Sunday, 12 May 2013

Thomas Day - Man of Feeling

Thomas Day ((22 June 1748 – 28 September 1789)

I came across this painting by Joseph Wright (1734-1797) on a recent visit to Beningborough Hall in Yorkshire. It was commissioned by Thomas Day's life-long friend, Richard Lovell Edgeworth who called Day 'the most virtuous human being he had ever known'. The composition is intended to portray Day as a man of feeling, with a meditative and melancholy air.

Richard Edgeworth was a progressive educator inspired by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and through his influence Thomas Day became equally enthralled by his ideas. Rousseau's philosophy of education is not concerned with imparting information and concepts but with bringing about certain qualities in a young person. The aim is to develop character and moral sense so that a person may be his or her own master and uphold virtue even in the unnatural and imperfect society that he or she will have to live in.

After failing to find the perfect wife (several women turned down his proposals of marriage), he decided to adopt two foundlings from orphanages and, using Rousseau's maxims, educate them to be the perfect wife (two would ensure that one of them worked out). This illustrates one of the liberal themes of creating human perfection through education.

He adopted a 12-year-old and an 11-year-old whom he renamed Sabrina and Lucretia and took them to France to educate them in isolation. Unfortunately, the girls became ill and "squabbled" and he decided to give up on Lucretia, whom he did not think could satisfy him intellectually. Sabrina he felt was still a possibility, but her character had to be further strengthened. After dropping hot wax on her arms and hearing her scream, though, he gave up in despair.

Day did finally meet his "paragon" of a woman in Esther Milnes (1753–1792). They were married on 7 August 1778. They lived a very ascetic lifestyle and Esther was never allowed to contact her family.

In 1780, the couple moved to Anningsley in Surrey, when Day bought a new estate there. It was a philanthropic project for both husband and wife and they laboured to improve the conditions of the working classes around them. Here are the liberal themes of philanthropy and Care for the poor and needy.

In 1773, Day published his first work-"The Dying Negro," a poem he had written with John Bicknell that tells the horrifying story of a runaway slave; it was a best seller. Here is the liberal theme of concern for the Oppressed.

When the United States Declaration of Independence was first published, Day pointed out the contradiction between the claim that "all men are created equal" and the existence of American slavery. There were also members of Congress who owned black slaves. In 1776, Thomas Day wrote:
"If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves."
This illustrates another liberal theme of striking blows at inequality and standing up for those Oppressed by the social order. It also shows the role of reason in pointing out inconsistencies between principles and behaviour.

Day argued for the rights of the American colonists in his poem "The Devoted Legions" (1776) and in 1780 he argued in Parliament for an early peace with the revolutionaries as well as parliamentary reform. Here we see liberal support for those Oppressed by the "home team" (in this case the nascent United States of America seeking independence from the British Empire). Also, a familiar liberal position of suing for peace earlier rather than later and, in parliamentary reform, the search for a fairer distribution of power.

It was as a writer for children that Day made his reputation. The History of Little Jack (1787) was extremely popular, but it could not match the sales of The History of Sandford and Merton (1783, 1786, 1789) which was a best seller for over a hundred years. Embracing Rousseau's dictates in many ways, it narrates the story of the rich, noble but spoiled Tommy Merton and his poor but virtuous friend Harry Sandford. Through trials and stories, Harry and the boys' tutor teach Tommy the importance of labour and the evils of the idle rich.

Imagine the thousands of young minds that Day was able to influence through this story! Again, liberal themes emerge: Care for the young; education as the route to a better society; the superior virtue of the Oppressed; the evils of being rich.

Day was thrown from his horse while trying to break it using kindness on 28 September 1789 and died almost instantly.

There were many admirable qualities in Thomas Day, as there are with many liberals, but practicality is not usually one of them (in my experience). Here we see that Day was trying to apply Rousseauian principles to the training of a horse and the result was a collision with reality. I would be the last person to advocate cruelty in dealing with animals but perhaps sensibility has its limits?

This episode with the horse reminds me of how liberals are trying to come to terms with Islam, though the discrepancy between the strength of Thomas Day and his horse, shrinks into insignificance compared to the discrepancy between the power of Islam and the liberals of this world.

Liberals tend to have a strong caring side. Many of the liberals I know or have known certainly share this quality. They do not want to cause harm - to other people, to animals, or to the environment. They usually have a strong empathising tendency and they feel dismay at what they see as other people's disregard for these feelings. They abhor suffering and do not want to be the cause of it. Thomas Day is a good example of these character traits.

Where perhaps they tend to go wrong is in seeing those with less preoccupation with Care than themselves as completely without feeling. It's as if they project the Harm aspect of the Care/Harm dimension onto those they identify as uncaring. This can quickly lead to demonisation of their political opponents. Even though they are engaging in behaviour which from the outside they would condemn (e.g. when Jews were demonised by Nazis) they feel so much self-righteousness with regard to their own causes that they feel justified in behaving this way. They also see their political opponents as being powerful and privileged and deserving targets of any amount of venom.

But what they do is nonetheless dehumanising and infantile.

Thomas Day, and those like him, have done a lot to extend the sphere of compassion in liberal society. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Where conservatives are apt to feel rather exasperated with liberals today is really related to what they see as a dereliction of duty. Why are liberals not doing what they usually do and get out and protest about the incursion into liberal society of Islamic mores, Islamisation? This is the phenomenon that I call Malsi-tung: the liberal surrender to Islam. Not only are liberals not protesting the sexism, racism, and oppression that Islam brings to liberal societies, they are demonising anyone who does stand up to it. This is what is so bizarre.

But the reason for it may be found in the sphere of compassion that I've mentioned above. Liberals have extended their sphere of compassion so far out that they now feel only compassion for those who would kill and enslave them.

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