Зображення сторінки

^it Vox Diaboli. During the Middle Ages, it was the function of the clergy to be the organ of Public Opinion in that higher sense which I have I been unfolding. Quinet has well called the Church "the substance of those extinct centuries." It was a grand conception, that of a spiritual society which should be the embodied conscience of mankind; the witness to the world of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. Of course, no man in the least acquainted with the facts of history would pretend that this great ideal was ever adequately realized. Even in the best ages of the Church there is constantly cause to remember that "we have this treasure in earthen vessels"; while in the worst, the spiritual power whose very raison d'etre it is to bear witness to the moral law, to speak of the divine testimonies before kings, and, if need be, patiently to suffer for the truth's sake, has fellowship with unrighteousness and sinks into the accomplice of secular tyranny. Astute sovereigns found their account in manipulating the ecclesiastical order, much as Prince von Bismarck manipulated his reptile press. Queen Elizabeth knew how to tune her pulpits; and the Anglican clergy were the most effective teachers of the monstrous doctrine of the " right divine of kings to govern wrong," so dear to the monarchs of the House of Stuart. Still, while a Christian commonwealth was regarded as the true idea of the State, and was, more or less, realized in fact, the office iv.] "THE LIBERTY OF UNLICENSED PRINTING." 123

of the Church, as the ethical judge of society, was, doubtless, on the whole, fulfilled with great benefit to mankind. In the age in which we live, the secularization of the public order is, almost everywhere, an accomplished fact. The clergy are no longer the accredited keepers of the public conscience. The teachers of the nations on right and wrong are the newspapers, in which Mr. Carlyle accordingly discerned "the true Church" of these latter days. Hence the supreme importance of "that liberty of unlicensed printing," for which Milton pleaded in his Areopagitica. The right of freedom of the press, like all rights, arises from necessity. The true ends of the social organism cannot be attained unless its moral consciousness be cultivated and realized in Public Opinion. And such Public Opinion should find exposition in the newspapers. But this right, like all rights, is limited by correlative duties. It is limited by those conditions in which alone a moral Public Opinion is possible. Its primary law is veracity. And that law, like all laws, has a penal sanction. Every lie, however successful for a time, must be expiated. Every despised and insulted verity must be avenged. That results from the nature of things. How far, as a matter of fact, our new clerus is from walking worthy of its high calling, I have had occasion to consider elsewhere in discussing The Ethics of Journalism.*

* In chap. vii. of On Right and Wrong.

In medieval times there arose, not infrequently, a well-warranted demand for the reformation of the clergy. It appears to me that in these days, men of good-will are bound to do all that in them lies for a reformation of the newspapers. Our journalists are the prophets of democracy. It is for democracy to insist that they be true prophets and not false. The value of a democracy, let us remember, is the value—the intellectual and moral value—of the men and women who compose it. And this value largely depends upon the teachings which a democracy receives. I take it that one of the greatest services which can be rendered to the age in which wo live—yes, and to the ages that will come after us—is to promote a truer conception, a deeper appreciation of the ethical obligations, the moral mission, of journalism. It is not easy to overrate the power for good which might be exercised through the newspaper press by men of light and leading keenly susceptible to their grave responsibilities as teachers. It is not too much to say that such instructors are absolutely necessary if the prevailing form of polity is worthily to fulfil the true ends of the State. "No government by a democracy, or a numerous aristocracy, either in its political acts, or in the opinions, qualities, and tone of mind which it fosters, ever did or could rise above mediocrity, except in so far as the sovereign (Many have let themselves be guided (which in iv.] THE MORAL MISSION OF JOURNALISM. 125

their best times they always have done) by the counsels and influence of a more highly gifted and instructed One or Few. The initiation of till wise and noble things comes, and must come, from individuals: generally, at first, from some one individual. The honour and glory of the average man is that he is capable of following that initiative; that he can respond, internally, to wise and noble things, and be led to them with his eyes open."*

* Mill on Liberty, c. iii.



"Quand la presse a le droit de tout dire, il faut que lcs hommes qu'elle endoctrine aient le talent de tout discerner. Plus clle devient bardie, plus elle exige chcz lcs lecteurs une capacite inebranlable, un sens droit et vigoureux." * So a thoughtful writer discussing, more than half a century ago, the position and tendency of French society. The words are as true now as they were when they were written, and they are of universal application. Liberty, Popular Government, and the power of Public Opinion, if they are to prove a blessing and not a curse to any country, require the elevation of the people generally in "opinions, qualities, and tone of mind." "We must educate our masters," said Lord Sherbrooke. The familiar dictum seems like the very voice of the Zeitgeist. I suppose there is nothing upon which this ago of ours prides itself more than its educational activity.

* Chaslus, Essai sur la situation et la tendance de la Socictd Franqaise, p. 26.

« НазадПродовжити »