[Letter of John James Taylor to Francis William Newman.]
York Place, Manchester
April 29th, 1845
I have seen so little of you lately, that it is quite a pleasure to converse with you even on paper. By the end of May, I trust I shall be rather more at leisure, and have more of your society. The notes of your Lectures on the Priestly Kingdoms, I have read over with much interest. In your general view of the gradual evolution of one state of society out of another—and of things, originally well meant and beneficial, becoming corrupt and mischievous—only by being kept too long—I entirely agree. On one or two insulated points a question or two has occurred to me to ask you.—According to your idea—if I rightly apprehend it—the sacred or sacerdotal character grows out of the importance attached to the civil character of a judge and mediator. I am not arguing for the priority of the civil or the sacerdotal element in society—but it seems to me, that with a rude people the religious influence would be more direct, constant, and all-embracing than you represent it. Among such a people, every perception and every consciousness of superior wisdom and intellect, capable of guiding and directing, inspires deep religious feeling—veneration approaching to homage;—the civil and sacerdotal elements lie folded up, as it were, in one character, and only separate themselves into distinct functions, as society advances. In the order of development, do not the religious precede the moral sentiments? Perhaps, however, the difference between us is more verbal than real.—I can hardly admit that the love of Truth for its own sake is altogether and in every case so late a product of humanity. I doubt too, whether conscious falsehood,—even if it tends apparently to a good practical result, is ever felt to be praiseworthy. The moment that consciousness arises, the innocence of childhood is gone, and craft and selfishness, which so early insinuate themselves into priesthoods, take its place.—What you say of the institution of castes originating in the monopolising spirit of different occupations—like our trades-unions—is very ingenious, and to me a new thought—it never occurred to me before. At the same time, may we not more simply account for this origin by supposing them to be nothing more than the natural development of society in the division of human labour, arrested at a certain period of its growth by the interposing hand of the priesthood, controlling and directing all things? We have an instance of the way in which the priesthood took the whole management of society into their hands, in the account given us of the Incas of Peru, who superintended to the minutest particulars the cultivating and reaping of the entire lands of the community. Is not the institution of castes invariably connected with a priesthood? Where one occurs may we not certainly infer the existence of the other. The case of China is an exception more of form than of reality; as we see there the true sacerdotal power placed in the hands of a literary class—and classical books substituted for the sacred books of other nations. The earliest constitution of castes seems, as you observe, to embrace the natural fourfold division of human occupations. We find it in our own Anglo-Saxon times—without the compulsion of caste—priests, thanes (warriors), merchants and free cultivators, slaves. But when the institution was once set on foot, and the priesthood had established its ascendancy, nothing was more natural than that every fresh subdivision should be brought under its control—as in the case of the new commencement of their close intercourse with the Greeks. The difference between us seems to lie in this—you regard the system of castes as having its impulse within, in the self-interest and jealousy of different employments.—I have been accustomed to view it as the constraint of a despotic force imposed from without. But, as I said, the idea is new to me, and I will well consider it. Your theory seems to me more in accordance with the origin of our modern society—in the formation of guilds and companies, which I take it were at first nothing more than incorporations for mutual defence and advantage; at first against the warrior force of the feudal baron, but afterwards against rivals in trade.—Towards the close of your paper—are you quite correct historically—in speaking of "the hereditary Counts or military officers" as "off sets" from the original warrior caste? My impression was, that the Counts, dispersed over the vast extent of the Frankish empire, who laid the first foundations of the feudal system, were at first mere beneficiaries—the creatures of the sovereign—without inherent nobility, and that only by degrees they acquired hereditary title, and rose into the class of proper nobles. That is the idea which Hallam's book has left on my mind. But I speak under correction.—Thank you sincerely for the interest of this discussion, and believe me ever truly and affectionately yours.