Page images
PDF
EPUB

menantainaal

atzorked the and consona

have been wonderfully different according as such accidents occurred or not, but the regular and prolonged causes would in the gross surmount the effect of those irregular causes. Had Gustavus Adolphus been Protestant Emperor of Germany, the consequences would have been vast at the time; but it is very doubtful whether at this moment, or even at the beginning of this century, the cardinal features of the world's civilisation would have been different from what they are now. Possibly the Greeks might have been still involved in the heresy mentioned by Gibbon, but I am not sufficiently acquainted in Cent vid with the efficacy of the doctrine to know whether it would lovplyset have prevented the Greeks from being conquered by the the devene ha Turks in the 15th century, or from remaining in the nine- of Carnet ha teenth the most degraded of races.

In this part of the inquiry we have, for once, the ad- me then an vantage of experiment. The assassin comes to our aid. but one data Believing that the removal of some prominent individual would turn the fate of an empire, murderers-judicial or otherwise—have put their belief to the test of experiment. With what result ? Ask of the Romans, who saw no liberty on the death of Cæsar ; ask our Parliament-men, who when they beheaded a king, had not abolished kingship ; observe the ecclesiastical power in England, not less strong because Becket had fallen ; and let present times attest that the slow murder of Napoleon I. has not warded off an empire from France. The death of a

. leader has never destroyed, and never will destroy, a great social principle. The assassin is as impotent as he is vile.

Nothing is more remarkable to the student of history who dares to take comprehensive views, than the insignificance of the effects due to those irregular causes which act as disturbing forces to the operation of those more powerful and constant causes that effect the great movements of society. The fundamental principle of Quetelet's

. “ Physique Sociale” might be also the groundwork of a science of history. “Plus le nombre des individus que

becato

l'on observe est grand, plus les particularités individuelles, Inbuster

soit physiques, soit morales, s'effacent et laissent prédominer la série des faits généraux en vertu desquels la société existe et se conserve." *

But one consideration even yet more completely removes the disquietude which the presence of accident might produce. It is this. Accident does not alter the laws of nature, not even the backstairs historian indulges in such a supposition ; accidents, allowing them all the influence they are popularly supposed to possess, can merely bring the subject-matter under the influence of laws which did not operate on it before, and therefore accelerate, retard, or stunt the development which is appropriate to it. To us, therefore, whose object is to find out some of these laws, and to trace that development, the presence of accident, so far from being an impediment, may rather be an assistance. For it is one of the great objects of such a study as this to enable us to distinguish between the result of the constant causes, the phenomena due to the plainer laws of national life, and the effects of irregular causes, the phenomena which we may, speaking popularly, ascribe to accident. It is our duty of course to eliminate accident, to describe national development as it takes place when emancipated from accident ; but practical benefit, which is the true end of all social researches, may sometimes induce us, in violation of theoretical symmetry, to point out some grave lessons—the handiwork of accident—which history teaches to statesmen. So long as this thing we call accident remains unexplained, prophecy is impossible. We can only foretell of the future what it will be if the laws which we understand are allowed to work, if development is allowed to proceed without interruption ; but this is scarcely ever the case for any lengthened period. The matter which was subject to the known action of one law, is suddenly removed into the field of action of another law; we perhaps may

Quetelet, Sur l'Homme, i. 12.

a

know the operation of both laws, and be able to say what would be the result if the matter were allowed to remain under the action of the first or the second law; but then it is again transferred, in a manner unforeseen and for reasons unknown, to the field of action of a third law; and even if we know the workings of the third law, still we cannot prophesy, because the matter may be submitted to the operation of a fourth law, or back again to the domain of the first or the second.

What power is it which thus at pleasure removes nations from the operation of one of those laws by which they are governed to that of another, just as man, of his free will, can take the matter over which he has power out of the sphere of one physical law and submit it to the operation of another? It is inscrutable. We call it Providence; we believe it to be the same power that framed the present constitution of the world. If so, there is nothing that we know of to prevent that Power altering the laws which itself has made. But as in physical matters we see that the laws, once fixed at creation, have never been altered ; as David said respecting the stars, “ Thou gavest them a law which cannot be broken” — so I see no impiety in believing (as history proves, so far as the thing is susceptible of proof,) that the laws by which national progress is governed were fixed at creation and remain unchanged. Yet, as I have said, the face of affairs is every day totally changed, not by changing the laws, but by submitting the subject-thing to the operation of different laws. To investigate these laws and their result is the only method vouchsafed to us of inquiring of the oracles of God. To understand the system by which He governs the world, to conform ourselves to its laws, and, so far as we may be permitted the possession of some little and brief power, to use that power, not in a vain contradiction to His system, but in concord and harmony with it; this is the truest worship that mortals can offer to the Immortal.

CHAP. IV.

THE ORIGIN.

“ Ma sendo tutte le cose degli uomini in moto, e non potendo stare salde, conviene che le saglino, o che le scendano.”—MACCHIAVELLI.

" Les hommes agitent; mais Dieu mène."--BOSSUET.

The reflections expressed in the preceding chapters were intended to aid us in the task which we shall now attempt, the description of the course of national progress; meaning by that term not the biography of individual nations, but the exposition of the phases which their constant occurrence has taught us to consider common to nations as a class. We would investigate, if possible, the laws by which a nation's life is regulated, by which the same bodies corporate exist in degrees of life and perfection, with capacities of action, and opportunities of reception, different in one period of their being from those appointed them in another. We would find in the moral order of the universe that which has already been discovered in its material order :

-“ quas dum primordia rerum Miracles are a Pangeret, omniparens leges violare Creator Youtebion of this ramiaw Noluit

, atque operum quæ fundamenta locârit.” innian

" and we would find, as the effect of these laws*, the natural

* “Omnis enim philosophiæ difficultas in eo versari videtur, ut a phænomenis motuum investigemus vires naturæ, deinde ab his viribus demonstremus phænomena reliqua."-Newton, Preface to the Principia.

succession of the states of society, and mark their slow, I had almost said stealthy, advent, regarding each as the result of the preceding and the parent of the next. How gradual the transition is will then appear. Preparations for future change are slowly and silently made; ideas at first familiar only in the closets of the studious become current in the popular talk. The foundations of a new organisation are secretly laid by those who have but a slight idea of the structure that is to be built upon them,

, till at last these subterranean works are laid open, and society, with awful suddenness, reconstructs itself on this new basis.

Like the statue which Condillac endowed with each sense successively, staying, as he gave it every new sense,

, to consider how far its feelings and powers would be thereby altered and enlarged, so we could trace the development of nations, their gradual endowment with each new element of civilisation. But, happier than Condillac, whose statue had no living prototype till it received its full animation, we sketch no imaginary scene, but at every stage of this development can appeal to the traveller or the historian to furnish us with an example. And thus we may hope to range the nations of the world, both past and present, in a new sequence, to look at them from a point of view from which they have not been regarded before.

Whatever be the work of creation which we contemplate, our pleasure is always increased by discovering amid a multiplicity of effects a unity of design. That pleasure has too long been denied to the student of history. Through some brilliant episodes he has traced the leading and directing idea, and in that the beauty of particular histories has consisted ; but the episodes themselves need also to be connected, and they will be when once men have unravelled that

-“ mystery in the soul of State
Which hath an operation more divine
Than our mere chroniclers dare meddle with."

« PreviousContinue »