|“Everyone knows that on a large scale democracy is |
pernicious nonsense.” —Jack Aubrey
“That will be the gate leading to the common,’ said Jack. ‘I wanted you to see it in any event, a lovely piece of country.’ They walked quickly through, and there on the path some thirty yards beyond there was a white scut bobbing along. Jack whipped up his gun; the rabbit made a somersault; the spaniel raced out and brought it back, breathing deep with satisfaction.
‘So this is the common,’ said Stephen, looking over a broad expanse of rough pasture, fern-brake, scattered trees, with here and there a pool; the whole agreeably undulating, autumn-coloured, with a fine great sky over it, adorned with the whitest sailing clouds. ‘An elegant common too, so it is; but my ideas are all confused. I had supposed your father and his friends had inclosed it, to your great distress, when we were on the far side of the world.’
‘Certainly they inclosed Woolhampton common and it did grieve me. But this is another piece of common land called Simmon's Lea – it was always my favourite – and now they want to inclose it too. Over my dead body! Such fun I had here when I was a boy [...] Well, now, an inclosure usually starts with those who have most right in the common agreeing that it should be divided up into separate parts, into single freeholds proportionate to their rights. I do not mean all those concerned, but a good many. Then, with the blessing of the parson, the patron of the living, and as many of the gentlemen, yeomen and freeholders as are of their opinion or whom they can persuade, they appoint proper people to measure and chart everything. When this is done they present a petition to the House, begging leave to bring in a private bill, so that parliament may authorize the sharing out–so that it may become law.’
‘On the face of it, that seems fair enough. After all, the country is run on those lines: the majority is always right, and those who do not like it may lump it – an expression I heard in the mouth of an officer leading a press-gang, when one of the captives expostulated with him.’
|“As for a man-of-war, it is either an autocracy or it is nothing.”|
‘It would be perfectly fair, if it were like a jury or even a vestry, where every man has a voice, and where all the others know him and value his opinion according to his reputation in the village. But in this case the majority is determined not by counting heads but by counting shares: that is to say the value of the holdings. Griffiths, a fairly rich newcomer, has perhaps ten thousand pounds’ worth. Harding and all his relations in the farms and cottages have come by holdings worth two or three hundred in the last two or three hundred years. So what will their vote amount to?’ [...] ‘There may be such men, but Griffiths and his friends are not of that nature. They want all they can get and be damned to the means; and what they and the bigger farmers hate is the possibility of the labourers growing saucy, as they call it, asking for higher wages – for a wage that keeps up with the price of corn – refusing to work if they do not get it, and falling back on what they can wring from the common. No common, no sauciness.’ [...]
|‘After all, the country is run on those |
lines.’ —Stephen Maturin
‘Jack,’ said Stephen, ‘I have been contemplating on your words about the nature of the majority, your strangely violent, radical, and even – forgive me – democratic words, which, with their treasonable implication of “one man, one vote”, might be interpreted as an attack on the sacred rights of property; and I should like to know how you reconcile them with your support of a Tory ministry in the House.’
‘Oh, as for that,’ said Jack, ‘I have no difficulty at all. It is entirely a matter of scale and circumstance. Everyone knows that on a large scale democracy is pernicious nonsense – a country or even a county cannot be run by a self-seeking parcel of tub-thumping politicians working on popular emotion, rousing the mob. Even at Brooks’s, which is a hotbed of democracy, the place is in fact run by the managers and those that don't like it may either do the other thing or join Boodle’s; while as for a man-of-war, it is either an autocracy or it is nothing, nothing at all – mere nonsense. You saw what happened to the poor French navy at the beginning of the Revolutionary War...’
‘Dear Jack, I do not suppose literal democracy in a ship of the line nor even in a little small row-boat. I know too much of the sea,’ added Stephen, not without complacency.
‘...while at the other end of the scale, although “one man, one vote” certainly smells of brimstone and the gallows, everyone has always accepted it in a jury trying a man for his life. An inclosure belongs to this scale: it too decides men's lives. I had not realized how thoroughly it does so until I came back from sea and found that Griffiths and some of his friends had persuaded my father to join with them in inclosing Woolcombe Common: he was desperate for money at the time. Woolcombe was never so glorious a place as Simmon’s Lea, but I like it very well – surprising numbers of partridge and woodcock in the season – and when I saw it all cleared, flattened, drained, fenced and exploited to the last half-bushel of wheat, with many of the small encroachments ploughed up and the cottages destroyed, and the remaining commoners, with half of their living and all their joy quite gone, reduced to anxious cap-in-hand casual labourers, it hurt my heart, Stephen, I do assure you. I was brought up rough when I was a little chap, after my mother's death, sometimes at the village school, sometimes running wild; and I knew these men intimately as boys, and now to see them at the mercy of landlords, farmers, and God help us parish officers for poor relief, hurts me so that I can scarcely bring myself to go there again. And I am determined the same thing shall not happen to Simmon’s Lea, if ever I can prevent it. The old ways had disadvantages, of course, but here – and I speak only of what I know – it was a human life, and the people knew its ways and customs through and through.’
—Patrick O’Brian, The Yellow Admiral.