The complexity of Thomas Hughes's social and political views appears in his emphasis — so much like that of Samuel Johnson — that those in the right have to accept that they will suffer for the sake of their righteousness. "So it is, and must be always," he tells "my dear boys."
If the angel Gabriel were to come down from heaven, and head a successful rise against the most abominable and unrighteous vested interest which this poor old world groans under, he would most certainly lose his character for many years, probably for centuries, not only with the upholders of said vested interest, but with the respectable mass of the people whom he had delivered. They wouldn't ask him to dinner, or let their names appear with his in the papers; they would be very careful how they spoke of him in the Palaver, or at their clubs. What can we expect, then, when we have only poor gallant blundering men like Kossuth, Garibaldi, Mazzini, and righteous causes which do not triumph in their hands — men who have holes enough in their armour, God knows, easy to be hit by respectabilities sitting in their lounging chairs, and having large balances at their bankers'? But you are brave, gallant boys, who hate easy-chairs, and have no balances or bankers. You only want to have your heads set straight, to take the right side; so bear in mind that majorities, especially respectable ones, are nine times out of ten in the wrong; and that if you see a man or boy striving earnestly on the weak side, however wrong-headed or blundering he may be, you are not to go and join the cry against him. If you can't join him and help him, and make him wiser, at any rate remember that he has found something in the world which he will fight and suffer for, which is just what you have got to do for yourselves; and so think and speak of him tenderly.
On the one hand, Hughes sounds much like Evangelical protestants who, then and now, take the fact that they have been oppressed by others (even when they are in fact the party in power) as sure proof they are in the right and members of God's party. And yet Hughes shows himself clearly opposed to "respectabilities sitting in their lounging chairs, and having large balances at their bankers." In other words, he seems opposed to both the powers that be (whom Victorian evangelicals wished to cultivate in order to make evil unrespectable) and to all majorities, because "majorities, especially respectable ones, are nine times out of ten in the wrong." Here Hughes declares himself a contrarian and like, most Victorian thinkers (and hence he's hardly a contrarian) suspicious of oppression by the majority — a position taken, most famously, by John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, one of the central documents of political liberalism. Note that as examples of men who suffer for doing the right thing he chooses Kossuth, who fought for Polish liberty, and Garibaldi and Mazzini, who fought for Italian liberty (from the Pope and Austria) and for reunification of Italy, which was the single most popular international cause with liberals during Victoria's reign.
Hughes, Thomas. Tom Brown's Schooldays. Electronic version from Project Gutenberg produced by Gil Jaysmith and David Widger.
Last modified 26 June 2006