all consideration of the soundness or unsoundness of his opinions, must be considered as highly creditable to him.  We certainly cannot wish that Mr. Gladstone’s doctrines may become fashionable among public men.  But we heartily wish that his laudable desire to penetrate beneath the surface of questions, and to arrive, by long and intent meditation, at the knowledge of great general laws, were much more fashionable than we at all expect it to become.

Mr. Gladstone seems to us to be, in many respects, exceedingly well qualified for philosophical investigation.  His mind is of large grasp; nor is he deficient in dialectical skill.  But he does not give his intellect fair play.  There is no want of light, but a great want of what Bacon would have called dry light.  Whatever Mr. Gladstone sees is refracted and distorted by a false medium of passions and prejudices.  His style bears a remarkable analogy to his mode of

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