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I claim for investigations of this kind, when carried to a perfection far beyond what can at present be attained, the proud distinction of being the very essence and cream of history. They are history analysed. Only after a knowledge of many individual men could we venture to sketch the fixed features of human life, those characteristics which all or most individuals possess in common, and only now, relying on an experience more extensive than that of
preceding ages, can we hope to trace the leading features of the general life of nations. But genius, such as that of Thucydides or Aristotle, sometimes anticipates experience, and their wise saws derive confirmation from our modern instances. For under the hand of Thucydides history already showed that at some day it might take its rank among the sciences. The highest effort of the historian is when he so analyses and generalises his description of particular scenes as to make them descriptive also of other scenes far distant in time and place; he paints in the front of his picture the leading character of the class of events in colours that will never fade; in the background are crowded the immaterial and accidental accessories. It is the historian's highest effort to insert into his history of Greece, or France, or England, a chapter of universal
history; and so Thucydides * describes the break up of m186 social order in Greece, not with petty details and trifling
incidents peculiar to his own nation, but so that his description applies to every other nation when passing through a similar phase of revolutionary agony. For the historian is like the poet, who, as Goethe says, “should seize the particular, and if there be anything sound in it, thus represent the universal.”
An impression has probably been conveyed to the reader that he is setting out on an enterprise which few have undertaken before. This is in some measure incorrect; for on the first stage of his route he will pass a whole caravan of travellers who have not advanced, and never will advance, further. Imagine a natural philosopher required to apply his scientific skill to the subject of rivers. Close by him is the narrow channel which swells into a torrent in winter, and in summer trickles down with so small a stream that the shepherd boy steps over it without a thought. Within his hearing is the foaming cataract that all the year round is crossed only by the bending plank with the lax rope for a balustrade. Within sight of him is the broad majestic river that carries its waters slowly down to the ungrateful sea, which, rejecting the proffered gift, lashes them back again. Ten tributaries run into it, dividing the smooth shaved lawns and the trim parterres of civilisation, each with its green-grown lock. The philosopher observes them not as they murmur by his window; he crosses the granite bridge, but cares not for the tidal stream beneath ; their phenomena betray no laws to him, because he is ignorant of one thing, their subterranean sources, and till he knows this —a knowledge apparently inscrutable by man—the river may ebb and flow, the winter torrent may rage, the canal may run dry, but they bring no increase of knowledge to him. He is bent on knowing only the origin of rivers.
* Lib. iii. c. 82, 83.
This, which would be conspicuous folly in a natural philosopher, is the stock-in-trade of essayists who have indulged in metaphysical disquisitions on the social system. To be profound, it was necessary to go back to the very origin of things, whence they never returned, but stayed there like Milton's fallen angels :
“Others apart sat on a hill retired,
And found no end, in wand'ring mazes lost.” It would be tedious to recount their ingenious speculations. A savage is imagined; his self-education, his amours, his settlement in life, the productions of his inventive genius, the education of his family, his paternal sway, are all interestingly traced, and he dies the honoured father of civilisation. Or, it is supposed that at some unknown period, some unknown king met some unknown commons on some unknown island, and they then and there signed, sealed, and delivered an “original contract” whereby the king covenants to govern well, and the people to obey him if he does so.
This last was a favourite hypothesis, not only with the recluse, whose ideas on politics are generally semi-morbid, but grave legislators, supported by practical thinkers like Hobbes and Locke, supposed that some persons had at some time done a metaphysical act of this kind, and remodelled our constitution in 1689 expressly on the theory of the original compact; which proves, at least, that however trilling and ridiculous may be the grounds of legislative choice, a species perhaps of irresistible grace prevents us from ultimately choosing any other than that form of government which the time demands. It would be a fortunate dispensation, indeed, if in everything man could not help being right.
The doctrine of the “original compact” attracted subsequently the attention of literary as well as political circles throughout Europe, in consequence of the disputes with which every reader of Hume and Rousseau has become familiar. Philosophers discussed and statesmen acted upon a wild fancy which, if it had been entertained by only one man, would have consigned him to Bedlam. We must stoop to conquer. Let us embrace the grand and necessary, though it may be, humiliating axiom of Niebuhr: “That all absolute beginning lies out of the reach of our mental conceptions, which comprehend nothing beyond development and progress,” and then the sources of human society will be left, like those of the Nile, not unexplored, but undefined.
Let us dismiss too, not merely as inappropriate, but as utterly idle and mischievous, the kindred investigation
into the natural state of man. Every stage of national life, like every stage of human life, has something of the natural and something of the unnatural in it. The unnatural state par excellence is what we call the morbid state of a thing. The natural state, the purely unalloyed condition, is the ideal of the subject in all the phases of healthy progress. Perhaps in all London there will not be found any very near approximation to the ideal of the human kind, certainly it will not be found among the American savages. Yet it was these savages whose noble generosity and shamefully abused hospitality led the wrath ardent dreamy malcontents of a morbid state of society to look af liberty malaya
and , amor upon them as natural men. Honour be to them, and condition? infamy to the civilised scoundrels who requited their magnanimity with insult and death. The savage is far
oh oh! the more natural man than the rascally scum of a large city, but to say that the men of high feeling and education, those who have learnt science and not lost morality, who have cultivated a well balanced mind, not merely a sharp one, to say that these are less natural, in other words, more morbid than the wild men of the woods, is an intoxicating paradox*, excusable in its authors but not in their followers.
The natural state of man consists in his progress through the stages of life, when he possesses in each the characteristics appropriate to it. The natural state of nations consists in their progress through a series of stages, which we must shortly proceed to trace, when they possess the characteristics appropriate to these respective stages, and the natural government of nations is in each stage of national existence that which best suits the social conditions of that stage.
Rousseau is fallacious; but so are some of his opponents. Archbishop Whately (edition of Archbishop King's Discourses, p 123) says, “Civilisation is rather the natural state of man, since he has evidently a natural tendency towards it." By a parity of reasoning, old age is the natural state of man, since he has evidently a natural tendency towards it.
It is immaterial how we graduate this progress. We may distinguish it into seven stages, as Shakspeare did human life, or into any other number that pleases us, premising that whatever epochs we may select, it is impossible to define the boundary between any two successive states. The ideas are distinct enough, but the things have no determinate bound of separation. We cannot, as Mr. Burke remarked, draw a line between light and darkness, yet day and night are, upon the whole, tolerably distinct. The gradual dissolution of the past into the present, and the constant but inabrupt realisation of the future, being properties possessed in common by the series of phenomena presented by a national history, and by the series of phases called human life, have given support to the comparison occasionally drawn between the life of states and the life of individuals. They are both examples of the perpetual cycle of germinative florescences, maturity and decay, which is ever revolving around us in all organic nature.
No one can mark the moment when infancy ends and boyhood begins; in no diary is recorded the day or even the week when old age manifestly succeeded to the strength of manhood; and when in the lower productions of nature the change of the external appearance seems to draw precisely the line of demarcation between two stages, as in the case of a bud at the moment of opening, a crysalis bursting its shell, the precision is more apparent than real, for a gradual change was going on within the unbroken bud, the butterfly was already developed while we were classing it among grubs. The mistake of supposing that nature operates by jerks, that the breaking of the eggshell is anything but one link in the chain of a constant development, which has been proceeding within and now must proceed apart from the shell, is never committed by any competent naturalist, but is one of the commonplaces of historians, who earn their bread by startling the :eader.
The form of government is suddenly and