Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet

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Let therefore this "Conservative Reaction" which I suspect is going on in the minds of many young men at Cambridge, consider what it has to conserve. It is not asked to conserve the Throne. That, thank God, can take good care of itself. Let it conserve the House of Lords; and that will be conserved, just in proportion as the upper classes shall copy the virtues of Royalty; both of him who is taken from us, and of her who is left. Let the upper classes learn from them, that the just and wise method of strengthening their political power, is to labour after that social power, which comes only by virtue and usefulness. Let them make themselves, as the present Sovereign has made herself, morally necessary to the people; and then there is no fear of their being found politically unnecessary. No other course is before them, if they wish to make their "Conservative Reaction" a permanent, even an endurable fact. If any young gentlemen fancy (and some do) that they can strengthen their class by making any secret alliance with the Throne against the masses, then they will discover rapidly that the sovereigns of the House of Brunswick are grown far too wise, and far too noble-hearted, to fall once more into that trap. If any of them (and some do) fancy that they can better their position by sneering, whether in public or in their club, at a Reformed House of Commons and a Free Press, they will only accelerate the results which they most dread, by forcing the ultra-liberal party of the House, and, what is even worse, the most intellectual and respectable portion of the Press, to appeal to the people against them; and if again they are tempted (as too many of them are) to give up public life as becoming too vulgar for them, and prefer ease and pleasure to the hard work and plain-speaking of the House of Commons; then they will simply pay the same penalty for laziness and fastidiousness which has been paid by the Spanish aristocracy; and will discover that if they think their intellect unnecessary to the nation, the nation will rapidly become of the same opinion, and go its own way without them.

But if they are willing to make themselves, as they easily can, the best educated, the most trustworthy, the most virtuous, the most truly liberal-minded class of the commonweal; if they will set themselves to study the duties of rank and property, as of a profession to which they are called by God, and the requirements of which they must fulfil; if they will acquire, as they can easily, a sound knowledge both of political economy, and of the social questions of the day; if they will be foremost with their personal influence in all good works; if they will set themselves to compete on equal terms with the classes below them, and, as they may, outrival them: then they will find that those classes will receive them not altogether on equal terms; that they will accede to them a superiority, undefined perhaps, but real and practical enough to conserve their class and their rank, in every article for which a just and prudent man would wish.

But if any young gentlemen look forward (as I fear a few do still) to a Conservative Reaction of any other kind than this; to even the least return to the Tory maxims and methods of George the Fourth's time; to even the least stoppage of what the world calls progress—which I should define as the putting in practice the results of inductive science; then do they, like king Picrochole in Rabelais, look for a kingdom which shall be restored to them at the coming of the Cocqcigrues. The Cocqcigrues are never coming; and none know that better than the present able and moderate leaders of the Conservative party; none will be more anxious to teach that fact to their young adherents, and to make them swim with the great stream, lest it toss them contemptuously ashore upon its banks, and go on its way unheeding.

Return to the system of 1800—1830, is, I thank God, impossible. Even though men's hearts should fail them, they must onward, they know not whither: though God does know. The bigot, who believes in a system, and not in the living God; the sentimentalist, who shrinks from facts because they are painful to his taste; the sluggard, who hates a change because it disturbs his ease; the simply stupid person, who cannot use his eyes and ears; all these may cry feebly to the world to do what it has never done since its creation—stand still awhile, that they may get their breaths. But the brave and honest gentleman—who believes that God is not the tempter and deceiver, but the father and the educator of man—he will not shrink, even though the pace may be at moments rapid, the path be at moments hid by mist; for he will believe that freedom and knowledge, as well as virtue, are the daughters of the Most High; and he will follow them and call on the rest to follow them, whithersoever they may lead; and will take heart for himself and for his class, by the example of that great Prince who is of late gone home. For if, like that most royal soul, he and his shall follow with single eye and steadfast heart, freedom, knowledge, and virtue; then will he and his be safe, as Royalty is safe in England now; because both God and man have need thereof.