With the common fate of all things human, it is said that every career and walk in life has some one peculiar disparagement–something that, attaching to the duties of the station as a sort of special grievance, serves to show that none of us, no matter how favoured, are to imagine there can be any lot exempted from its share of troubles. Ask the soldier, the sailor, the parson, the doctor, the lawyer, or the actor, and each will give you a friendly warning to adopt any other career than his own.
In most cases the quid amarum, the one bitter drop, is to be found in the career itself, something that belongs to that one craft or calling; just as the white-lead colic, for instance, is the fatal malady of painters. There are, however, a few rare cases in which the detracting element attaches itself to the followers and not to the profession, as though it would seem there was a something in the daily working of that peculiar craft which warped the minds and coerced the natures of men to be different from what temperament and character should have made of them.
The two classes which most prominently exhibit what I mean are somewhat socially separated, but they have a number of small analogies in common. They are Sweeps and Statesmen! It would be tempting–but I resist the temptation–to show how many points of resemblance unite them–how each works in the dark, in a small, narrow, confined sphere, without view or outlet; how the tendency of each is to scratch his way upwards and gain the top, caring wonderfully little how black and dirty the process has made him. One might even go farther, and mark how, when indolence or weariness suggested sloth, the stimulus of a little fire underneath, whether a few lighted straws or a Birmingham mass-meeting, was sure to quicken progress and excite activity.
Again, I make this statement on the faith of Lord Shaftesbury, who pronounced it before their Lordships in the Upper House:–“It is no uncommon thing to buy and sell them. There is a regular traffic in them; and through the agency of certain women, not the models of their sex, you can get any quantity of them you want.” Last of all, on the same high authority, we are told of their perfect inutility, “since there is nothing that they do could not be better done by a machine.”
I resist, as I say, all temptations of this kind, and simply address myself to the one point of similarity between them which illustrates the theory with which I have started–and now to state this as formally as I am able. Let me declare that in all the varied employments of life I have never met with men who have the same dread of their possible successors as sweeps and statesmen. The whole aim and object of each is directed, first of all, to keep those who do their work as little as possible, well knowing that the time will come when these small creatures will find the space too confined for them, and set up for themselves.
A volume might be written on the subtle artifices adopted to keep them “little”–the browbeatings, the insults, the crushing cruelties, the spare diet intermixed with occasional stimulants, the irregular hours, and the heat and confinement of the sphere they work in. Still, nature is stronger than all these crafty contrivances. The little sweep will grow into the big sweep, and the small under-sec. will scratch his way up to the Cabinet I will not impose on my reader the burden of carrying along with him this double load. I will address myself simply to one of these careers–the Statesman’s. It is a strange but a most unquestionable fact, that no other class of men are so ill-disposed to those who are the most likely to succeed them–not of an Opposition, for that would be natural enough, but of their own party, of their own colour, of their own rearing. Let us be just: when a man has long enjoyed place, power, and pre-eminence, dispensed honours and pensions and patronage, it is not a small trial to discover that one of those little creatures he has made–whose first scraper and brush he himself paid for–I can’t get rid of the sweep out of my head–will turn insolently on him and declare that he will no longer remain a subordinate, but go and set up for himself. This is excessively hard, and might try the temper of a man even without a fit of the gout.