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dency to postpone the investigation of sciences that admit not of experiment till after those capable of empiric aid have been exhausted, whether terrified by the accusation of impiety ever hanging over a new course of inquiry, whether deterred by the general incuriousness, the thinkers from whom we should have expected some advance in this direction, have been content to observe an inglorious silence, or to record an opinion unsupported by argumentative discussion.
In the midst of such a general barrenness it is consolatory to find four or five persons who have boldly essayed to construct a system of history. The mass of mankind have surveyed their structures and condemned them, but a fame yet surrounds the authors, of the nature of that enjoyed by the architect of a lighthouse on ‘a desperate headland, which the first storm has washed away. Every one admires the audacity and novelty of the attempt, while he laments the errors of the design, or the insufficiency of the execution.
This study does not affect to be the edification of a system, for nothing leads to error by so straight and certain a path as the pomp and pedantry of establishing eternal laws in matters which admit not of experiment. But if certain general principles present themselves as explanatory of well-observed phenomena, are they to be refused consideration? or is it vain to hope that a few luminous traits and settled axioms may give a key to the acts of God by man, which are too often obscured by the acervation of detail, and distorted by the licence of unsystematic conjecture? In all physical nature it is granted that the Deity works by established and fixed principles ; in the direction of human events alone this mode of governing has been denied. I do not shrink, therefore, from supposing that there is a method in human affairs by reason of any fear that such an opinion borders on impiety, nor do I deem it a mean or paltry ambition to endeavour to apply to the domain of history some of
those processes which have served to change other wastes and wildernesses into fruitful fields of knowledge. I cannot hope to do more than to mark out some of the broader paths, and in that effort it is no slight consolation sometimes to find oneself upon a track laid down by Aristotle, Montesquieu, Machiavelli, De Tocqueville, and the rest of the illustrious few who have dared to think that history might be the working of a mighty system by means of regular and defined principles. The object, therefore, of this attempt is not to alter present opinions about the details of human events, but to promote a new mode of thinking about history.
It must, however, be always remembered that in applying to social affairs the methods of observation by which natural science has been discovered, we labour under disadvantages which have been fatal to many previous efforts, and it is as well at once boldly to face and state them. Thus the nature of the subject forbids us the hope of attaining rigidity in any of our conclusions. Indeed, I might lay it down as one of the fundamental principles, that undeviating exactness must be expected in nothing that is laid down upon this subject. Three considerations will easily explain how this, which is held to be a necessity in all physical sciences, becomes an impossibility here.
In the first place, we are dealing with man and man's actions, and so long as the exercise of freewill, in however - limited a degree, is allowed to us, there must necessarily
be that diversity which does not exist in things inanimate, put in motion by the undisturbed agency of eternal laws.
Secondly, the matter with which we are concerned has flashed before the world and passed for ever, and all that is left us is its memory. How much more happy the mathematician, who can safely pack the materials of his rigid reasoning in a portmanteau ; the chemist, who, from the little world which is comprised in his laboratory, can discover the laws which operate with the utmost exactness throughout our whole system; or the astronomer, who by ascending a flight of stairs and forbearing a night's rest has the whole vault of heaven spread out before him, the magnificent subject of his inquiries. We have only words - the signs and vague records of former events, in twenty different languages and of twenty different degrees of trustworthiness, and the great drama that is passing before us, the scope and meaning of which we must penetrate as best we may.
Thirdly, there is denied to us the right arm of all discoverers, Experiment. The shrewd mathematician or
natural philosopher guesses a truth, and forth with tests it nypothesis in a multitude of instances, when, if it never fails, it starts
forth an accomplished discovery. The historical or political inquirer may guess as many truths as he has head for, but all that is permitted him beyond that is to collect all particular instances known, and thence infer the general laws, trying, if he can, to reason out their necessity and propriety, and go through, after a humble and halting fashion, the mental process which the Creator may have been supposed to have gone through when he decreed those laws. Our poor inquirer must rest there; he cannot, like the mathematician or natural philosopher, create particular instances, and his supposed general laws may therefore rest occasionally on two or three examples, where it is impossible to render exactly the effects to their true causes. This method, which, under the name of historical induction, has acquired the commendation of the most thoughtful writers of our age, is the only one permitted us to follow in the succeeding pages. Our distribution of causes to effects will of course be confirmed wherever possible by tracing the process, if we may so speak, of causation. And it is chiefly on this, when duly performed, that general views of history must rest their claim to attention.
The absence of rigidity in these inquiries; the want, and indeed impossibility, of obtaining precise definitions; the
looseness of speech which has always hitherto pervaded discussions of this kind, distress the political student who tries to think with exactness, as much as they perplex the writer who desires to gain belief for his conclusions. We are obliged in our studies to think and speak of abstract ideal forms which, when we look around us on the face of the globe, we can hardly acknowledge to bear a relation to the systems which we see in life and action. The anatomist, who should think that by a few days' work in the dissecting-room he might attain a thorough knowledge of the human species, would not be more mistaken than the political philosopher who, after much speculation in his closet on “ Monarchy” or “Democracy,” should think himself qualified to prescribe governments for nations, or to administer ·those that were already established. It is sufficiently clear that the ancients did not escape this fault when they classed the governments with which tradition or their own experience had made them acquainted, under one of three ideal forms : -- monarchy, the rule of one;aristocracy, where the sovereign power was in the hands of the men reputed the best of the state, whether because belonging to a conquering tribe, or for some other reason ; -democracy, where it rested in an assembly of the nation, from which no freeman was excluded. Nor did they much relieve the difficulty when they defined the distinct tendencies to degeneracy which might be observed in cach of these forms. A monarch, who totally disregarded the good of his subjects, and held no law but his own will, established a tyranny: but the difference between an absolute monarchy exercised for the common good, or administered only for the ruler's interest, depended so entirely on the personal character of the man who occupied the throne, and the very idea of one man being allowed to exercise his will unchecked over thousands, was so distasteful to the free spirit of the Greeks, that they used povapxia (monarchy), and tuparnis (tyranny), almost as convertible terms. As, too, it was but seldom that a state could permanently secure the appointment of the really best men to govern it, the power of an aristocracy was liable to be usurped by a clique of unscrupulous adventurers; and the nation which had begun by selecting the best men to be at its head, ended in having for its only distinction the being governed by a gang of a few despots. Oligarchy took the place of aristocracy. Nor was it possible for the Athenians to deny that their favourite form of government was not exempt from a corresponding danger. When the interests of all the individuals of a state coincided, democracy was considered unobjectionable; but whenever the people became split into factions, the majority exercised over the minority the worst of all tyrannies,the tyranny of the mob (Oxãoxpatia).
This tripartite enumeration, savouring too much of cut and dried politics, and making no allowance for the buoyancy of everchanging governments, which must be perpetually readapted to the genius, temper, and manners of a nation, affords an apt illustration of the peculiarity of these pursuits and their subject. Indeed, if we regard governments in action, the shades are distinguished by so fine a difference, and the variety is so infinite, the very stages of each variety so fleeting, that while we are describing them they change. “Quo teneam vultus mutantem Protea nodo." We cannot fix them to any one form. We can but carry away a general idea, round which we must group our recollections of the dissolving series.
The ancients felt the inadequacy of such a distribution to include under any one of their heads the governments of these nations, which had arrived at that stage where more than one social element struggled for preeminence. The Spartans had a governing system essentially aristocratical, yet so complicated in its instruments, that it seemed, however incorrectly, to partake the characteristics of more than one of these forms. Polybius complains that he knows not of which of them he was to