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is possible in thought and what is practicable in action.
But the trouble is, that when they turn from voting to writing they call many of their abstract reflections on government studies of politics, and thereby lose the benefit of some very wholesome aids to just thought. Even when they draw near the actual life of living governments, as they frequently do, and read and compare statutes and constitutions, they stop short of asking and ascertaining what the men of the street think and say of institutions and laws; what little, as well as what big, influences brought particular laws into existence; how much of each law actually lives in the regulation of public function or private activity, how much of it has degenerated into 'dead letter;' in brief, just what things it is —what methods, what habits, what human characteristics and social conditions--that make the appearance of politics outside the library so different from its appearance inside that quiet retreat; what it is that constitutes ' practical politics'a peculiar province. And yet these are the questions most necessary to be answered in order to reach the heart of their study.
Every one who has read great treatises on government which were not merely speculative in their method must have been struck by their exhaustive knowledge of statutes, of judicial
precedents, and of legal and constitutional history; and equally by their tacit ignorance of anything more than this gaunt skeleton of institutions. Their best pages are often those on which a modest asterisk, an unobtrusive numeral, or a tiny dagger sticking high in the stately text, carries the eye down to a foot-note, packed close in small print, in which some hint is let drop of the fact that institutions have a daily as well as an epochal life, from which the student might 'learn something to his advantage.'
The inherent weakness of such a method is shown by the readiness with which it is discredited when once a better one is put beside it. What modern writer on political institutions has not felt, either directly or indirectly, the influence of de Tocqueville and Bagehot? Both these inimitable writers were men of extraordinary genius, and, whatever they might have written about, their writings would have been admiringly preserved, if only for the wonder of their luminous qualities. But their political works live, not only as models of effective style, but also as standards of stimulating wisdom; because Bagehot and de Tocqueville were not merely students, but also men of the world, for whom the only acceptable philosophy of politics was a generalization from actual daily observation of men and things. They could see institu
tions writ small in the most trivial turns of politics, and read constitutions more clearly in a biography than in a statute-book. They were men who, had they written history, would have written the history of peoples, and not of courts or parliaments merely. Their methods have, therefore, because of their essential sanity, gone far toward discrediting all others; they have leavened the whole mass of political literature. Was it not Bagehot, for instance, who made it necessary for Professor Dicey to entitle his recent admirable work “The Law of the Constitution,” that no one might think he mistook it for the Life of the Constitution?
Who has not wished that Burke had fused the permanent thoughts of his splendid sentences of wisdom together into a noble whole, an incomparable treatise whereby every mind that loved liberty might be strengthened and fertilized? He has handled affairs, and could pluck out the heart of their mystery with a skill that seldom blundered; he spoke hardly a word of mere hearsay or speculation. He, it would seem, better than any other, could have shown writers on politics the difference between knowledge and insight, between an acquaintance with public law and a real mastery of the principles of government.
Not that all 'practical politicians' would be the best instructors in the deep—though they
might be in the hidden—things of politics. Far from it. They are too thickly crowded by daily detail to see permanent outlines, too much pushed about by a thousand little influences to detect accurately the force or the direction of the big and lasting influences. They ‘cannot see the forest for the trees.' They are no more fitted to be instructors because they are practical politicians than lawyers are fitted to fill law-school chairs because they are active practitioners. They must be something else besides to qualify them for the high function of teaching, and must be that something else in so masterful a fashion that no distraction of active politics can for a moment withdraw their vision from the great and continuous principles of their calling.
The active statesman is often an incomparable teacher, however, when he is himself least conscious that he is teaching at all, when he has no thought of being didactic, but has simply a heart full of the high purpose of leading his fellow-countrymen to do those things which he conceives to be right. Read the purposes of men like Patrick Henry and Abraham Lincoln, men untutored of the schools-read their words of leadership, and say whether there be anything wiser than their home-made wisdom.
It is such reflections as these whether my examples be well chosen or not—which seem
to me to lead directly to the right principle of study for every one who would go beyond the law and know the life of states. Not every state lets statutes die by mere disuse, as Scotland once did; and if you are going to read constitutions with only lawyers for your guides, be they never so learned, you must risk knowing only the anatomy of institutions, never learning anything of their biology.
“Men of letters and of thought, says Mr. Sidney Colvin, where one would least expect to find such a remark—in a "Life of Walter Savage Landor"
“Men of letters and of thought are habitually too much given to declaiming at their ease against the delinquencies of men of action and affairs. The inevitable friction of practical politics generates heat enough already, and the office of the thinker and critic should be to supply not heat, but light. The difficulties which attend his own unmolested task, the task of seeking after and proclaiming salutary truths, should teach him to make allowance for the still more urgent difficulties which beset the politician —the man obliged, amidst the clash of interests and temptations, to practise from hand to mouth, and at his peris, the most uncertain and at the same time the most indispensable of the experimental arts."
Excellent! But why stop there? Must the man of letters and of thought observe the friction of politics only to make due allowance for the practical politician, only to keep his