History of Civilization in England (by Henry Thomas Buckle, 1857-61).
Part 1: April 1858
Mr. Buckle's Introduction to the ‘History of Civilization ‘in England’ is nearly the first attempt which has been made in this country to treat of History as a Science. The phrase is so smooth, that it may be used without a due appreciation of its full meaning, though that meaning is at once very definite and very important.
We may be said to understand a subject scientifically, when we can make such general statements about it as will enable us, by the ordinary processes of logic, to solve any of the particular questions presented by its details, by showing how its different members are related to each other, and to the rest of the subject. The opposite of science is empiricism, which consists in an acquaintance with a number of isolated facts, unsupported by any knowledge of the relations between them. We all know empirically that the days are long in summer and short in winter, but those only can be said to understand this fact scientifically, who can show the place which it occupies in the general relations of the solar system. A scientific view of history, therefore, would be one which would show how and why. all human affairs have happened as they did and not otherwise; and inasmuch as every department of human action, thought, and feeling, stands in some kind of relation to every other, the Science of History would only be complete when all human thoughts and actions had their proper places assigned to them, and when their relations to all the rest are clearly marked out. The method of arriving at this result must be to deduce, from the observation of a sufficient number of details, certain abstract formulas, which, when applied to particular cases, would enable the historical observer to predict events as the astronomical observer predicts eclipses. Whenever all the necessary formulas have been ascertained and arranged in a systematic form, exhibiting their connexion with each other, that system will form the Science of History, and the test of its accuracy will be the power of those who are skilled in it to trace out beforehand, upon proper data, the march of human affairs. It is universally admitted that the construction of this science, whether it be possible or not, is indefinitely remote. Mr. Buckle's object in dealing with it is twofold. He wishes, in the first place, to record and to justify his faith in its principles and prospects; and, in the second, to contribute (for no single man can hope to do more) to its construction by eliciting from the history of England some of its leading principles, and by exemplifying their operation in the various events, intellectual, social, political and physical, which have occurred in this country since it first came into existence. This scheme, if it stood alone, would appear to most men too vast to be executed by any single mind, but when it is viewed in relation to Mr. Buckle's notions of completeness, its magnitude becomes bewildering and overpowering.
This ‘General Introduction’ consists of the announcement and illustration of the principles of the science ultimately to be applied to that enormous mass of matter which collectively constitutes what Mr. Buckle understands by English history. It will fill several volumes. The one just published contains 854 closely-printed 8vo. pages. Its materials have been collected from 496 different books, and yet it only constitutes about a third of the vestibule of the building which Mr. Buckle ultimately hopes to raise. The last 600 pages sketch, with extraordinary fulness and compression, some of the leading features of English and French civilisation; when at least two more volumes have performed the same office for Spain, Scotland, Germany, and America, the world will be in a position to enter upon the history of English civilisation itself. Unhappily, the construction of so gigantic a plan shows a misconception of the capacity of the human intellect and the length of human life. A very simple rule of three sum might convince Mr. Buckle (if he were open to conviction) that the chance that his work will be a mere Cyclopean ruin is incalculably great. Parr or Jenkins might possibly have achieved it by a lifetime's devotion; but we greatly fear that Mr. Buckle's epitaph will be ‘magnis excidit ausis.”
Mr. Buckle begins by discussing the question whether a science of history is possible; and he says that the opinion that it is, is opposed by a common notion that 'in the affairs of men there is something mysterious and providential which makes them impervious to our investigations, and which will always hide from us their future course.’ ‘This doctrine,’ he says, is ‘gratuitous’ and ‘incapable of proof;’ and he also contends that it can be shown, by positive evidence, that human actions are ‘governed by fixed laws.’ This positive evidence is derived from statistics, and Mr. Buckle refers to several facts established by that means in illustration of its character. The first fact is, that ‘murder is committed with as much regularity,’ and bears ‘as uniform a relation to certain known circumstances, as do the ‘movements of the tides, and the relations of the seasons.’ And the others establish similar conclusions with respect to accusations of crime, to the number of suicides, of marriages, and even of misdirected letters in the Post Office. In order to complete the refutation of the view opposed to his own, Mr. Buckle attempts to account for the origin of the doctrines of Free Will on the one hand, and Predestination on the other, each of which he considers inconsistent with his own system. He looks upon both as theological. The earliest doctrine upon the nature of events is the doctrine of Chance; and this he supposes prevailed originally amongst nomad tribes of hunters and fishermen. Gradually agriculture taught men to see various uniformities in nature, whence they rose by degrees to the conception of the necessary connexion of events, and these two theories suggested to the earliest theologians the doctrine of Free Will on the one side, and that of Predestination on the other. Predestination he considers to be at best a barren hypothesis, as it lies beyond the province of our knowledge. He also objects that its advocates impute injustice to God. Free Will, on the other hand, rests, as he informs us, ‘on the metaphysical dogma of the supremacy of the human consciousness;’ but consciousness, he inclines to think, is only a state of mind, and not a faculty, and, whatever it is, is indisputably fallible. The theological views of the question are therefore alike untenable, and Mr. Buckle's conclusion is, ‘that when we perform an action, we perform it in consequence of some motive or motives; that these motives are the results of some antecedents; and that, therefore, if we were acquainted with the whole of the antecedents, and with all the laws of their movements, we could, with unerring certainty, predict the whole of their immediate results.’ There are two classes of antecedents, those which are in, and those which are out of the mind; and if we could find out how each class acted on the other, we should understand all the vicissitudes of the human race. The great external agents are climate, food, soil, and the general aspect of nature; and under certain circumstances the action of these may be so powerful as to conquer and enslave the mind. Under other circumstances they may be conquered by it; and thus we have two types of civilisation which may be roughly described as the Asiatic and the European; in the first of which, nature is more important than man, whilst in the second, man is more important than nature.
In asserting these propositions, Mr. Buckle appears to us to have committed himself to a multitude of hasty generalisations, supported by a still greater multitude of facts, laboriously collected, but not always correctly stated or fairly applied. It would be a hopeless task to follow him, within the limits we can devote to this subject, through the vast and varied researches indicated by his catalogue of authorities and his notes; but we feel bound to caution his readers against an implicit confidence in these statements; and we shall at once produce three examples, taken almost at random, of the inaccuracies we have detected.
In speaking of the effect of climate and soil on the habits of a people, Mr. Buckle remarks, that although Spain and Portugal on the one hand, and Sweden and Norway on the other, are countries essentially different in government, laws, religion, and manners, yet that these four countries have one great point in common, namely, that agriculture is interrupted by the heat and dryness of the weather in the former countries, and by the cold and shortness of the days in the latter. ‘The consequence is, that these four nations, though so different in other respects, are all remarkable for a certain instability and feebleness of character, presenting a striking contrast to the more regular and settled habits which are established in countries where climate subjects the working classes to fewer interruptions.’ It is hardly necessary to point out to any one at all acquainted with the Peninsula or the north of Europe, that the alleged fact is as unfounded as the inference is absurd.
Among the causes affecting national character, Mr. Buckle reckons earthquakes, because ‘there is reason to believe that they are always preceded by atmospheric changes which strike immediately at the nervous system, and these have a direct physical tendency to impair the intellectual powers’—and in Peru he mentions, as a highly curious fact, that ‘every succeeding visitation increases the general dismay.’ It is impossible that Mr. Buckle should not be aware that in countries subject to earthquakes, the usual apathy of man to every kind of habitual danger soon conquers his alarm; that the Peruvian builds his low dwelling expressly to resist the shock; and that the peasant of Southern Italy suffers no diminution of his intellectual faculties from the stroke which may be impending over him. But Mr. Buckle goes on to state, that ‘earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are more frequent and more destructive in Italy and in the Spanish and Portuguese peninsula than in any other of the great countries.’ Whence he infers, by a singular process of reasoning, that superstition is more rife, and the clergy more powerful; but that the fine arts flourish, poetry is cultivated, and the sciences neglected. Every link in this chain is more or less faulty. There is no volcano in the Spanish peninsula, and the only earthquake known to have occurred there was that of Lisbon. Spain has produced no sculptors, and her painters are certainly, as a school, inferior to those of Flanders. Italy has never ceased to produce an illustrious band of men of science from Galileo to the present day. In short, the whole superstructure crumbles from the basis.
Equally absurd is his attempted comparison between India and Greece, as if the condition of human life in the broad plains of Hindostan was ‘oppressed by something great and terrible,’ while the seaman or the mountaineer of Greece was ‘encouraged’ by the small and feeble’ aspect of the country he was born in; and, therefore, became ‘less appalled, less superstitious, and “sought to investigate events with a boldness not to be expected in those other countries where the pressure of nature troubled his independence.’ It is somewhat remarkable, that while Mr. Buckle adverts to the fabulous extravagance of the Hindoo mythology, and ridicules the distinctions of caste, he passes in silence over the astronomical discoveries of that remarkable people and the subtle provisions of their civil laws.
These examples may suffice to show the reliance which can be placed on Mr. Buckle's perception of truth in the ordinary records of history and geography, and they might be multiplied indefinitely. His learning is great, but his assertions are not indisputable. He dismisses altogether from consideration the facts connected with difference of race; yet, if the science of history is to be founded on the totality of human knowledge, surely no part of this inquiry deserves a more careful investigation.
Let us now revert, however, to the fundamental principles of his work, which it is our main intention to discuss. Mr. Buckle next observes that the measure of civilisation is the ‘triumph of the mind over external agents;’ and as in Europe this triumph has been very complete, the most important subject for the student of European history will be the study of the laws of the mental antecedents to which he had before referred. It is usual, he says, to attempt to perform this task by the help of metaphysics; that is to say, by each man's study of the operations of his own mind; but this method he considers to be unfruitful on account of ‘the impossibility of taking a comprehensive view of the whole of the mental phenomena, because, however extensive such a view may be, it must exclude the state of the mind by which or in which the view itself is taken.’ The only possibility of arriving at scientific knowledge upon these subjects lies, he thinks, in ‘studying the mental phenomena, not simply as they appear in the mind of the individual observer, but as they appear in the actions of mankind at large. As an illustration of the two methods in question, he refers to the attempts which have been made to ascertain the proportion between male and female births. After the failure of many attempts to solve the question physiologically, it was discovered by statistics that the proportion was that of twenty-one male to twenty female births; and ‘this method,’ says Mr. Buckle, ‘is obviously analogous to that by which I propose to investigate the operations of the human mind, while the old and unsuccessful method is analogous to that employed by the metaphysicians. As long as physiologists attempted to ascertain the laws of the proportion of sexes by individual experiments, they effected absolutely nothing towards the end they hoped to achieve. But when men became dissatisfied with these individual experiments, and instead of them began to collect observations less minute but more comprehensive, then it was that the great law of nature for which during many centuries they had vainly searched was ‘first unfolded to their view.’ By investigating human actions in their aggregate, and by directing his attention to the most important of their elements, Mr. Buckle hopes to contribute to the attainment of similar results. He says that ‘a double movement, moral and intellectual, is essential to the very idea of civilisation, and includes the entire theory of human progress;’ and he proceeds to consider which of the two is the more important. He gives the preference in this respect to the intellectual movement, upon the ground that all that is well ascertained in morals has long been known, and that, therefore, the force of morality is of a stationary nature. Men know now that certain things are wrong. They knew it a thousand years ago, and the knowledge has at present just as much or just as little tendency to prevent those acts as it had then. ‘Moral principles affect nearly the whole of our actions; but we have incontrovertible proof that they produce not the least effect on mankind in the aggregate, or even on men in very large masses, provided that we take the precaution of studying social phenomena for a period sufficiently long, and on a scale sufficiently great, to enable the superior laws to come into uncontrolled operation.’ Mr. Buckle next argues, that religion and literature are not the causes of civilisation, but its effects; and that Government, so far from having promoted, has retarded it, except in respect of the security which it has afforded to person and property. The conclusion is, that civilisation depends mainly upon intellectual movement, and that the laws of its progress can only be ascertained by studying the growth of knowledge. Having enunciated these principles, Mr. Buckle proceeds to apply, or perhaps to illustrate them, by investigating the influence of two tempers of mind which he calls the protective spirit and scepticism on French and English history, from the middle of the 16th to the end of the 18th century; and he arrives at the conclusion, that the progress of civilisation varies directly as scepticism, and inversely as the protective spirit,--understanding those words not in the senses which common usage has affixed to them, but as denoting respectively a disposition to inquire, and a disposition to maintain without examination any form of established belief.
Such is a sketch, necessarily highly condensed, and therefore in some respects very imperfect, of the general doctrine of Mr. Buckle's book. It gives, we hope, a fair notion of the character of his argument, but it certainly affords a very imperfect view of his most characteristic merits. Even when we agree with him least, it is impossible not to admire the extraordinary ingenuity and the profusion of recondite information with which he supports his opinions, as well as the perspicuous and eloquent language in which he expresses them. We are anxious to acknowledge Mr. Buckle's merits in the fullest manner, because we shall address ourselves principally to points on which we differ from him; and it would be matter of deep concern if we allowed that circumstance to conceal our opinion that this is, as far as conception goes, one of the most remarkable philosophical works of the present generation, although in point of execution it must be termed unequal, heterogeneous, and paradoxical.
Great as Mr. Buckle's merits undoubtedly are, pain will, we think, be the first and the strongest impression left by it on most of his readers. Englishmen, in general, are startled and offended by speculations which appear to deny individual freedom, and to replace the variety which we all associate with life by something which, to many minds, seems a sort of living death. Distasteful, however, as his conclusions may be, it is neither their pleasantness nor their tendency, but their truth, which is at issue; and it is impossible to blame him for doing his utmost to establish this vital point, whatever may be its consequences. Intellectual cowardice is the only form of that vice which is at all common in this country, but it prevails to a lamentable degree. Most writers are so nervous about the tendencies of their books, and the social penalties of unorthodox opinion are so severe, and are exacted in so unsparing a manner, that philosophy, criticism, and science itself too often speak amongst us in ambiguous whispers what ought to be proclaimed from the house tops. There are many of Mr. Buckle's speculations with which we do not agree, but we admire the courage with which he propounds them. We must, however, condemn him for a certain harsh and peremptory contempt for the feelings of his neighbours, which constantly impels him to throw his views into needlessly offensive shapes, and which prevents him, even when it would be quite possible to do so, from condescending to show their consistency with those elementary principles of morals and theology which are the most important of all beliefs.
It may be desirable to state at the outset the general nature of the observations which Mr. Buckle's book has suggested to us. We do not think that he has proved the fundamental proposition upon which his whole theory depends; namely, that a science of human action is possible. We do not think that if such a science were possible, that fact would (as Mr. Buckle appears to think) be fatal either to morality or to theology, or that it would involve their reconstruction. We are further of opinion that Mr. Buckle's conception of civilisation is false, especially in respect of the view which he takes of its relations to morality; and lastly, it seems to us that these defects in his system react most injuriously in several important respects on the views which he takes of concrete history. We shall abstain from entering upon questions of detail, and attempt to place our objections to his theory upon the broadest and most general grounds.
The dogma on which Mr. Buckle's whole theory rests is, that ‘human actions are governed by fixed laws;’ or, as he expresses it more fully, ‘when we perform an action, we perform it in consequence of some motive or motives,’ which motives are the result of some antecedents; and as he repudiates metaphysics, the evidence in favour of this assertion is entirely derived from statistics, by which the aggregate number of a vast variety of actions taking place in considerable periods of time in particular countries, is proved to be nearly constant from year to year. This result he considers to be inconsistent with the existence of free will. In order to refute ‘those who believe that human actions depend more on the peculiarities of each individual than on the general state of society,’ he first shows that the number of suicides which occur from year to year is almost constant, and ends by observing that ‘all the evidence we possess respecting it points to one great conclusion, and can leave no doubt on our mind that suicide is merely the product of the general condition of society, and that the individual felon only carries into effect that which is a necessary consequence of preceding circumstances.’
Granting Mr. Buckle's premisses, which indeed are simply the statement of unquestionable matter-of-fact, we altogether deny his conclusion. We contend that the power of predicting a general result is consistent with absolute inability to predict the behaviour of a particular person under given circumstances, and therefore with the existence of free will, even if free will implies irregularity of action. If free will exists at all, it cannot on any hypothesis introduce more confusion into statistical calculations than any other cause of action, of the operation and nature of which we are ignorant; but it is the very object of the science to which Mr. Buckle refers to enable us to make general assertions about the effects of such causes, and it is the strangest perversion of its doctrines to infer from them that unknown causes do not exist. If the question whether one man should or should not murder another had to be decided by a throw of the dice, the uncertainty whether the murder would take place, would be quite as great as it could be if the question depended on free will. With respect to the dice, we can foretel to a nicety how many sixes and aces will be thrown in ten thousand throws, but we are absolutely unable to foretel what any particular throw will be, nor does our certainty as to the general result help us in the least degree to a conclusion as to the particular one. This is surely an exact parallel to the case of human action. We can foretel its aggregate, but we cannot foretel its individual results. The theory and the fact stand upon an entirely different footing. The one records, with numerical precision and distinctness, a certain process which goes on in our own minds, by which we estimate the extent of our expectations; the other is matter of observation; and though the two things run parallel to each other with most surprising accuracy, they are perfectly and essentially distinct, and there cannot be a greater error than to suppose that the theory exercises any sort of influence over the fact. All that any advocate of free will ever maintained is perfectly consistent with all the evidence which Mr. Buckle or M. Quetelet have produced. No statistical researches have ever proved more than that the aggregate results do not vary, and this leaves untouched the assertion that the particular result is not predictable.
Mr. Buckle appears to us to misapprehend the nature of the science to which he appeals when he uses such language as the following: ‘In a given state of society a certain number of ‘persons must put an end to their own life. This is the general law, and the special question as to who shall commit the crime depends of course upon special laws, which however in their total action must obey the large general law to which they are subordinate.’ The ‘of course’ is obscure. It is ascertained that so many people have killed themselves annually for some years past. From contemplating the uniformity of human action, Mr. Buckle expects that the same thing will happen in the present year, and his expectation is verified, and this result he calls a ‘law,’ but how does it tend to prove the existence of ‘special laws’? If he could show that any special class of persons committed suicide, he might fairly use such an expression. But the existence of such ‘special laws’ is to be proved by observation, and is by no means to be inferred as a matter of course. To do so leads almost inevitably to a most serious practical error, of the nature of which we can hardly suppose that Mr. Buckle is ignorant, though he certainly appears to us to fall into it. This error consists in supposing that there is some kind of connexion between the different events which are included in a general formula, so that the fact that one or more of the events have happened, which according to the calculation ought to happen, affects the probability that the remaining events will happen or not. Nothing is so common as this mistake, and one of its most ordinary forms is that which is all but universal amongst gamblers. They can never dispossess themselves of the notion that the next throw of the dice, the next deal of the cards, depends, in some way or other, upon the last. At rouge et noir, for instance, the chances are as forty to thirty-nine in favour of the table, and any one who will go into the gambling rooms at Baden or Aix may see people noting the ‘run of the luck,’ as they call it, and putting their money on one square or another, according to the number of times that the black or the red has won consecutively. Mr. Buckle cannot require to be told that this is a mere superstition; that if the red had won ten times running, the chance in favour of the black (in the absence of cheating) would be just what it was at first, neither better nor worse; yet he falls himself, or appears to fall, into this shallow snare when he argues that individual acts must be predictable, because their aggregate results are predictable; when he infers as of course that because he has discovered one formula there must be numberless others to be discovered; or, as he describes it, that because the aggregate result is ‘governed’ by a general ‘law,' the particular result must be ‘governed' by a special ‘law.”
[Amongst the numerous authorities quoted by Mr. Buckle we do not find the ‘Essai philosophique sur les Probabilités” by Laplace. The whole subject is there discussed with consummate ability, and at p. 42-7. (ed. 1814) the reader will find the very same illustrations of his theory which Mr. Buckle has reproduced.]
In writing upon a subject so delicate the greatest precision and clearness of language are necessary; and it is not a slight imputation on a writer of eminence that though his language leans to a very dangerous error, he does not expose its importance and its absurdity. He allows people to infer that in his opinion there is in the nature of things a provision for the suicide of about two hundred and forty persons annually in London, and that this ‘law’ is a curb to freedom; but he never calls their attention to the wild absurdity which is involved in supposing that the ‘law' interferes with the liberty of individual action, or that it is any thing else than a numerical description of the state of expectation in the mind which conceives it. Yet we can hardly imagine a more extravagant proposition than that if a homeless girl leaps into the Thames she thereby diminishes the probability that a ruined merchant will blow out his brains. All that statistics prove is that it is possible at any given moment to foretel what will happen in the course of some definite period dated from that time, but they throw no light on the question of free will, unless indeed any one will contend that my freedom to kill a man to-day is hampered by the freedom of some one else to kill another man six months hence. If you have ten balls in a bag, and if you know beforehand that one of them is black, the chance that you will draw it out rises from nine to one to certainty at each successive trial if the balls are not replaced. If they are replaced, you may draw white balls for ever without altering the chance of drawing the black one on the next occasion. When statistics are applied prospectively, they are applied to an indefinitely large number of cases; and therefore they prove nothing whatever as to the freedom of individual action.
[We cannot say, though we are anxious to do Mr. Buckle full justice, that he appears to us to use language with adequate precision. In a passage quoted above, he refutes “those who believe ‘that human actions depend more on the peculiarities of each individual than on the general state of society.’ Where is the opposition? surely the sum of the ‘peculiarities of each individual’ form a most important part of ‘the general state of society.’ What people do maintain is, that any one man's actions depend on his individual peculiarities, and that the sum of all men's actions depend on the sum of their individual peculiarities, and this Mr. Buckle does not and cannot refute; he confuses the matter by the vague words, ‘human actions,’ which may mean several things. So, too, he says, that murders are committed with ‘as much regularity’ as is found in the tides. In fact, the regularity is infinitely less. We can foretel to a minute the time of high water at London Bridge on a given day, but we can tell nothing about murder, unless we take a wide sweep of time, place, and country. Here the word misused is ‘regularity.’ By the ‘regularity’ of the tides it is meant that we can foretel how and when they will flow. In speaking of the ‘regularity’ of murder, Mr. Buckle means to assert a fact which he believes to be true respecting murders, – namely, that all particulars relating to men are capable of being foretold; but as yet that is not proved.]
For these reasons Mr. Buckle's positive evidence in favour of his own view is inconclusive, nor can we speak more highly of his attempts to refute and to explain the origin of the doctrines which appear to him to be opposed to it. He thinks that the doctrines of chance and of the necessary connexion of events represent different stages of civilisation: that the first originated amongst hunters, whilst the second arose out of the habits of agriculture; and he thinks it highly probable that out of these doctrines ‘have respectively arisen the subsequent dogmas of Free Will and Predestination.’ The first observation which suggests itself here is, that this theory does not seem very consistent with the fact that the firmest believers in predestination are the nomadic Arabs, and the Turks, who were nomads when they adopted it. We do not, however, lay much stress upon this, because we should be inclined to doubt Mr. Buckle's second proposition as well as the first.
To the doctrine of Free Will Mr. Buckle objects that it rests upon the ‘metaphysical dogma of the supremacy of the human consciousness,’ and consciousness is probably a mere state of mind, and certainly ‘extremely fallible;’ and, as an instance, he cites the case of spectral appearances, to which, he says, the consciousness testifies, though their unreality is generally admitted. We shall consider elsewhere the true meaning of the word 'free;’ for the present we will confine ourselves to the remark that Mr. Buckle appears to us to fail in the objections which he makes to the popular view. His argument is, that though consciousness may testify to the existence of liberty, it is not to be trusted. This would prove that no human testimony can be relied upon for any purpose, for no evidence is generically infallible. The senses are fallible; but if twenty people swore that they had seen a man walking down the Strand at a given time, and if their evidence was not only consistent in general, but also in a great variety of minute particulars; if one had seen him at Temple Bar, and others at a variety of intermediate points down to Charing Cross, and if their evidence was entirely independent, who could doubt its truth? The evidence upon the subject of Free Will is of this kind, though it far exceeds it in degree. It is admitted that men generically resemble each other in their constitution on this point; and in every language, in every system of legislation, in all literature, there are innumerable recognitions, direct and indirect, express and implied, of the existence of something which every one describes as will and freedom. Though consciousness may not be infallible, it is inconceivable that it should be fallible to this extent. The united testimony of such an enormous number of witnesses cannot be set aside by general considerations about the infallibility of consciousness. It would be as reasonable to doubt the existence of St. Paul's cathedral on the general ground of the fallibility of the senses.
[Mr. Buckle tells us, in a note, that ‘consciousness is infallible as to the fact of its testimony, but fallible as to its truth;’ for that this can only be ascertained by the judgment, which is often wrong. This is surely equivalent to saying that consciousness is fallible upon subjects on which it offers no opinion. Consciousness, thinks Mr. Buckle—and we quite agree with him — reflects or presents to the mind certain phenomena. On these phenomena the judgment founds certain conclusions, which conclusions may or may not be true. The inference would seem to be, that the judgment is fallible, and not the consciousness.]
Whilst we regard Mr. Buckle's argument upon the questions which form the foundation of his book as inconclusive in the last degree, we must not be understood to deny the possibility of such a science as he wishes to found; but we think, in the first place, that its possibility is very questionable, and in the second, that if it is possible at all, its students will probably have to be content with very vague results, and will certainly be obliged to begin at a very different point from that which Mr. Buckle has chosen, and to take into account many considerations which he has neglected. History is nothing else than a record of various human actions, and these actions are on all hands admitted to depend, to a very great degree indeed, on the characters of those who perform them. No doubt an immensely wide experience shows a general similarity in the character of different men. All have the same desires, the same aversions, and the same powers, in a greater or less degree, but the different ways in which they are combined, are apparently infinite; and until we are able to predict what will be the character of particular people, it would seem hopeless to attempt to predict their actions. Mr. Buckle seems to think, that by attending to the general course of affairs, we may ultimately succeed in doing so; but this rests upon the supposition that all men come into the world with the same characters, and that circumstances alone produce the differences between them. The laws which govern the material world, and the causes of physical phenomena, are more or less discoverable by the human mind, because the tendency of analysis, and of its results, is to render the apprehension of those causes and laws more simple and direct. But the course of inquiry directed to human actions, or to that aggregate of human actions which is called history, is totally opposite to the course of inquiry of physical science. The moral relations of mankind, the motions of the mind determining certain actions, and the combinations of particular causes in the general result, are by their nature infinite, and the further they are traced the more intricate does their connexion become. To this objection Mr. Buckle replies by denying the effect of the moral feelings and passions on the average of human affairs, and by attempting to substitute for these principles of action certain physical phenomena which are utterly inadequate to the solution of the problem. And by a fair inference from this basis, his system appears to us to substitute for the moral government of the world by an infinite intelligence, capable of including within its universal orbit all the aberrations of individual freedom, a mere concourse of facts regulated by no definite intention, and directed to no moral end. The application of such a doctrine to the history of civilisation is obvious.
By such considerations as these we should be led to the conclusion, that the science of history, if it is possible at all, will in all probability always remain very incomplete, and that a vast variety of influences, lying beyond the range of observation, will always modify the conclusions at which its students may arrive. If, however, it is to become a science at all, we can feel no doubt that it must start from premisses which Mr. Buckle studiously passes over. For the reasons which we have already stated, he absolutely ignores metaphysics, and proposes to solve the problems to which metaphysicians address themselves, by looking at human conduct in the mass, instead of confining his views, as he contends metaphysicians always do, to the phenomena of a single mind; and he illustrates his mode of proceeding by a comparison which appears to us to afford so complete an analogy, that though we have alluded to it already, we will re-state it somewhat more fully. The metaphysician, he says, professes, ‘by studying individual minds,’ to ‘ascertain the laws which govern their movements.’ Similarly the physiologist professes, ‘by studying individual bodies, and thus ascertaining the laws which regulate the union of the parents,’ to ‘discover the proportion of the sexes, because the proportion is merely the result to which the union gives rise.’ Each inquirer has, he says, failed in his undertaking, but what the physiologist attempted has been performed by the statistician, who in counting the number of births, discovered that twenty-one boys were born for every twenty girls. It is true, he adds (p. 157.), that this ‘law’. still remains an empirical truth, ‘not having yet been connected with the physical phenomena by which its operations are caused,’ but he contends that the discovery precisely illustrates the method by which he proposes to investigate human action in general. Nothing, we think, can be more true, and certainly nothing can expose more clearly, the defect under which his whole scheme labours. There is an ingenuity worthy of a special pleader, in the way in which Mr. Buckle states the question which the physiologists wished to determine. They wanted, he says, to discover the proportion between male and female births. If so, we can only say it was very foolish not to adopt the obvious expedient of counting them; but though we do not profess to vie with Mr. Buckle in special acquaintance with the subject, we strongly suspect from his own notes, that what the physiologists wished to discover, was not the proportion between male and female births, but the reason why any particular birth was male or female; and upon this subject, by his own admission, statistical inquiry has thrown hardly any light at all. Whenever the question is solved, it will be solved in terms of physiology. If we apply this illustration to the study of history, it would seem to show that though statistical observations, or observations conducted exclusively on the statistical plan, may serve as guides to further inquiry, any real science of human action must have for its foundation a sort of knowledge which may be called metaphysical, psychological, or ethical. Mr. Buckle objects that the only method of conducting such inquiries to a fruitful result is, ‘by observations so numerous as to eliminate the disturbances; or by experiments so delicate as to isolate the phenomena.’ The second method, he says, is impossible in metaphysical inquiry; and the first has been systematically neglected by metaphysicians; and hence he draws the conclusion, that in the study of human nature metaphysics must be laid out of account.
[In a note he admits that a small number of metaphysicians have pursued the course suggested in the text, but it is a habit of Mr. Buckle's to make admissions in notes which are not very reconcilable with the remarks to which they refer. Throughout the earlier chapters of this volume, Mr. Buckle expresses the greatest contempt, on all occasions, for metaphysical researches and that philosophy which deals with the higher faculties of men, considered internally. This being the estimate formed by our author of this class of thinkers, we found with surprise, at p. 535, that Mr. Buckle places Descartes in the very first rank of the benefactors of mankind — and this expressly as the ‘originator of that great system and method of metaphysics’ which is inseparably connected with his fame. For, as every student of the Cartesian philosophy knows, it began and centred in metaphysics; or, as Mr. Buckle has it, ‘the method of Descartes rests solely on the consciousness each man has of the operations of his own mind’ (p. 535.). But Mr. Buckle had previously told us (p. 16.) that ‘the uncertainty of the existence of consciousness as an independent faculty had long since convinced him that metaphysics ‘will never be raised to a science by the ordinary method of observing individual minds.’ What then becomes of that ‘great system and method’ of Descartes?]
It is, however, surely quite possible, that both these propositions may be true without involving this inference; for it may be, that if metaphysicians studied a sufficient number of examples as matters of fact, they would arrive at conclusions well worth having. For example, Mr. Buckle observes, that all metaphysical inquiries tend to the establishment of one or the other of two systems—idealism or nominalism. Might not this fact itself be taken into account in metaphysical inquiry, and might not a due attention to it throw great light on the ways in which men think? Indeed, though he professes to repudiate such inquiries, Mr. Buckle's results are only obtained by the help of psychological hypotheses. He tells us, for example, amongst his other averages, that the number of marriages in a year depends upon the price of corn; and this, he says, is statistically established. It so happens that in the same place (p. 24.), he informs us, that the number of persons accused of crime in France was for eighteen years about equal to the number of deaths of males registered in Paris; but he very properly treats this as being merely a curious coincidence. Why is this? Partly, no doubt, because in the case of the marriages not only a single similarity, but a correlative variation may be traced, but principally because there is a moral or psychological link in the one case, whilst there is none in the other. The link which connects the number of marriages with the price of corn is the moral element of prudence, which teaches men to indulge the wish to marry when corn is abundant and to restrain that desire when it is scarce, inasmuch as the general expenses of life commonly rise and fall with the price of corn; and thus we conjecture, with great probability, that whenever the supply of food increases, a larger number of people will be able to marry, and vice versa. On the contrary, we can hardly conceive of any amount of statistical evidence which could warrant us in believing that there is any sort of connexion between the number of persons accused of crime in France and the quantity of male deaths in Paris. If we found that they varied directly or inversely as each other, or that they bore any other constant relation, we should still look upon it as a strange coincidence and nothing more. We do not deny for a moment the immense value of statistics for a vast variety of purposes. We are quite ready to admit, that they may suggest an infinite number of curious and important inquiries upon human action, but we utterly disbelieve that without a scientific acquaintance with the functions and the constitution of the mind, gathered from the observation of individual minds, it will ever be possible to construct a real science of history. To attempt to draw metaphysical or psychological conclusions from statistical data is no more than an elaborate way of inquiring into the distance between one o'clock and London Bridge.
Whatever may be the truth as to the possibility of constructing such a science as Mr. Buckle proposes to found, and whatever may be the degree of accuracy of which, when founded, it may turn out to be susceptible, his speculations will interest his readers principally on account of the relation which they bear to morality and theology. The first impression which Mr. Buckle's book must convey to almost any reader is, that he must make his choice between morality and theology on the one hand, and social philosophy on the other; for that if the latter is possible, the former are absurd. We do not at all agree in this opinion. We do not believe that Mr. Buckle is, or need be, at issue with morals or with religion, though he often writes as if he were, and though the tone of his writing would go far to justify a doubt whether he would shrink from opposing both the one and the other. We think, on the contrary, that if the scheme which he propounds is possible at all—which, for reasons just given, we greatly doubt—it must either contradict itself, or it must include the subjects in question and maintain that they rest upon a rational foundation, for they are most important constituent parts of human action, and to explain human action as a whole is the very object which Mr. Buckle proposes to obtain. That he does not see, or at least does not explain this, seems to us to be a result of the mistake which vitiates the whole of his speculations—the mistake of taking statistics and not the study of the constitution of man—whether it be called ethics or psychology, for the starting point of his inquiries.
The point at which Mr. Buckle's theory is at issue with morals is, that he maintains that the ‘actions of men are governed ‘ by fixed laws, whereas morals depend on the supposition that they are determined by the free choice of the man himself, and these two propositions appear at first sight to exclude each other. We do not think that this is so, though Mr. Buckle puts the first proposition in a form which implies it. When he speaks of actions being ‘governed by fixed laws,’ all that he means is, that by using certain formulas it is possible to predict them. Human actions, he says, may be predicted, and upon this foundation he proceeds to use language which seems to ignore any kind of distinction between right and wrong, or, at any rate, any individual liability to praise or blame. For the sake of the argument we will concede the possibility of predicting human actions, and we will also concede that where there is no freedom there is no moral responsibility; but still it will be necessary to prove that when conduct can be predicted there is no freedom. This is a psychological or ethical proposition, and as such it lies beyond the pale of Mr. Buckle's inquiries. Though he does not exactly state it in so many words, he slips insensibly into the position that a free will must act in an irregular manner, just as he always has to assume some kind of moral theorem whenever he wishes to connect statistical inquiries with human action. In a note, as usual, he treats the suggestion that a free will may act in a regular manner as a ‘barren hypothesis;’ and so it is for his purposes. If all you have to do with human action is to predict it, it matters little what feeling it may produce in the minds of individuals. If you can tell that a man will forge or murder, your concern with him ceases, and you care nothing to know whether he feels any amount of self-reproach and mental agony. This is quite indifferent to the social philosopher, but it is all-important to the man himself, and if it depends on the question whether or not he was a free agent, Mr. Buckle's ‘barren hypothesis’ becomes unspeakably important.
Our objection to Mr. Buckle is, not that he teaches an immoral doctrine, but that he seems to think that he does; and that he does not condescend to point out the method by which his speculations may be reconciled with morality. Not to multiply illustrations of his conduct in this particular, we will confine ourselves to his constant abuse of the word ‘law.’ He constantly speaks of laws as ‘forcing’ actions; of conduct as ‘obeying' laws; nay, of ‘inferior laws’ as obeying superior ones. Perhaps the strongest instance of this is a passage in which he says that ‘in India slavery, abject, eternal slavery, was the natural state of the great body of the people; it was the state to which they were doomed by physical laws utterly impossible to resist.’(P.73.)
From another passage (p.342.) it appears that Mr. Buckle is well aware of the fact that a law in his sense of the word is nothing more than the description of a fact. To speak of the movements of the planets as governed by the law of gravitation is, in strictness, to put the effect for the cause. By moving in a certain manner the heavenly bodies produce uniform results; but it is a strange inversion of things to say that the uniform results regulate the motions. It is like saying that the pattern weaves the cloth, or that the nautical almanack regulates the tides. Laws, in this sense, have nothing whatever to do with the facts which they are supposed to govern. They exist only in and for the minds which conceive them, and are no more than formulas to which those minds resort, in order to form an opinion as to future events. So long as this is borne in mind, and so long as the word ‘law is not supposed to imply compulsion, or the exercise of any definite influence upon human conduct, there may be no other objection to its use than that it is an inappropriate metaphor; but it is, in fact, impossible to abuse language with impunity. The word ‘law' has a proper sense in which it is constantly used. This sense is that of a command enforced by a sanction, and imposing a duty; [The subject is discussed and illustrated with admirable skill in Mr. Austin’s ‘Province of Jurisprudence determined, p. 126.] a command is an intimation from a stronger to a weaker person, that unless the weaker person does something, or forbears to do it, the stronger will hurt him; and thus obedience to a law falls under the description which we have given of a voluntary act—an act, that is, of a personal nature, in which the man himself takes part as a living and willing agent. Men are by nature so much in love with slavery, and the temptation to yield to anything which promises to produce it is so strong, that the mere fact that a man of great learning and ability informs them that their conduct is regulated by a series of laws which they cannot vary or resist, exercises a deep moral influence. To tell people that by law Hindoos must be slaves, that by law there must be so many murders or suicides, so many births, deaths, and marriages, so many misdirected letters in a year, and that the particular persons who carry out these general laws are designated by smaller laws which all obey their influence, may be a clumsy and inappropriate way of saying, that Mr. Buckle personally, or any other person who looks into the matter, may have strong reasons for supposing that these things will happen; but if it is construed not favourably, but strictly, it is perhaps as immoral, as dangerous, and as utterly false as any language can possibly be.
We should be glad to believe that there is no real inconsistency between Mr. Buckle's views and the fundamental doctrines of theology, which are the existence of God and the providential government of the world. That Mr. Buckle admits the first of these doctrines appears from various passages in his book, though it requires a certain degree of care and thought to discover the fact; but whether God has anything to do with the world or its affairs, or not, is a question upon which his philosophy has nothing whatever to say. He seems to think that the two things are inconsistent: that the essence of a belief in providence is a belief in the irregularity of human events; and that as our knowledge of science increases, our faith in the divine government must diminish. He uniformly speaks of every active and definite form of religious belief as ‘superstition;' and he observes that ‘each successive discovery, by ascertaining the law that governs certain events, deprives them of that apparent mystery in which they were formerly involved. When any science has made such progress as to enable those who are acquainted with it to foretel the events with which it deals, it is clear that the whole of these events are at once withdrawn from the jurisdiction of supernatural and brought under the authority of natural powers.’ It seems to be Mr. Buckle's object to put as wide a line of demarcation as possible between his own and the popular belief upon these subjects, and to show that the establishment of his own faith cannot but be fatal to that of his neighbours. If this is so, we utterly disagree with him. We believe that if there is any kind of opposition in the popular mind between science and theology, it arises from mere narrowness and confusion of thought, and not from the fact that the two sets of conceptions are fundamentally opposed. It is not only not true that the common opinion identifies divine agency with caprice and irregularity, but it is an unquestionable fact that the earliest notions of order and regularity in the material universe were connected with divine agency. When the spirit of God moved on the face of the waters, the result was not confusion but order. When David views God, in relation to the stars, it is the regularity of their movements which impresses him:—‘Thou gavest them a law which cannot be broken.’
To the popular apprehension whatever suggests plan and system, suggests also the existence of personal will. We are well aware that the soundness of the argument founded on traces of design in creation, is frequently denied; but though it may be a question whether a man who did not believe in a God would be led to do so by observing that the world forms a uniform system, is it not the strangest of all fancies to hold, as seems to be the case with Mr. Buckle, that a person believing in God aliunde, will give up his belief on making that discovery? Whether the argument from design has much affirmative power may fairly be doubted, but we do not understand how it can be turned into a positive argument in favour of atheism. The watch may not prove the existence of a watchmaker, but it is very hard to follow a man, who, believing himself in the maker, and in the watch, holds that his neighbour's belief must fall to the ground as soon as he finds that the watch contains a systematic machinery.
The truth appears to us to be, that Mr. Buckle's contempt for the intellect of the world in general is so great, that though he is an ardent lover of progress, he has an aversion to the very notion of any progress which does not run exactly in his own line of thought. He is quite willing to admit that there is, somewhere or other, a true ground for religious belief, that a few philosophers have at times had glimpses of it, and that in due time it will be scientifically established, but he cannot bear the notion that he and his associates are at best only inventing scientific descriptions for very ancient and very common opinions. He denounces as unscientific and superstitious a belief in the very doctrines which his science recognises, because those who hold them have anticipated its conclusions. What are we to understand by his arbitrary distinction between supernatural and natural powers? What are supernatural powers but the powers which govern nature? What is ‘Nature’ but a vague expression for a creation framed, animated, and ruled by the will of its Creator? Superstition consists not in the belief in this Cause, but in the supposition that its action is occasional rather than eternal, partial rather than universal.
It is by showing a man the foundation of the truth, which he holds already, that he is to be led into a wider view of it; for it is this which constitutes the ground common to himself and to his critic. We will illustrate our meaning by a single instance. It is a common practice to speak of certain isolated important events as being ‘providential,’ and it is not uncommon to describe them as if they had some peculiar and special claim to that title, as if it belonged to them, not only in a positive, but also in a negative and exclusive sense. People often refer to such events as the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, the winds which, truly or not, were supposed to have baffled the Spanish Armada, the narrow escapes which eminent persons have experienced from assassination and so forth, as being caused by God in some special manner, which could not be predicated of other things. Such a way of thinking would be open to the obvious and conclusive objection that by implication it excludes divine agency from all but a few human affairs, if it rested on the notion that these events were of an entirely exceptional character; and this again suggests two very different lines of thought. The one is that which is followed, or seems to be followed, by Mr. Buckle, and it consists in arguing that as many events, once looked upon as providential and mysterious, have been shown to be regular in their recurrence,—to be susceptible of being predicted, and, in some cases, of being prevented by human skill,—so there is a strong probability that the same may be true of other events, which have not as yet been subjected to the same process. It is tacitly assumed that none but mysterious and unpredictable events can fairly be described as providential; and, therefore, if all events are so far explained as to be classified, it will follow, on this hypothesis, that the tendency of science is to eliminate Providence from the world altogether. The whole force of this argument lies in the assumption that to be providential an event must be mysterious in the sense of being unaccountable, and this assumption (not proved by Mr. Buckle) is not adopted by those who take up the other line of thought to which we have referred. They, on the contrary, would probably argue that, if a sufficiently wide view is taken either of human affairs in general, or of the life of a single individual, a certain moral sequence will be discernible in them; and thus they are led to the conjecture, not that the particular events in question are not providential, although the reasons for which they may be considered so are false, but that there is reason to believe that, if we could only see it, it would appear that all other events are providential also ; and thus they ultimately arrive, not at the conclusion that God's providence is eliminated from human life, but that it embraces every item of which it is made up. In other words, they believe that human affairs form a vast moral whole, too vast, wide, and intricate probably for any finite intellect to grasp, either in its outline, or even in its details in a complete and satisfactory manner, but not the less joined together by such links as those which in some isolated cases may be seen to establish a general connection between goodness and happiness, vice and misery.
It would be foreign to our purpose to enforce or to enlarge upon this theory. We are only concerned to point out the fact, that, so far from contradicting social philosophy, it implies, if not the possibility of its attainment by finite intelligences, at any rate the truth, that whether attainable or not, it has at least an ideal existence. It has the immense advantage of being what Mr. Buckle would call a barren hypothesis. That is, it supplies the intellect with no new conclusions, and does not in the remotest degree fetter its operations, though it addresses itself powerfully to the feelings and to the conscience. It not only has no interest in suppressing, perverting, or evading an appeal to facts, but, on the contrary, it makes the appeal itself. If the facts of life and nature are the theatre of the providential government of the world, it is through those facts that this government must be studied. If the moral attributes of the Creator are displayed in them, those attributes must be collected from them. In order to appreciate the relation which this theory bears to science, it must be remembered that no one advances it as a scientific proposition. It rests not on scientific bases but on probabilities, on analogies, and on a variety of evidence which must of course carry very different degrees of conviction to different minds. Belief in it will no doubt colour the moral tone of a man's nature. It will be of unspeakable comfort and support in the changes and chances of life, because it will lead him to think that he is in the hands of a Being who has like himself the mysterious attributes of personal existence and of a moral nature, and that he is not the mere plaything of a senseless result which people gall a law. It will not, on the other hand, have the most remote tendency to deter his mind from the contemplation of facts or to warp him in their study. It no doubt involves the use of language of a very indefinite kind, but in all subjects men use language which they imperfectly understand, and to which a further acquaintance with facts attaches new meanings. This is the condition of progress in every study. The use of such words as ‘force,’ ‘power,’ ‘electricity,’ ‘magnetism,’ long preceded even those approximations to definitions which we have now arrived at. Mr. Buckle himself also writes about civilisation as if he knew what it meant. Yet he constantly implies that theology forms an exception to all other subjects of inquiry, and that the truth respecting it is to be obtained not by the improvement and extension of existing conceptions, but by their fundamental destruction.
We know not whether Mr. Buckle's principles necessarily place him in opposition to the fundamental doctrines either of morality or of theology. But we do think that a misconception pervades the whole of his argument, which leads him to take a very false general view of their importance to mankind, and to estimate many features of history in a very inadequate manner. The subject of his whole book is ‘civilisation.’ He constantly uses the word, and almost always writes as if it represented a sort of summum bonum, the supreme importance of which is self-evident and universally admitted. Most people, we imagine, understand by civilisation the process of acquiring and applying knowledge or of accumulating wealth, but Mr. Buckle, though he never enters into detailed explanations on the point, seems to give the word a very much wider scope. He appears to believe that there is in all human affairs a constant homogeneous progress, which progress mainly depends upon the accumulation of knowledge. He says, for example, ‘There can be no doubt that a people are not really advancing if on the one hand their increasing ability is accompanied by increasing vice, or if on the other hand, whilst they are becoming more virtuous they likewise become more ignorant. This double movement, moral and intellectual, is essential to the very idea of civilisation, and includes the entire theory of mental progress;’ and he proceeds to argue that the intellectual element of this progress is by far the most important part of it. This he establishes by various arguments, the most important of which may be gathered, though it is somewhat indistinctly stated, from a passage which will be found at pp. 160-5., and it is, we think, reducible to the following form:—There is in human affairs a vast homogeneous progress. It is a function of two variables — intellectual and moral. The intellectual element is the more important of the two, because it is progressive, whilst the moral element is constant. Therefore the whole progress may be apprehended by studying the intellectual element, and by looking on the moral element as productive merely of disturbance. In illustration of this general view, we may quote such an expression as this:—
‘If the advance of civilisation and the general happiness of mankind depend more on their moral feelings than on their intellectual knowledge, we must of course measure the progress of society by those feelings; while if, on the other hand, it depends principally on their knowledge, we must take as our standard the amount and ‘success of their intellectual activity.’In another place he says —
‘The actions of individuals are greatly affected by their moral feelings and passions; but those being antagonistic to the passions and feelings of other individuals are balanced by them; so that their effect is, in the great average of human affairs, nowhere to be seen; and the total actions of mankind, considered as a whole, are left to be regulated by the total knowledge of which mankind is possessed.’ (P.208.)Mr. Buckle would probably himself acknowledge that this is the fundamental proposition of his whole book; but we must be permitted to say that a proposition more inconsistent with fact, with reason, and with experience has seldom been stated. If moral truths are, as he goes on to say, those which are most universally acknowledged, on what ground can he argue that their influence is balanced by the conflict or antagonism of individual character? Take the great moral dogmas which protect the security of life, the sanctity of marriage, the possession of property. Will Mr. Buckle assert that their effect on the great average of human affairs is nowhere to be seen, because there are in the world some murderers, some adulterers, and some thieves? or does he presume to assert that the maintenance of these primary conditions of social life, and consequently of all civilisation, depends not on the immutable laws of morality, but on the ‘total knowledge of which mankind is possessed?’ The first and highest knowledge of which mankind is possessed is precisely the knowledge not of physical facts, or of statistical averages, or of the ill-digested lumber of the brain, but of the rules of life which govern and restrain the moral feelings and passions of individuals.
But Mr. Buckle goes on to state that ‘in reference to our moral conduct, there is not a single principle now known to the most cultivated European which was not likewise known to the ancients;’ that ‘the system of morals propounded in the New Testament contained no maxim which had not been previously enunciated; and that some of the most beautiful passages in the Apostolic writings are quotations from Pagan authors is well known to every scholar;’ and that ‘to assert that Christianity communicated to man moral truths previously unknown, argues on the part of the assertors either gross ignorance or wilful fraud.’ Since Mr. Buckle uses these unphilosophical expressions, savouring rather of passion than of knowledge, we are compelled to reply that the ignorance and the fraud in this case will not be found to be on the side of the assertor. In the first place, the passages in the Apostolic writings known to be quotations from Pagan authors are in number three—the verse from Menander, ‘Evil communications corrupt good manners,’ the expression, ‘The Cretans are liars,' and the passage from Aratus in St. Paul's address to the Athenians. This may be mere want of biblical scholarship on the part of Mr. Buckle; but when he goes on to assert that the system of Christian morals contains no maxim not previously enunciated by Pagan writers, he overlooks the fundamental principles on which the modern civilisation of mankind chiefly rests—the equality of men before God, the dignity of humility, the sanctity of marriage, the forgiveness of injuries, the law of charity embracing the whole human race, purity of life, and the rights specially conferred by Christianity on those who had no other protection. When he pretends that Paganism anticipated Christianity in raising the condition of woman, in blessing the innocence of childhood, in giving relief to the sick and liberty to the slave, it is not to ignorance that misstatements so gross can be attributed. What is this, to use the striking metaphor of Mr. Coleridge, but to hang grapes on thorns, and then pretend that they are the natural fruit of the tree?
The same spirit may be traced in the following passages:— In a note (p. 724.) Mr. Buckle says, ‘The original scheme of Christianity, as stated by its Great Author, was merely to convert the Jews; and if the doctrines of Christ had never extended beyond that ignorant people, they could not have received those modifications which philosophy imposed on them.’ But in the next page, speaking of Mahometanism, he calls it, ‘that great religion, the noise of which has filled the world,’ and he terms its founder the great apostle who diffused ‘among millions of idolaters the sublime unity of one God.’ Such is Mr. Buckle's conception of the relative grandeur of that scheme which had for its object the redemption of mankind and of the fanatical conquests and pretended revelations of the Arabian impostor! These are precisely the views which might reasonably be anticipated from a writer who assigns the very highest place in French literature to Voltaire; and almost the same expressions are to be found in the sixth and seventh chapters of the ‘Essai sur les Moeurs’ of that author.
Whenever Mr. Buckle has occasion to advert to the principles of religion and morals (which he does as sparingly as he can), we perceive that he regards them not as objective truths, but as certain modes of human thought or opinion, having their source and seat solely in the human mind, and consequently partaking of the obscurity or illumination of the intellectual faculties. A religion may, he says, be ‘good or bad’; but he appears not to inquire whether it be true or false. Hence he is led to the singular conclusion that religion, morals, and government are not causes of civilisation, but its results, and that the cause is to be sought in intellectual progress only. So, too, he argues that war and religious persecution, being the greatest evils which afflict mankind, have been greatly diminishing for a length of time, and that their diminution is owing to intellectual, and not to moral causes.
Morals, he says, are unimportant because they are unprogressive. But the slightest reflection will show that this test of progress is entirely fallacious, for it would exclude not moral truths alone, because they are unprogressive, but all the noblest conquests and achievements of the human intellect. It would exclude the creations of art, of which Mr. Buckle singularly enough takes no account in his survey of human history: wherever man has succeeded in clothing his ideas in a complete form, --whether in the architecture which crowns the Acropolis of Athens, in the sculpture of Phidias or of Michael Angelo, on the canvas of Raphael or of Rembrandt, in the dramas of Shakspeare or the symphonies of Beethoven, --there is no question of ulterior progress, because these works attain their essential limit of perfection. It would exclude the operations of mathematical science, from the multiplication table to the ‘Principia’ of Newton, because by the very nature of exact and absolute truth nothing can be added to, or taken from, its theorems. However certain or conspicuous the truths of morality, the principles of art, or the deductions of science may be, it is not the less certain that to each individual man, to each individual mind, the same track of knowledge remains to be followed which other generations have explored. The inheritance of knowledge, collected and transmitted by the experience of mankind, immeasurably transcends that slight deposit which any man or generation of men can add to it. But Mr. Buckle appears to derive his conception of the advancement of civilisation from the elements which are still obscure, uncertain, and incomplete, rather than from the truths which are most clear, positive, and essential to the welfare of mankind.
The whole argument appears to us to rest on a double fallacy. It is not proved that there is any such moral and intellectual progress in human affairs as Mr. Buckle assumes to exist. That men have the power to accumulate knowledge, and that for some centuries they have in some countries had the will to do so, is no doubt perfectly true; but so far as we know, the will has existed at limited periods only, and amongst a comparatively small number of the inhabitants of small portions of the globe. In antiquity the same phenomena occurred in certain countries, lasted a certain time, and then disappeared, precisely because though their intellectual culture was still unchecked, their moral culture had decayed. As to the alleged moral progress which Mr. Buckle in one place considers ‘essential to the very idea of civilisation,’ and inseparably conjoined with the progress of intelligence, though in another he seems to deny its existence and even its possibility, we see very little evidence indeed that it exists. The most civilised nations, using that word in the common sense, are not always the most virtuous; nor are the most learned men—and society is composed of individuals—always the best of their species. The two things stand upon different principles, and though they may probably bear some relation to each other, the relation is, in all probability, one of a very complicated kind. First, therefore, we deny that there is any progress in which morality plays the secondary part assigned to it by Mr. Buckle. That in some countries men have for some centuries accumulated a great variety of knowledge, and that there is reason to think they will continue to do so, we fully admit; but secondly we deny that the success of this pursuit is the summum bonum of human life. Mr. Buckle appears to us to have begun by misusing the word ‘civilisation,’ in attempting to make it include an imaginary moral progress, and to have then proceeded at his ease to show that in civilisation (in the narrower sense) morality is a comparatively unimportant ingredient. His proof of its comparative unimportance consists in showing that it has little to do with something which is not proved to exist, but which, if it did exist, would unquestionably be the highest object of human pursuit.
To pronounce with anything approaching to dogmatic certainty upon so vast a question as the relations of morality and intellect, would be presumptuous indeed in any one who could not appeal to special investigations of immense extent in support of his assertions. We advance no such claims; but we would submit, upon narrower and more familiar grounds, that a somewhat different view may be taken of the subject. It appears to us that morals operate upon civilisation, not as an unimportant constituent part of its progress, but as conditions which, though constant for the most part during very long spaces of time, determine the whole character of the nation in which they exist; and we are also of opinion that the most important elements of human happiness are not those which are progressive, but those which are stationary. We will attempt to illustrate these suggestions fully, because by doing so we shall set in the clearest light the fundamental difference between the views taken by ourselves, and by Mr. Buckle, of the proper subjects of history, and the relative importance of historical events.
Let us consider, in the first place, the distinct character and progress of civilisation in the cases of Europe, India, and China, which Mr. Buckle attributes entirely to the differences of soil, climate, diet, and the general aspect of nature, or at most to their respective intellectual progress. From the time when this part of the globe was a very rude place, inhabited by very rough and barbarous people, Europeans have believed in the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and the government of the world by one God, and as a rule—though the rule is subject to very great modifications—they have believed, and have acted upon the belief, that a life of activity was the way to serve God most acceptably. In India, on the other hand, those who thought most deeply on these questions, and who were the objects of the popular veneration, believed not in a living, but in what we may call, without exaggeration, a dead God. Their summum bonum was eternal death; their notion of future punishment a prolongation of life. In China, again, a different state of things seems to have prevailed from a very early time indeed. The devout Buddhists and the mystics have always formed a small minority there, and the practices which they induced the mass of the people to adopt never rose above the rank of mere idle superstitions, destitute of any kind of moral significance or influence. The creed of the higher minds in China was and is Confucianism — a doctrine which takes no notice of any considerations extending beyond this present life; though within its limits it inculcates a very strict, and what is perhaps more singular, a very subtle code of morals. [See Meadows’ Chinese and their Rebellion. Mr. Buckle does not appear in his present volume to have examined the institutions of China with the minute attention he has bestowed on those of other countries. But the civilisation of that peculiar people seems to be precisely that to which his own system points, since they boast of the highest degree of intellectual culture which a nation has attained, irrespective of religion and morality founded on religious truth.] These are three distinct moral conditions, which have been constant in their operation upon vast masses of men over long spaces of time. There is no reason to think that when they began to operate, northern Europe possessed more knowledge than India, or so much as China; yet during the whole of the enormous accumulation of knowledge which has taken place during the last 1400 years in this part of the world, the same causes have been and still are in full operation. An Englishman still has before him his Maker and his own soul, and looks upon death as a gate to life; a Hindoo is still aspiring after annihilation; a Chinese is still principally anxious to live according to ‘the rites,’ and dies with the most perfect unconcern. It is impossible, a priori, that differences so vast should not affect the whole tone of a man's life, regulate his desire to acquire knowledge, power, and riches, and to a great extent direct their use when acquired. When we find that, in point of fact, there has been in Europe a constant progress in all kinds of knowledge and power, for there the current view of morals carries a man out of himself, by teaching him to live for his kind here and to hope for immortality hereafter; that in China there has been ceaseless activity with very little progress, for there a view of morals prevails which binds men to certain fixed duties, whilst it supplies no motive which can warm the heart or vivify the soul; that in India there has been no progress and no activity except in those monuments of despotism which attest the cheapness of human labour and the recklessness with which it is wasted; it is impossible to resist the conclusion, that the views which men take of the moral purpose and nature of life, must exercise a very powerful influence indeed over the assiduity with which they will cultivate knowledge, and over the degree in which they will value it when attained. In other words, human life cannot be understood by reference to science alone, for the deepest problems which it presents — problems of the most vital and practical nature—lie beyond the reach of scientific investigation.
Let us now take, as a further illustration of our meaning, a single question, which has a very deep interest at the present day, and which, notwithstanding all Mr. Buckle's ingenuity, appears to us to have played, if not the most important, at any rate a most important, part in the history of modern Europe. We allude to the famous problem as to the nature of the true ideal of virtue. Speaking very broadly, we may say that two views upon this subject, each compatible with any amount of learning, cultivation, and acuteness, have long prevailed, and at this moment do prevail, in the world. There is, on the one hand, the ascetic, and on the other, what we may call the social, view of the question. The notion that pleasure is of the nature of sin; that all the instincts and affections of humanity have about them something wicked and corrupt; that he is the best man who separates himself most completely from other men; that those are the holiest occupations in which people are brought into the least frequent contact with the common business of life—is one opinion. The doctrine that the common affairs of the world are the appointed spheres in which men are to labour, and earn the wages of their labour, and employ them when earned; that the common affections of life are manifestations of the highest and holiest affections, and are to be cultivated and prized accordingly: that the production of general happiness is the good fruit by which the goodness of the tree may be known; and that so far from seeking to cut himself off from his kind, a man can only realise; his true duty and real position by uniting himself to other men, and by sympathising with them as closely as possible—is another doctrine. Nothing, we apprehend, can be better ascertained than the fact, that the whole social and political life in a nation will be deeply affected by its adoption of the one or the other of these views; and that even their disposition to accumulate knowledge will depend on it. The moral teaching of the Romish Church inculcates the former of these theories; the practical genius of Protestantism prescribes the latter. The one is the morality of Italy or Spain; the other is the morality of England. England in the present day possesses a greater accumulation of knowledge than Italy; in the 15th and 16th centuries Italy and Spain were probably far more learned than England; yet if we may judge by the acceptance met with by the Reformation in the two countries, they had even then embraced the same views of morality which we find in them at the present day. If this view of the subject is correct, we have a clear case of a moral condition, which, though not in itself progressive, has modified the whole course, and contributed enormously to the energy with which the accumulation of knowledge has proceeded.
There is another side of the subject by which the same conclusions may be reached. Mr. Buckle takes it for granted that if there is in human affairs a progressive and a stationary element, the progressive element must necessarily be the more important of the two in the eyes of the student of civilisation; and no doubt if civilisation is taken to mean the process of acquiring and applying knowledge, this is not only a true but an identical proposition. If, however, it is used in that comprehensive sense in which Mr. Buckle seems to understand it, its soundness becomes extremely questionable, for it would amount to an assertion that the particulars in which a modern Englishman differs from his ancestor who lived under William the Conqueror are more important than those in which he agrees with him. Or to take a vertical instead of a horizontal section of society, it would imply that a highly educated and accomplished English gentleman of the present day differs from an ignorant day labourer in more essential respects than those in which he resembles him. We should entirely disagree with each of these propositions. In the first place, the accumulation and application of knowledge flies over the heads of the great mass of mankind, and affects them almost entirely through their outward circumstances. The labouring population of England are probably far more comfortable now than they ever were before. They are better housed, better fed, better clothed, and longer lived than their forefathers; but is an ordinary working man now a very different being from a working man under the Tudors. Are the differences greater than the resemblances? We cannot conceive how any one can seriously maintain the affirmative. Alter the spelling and the grammar, and Shakspeare's common soldiers might write home letters from India or the Crimea. Bates, Williams, and the other good yeomen whose limbs were made in England, are as much like their countrymen of the nineteenth century, as if they had crossed the Channel in the Golden Fleece, and been carried to Agincourt by the Northern Railway. They differ in their circumstances as a day labourer may differ from a small farmer, but the men are essentially the same. They love and hate, they think and speak, and fight, in precisely the same way, and on just the same principles. Even between different classes living in the same age, the moral identity is more important than the intellectual disparity. The most cultivated man in the country can sympathise both readily and perfectly with the coarsest and most ignorant upon all that touches the moral feelings—upon the passions which decide their conduct in the most important crises of existence. Moral differences comparatively slight and faint jar upon the feelings far more than the widest intellectual disparity. That the constant and unprogressive element of life is more important than the progressive one might be shown by endless illustrations. If Mr. Buckle's view is correct, it must act both ways. If virtue adds less to our happiness than knowledge, vice must be less dreadful than ignorance. Yet even he, we presume, would not accept the conscience of Nero as the price of the mind of Newton, nor would he think it patriotic to wish that his countrymen might be the brightest, wisest, meanest of mankind.
We must not, however, forget that Mr. Buckle appeals to fact as well as to theory. The growth of knowledge, he tells us, has in point of fact diminished the two greatest evils under which humanity labours, namely, war and religious persecution, and for that purpose morals have been powerless; in support of this he appeals to the history of Europe for the last three centuries, and traces out with his usual skill the influence which political economy has exerted in diminishing a taste for war, and in showing that upon economical grounds it can never be anything better than a necessary evil. The argument is a fair sample of the way in which Mr. Buckle deals with history. Facts are so numerous and complex that an argument may be made to wear an air of exhaustive completeness, although it is in reality most partial and imperfect. Mr. Buckle adduces a vast mass of evidence and information in support of his views; but to state the bearings of the whole of the evidence on this subject would have probably exhausted the space at his disposal; and the result is, that though at first sight the cogency of the argument and the force of the illustration seem all but conclusive, they turn out upon further examination to be one-sided and imperfect.
Mr. Buckle's object is to prove that morals have done little to diminish war. He shows that in an ignorant age war was common in Europe, and that in cultivated ages, with moral conditions substantially the same, it shows a tendency to decrease in frequency; therefore, he concludes, the knowledge, and not the morals, caused its diminution. Surely this is very lame logic. That under the moral and religious conditions of European society an increase of knowledge has produced a tendency to peace may be quite true, but it is a very different thing from what Mr. Buckle asserts. That the moral and religious conditions in question are most important elements in producing the result may be proved by a variety of arguments. Quakerism and Peace Societies are but exaggerated expressions of the universal moral sentiment, that, though under certain circumstances war may be an awful duty, a needless war would be a great crime, whilst any war is a great misfortune. That this moral feeling is not a mere result of intellectual cultivation is proved by the fact that it is not strongest amongst those classes whose cultivation is greatest. A Peace Congress would not be formed out of the most cultivated of mankind. We find, moreover, that where the moral element is either weak or wanting, the result does not ensue. In America, want of practical knowledge of the subject and the extreme audacity and restlessness of the national temperament unite to diminish such feelings; and though there is plenty of knowledge in America there is no more warlike nation in the world. If they had only neighbours enough, it is hard to doubt that they would be always fighting. The people of England, though not wanting in knowledge of political economy or in experience of the evils of war, are still one of the most combative nations in the world, as soon as they can persuade themselves that they have a moral object to fight for. The strongest case of all, however, is ancient Rome. There for centuries there was a regular and constant progress in most of the arts of life; but in the absence of any moral disapproval of war, they went on conquering till nothing was left to conquer. The ‘pax Romana’ was peace indeed; but it was a worse evil than the most destructive of wars, for it crushed the men to whom the cares and risks of national life would have been a source of virtue and power into a set of effeminate, debauched, and oppressed provincials.
With respect to religious persecution we think Mr. Buckle's remark still less exact. The habit of persecution is unquestionably diminished, under certain conditions, by the increase of knowledge; but those conditions are absolutely essential, and are exclusively dependent on morality and religion. If people persecute each other from a mistaken zeal and distorted love — if they really do torture the body to save the soul (and Mr. Buckle not only admits, but insists, that in Christian persecutions this has been the case), — their tendency to persecute will no doubt be diminished by showing how ill-adapted the end is to the means, and how questionable the end is in itself. If, however, the persecutor has no sort of wish to benefit his victim, if what he wants is to protect himself, an increase of knowledge may often embitter his fury. The growth of knowledge in modern Europe has contributed to teach Protestants and Catholics that it is their wisest and best course to leave to God the ultimate decision on their differences. The growth of knowledge in ancient Rome provoked the Emperors to persecute the Christians. The real progress lies not merely in a knowledge of the worthlessness of persecution, but in a more liberal and humane conception of the rights of conscience. It is a fair example of that moral progress which Mr. Buckle denies. The morality of the sixteenth century sent a heretic to the stake; the morality of the nineteenth century respects his freedom.
Such a defect as a habit of mind leading its possessor to undervalue moral causes cannot fail to have serious influence upon the view which he takes of concrete history. It would be endless to specify all the ways in which this circumstance colours the latter part of Mr. Buckle's book; but in order to make our meaning plain we will attempt to mark a few of the practical results to which his principles conduct him. The first is a very obscure, or as we think it, a very imperfect conception of the true objects of social and individual existence. The acquisition of knowledge is that object according to Mr. Buckle. And what then? There is another answer. To live well and to die well, to pass through life nobly and to leave it hopefully, these are the great objects which men and nations ought to seek–objects equally open to the philosopher, the statesman, and the lowest peasant or labourer — equally accessible in the tenth century and in the nineteenth. The road to heaven is as short by sea as by land, said the brave Sir Humphrey Gilbert as his ship went down. The journey is the important point, and not the conveyance; but Mr. Buckle seems to think that if you travel in a first-class carriage it matters very little which way you go.
This want of sympathy for the elements of heroism and lofty character, when they happen to be separated from high intellectual attainments, or to manifest themselves in an age of intellectual obscurity, renders, Mr. Buckle entirely incapable of appreciating the spirit of the Middle Ages. Because the era of scepticism had not begun, because letters were still chiefly in the hands of the clergy, because (as he asserts) 'the art of writing directly encourages the propagation of falsehoods,' because men still believed in an overruling Providence,—he represents the annals of those ages as a tissue of childish absurdities; and he quotes in support of this opinion a multitude of old wives' fables, extracted from the chronicles of the time. Nor does he introduce a single remark to denote that these legends are not a fair test of the intellectual condition of the Middle Ages. His learning, vast as it appears to be, does not embrace any of the great lights of mediaeval philosophy, history, or art; he has not a word, save of scorn, for the stupendous labours of the great churchmen, for the dialectics of the schools, or for the genius which never shone more brightly than in the immortal verses of Dante. We appeal from this narrow and partial decision to the energy of those great minds, and to the Middle Ages themselves. There, and nowhere else, is to be found the root and foundation of those great institutions from which the laws, the liberties, and the government of modern Europe spring. There are still to be distinguished through the gloom of ages those gigantic figures of Charlemagne, Alfred, and Norman William, whose strength and wisdom moulded the empires of their posterity; and to convey an opinion of the Middle Ages solely by a loose statement of their ignorance and their credulity, is to overlook the existence and extent of powers and truths of the utmost importance to the subsequent history of mankind. One might infer from Mr. Buckle, that the records of our race begin with the seventeenth century of the Christian era, because he then first applies his method of interpreting them.
[For instance, Mr. Buckle says ‘There are few things in our history so irrational as the admiration expressed by a certain class of our writers for the institutions of our barbarous Anglo-Saxon ancestors;’ and he adds (truly) that trial by jury did not exist till long after the Conquest. But Mr. Forsyth has shown in his excellent History of Trial by Jury that ‘the jury system may be traced as a gradual and natural sequence from the modes of trial in use amongst the Anglo-Saxons and Anglo-Normans—that is both before and after the Conquest;’ and nothing is more certain than that the distinctive characteristics of the laws and institutions of this country originated at the earliest period of our history, and that it was the intention of William I. to preserve to his English subjects the rights which were the inheritance of every Anglo-Saxon freeman. (Forsyth, p. 95.)]
Mr. Buckle's theory of progress appears to us to be not only unwholesome in practice, but opposed to one of the most striking features of history. He continually dwells upon the insignificance of all individual efforts in the great mass of human affairs. To discover a scientific principle is in his eyes to make a decided step in advance; but any other form of individual effort is of little importance. Great men no doubt do exist, and must, ‘at present,’ be looked upon as a disturbing force in human affairs; but though they exist, they are merely, as Mr. Buckle contends, the creatures of the age to which they belong. This appears to us to ignore the fact that there are in history critical periods at which one man's will or energy may produce the most durable results. We are far from entertaining the shallow opinion that great events are to be attributed to small causes, but we do believe that, though the events of life flow in a deep and full stream, the nature of the country through which they pass is such that a small obstacle will often divert their course. At almost every great crisis in history the victory has been but narrowly won, and the defeated party have, to say the least, been a strong minority. How different would the face of Europe be now from what it actually is, if Nelson had been gratified in his wish of meeting Napoleon on a wind. It is very easy to say that Napoleon was the product of circumstances, and that if he had been shot they would have produced another. We very much doubt the fact. It is another form of the old fallacy that, after throwing all the other throws on the dice, you have a better chance of throwing sixes than you had at first. A dilemma is often fallacious, because it is hardly ever exhaustive, but it does appear to us that upon this subject one of two conclusions is inevitable, neither of which would be welcome to Mr. Buckle. Either human affairs must occasionally be influenced in the most extensive and durable manner by the fortunes of particular men, or there must exist some controlling power which overrules the actions of individuals by supplying their places with new comers who would otherwise have remained in obscurity. Either Napoleon's death would have changed the face of Europe, or without any sort of traceable or assignable reason some other person would have supplied his place. That other person, if there was one in the background, was contented in the events which happened to remain in obscurity; for amongst the public men of the day known to history there was not one who can be compared to him.
History is full of such examples. What would have happened if Asdrubal had won the battle of the Metaurus and Hannibal had conquered Rome? What if the heiress of Charles the Bold had carried the best half of France to another husband, and two third-rate states instead of one first-rate one had replaced the great French nation? What if Charles I. had not kept Cromwell in England, or had marched on London when he besieged Gloucester? History is not like chess, in which the best player must win, but rather like whist, in which a very slight difference in the cards may give a skilful player a decisive advantage over a player more skilful but less fortunate. We do not deny that in many instances the tendencies of the age are so strong that nothing which could happen to any single man would do more than arrest or accelerate their course to a small extent; but if we choose a critical period of history, we may well imagine how a very few individual changes would have changed the history of the world. Let us suppose that James II. had been content to be a civil tyrant instead of insisting on being a spiritual one also; can it be doubted that he might have retarded for many years the growth of English liberty? Suppose at the same time the Duke of Burgundy had succeeded to the throne of Louis XIV., had convoked the States General, and seriously laboured to reform abuses. Can any one say that these two changes might not have produced at least two results which would have altered the whole complexion of modern history? France might have superseded England in founding the Indian empire, and in peopling the North American continent. If, in the middle of the eighteenth century, France had been a powerful well-governed State, whilst England was torn by civil war, or by furious party struggles between a Popish king and a Protestant population, who can say that Dupleix would not have triumphed over Laurence and Clive, and that Montcalm would not have conquered New York instead of dying before Quebec? If these two great outlets of the characteristic genius of England had been blocked up, what would our history have been? We should certainly not have been able to look forward to a day not very distant when English religion, law, and literature, will cover the world, and mould the minds of hundreds of millions of men in every quarter of the globe.
But in truth we need not travel beyond the field of Mr. Buckle's own researches for similar examples. As we entered upon the latter chapters of this volume in which he discusses some of the elements of positive history in England and in France, we anticipated an application of his own principles, and at least an attempt to show that the course of events in these countries has been governed by some of those fixed causes which he asserts to be the true motives of human action. But in this expectation the reader will be totally disappointed. No trace of identity or of logical connexion can be discovered between ‘the History of the Protective Spirit in England and France,’ and the statistical averages, or meteorogical phenomena, in the first chapter. On the contrary, Mr. Buckle, in this later portion of his labours, has put forth all his strength in delineating the personal characters of Cardinal Richelieu and Mr. Burke, of Louis XIV. and George III., and he falls back, as much as any historian of the old school, on the action of the moral feelings, or passions of these individuals on the world. Nay, he even condescends to trace, in a variety of minute anecdotes and amusing details, the sources of events which, if his system had any truth in it, would be utterly superfluous and undeserving of notice. For example, he tells us:—
‘In the middle of the eighteenth century there was an actress on the French stage of the name of Chantilly. She, though beloved by Maurice de Saxe, preferred a more honourable attachment, and married Favart, the well-known writer of songs and comic operas. Maurice, amazed at her boldness, applied for aid to the French Crown. That he should have made such an application is sufficiently strange; but the result of it is hardly to be paralleled except in some eastern despotism. The Government of France, on hearing the circumstances, had the inconceivable baseness to issue an order directing Favart to abandon his wife and entrust her to the charge of Maurice.With the same generous enthusiasm Mr. Buckle denounces the monstrous abuses which preceded the French Revolution; but is there no moral feeling or passion in his indignation? And will he contend that the outbreak of the French people arose less from their increasing sufferings than from their increasing knowledge? The truth is, that no sooner does Mr. Buckle begin to deal with flesh and blood, and to pass judgment on men and events famous in history, than we perceive him to be far more a child of moral feeling and passion than he would have us suppose. He makes very small account of the real state of things he has to discuss, and when it suits his purpose or his whim he represents Cardinal Richelieu as a liberal and Burke as a lunatic. [From the moment he began to write against the French Revolution. Yet we would ask where does Mr. Buckle find a more extraordinary instance of the power of foretelling the course of human events than in the works written after ‘the great statesman had degenerated into an angry brawler'? (Buckle, p.464.)] So contradictory and extravagant are his prepossessions, that while he denounces the reign of Louis XIV. as the grave of the independence and original intellectual power of France, he fails to perceive that Richelieu and Mazarin were the true founders of that despotic monarchy which crushed the nascent liberties of the French nation, and made Louis XIV. the most absolute of sovereigns. So little has Mr. Buckle succeeded in reducing any one passage of history to his formulary, that we have hardly met with a single political judgment expressed by him which might not be assailed by endless contradictions. While he seeks to maintain his system by an appeal to facts, often presented in a very questionable light, the inexorable logic of facts does in reality confute his theory.
These are among the insufferable provocations by which the blood of men is made to boil in their veins. Who can wonder that the greatest and noblest minds in France were filled with loathing at the government by whom such things are done 2 If we, notwithstanding the distance of time and country, are roused to indignation by the mere mention of them, what must have been felt by those before whose eyes they actually occurred?'
It is in a spirit nearly akin to that which leads him to assign too uniform a character to the course of historical events, that Mr. Buckle systematically underrates the importance of all the pursuits of active life. He fixes his eye on a vast imaginary march of events which is quite independent of all individual effort or control, which depends not on the will of any one man, or of any set of men, but ultimately on the slow but sure accumulations of science, which are always proceeding. Men of letters and men of science are, he considers, the true civilisers. Adam Smith, we are told, ‘by the publication of one solitary work, contributed more towards the happiness of man than has been effected by the united abilities of all the statesmen and legislators of whom history has preserved an authentic account.’ The connection between this theory and that systematic neglect of morality and indifference to all considerations except those which bear upon the accumulation and application of knowledge, is self-evident. A statesman or legislator does not advance, and does not claim to do so. He only solves old problems under new shapes. In all his undertakings moral qualities have a conspicuous, if not the most important, share. Courage, firmness, honesty, and plain dealing may in many cases supply the place of intellect in such occupations, but no amount of intellect can supersede them. Politicians are accordingly the objects of Mr. Buckle's dislike, we might almost say of his contempt. He regrets that Burke devoted himself to politics. ‘His powers,’ he says, ‘were worthy of far nobler things.’ He reserves his genuine sympathy for such a statesman as Richelieu, whose policy he affects to admire because he considers it essentially revolutionary. He seems to be of opinion that all European governments were for many ages, and in many parts of the world still are, merely obstructive and injurious bodies, and that the only part which a wise man can condescend to take in their affairs is that of subverting the principles by which they are supported, reducing their power to a minimum, making them feel their essential insignificance, and preparing them to receive with docility the commands of the scientific and literary classes. He considers that governments have rendered no services to civilisation, except that of preventing crime, and he seems to wish to confine them as much as possible to that and to similar functions. The temper he displays in speaking of the honours with which custom has in most parts of the world invested the governing classes is a striking illustration of his views on this subject. He speaks of the French and English aristocracy, not with a qualified and discriminating mixture of praise and blame, not even with measured historical disapproval, but with a violent, bitter personal dislike and indignation which is always unpleasant, and sometimes offensive and vulgar.
With respect to the general question of the importance of active life, we entirely and fundamentally differ from Mr. Buckle. We hold that even if it is not the highest of human vocations, it is at least fully equal both in dignity and importance to any other; and in particular we think that men of letters and science show nothing but a petulant misapprehension of their position when they despise it in comparison with their own pursuits. Mr. Buckle, one would think, is at any rate estopped from denying this position. One of the most prominent parts of his book, the foundation indeed of all his speculations about English history, is to be found in the assertion that the greatness of England arises principally from the sturdiness and hardihood of the national character. This sturdiness he traces back to what he supposes to be its origin; and if we are to believe him, it is the result of a happy combination of circumstances of which the most important was the Norman Conquest. In consequence of that event we are told the distance between the king and the aristocracy was greater here than in any other part of Europe. Hence the people acquired the habit of transacting their own affairs, and by degrees their whole way of life became what we are all familiar with. If this is true, how strange a contradiction it is of all that Mr. Buckle has preached in the earlier part of his book! In whatever sense a man has it in his power to determine on any given action, William the Conqueror had it in his power to invade England or not. The conquest was planned and executed by a single man, and there is the strongest reason to believe that the importance of that one man's choice depended on the improvement of a single opportunity which, if lost, would never have recurred. If William had not conquered England, there is no sort of reason to suppose that any one of his sons would have done so. If, therefore, William I. had stayed at home, where would have been the conquest? If there had been no conquest, where would have been the sturdiness? If there had been no sturdiness, where would have been the scepticism? If there had been no scepticism, where would have been Adam Smith? It would seem that, after all, the writers and men of science are not quite so independent of statesmen and soldiers as Mr. Buckle would wish us to believe; and it would also appear that the rapidity with which men accumulate, and the intensity with which they desire knowledge, depend greatly on the degree in which they have been taught by politicians and political experience to act and think like free men.
It is unworthy of a man of Mr. Buckle's understanding to maintain seriously that the principal benefit which governments have conferred on civilisation is the prevention or punishment of crime. The importance of established authorities, legislatures, national churches, corporate professions, the public administration of justice, and the other great institutions which collectively constitute what we mean by the general name of the government, is in reality immeasurably great and various. We will point out a few of the particulars of which it consists, but the subject is capable of endless expansion and illustration. One of the most important functions which governments discharge is the production of national unity. It is no small or easy achievement to form a number of scattered societies into one body politic—to give them one voice and one set of interests, and to found the institutions by which that voice may be expressed, and those interests may be defended. This is not one of the things which people will do for themselves; for it is well known that amongst the mass of mankind petty local prejudices and attachments are more powerful, not merely than philosophy, but than the clearest promptings of self-interest. The union between England and Scotland was intensely unpopular: Spain is to this day a geographical rather than a national unit, and we have no doubt that Mercia, Wessex, and East Anglia had each their local patriots, who withstood the centralising policy of Egbert and his successors. It was only out of opposition to England that British North America wished to coalesce with the United States; now that we have virtually emancipated Canada, the tide runs strongly in favour of independence of the Union, and it is more probable that the United States themselves will separate than that they will merge into a single body. If popular feeling does not usually tend to produce national unity, the mere accumulation of knowledge is equally powerless for the purpose. The Frankfort parliament, which tried the experiment, was perhaps the most ludicrous and the most learned failure that history has to record. One force, and one only, has been adequate to the task, and that is the power of a central government. Frederic II. actually did for part of Germany what the Frankfort professors tried to do for the whole of it. William the Conqueror, Edward I., Louis XI., and Louis XIV., were some of the great consolidators of the most compact and powerful of modern nations; and it is quite impossible to overrate the importance of the results which were produced by such means as they, and others like them, employed. It cannot be doubted that their undertakings were amongst the most important of the sources which contributed to the formation of the national character. We have seen how Mr. Buckle's own admissions involve this consequence in the case of William the Conqueror; but it is a consequence altogether inconsistent with the contempt which he takes every opportunity of expressing for men of action as compared with men of speculation.
We may, indeed, infer the importance of practical life from the fact, that men of the very highest powers have devoted, and continually do devote, their lives to the pursuit of its objects. We live for ourselves as well as for our posterity; and if generation after generation find a noble field for the highest faculties which they possess in conducting the affairs, in maintaining the rights, in rousing the spirit, in extending the power of a great nation, need we look further for a justification of the dignity of their pursuits? Is it any sort of objection, to say, that after all their business is substantially the same in its objects and its principles as the business of their fathers was in their day. The object for which a man lives is not to heap up riches, physical and intellectual, for himself and his successors, but to do the work which lies before him. It is absurd and bigoted to resist change, to cling to what is old because it is old, to do what our ancestors did because they did it, or to refuse as opportunity offers to enlarge the circle of experience and to multiply relations with the world; but surely it is no less absurd and bigoted to look upon change as the one thing needful, as the one object of human wishes, and the one subject of human study.
A still more serious practical consequence of Mr. Buckle's views is to be found in their tendency to consequences of a directly immoral character. Mr. Buckle seems to us not only to undervalue morality theoretically, but also to misapprehend it in practice; and this is, we think, a direct consequence of his general views on the subject. It may not only be conceded, but it is the very foundation of our opinions upon this question, that neither morals nor theology have as yet, as Mr. Buckle would phrase it, ‘been raised to the rank of sciences;’ or, as we should say, they have not as yet been made the subjects of complete scientific demonstration. This is a proposition which can startle or offend no one of the most ordinary education. The great truths which lie at the bottom of all speculations upon these subjects are confessedly most mysterious. That is, they are very imperfectly apprehended, and offer a great number of intricate, perplexing, and (at present, at least) insoluble problems. There is, probably, no class of moralists or of divines who would not agree with us thus far. Let us consider what are the consequences of this state of things, on the principles advocated respectively by Mr. Buckle and by ourselves. Mr. Buckle's view of the matter is at once simple, characteristic, and intelligible. Science and superstition (p. 542.), in his view, make up a sort of intellectual plenum, and, therefore, nothing ought to be allowed to influence our conduct but what is scientifically ascertained. He does not indeed, carry out this doctrine to its full extent, nor does he even state it in so many words. He seems rather to hold that for the regulation of a man's private conduct, he may adopt principles which he would not be justified in carrying out into public life. With respect to theology, he says, “Those sublime questions . . . . . . are for each according to the measure of his own soul, because they lie in that unknown tract which separates the Finite from the Infinite, and because they are as a secret and individual covenant between man and his God.’(P. 469.) But with respect to politics, he observes in his disquisition on the character of Burke, that inasmuch as politics are not yet reduced to a science, ‘the proper business of a statesman is to contrive the means by which certain ends may be effected, leaving it to the general voice of the country to determine what those ends shall be, and shaping his own conduct, not according to his own principles, but according to the wishes of the people for whom he legislates, and whom he is bound to obey.’ These two passages clearly illustrate Mr. Buckle's conception of the general bearing of theology and morality on the actual state of society. He seems to feel, that in the absence of scientific certainty upon these subjects, no institutions and no principles drawn from considerations relating to them can, or at least ought to exist. Obedience to the will of the majority in politics is for the present our best and highest course; individual and apparently solitary worship is the only reasonable form of religion. It would thus be our business carefully to eliminate from political life all appeal to any general principles, whether of morals or theology, and to expurgate our social institutions of every establishment, public or private, which rested in any degree on the recognition of such principles. This appears to us to be the result of Mr. Buckle's theory when reduced to practice. He does not, of course, state his views in this form; but such would seem on the whole to be their tendency — a tendency which displays itself in somewhat singular results, whenever he has occasion to express an opinion upon the character and conduct of individuals. Thus, in speaking of Henry IV., he observes, that ‘to suit the shifting politics of his age, he had already changed his religion twice, and he did not hesitate to change it a third time, when he found that by doing so he could ensure tranquillity to his country;' and immediately afterwards he refers to Henry’s ‘enlightened principles.’ In another place he tells us, that reverence ‘is a compound of wonder and fear,’ (a definition which would imply that the most worthy object of it is the devil,) and he appears to speak with distinct approbation of pride, of rebellion, and of heresy, of which latter virtues, he says, that they ‘are but different forms of the same disregard of tradition, the same bold and independent spirit.’ In short, he uniformly and pertinaciously refuses to estimate the worth of any man, or of any set of men, by reference to any other standard than one which determines the extent to which they have contributed to the accumulation of knowledge. The perfect and even unconscious consistency of such expressions, with the whole tenor of Mr. Buckle's general theory of history, needs no illustration at our hands; the important question with respect to them is, whether they point to views in which all who agree with Mr. Buckle in believing morals and theology to be as yet in an unscientific state, must ultimately acquiesce. We entirely disbelieve it. We hold that, in political as well as in private morality — in theology, as well as in morals, —feelings, principles, and objects imperfectly realised, arranged, understood, and described, may and ought to influence our conduct most deeply. The ‘sublime questions’ involved in these matters may ‘lie in the unknown tract between the finite and the infinite;’ but is not this only a fine way of saying that we know very little about them? Did not astronomy and anatomy long lie in the same unknown tract, but would it on that account have been wise to burn the unscientific or half scientific calendars, and to neglect the empirical medical rules which were in use long before our knowledge on these subjects had reached its present condition? Ptolemy and Tycho Brahe were not the equals of Copernicus and Newton; Sir Thomas Browne would have been a very bad substitute for Dr. Baillie; but their science, such as it was, furnished early navigators with many useful rules, prolonged many lives, and cured many diseases. We cannot make our own ignorance the measure of the external influences which affect us. The most ignorant man is as liable to be ill as the most learned physician. The earth does move round the sun, and carries us with it whether we know or admit it or not; and in just the same way, a man may do wrong, though he disavows morality, and may be wicked, though he does not believe in God. A man may know, or at any rate have strong grounds for supposing, that his health is subject to certain influences, though he cannot quite tell what they are; and in the same way we are justified in inferring from a thousand considerations that it is highly probable that moral right and wrong, national justice, faith, and honour, the laws of God, and other such phrases, have a most important meaning, though we cannot replace them by precise equivalents. If this is so, it is a tremendous risk to lay such considerations out of account in our conduct. To assume in practice that we are never to act with a view to principles imperfectly apprehended, would be as fatal to private as to public morality. If a politician is bound to carry out the will of the majority, every individual's passions must be a law to himself. If the question to be discussed is, whether the United States shall annex Cuba, whether England shall make war with China, whether France shall conquer Belgium, does Mr. Buckle seriously mean to say that the only question which a statesman ought to entertain would be whether it was the deliberate wish of the nation to which he belonged to do these things, and if so, to do them without further inquiry? If he does, he may well despise politics, for no man of honour or conscience would consent to be engaged in them. Had all politicians been of this school, they would have been engaged in the foulest and bloodiest work that has ever disgraced this earth. They would have crucified the founder of Christianity, and have exterminated his followers; they would have made liberty and toleration impossible, and have torn the human race to pieces by ceaseless internecine warfare. Almost every war of conquest has been popular so long as it was successful, and in almost every country out of Europe and North America furious bigotry can hardly be said to sleep. It is hard to understand why Mr. Buckle allows to nations what he would probably deny to individuals. If the agent of a number of men may lawfully gratify their deliberate wish to rob or murder, why may not an individual do the same on his own account? If, on consulting that constituency of passions and desires which resides in my own heart, I find that they unanimously and pertinaciously vote for murder, why may not I give my assent to the proposed measure? My own interest is very much a matter of taste and opinion, and I am bound to consult the general interests of society only by those general unscientific considerations which in politics Mr. Buckle deliberately sets aside. Some principles of conduct we must have, and the principle that the deliberate wish of the majority is to be our guide, appears to us to be at once unscientific and disagreeable.
To us it appears to be indisputably clear that what we have called the working rules of life, the principles of theology and of morality usually received amongst us, though certainly not based on scientific observation or clothed in scientific language, do nevertheless contain a very large proportion of truth; so large a proportion that, though to inquire into and revise them is perhaps the highest function to which the human mind can devote itself, they afford rules quite exact enough to be of the greatest possible importance in regulating the public and private affairs of life, and principles which may well serve as the foundation for institutions most necessary and beneficial to mankind. A certain degree of intolerance and bigotry may be an inevitable result of such institutions, but these are evils infinitely small in comparison with the godlessness and gracelessness which would overspread the mass of society, if upon these matters each man stood entirely alone, acknowledging no other relation to his fellows than those which arise from interest or personal liking. Here and there a man of peculiar mental constitution may get more harm than good from advice or sympathy in matters of this kind; but such cases must be very rare indeed, and in providing for the interests of the mass of mankind they may safely be neglected.
Such is our view of the general doctrine of Mr. Buckle's most remarkable book. On the one hand, we do not think that he has succeeded in establishing the possibility of a science of human action; on the other, we do not believe that if such a science were shown to be possible, that fact would in any way weaken the foundations of morality or of religion; but we feel that the manner in which the subject is handled conveys a most natural impression that Mr. Buckle is of a contrary opinion; and we further think that, though the vigour and fearlessness with which he writes are worthy of the highest praise and respect, it is necessary to point out the degree in which his passion for viewing history as a whole, and for reducing the formulas by which it is to be described to the simplest possible expression, prevents him from paying proper attention to its moral characteristics, and sometimes even from appreciating their character. We are, however, far from wishing to confine our observations on Mr. Buckle's work to hostile or to dissentient criticism. To criticise in such a spirit what has been obviously the very able and conscientious labour of many years, must always be both unjust to the subject and dangerous to the author of the criticism. We do not agree with the main theory which Mr. Buckle so earnestly labours to enforce and illustrate, but we should be perfectly willing to agree with it if it were stated more narrowly. If he proposed to confine his scheme to an exposition of the nature of civilisation, considered as the process of acquiring and applying knowledge and wealth, and to a history of its effect on other branches of human affairs, we should willingly admit not only that he had undertaken a very important task, but that he had made an important step towards completing it. We quite allow that he illustrates with admirable power and compression the intimate connection between the scientific and the political history of the last century, both here and in France, and that he has thrown a fresh and original light on some passages in the literary annals of both countries. If Mr. Buckle should live to accomplish any considerable part of what he has undertaken, he will not, we think, have furnished us with any formulas which will enable us to predict the future course of history, but he will have drawn a sort of intellectual map of many large and important provinces of human activity, the mutual relations of which are at present but very vaguely recognized even by those who have studied their respective importance most carefully. He will have given us an inventory of our resources, the value of which in many ways can hardly be exaggerated. He will have shown what the width and depth of the issues raised by political events really is, and will have enabled men to see, that when they commit themselves to tyranny, they commit themselves to ignorance; that when they shrink from the cares and the burden of freedom, they shrink from science and from truth. These are no doubt great results, and the man who can look forward to obtaining them is no common man. We are satisfied that the discussion he has provoked will not be permanently injurious to the eternal landmarks of human action and human belief; and we recommend this book to the consideration of our readers, though we do not believe that Englishmen will ever accept its doctrine or adopt its conclusions.
Part 2: July 1861
It must be confessed that Mr. Buckle is not a writer who gains upon us by a further acquaintance with his work. His first volume, published nearly five years ago, excited, and in some degree gratified, the curiosity of the public by a lively and perspicuous style, by a considerable display of reading, by great hardihood of dogmatical speculation, and by a lofty design to 'create the science of history.' It was received with a degree of interest due rather to the apparent courage and ability of the writer, whose name then first appeared in English literature, than to the results at which he had actually arrived. Many errors of detail were pointed out,—a thing not to be wondered at in a disquisition which affected to embrace every section of human knowledge, and to ' accomplish for the history 'of man something equivalent or at all events analogous to 'what has been effected by other inquirers for the different 'branches of physical science.' (Vol. i. p. 6.) Doubts were expressed by ourselves and by other critics as to the possibility of establishing the scientific conclusions promised by Mr. Buckle on what he terms ' the great average of human affairs.' Above all we saw reason to distrust the soundness of his fundamental principles, and we clearly perceived that human life is of far too short a span to embrace the preliminary facts or to reach the result contemplated in so gigantic a plan. Indeed, Mr. Buckle has himself arrived, on this point, at our own conclusion.
'It is, indeed, too true, that such a work requires, not only several minds, but also the successive experience of several generations. Once, I own, I thought otherwise. Once, when I first caught sight of the whole field of knowledge, and seemed, however dimly, to discern its various parts and the relation they bore to each other, I was so entranced with its surpassing beauty, that the judgment was beguiled, and I deemed myself able, not only to cover the surface, but also to master the details. Little did I know how the horizon enlarges as well as recedes, and how vainly we grasp at the fleeting forms, which melt away and elude us in the distance. Of all that I had hoped to do, I now find but too surely how small a part I shall accomplish. In those early aspirations, there was much that was fanciful; perhaps there was much that was foolish. Perhaps, too, they contained a moral defect, and savoured of an arrogance which belongs to a strength that refuses to recognise its own weakness.’ (Vol. ii. pp. 327, 328.)
In the space of five years small indeed is the progress made. The General Introduction contained in the first volume is followed in the second by two disquisitions on Spain and Scotland—subjects which have been selected as appropriate illustrations of Mr. Buckle's historical theories, but which bring us not one step nearer to his ultimate object. Indeed, as Mr. Buckle's scheme embraces the ‘totality of human affairs,' nothing human is foreign to his task, and however copious his resources may be, it is certain that the portion he leaves untouched must incalculably exceed in amount that which he relates.
It is not our intention, on the present occasion, to resume or to prolong the discussion in which we engaged at the time of the publication of his first volume. But further consideration has satisfied us that if we erred in the estimate we then formed of Mr. Buckle's abilities, we erred on the side of indulgence. The truths which he announced to mankind as the discoveries of genius, are in reality mere fanciful conceits when they are not plagiarisms from the French Encyclopaedists of the last century; and if his book retain hereafter any place at all in the literature of this country, it will be remembered chiefly for its misapplied ingenuity and its logical perversity. Claiming to be itself a history of scientific method, and of the process by which civilisation has been evolved by the mind of man in different countries, it is totally deficient in methodical arrangement. No rigorous chain of philosophical reasoning can anywhere be discovered; and if any such plan exists in the mind of the author, it is entirely lost in the profusion of desultory incidents and extracts with which he has embroidered his pages. His original pretensions to lead us to the science of history turn out to be wholly unfounded; for in science Mr. Buckle is without that comprehensive grasp which reduces the intricate skein of causes and events to a single thread; and in history he analyses more than he combines, enlarging to excess on occurrences which fall in with his preconceived notions, and rejecting or passing over in silence events of at least equal importance, which are at variance with them. We shall say nothing more of the absurdity (to use no harsher term) of the attempt to explain the order of the world by reducing the moral government of Providence to a system of averages based on the laws of iron necessity, or of the design to trace the growth of modern civilisation irrespective of, or rather in opposition to, the influence of Christianity. The first of these doctrines is so far from having any novelty to boast of, that it is identical with the theme of the immortal poem of Lucretius; for, like the great Epicurean, Mr. Buckle is of opinion that, after all, religion, or as he terms it superstition, is the source of the chief evils which afflict society. The motto of his book ought to be
‘arctisBut Mr. Buckle's aversion to the doctrines and institutions of Christianity is still more unphilosophical and unjust in a writer professing to trace the modern civilisation of Europe from general causes. Be it for good or for evil, the modern world is what Christianity has made it. Mr. Buckle sees only the dark side of the picture—the shades of superstition, the fires of persecution, the excesses of enthusiasm;—he does not perceive that the same power which he execrates and reviles for its occasional abuses, is the dayspring of the nations, and that wherever the law of Christianity prevails human society rises immeasurably above the limits of the pagan, the heathen, or the Mohammedan world.
Relligionum animos nodis exsolvere pergo.'
In truth, we must be permitted on this and on many other points to express our surprise that Mr. Buckle should have read so many books to so little purpose. He relies too much upon a well-stored common-place book and a rapacious literary appetite. There is nothing so absurd or so untrue that some evidence may not be collected in support of it from the dusty shelves of huge libraries. But what is the worth of such evidence? He who would write history aright must seek to trace its course in the living reality of human action, not merely in the dry records of the dead. Mr. Buckle will produce you a statistical return or a literary authority for every statement in his book. He is indignant at the bare idea that anyone should call his accuracy in question. For everything he has 'ample and irre'fragable evidence.' We do not doubt it. He has so much evidence that he imposes on himself with it. His statements will bear every test except that of being confronted with reality. He repeats his own paradoxes till he believes them to be truths; and although he is always lauding the blessings of scepticism, there is one kind of scepticism which he is seldom disposed to practise,—that, namely, which consists in a prudent distrust of his own infallibility.
The intention of Mr. Buckle in his second volume is not to pursue the inductive line of argument, to which he says that he is at present unable to add anything new, but to strengthen it by application and verification, showing how his conclusions explain the history of different countries and their various fortunes. For this purpose he has selected the history of Spain and the history of Scotland (to which that of Germany and the United States of America are hereafter to be added),'with the object of elucidating principles on which the history of England supplies inadequate information.' The history of civilisation in England being still Mr. Buckle's chief object, and the title of his book, it is extremely characteristic of his mode of writing that he first devotes two or three octavo volumes to an ample discussion of what his subject does not comprise.
However, we are quite ready to follow him on to this ground, and we readily acknowledge that the fairest test of the soundness of his general principles is to be found in their application to the history and condition of particular countries. The question then now before us is, whether Mr. Buckle's theory of general causes, aspects of nations, and invariable laws explains the history and condition of Spain and Scotland better than they have been explained before. To answer this question in Mr. Buckle's favour it must be shown that he has traced the leading facts of their history and condition to the operation of those causes, and that he has not either misapprehended these facts, or suppressed other causes of equal or greater efficacy. This is the test we shall endeavour to apply to his reasoning.
It might be supposed by a cursory observer that in selecting Spain and Scotland as the fields of his inquiries, Mr.Buckle had intended to choose the two countries of modern Europe most unlike in physical character, in race, in their past political history, and in their present condition. The Spanish Peninsula basks in a southern sun and verges on the confines of Africa; Northern Britain partakes of the natural aspect of the Scandinavian kingdoms. The soil and climate of Spain are capable of producing in unlimited abundance all the fruits of the earth, from the finest corn to the vegetation of the tropics, but these splendid gifts are comparatively neglected; the soil and climate of Scotland can in many parts barely ripen wheat, our shocks of oats are not unfrequently garnered in the October snows, our best produce is roots, but the industry, perseverance, and science of our agricultural population have made many an acre of Scottish moorland worth more than five times the same extent of the favoured soil of Spain. Spain owes whatever she has enjoyed of wealth and splendour to the matchless advantages of her position, and to the favours of fortune, but these to a great extent she has thrown away. Scotland owes her slow but constant progress in the scale of civilisation to herself; she has never receded a hair's breadth in her onward course; and she has gradually worked out a destiny which the proudest nations of the earth may envy. The indolence and wealth of one country are only surpassed by the enterprise and the poverty of the other. Spain has ever been a nation essentially self-contained, hating all foreign innovations; Scotland has borrowed largely from her neighbours. In Spain the aristocracy has for centuries been extremely weak and the authority of the Crown paramount: in Scotland the Crown long maintained an unequal contest with the great houses, and even in modern times the landed aristocracy of the northern kingdom has a larger share of influence than in any other part of Britain. But notwithstanding these and many other salient points of difference, it is by way of comparison rather than of contrast, that Mr. Buckle has directed his attention to these two countries. Whatever their other differences may be, there is, he thinks, 'the most striking similarity between those countries in regard to superstition. Both nations 'have allowed their clergy to exercise an immense sway, and both have submitted their actions, as well as their consciences, to the authority of the Church.' (Vol.ii. p.160.) To say nothing at present of the gross misapplication of terms which describes under the same formula the intensely absolute authority of Spanish Catholicism and the intensely democratic constitution of the Scottish Presbytery, we shall here content ourselves with replying to Mr. Buckle, that if this powerful and irresistible general law has been, as he asserts, in equal operation in the two kingdoms—if Scotland is indeed as superstitious and priest-ridden as Spain — the results have, as Mr. Buckle himself admits, been diametrically opposite; for whilst the political strength and intellectual power of Spain have faded away, Scotland has sent forth a host of her sturdy sons, year by year, to reap the harvest of the world; she has given, in one century, Adam Smith to speculative science—James Watt to industrial art—Walter Scott to literature—names so great that we know not what other names can in their respective walks be placed beside them; and she has been foremost in arms, in government, in enterprise, in research, and every form of intelligent labour throughout the globe. Either therefore the parallel which Mr. Buckle has attempted to establish on this point is as false as it is fanciful; or if it be admitted to exist, then this general cause has not the importance which Mr. Buckle attaches to it, since the same principle, in two widely dissimilar countries, is followed and accompanied by opposite results. His entire thesis therefore breaks down at the outset; for while he chooses to assert that the general cause of theological superstition has operated for centuries in Scotland as in Spain, he is compelled to acknowledge that a multitude of special causes have conspired to produce in the two countries very different effects. Mr. Buckle is singularly unfortunate in the selection of his general principle and of its application; for if the principle were true, and his doctrine of the science of history sound, the results must be similar in the two cases; but the results are absolutely dissimilar; whence it may seem either that his principle is not true, or that general principles are liable to be converted in their application and results by special causes.
Let us now proceed to examine with greater detail some of Mr. Buckle's actual statements with reference to Spain. It will be seen that scarcely one of them is sufficiently accurate and irrefragable to support the large generalisations he rests upon them.
To begin with his physical description of the country.
'If we except the northern extremity of Spain, we may say that the two principal characteristics of the climate are heat and dryness, both of which are favoured by the extreme difficulty which nature has interposed in regard to irrigation. For, the rivers which intersect the land, run mostly in beds too deep to be made available for watering the soil, which consequently is, and always has been, remarkably arid. Owing to this, and to the infrequency of rain, there is no European country as richly endowed in other respects, where droughts and therefore famines have been so frequent and serious. At the same time the vicissitudes of climate, particularly in the central parts, make Spain habitually unhealthy; and this general tendency being strengthened in the middle ages by the constant occurrence of famine, caused the ravages of pestilence to be unusually fatal. When we moreover add that in the Peninsula, including Portugal, earthquakes have been extremely disastrous, and have excited all those superstitious feelings which they naturally provoke, we may form some idea of the insecurity of life, and of the ease with which an artful and ambitious priesthood could turn such insecurity into an engine for the advancement of their own power.Mr. Buckle has thought proper in reference to this subject to attempt to answer the criticisms justly called forth by his random assertions. He has collected a great array of authorities, and employed some vehemence of language in defence of his preposterous theory that the superstition of the Spanish people is attributable to the prevalence of earthquakes and volcanoes in the Peninsula; and he attacks this journal in particular for having held up to ridicule this gross exaggeration. We had stated that 'there is no volcano in the Spanish Peninsula, and the only earthquake known to have occurred there was 'that of Lisbon.' Mr. Buckle, on the contrary, does not scruple to assert that 'in Spain there have been more earthquakes than in all other parts of Europe put together, Italy excepted.' Let us now see which of these statements 'displays such marvellous ignorance', that it deserves to be rescued from 'oblivion and put on record as a literary curiosity.'
'Another feature of this singular country is the prevalence of a pastoral life, mainly caused by the difficulty of establishing regular habits of agricultural industry. In most parts of Spain, the climate renders it impossible for the labourer to work the whole of the day; and this forced interruption encourages among the people an irregularity and instability of purpose, which makes them choose the wandering avocations of a shepherd, rather than the more fixed pursuits of agriculture.' (Vol. ii. pp. 3-7.)
In April, 1858, when we reviewed Mr. Buckle's first volume, we had not had the advantage of consulting Professor Mallet's Earthquake Catalogue, which was published complete in that year, though some of the Professor's Reports had been read at previous meetings of the British Association. Fortunately, however, Professor Mallet's volume now supplies us with materials to bring Mr. Buckle's statement to an exact test. No part of Europe, or indeed of the globe, is entirely free from earthquakes, and our assertion clearly meant, not that no earthquakes had ever occurred there, but that they have been less frequent, and (with one exception) of less historic moment than in other countries; whence we argued that it was absurd to attribute to this cause a peculiar effect upon the moral and intellectual condition of the people of Spain. Messrs. Mallet have certainly brought to light some instances of these phenomena, and they state that more than once this agency has been displayed in the Peninsula upon the most tremendous scale. But what are the facts as compared with other parts of Europe? The number of recorded earthquakes in the British Isles, since the 11th century, is 234; in the Scandinavian Peninsula and Iceland, since the 12th century, 252; in the basin of the Danube, since the 5th century, 318; in the basin of the Rhine and Switzerland, since the 9th century, 557; in Turkey in Europe, since the 4th century, 570; in France, Belgium, and Holland, since the 4th century, 702; in the Italian Peninsula, since the 4th century, 1085; but in the Spanish Peninsula, since the 11th century, 220 only, being the smallest number in the whole catalogue, and below the record even of the British Isles: and of these the great majority occurred not in Spain, but in Portugal. Very few of them have been of a very destructive character, as indeed is apparent from the fact, that many of the finest buildings still to be seen in Spain are of great antiquity, yet unshaken by these convulsions of the soil.
The mere scientific question of the number of shocks of earthquake felt in a given time is of small importance, but Mr. Buckle used this inaccurate statement to build a theory upon it, and he has repeated that statement with Professor Mallet's volume before him. In the teeth of this evidence, that the number of earthquakes, in the whole Peninsula, does not exceed one sixteenth of those recorded in other parts of Europe, he deliberately repeats his assertion, 'that in Spain there have 'been more earthquakes than in all other parts of Europe put 'together, Italy excepted.' Mr. Buckle inveighs with scornful compassion against critics, whom he accuses of ignorance and haste, and he challenges his readers ' to give the benefit of the 'doubt to the author of a deliberate and slowly concocted work.' But we submit that in this instance the hasty statement of the reviewer is infinitely nearer to the truth than the deliberate and slowly concocted misstatements of physical facts on which Mr. Buckle has erected his fantastic theory of Spanish superstition.
[* Mr. Buckle complains with great bitterness of his anonymouscritics, but all his critics are not anonymous: for example, in a letter written by M. de Tocqueville to one of his friends in May, 1858, and published in his Correspondence, we find the following passage:—
'Have you heard of a book which has just come out, and which has suddenly raised its author, previously unknown, to the dimensions of a first class lion? This noble animal is called Mr.Buckle. His book is an introduction, in 800 pages, to a history of mankind (that is all), which he proposes successively to publish. The spirit of the work seems to me to merit especial attention. It is illiberal and passionately anti-Christian. Is it not strange that such doctrines as these can lead to a great literary success in England, where I was told the other day that every year the restraint of religious traditions became more strict and almost tyrannical?' (Tocqueville Correspondence, vol. ii. p. 438.)
It is not undeserving of remark that Mr. Buckle's first volume called forth these expressions of derision and aversion from one of the most liberal and philosophical thinkers of this age.]
But let us now revert to the passage just quoted. Mr. Buckle asserts that except in the northern extremity of Spain, the heat and dryness of the soil are favoured by the extreme difficulty of irrigation. Now, it so happens, — and it is inconceivable that Mr. Buckle should be ignorant of the fact,—that the most ancient and the most perfect systems of irrigation to be seen in Europe occur in the south of Spain, especially in the Vega of Granada and the Huerta of Valencia, and nothing can surpass the fertility of those favoured regions. But what is the reason? These works were constructed by the Moors. They remain to this day a monument of their ingenuity and industry; and they prove that the deplorable condition of agriculture throughout a great part of Spain arises not from natural and general causes of climate and soil, but from the habits and character of the present inhabitants of the country. Spain has been inhabited in different ages by many different races. Her provinces still bear the stamp of an extreme dissimilarity. A Catalan and an Andalusian—a Castilian and a Gallego are not sons of the same mother.Quantos payzts, tantos costumbres. The Spain of Rome, with her Boetic legion, encamped round the walls of Italica or Cordova, was one dominion; the Spain of the Moorish dynasties, then at the highest pitch of Mohammedan civilisation, wealth, taste, and learning, was another empire; the Spain of Christian faith and Christian chivalry, long pent in the Sierras of the North, and divided among a heptarchy of princes, fought its way through eight centuries of bloodshed, until it culminated in the triumph of the Catholic kings. Under these successive revolutions the face of the country has more than once been entirely transformed. Population has risen and declined—agriculture has been perfected and forsaken—literature, art, architecture, have undergone the same vicissitudes. But if the fate of nations is predetermined by fixed natural causes, these have never varied. It is man, not the soil or the climate, that has changed. And as it is certain that nothing can be more dissimilar than the state of Spain in these different periods of her history, we are led irresistibly to the conclusion, that the fixed natural aspect of a country is but a secondary element in its destiny; and that its history consists not in the fertility or aridity of its soil, but in the character of the race inhabiting it, and the events by which they are affected. Indeed, Mr. Buckle himself is so far aware of these facts that after having spoken at page 7, of the 'difficulty of establishing habits of agricultural industry’ in Spain, he states, at page 65, that 'the best systems of husbandry then known were practised by the Moriscoes, who tilled and irrigated with indefatigable labour.' These contradictions are not uncommon with Mr. Buckle. In the next page, after describing the pastoral condition of Spain, he adds:—
'Under such circumstances every thing grew precarious, restless, and unsettled; thought and inquiry were impossible; doubt was unknown; and the way was prepared for those superstitious habits, and for that deep-rooted and tenacious belief, which have always formed a principal feature in the history of the Spanish nation.' (P. 8.)
We are at a loss to conceive how it comes to pass, that when everything is ' precarious, restless, and unsettled,' 'thought and 'inquiry are impossible,' and the way is prepared for ' deep and 'tenacious belief.' Mr. Buckle's own philosophy is essentially precarious, restless, and unsettled; but we have no apprehension that it will ever lapse into a deep and tenacious belief.
Mr. Buckle has well pointed out that the history of Spain is conspicuously marked by three great contests, all of them partaking of a religious character, and exciting the religious passions of the inhabitants. The first was the contest of the Arian Goths against the Frankish Catholics, in the sixth century, when the war for national independence became a war for national religion, and an intimate alliance was formed between the Arian kings and the Arian clergy. The second was the contest with the Moors; the third was the contest with the Reformation. But in the Arian war Spain was on the side of liberal and national opinions, assailed by the authority of the Roman Church. Late in the sixth century, the Latin clergy converted their Gothic masters, and 'the Spanish government becoming orthodox,' says Mr. Buckle, 'naturally conferred upon its teachers an authority equal to that wielded by the Arian hierarchy.' [Mr. Buckle is hardly warranted in placing the conversion of the Spanish clergy to Latin orthodoxy in the sixth century. The first mass according to the Roman form was celebrated in Aragon, in the monastery of St. Juan de la Pena, on the 21st of March, 1071, and in Castile, in the Grand Mosque of Toledo, on the 21st of October 1086. (Macrie, 'Reformation in Spain,' vol. iii. p. 13.)] The inference is questionable, and the phrase 'Spanish government,' as applied to the 'Reyes Gotos' of the seventh century, still more so; but the fact that great power was early acquired by the Church in Spain is certain. We venture, in spite of Mr. Buckle, to think that it was fortunate for the future existence of the country as a Christian nation that it was so. For what occurred in the following century?
'In 711 the Mohammedans sailed from Africa, landed in the south of Spain, and in the space of three years conquered the whole country, except the almost inaccessible regions of the north-west. The Spaniards, secure in their native mountains, soon recovered heart, rallied their forces, and began in their turn to assail the invaders. A desperate struggle ensued, which lasted nearly eight centuries, and in which, a second time in the history of Spain, a war for independence was also a war for religion; the contest between Arabian Infidels and Spanish Christians, succeeding that formerly carried on between the Trinitarians of France and the Arians of Spain. Slowly, and with infinite difficulty, the Christians fought their way. By the middle of the ninth century, they reached the line of the Douro. Before the close of the eleventh century, they conquered as far as the Tagus, and Toledo, their ancient capital, fell into their hands in 1085. Even then much remained to be done. In the south, the struggle assumed its deadliest form, and there it was prolonged with such obstinacy, that it was not until the capture of Malaga in 1487, and of Granada in 1492, that the Christian empire was re-established, and the old Spanish monarchy finally restored.But in his anxiety to denounce the two great curses of human society, loyalty and superstition, Mr. Buckle fails to perceive that there may be circumstances, and in Spain there were circumstances, which render even these degrading passions subservient, and indeed essential, to the cause of national existence. What is it that in Eastern Europe has kept alive the spirit of a nation under the detestable yoke of Turkish oppression? The profound attachment of the Greeks to the Eastern Church. What was it that enabled the Spaniard to carry on this tremendous contest of eight centuries? His enthusiastic—if you will, his fanatical—devotion to the Cross and to the Crown. His existence was a perpetual crusade. The cause of his sovereign was the cause of Heaven. These are high-flown sentiments, which Mr. Buckle views with extreme compassion. But the practical result of them was, that Spain resumed her place amongst the Christian nations of Europe, and that if she had had less of bigotry or less of faith, she might have remained subject to a Moorish Khalifate, and have sunk into the condition of those once flourishing Christian provinces which still bear the burden of Mohammedan rulers. Indeed, Mr. Buckle himself acknowledges the force of this argument in another place, where he says that, 'nothing but the strictest discipline and the most unhesitating obedience could have enabled the Spaniards to make head against their enemies. Loyalty to their princes became not only expedient, but necessary' (p.28.). And in another place: 'the Church and the 'Crown, making common cause with each other, and being 'inspirited by the cordial support of the people, threw their whole soul into their enterprises, and displayed an ardour which could hardly fail to insure success' (p. 34.). Yet he considers these results as only ‘apparently beneficial,' and in the end unsound and even pernicious.
'The effect of all this on the Spanish character was most remarkable. During eight successive centuries, the whole country was engaged in a religious crusade; and those holy wars which other nations occasionally waged, were, in Spain, prolonged and continued for more than twenty generations. The object being not only to regain a territory, but also to re-establish a creed, it naturally happened that the expounders of that creed assumed a prominent and important position. In the camp and in the council-chamber, the voice of ecclesiastics was heard and obeyed; for as the war aimed at the propagation of Christianity, it seemed right that her ministers should play a conspicuous part in a matter which particularly concerned them.
'Under circumstances like these, the clergy could not fail to extend their influence; or, we may rather say, the course of events extended it for them. The Spanish Christians, pent up for a considerable time in the mountains of Asturias, and deprived of their former resources, quickly degenerated, and soon lost the scanty civilization to which they had attained. Stripped of all their wealth, and confined to what was comparatively a barren region, they relapsed into barbarism, and remained, for at least a century, without arts, or commerce, or literature. As their ignorance increased, so also did their superstition; while this last, in its turn, strengthened the authority of their priests. The order of affairs, therefore, was very natural. The Mohammedan invasion made the Christians poor; poverty caused ignorance; ignorance caused credulity; and credulity, depriving men both of the power and of the desire to investigate for themselves, encouraged a reverential spirit, and confirmed those submissive habits, and that blind obedience to the Church, which form the leading and most unfortunate peculiarity of Spanish history.' (Pp. 13-17.)
Mr. Prescott has related the same events in a far more philosophical spirit; and however we may deplore with him that this religious fervour of the Spanish character, settled in later days into a fierce fanaticism, it bespeaks an illiberal and partial mind not to recognise the glory which encircled the throne of Isabella the Catholic, the statesmanship of Ferdinand, and even the wisdom and benevolence of such a priest as Cardinal Cisneros. It is true that the religious motive predominated over all other motives in their minds. They engaged in the wars of Granada less to acquire territory than to regain the ancient domain of Christendom; and the same spirit animated Isabella when she engaged in that other enterprise which was to give a hemisphere to her descendants. It is equally true that this religious motive was, after the manner of that age, deeply tinged with intolerance and bigotry. But Mr. Buckle's mind is so constituted, that he sees and abhors the intolerance and the bigotry, without acknowledging the elevation of the motive or the grandeur of the result. Intolerance and bigotry are everywhere hateful, and nowhere so hateful as when they taint the purity and contract the range of noble minds. But what shall we say of an historian who, in dealing with the annals of Spain, and such personages as Isabella and Charles V., can find nothing to record of them but their acts of persecution?
Indeed, to such extravagant lengths has Mr. Buckle carried his one-sided argument, that in discussing the causes of the peculiar condition of Spain, he has passed over in total silence the discovery and conquest of America. If there be one event more than another in the history of mankind which has changed the destiny of nations, it is this; and Spain was the first country to feel the full effect of it. That spirit of adventure which had hitherto been consumed in the Moorish wars, was thenceforth, and for another century, poured forth on the New World. The whole economical condition of Spain was powerfully affected by the enormous quantities of the precious metals imported from America, and by the wealth obtained in daring or fortunate enterprises rather than by domestic industry. The powerful attraction of these Eldorados of the West weakened and demoralised the centre of Empire; and whatever may be the influence of Spanish superstition on the destiny of that people, we cannot entertain a doubt that the conquest of America, and the pernicious colonial policy which prevailed for nearly three centuries, had an equally powerful effect in corrupting the true sources of national prosperity. To this subject, however, Mr. Buckle does not allude in his Essay on Spain, because it is a special cause, not apparently falling within the law of general averages.
It is one of Mr. Buckle's favourite doctrines that governments, politicians, and even political institutions, have little or no permanent influence on human affairs — a maxim which, when applied to the course of history in any given country, leads him to very singular results. His entire sketch of the reign of Charles V. is comprised in the following lines:—
'Charles V., who succeeded Ferdinand in 1516, governed Spain for forty years, and the general character of his administration was the same as that of his predecessors. In regard to his foreign policy, his three principal wars were against France, against the German princes, and against Turkey. Of these, the first was secular; but the two last were essentially religious. In the German war, he defended the Church against innovation; and at the battle of Mühlberg, he so completely humbled the Protestant princes, as to retard for some time the progress of the Reformation. In his other great war, he, as the champion of Christianity against Mohammedanism, consummated what his grandfather Ferdinand had begun. Charles defeated and dislodged the Mohammedans in the East, just as Ferdinand had done in the West; the repulse of the Turks before Vienna being to the sixteenth century, what the conquest of the Arabs of Granada was to the fifteenth. It was, therefore, with reason that Charles, at the close of his career, could boast that he had always preferred his creed to his country, and that the first object of his ambition had been to maintain the interests of Christianity.' (Pp. 19, 20.)
The passage is scarcely worth quoting, except for the extraordinary statement with which it concludes. Ferdinand and Isabella overthrew the Moorish kingdom of Granada, and the Moors ceased to rule in Spain. Did Charles V. defeat and dislodge the Mohammedans in the East, 'just as Ferdinand had 'done in the West'? The whole statement is a blunder or a fabrication, and may be taken as a signal example of Mr. Buckle's 'irrefragable accuracy.' So far was Charles V. from defeating and dislodging the Mohammedans in the East at any period of his reign, that Solyman the Magnificent was then at the height of his power, and Germany was continually threatened by his arms. Instead of Charles V. 'dislodging' the Turks, the Turks more than once dislodged him. In 1526 the whole of Hungary was overrun, the battle of Mohacs fought, King Louis killed at it, and the Archduke Ferdinand assumed the Hungarian crown; but it was a crown without a kingdom. In 1529 Solyman invaded Austria and besieged Vienna itself; Charles was in Spain at the time, and took no part in the campaign; the defence of Vienna was entirely due to Ferdinand; but to compare the repulse of the Turks on that occasion to the conquest of Granada from the Moors, is a mere romance. So little did the Turks suffer from that repulse, that Solyman merely retired to Buda, and three years later Charles found himself obliged to take the field against the Sultan. Never, at any time, had the terror of the Turkish arms been more extreme. Germany was paralysed by the disunion which the Reformation had caused between the princes and states of the Empire. Charles condescended to send an ambassador to Constantinople, to propose, almost to sue for, peace. Solyman kept him waiting for a fortnight, contemptuously rejected his overture, and boasted that his object was not to attack the King of Hungary but the King of Spain. The Turkish army was again stopped in 1532, not by Charles, or at Vienna, but by the little fortress of Guns, vigorously defended by Nicolas Jurischitsch: and in the following year peace was signed with the Turk, which Charles was anxious to conclude on any terms. 'The Emperor,' says Zinkeisen, in his excellent history of the Ottoman Empire, [Zinkeisen, Geschichte der Osiranischen Reichs, vol. ii. p. 734.] 'was never in earnest in this Turkish war. He had neither liking nor energy for it.' This is what Mr. Buckle calls the ‘other great war' of Charles V., which he conceives to have been carried on with religious enthusiasm, and to have done for Solyman the Magnificent what Ferdinand had done for the feeble and unfortunate Boabdil.
Another event of more direct application to the condition of Spain is the destruction of the communeros of Castile, and of the political liberties of the country, in the rebellion of 1521. Mr. Buckle disposes very briefly of this occurrence, by asserting that 'it is quite certain that if the royalists had lost the battle of Villalar, instead of gaining it, the ultimate result would have been the same;' and further that ‘as the spirit of freedom never really existed in Spain, therefore the marks and 'forms of freedom were sure sooner or later to be effaced.' With regard to the first of these propositions, we remark that if it be true that 'general causes eventually triumph over every obstacle, and are irresistible in the average of affairs,' it is of no consequence whatever whether a battle is lost or won, or indeed whether any given event does or does not occur. But we may retort Mr. Buckle's argument on himself, by observing that those persons who think that the loss or gain of a battle does influence the course of human affairs, will reject his theory. In the second of the propositions quoted, he simply begs the whole question. Very different is the judgment of Principal Robertson on those memorable and mournful transactions:
'The grievances complained of and the remedies proposed by 'the English Commons in their contests with the Princes of the House of Stuart, particularly resemble those upon which the Juntas now insisted. But the Spaniards had already acquired ideas of their own liberty and independence, had formed bold and generous sentiments concerning government, and discovered an extent of political knowledge to which the English did not attain till more than a century afterwards.' [Robertson's Charles V., book iii. p. 168.]This again is a view of the Spanish character which does not suit Mr. Buckle's theory, and therefore the overthrow of the commons of Castile is omitted in his survey of the decline of Spain. In our judgment it is of all the causes of that decline the most potent and the most deplorable. The destruction of the constitutional rights of the nobles and the burgesses invested the Crown with absolute power: and the Crown of Spain invested with absolute power meant Philip II. in the plenitude of his malignant greatness, until it dwindled to Charles II. in the lowest degradation of human imbecility, or to Charles IV. in the last stages of swinish indulgence. We shall not follow Mr. Buckle through this portion of his Essay. Nothing that even he can say of that race of sanguinary and selfish bigots can exceed our abhorrence of them. But we deny that the Court of Madrid is to be regarded as the sole test of the spirit of the Spanish people. Mr. Buckle has fixed his attention on the records of a profligate and bigoted Court, but he knows absolutely nothing of the people of Spain. He never alludes to that sense of personal dignity and that spirit of local independence which under the worst of governments have still kept alive the spirit of a great people. We infer from the tenor of his observations that the information he has laboriously accumulated is entirely derived from books. There is not an indication of personal knowledge or original observation in his pages; and if he has ever visited Spain or even Scotland, we must conclude that he is absolutely devoid of the faculty of observing the living realities of the world. The consequence is that his sketch of these countries altogether wants the most essential qualities of truth and expression. It is a portrait drawn after a photograph — with a certain amount of caricature in some of the more prominent features, and an entire failure in the general effect.
We have made but little progress in pointing out Mr. Buckle's blunders and omissions, for our remarks have been confined to the first twenty pages of his volume, and the whole work affords an equally fertile field for criticism. But we have said enough to show the value of this portion of his labours, though we had marked several other passages for comment. A passing allusion to one or two of them must suffice. Thus Mr. Buckle, not content with pointing out the temporary regeneration of Spain by the able and patriotic ministers of Charles III., calls that prince a 'man of great energy,' 'enlightened, indeed, in comparison with his subjects.' If Mr. Buckle will take the trouble to examine the first Lord Auckland's journal of his residence at the court of that prince, he will perceive to what this energy and enlightenment amounted. The reign of Charles III. was, by comparison, a brilliant period in the history of Spain, for she was neither robbed by foreigners nor torn by revolutions; and the consequence was a great and immediate improvement in her condition; but the personal merits of Charles III. himself have been considerably exaggerated by M. Rio and Archdeacon Coxe, who are Mr. Buckle's principal authorities.
[For example, he speaks after Rio of the agricultural settlements called 'La Carolina,' in the Sierra Morena, and of 6000 Dutch and Flemish invited to settle there. The settlers were not Dutch and Flemish, but German, and more especially Swiss. All the promises made to the settlers were broken; most of them perished miserably; and Don Pablo Olavide, a Peruvian, who was the author of the scheme, narrowly escaped from the fury of the Inquisition. Mr. Buckle quotes from Muriel a passage, speaking of 'the town of Almuradiel, in the middle of the campo nuevo of Andalusia, for the rugged pass of Despena Perros;' but he evidently misunderstands the passage, for Almuradiel lies north of the Sierra, and is not in Andalusia, but in the plain of La Mancha. In the reign of Charles III. he takes the pompous language of the Spanish historiographers for sober reality; but then Charles III. expelled the Jesuits and distrusted the priests, redeeming qualities in a Spanish king.]
Mr. Buckle winds up this singular survey of the past history of Spain by some observations on the present condition of that country, which must be imputed to gross misrepresentation if they do not originate in still grosser ignorance. He asserts that 'no ameliorations can possibly be effected in Spain, which will penetrate below the surface, until the superstition of the people be weakened by the march of physical science' (p. 146.); he believes that 'in Spain there never has been a revolution properly so called'; and that 'Spain sleeps on untroubled, unheeding, impassive, receiving no impressions from the rest of the world, and making no impressions upon it' (p. 154.). It happens, unluckily for Mr. Buckle's theories and for his accuracy, that these statements are totally at variance with facts. We confidently assert that the progress made by Spain in the last ten years is great and astonishing. Mr. Buckle appears not to be aware that the Church and the ecclesiastical corporations have been divested of their enormous endowments; that the clergy are now paid a moderate stipend by the State; and that religious orders of men no longer exist in the kingdom, whilst those of women are greatly reduced. The operation of the law of Desamortizacion has thrown immense quantities of land into the market, and agriculture is making considerable progress. The finances of the kingdom have recovered their equilibrium; they have been judiciously applied in part to the organisation of a well-quipped and efficient army, and to the creation of a steam navy; a general system of railroads has already opened communication between Madrid and the Mediterranean—it will shortly be extended to the Pyrenees and the Atlantic ports; the press of Spain is liberally conducted and at least as free as that of any continental country; some progress has already been made in the reduction of custom-house duties; and the whole kingdom shows signs of prosperity and activity which have been unknown for centuries. It is true that deplorable traces of religious bigotry still linger in the country; the Queen is under the influence of a crazy nun, and the Government is still thwarted by the bigotry of the Church; perhaps this spirit has been aggravated among the clergy and at the Court by the evident advance of inquiry and freedom; but Mr. Buckle is totally mistaken if he believes this to be the prevailing disposition of the Spanish people at the present time. The Spaniards are jealous of foreign interference, extravagantly proud of their own importance, attached to the Catholic faith, and weary of revolutions; but they are no longer the priest-ridden and servile race which Mr. Buckle most erroneously and inaccurately describes. [Of this the most melancholy proof is the incarceration of Matamoros and Alhama, pious and inoffensive men, who have been consigned for months to the dungeons of Granada, for no other crime than the profession of the faith of the Gospel, because the law of Spain tolerates no dissent from the Catholic Church. These odious acts, resembling the prosecution of the Madiai by the late Grand Duke of Tuscany, are disgraceful to the Spanish government, and strangely at variance with the general spirit of their policy; but it is unjust to impute them to the whole nation.] The revolution has done its work, and Spain is steadily resuming a considerable position in the family of nations.
It is not our intention, in the few pages that we can devote to the remaining chapters of Mr. Buckle's volume, to engage in a minute discussion of the facts he has collected, or the inferences he has drawn from them, in relation to Scotland. The task would be as wearisome as the endless array of Mr. Buckle's own authorities; for we confidently assert that there is scarcely a statement in his work which is not capable of being modified or explained in a different manner by other facts which he has omitted or suppressed. His mind is so devoid of breadth, and his mode of inquiry so opposed to candour, that he is absolutely incapable of seeing the whole of any subject, and his dogmatism is naturally accounted for by the fact that he discovers nothing but what is consistent with his preconceived opinions.
To point out these misrepresentations and shortcomings in detail would be an easy, if it were not an endless task; but it demands far more space than we are disposed to bestow on Mr. Buckle. We shall, therefore, content ourselves with applying the test of inquiry to three or four of the general principles he has evolved from his study of Scottish history, and leave the details to the appreciation of the reader. But first let us state, injustice to Mr. Buckle, and in his own words for the most part, what his version of the History of Scotland is. He starts from the proposition that Scotland and Spain are very dissimilar in loyalty, but similar in regard to superstition, and that the Scotch unite liberality in politics with illiberality in religion. He then traces the physical character and the earlier annals of the country, showing that they gave excessive power to the nobles, and that this excessive power of the nobles led before the Reformation to a union between the Church and the Crown. The effect of this combination was that, at the period of the Reformation, the sovereign threw himself entirely into the arms of the Church, whilst the nobles embraced the Protestant movement, but soon afterwards began to quarrel with the Reformed preachers about the wealth of the Church. The nobles and the Crown then upheld episcopacy; the Kirk openly proclaimed democratic principles; and in the long contest which ensued victory finally remained on the popular and presbyterian side: but the immense power acquired by the clergy in the course of this struggle gave birth to an intense religious illiberality and asceticism, the national character was mutilated, and the effects of national superstition are felt to the present time, in spite of the philosophical literature of Scotland in the eighteenth century and the rapid growth of her material prosperity.
Stated in these general terms, there is some ingenuity and some truth in Mr. Buckle's sketch of the History of Scotland. It is scarcely possible to overrate the rude poverty of this kingdom in the Middle Ages. The royal burgh of Dunfermline was a poor village of wooden huts, and the entire population of Glasgow, as late as the middle of the fifteenth century, did not exceed 1500 persons; nay, the inhabitants of the capital, in the reign of Robert II., were about 16,000. Skilled labour was hardly known, and life and property were eminently insecure. Having drawn this gloomy, but probably true picture of the barbarous state of Scotland in the fifteenth century, it would have been no more than just to inquire what it was that, even in that age, gave Scotland a claim to rank among the civilised nations of Europe? We reply, without hesitation, that it was mainly her great ecclesiastical foundations. In those dreadful ages when law had no authority and wealth no protection but the sword, the monasteries and secular clergy kept alive the light of civilisation and learning, and afforded the only asylum of order and peace. Mr. Buckle himself says that 'the Church was the best avenue to wealth, so that it was entered by peaceful men for the purpose of security, and by 'ambitious men as the truest means of achieving distinction': but he fails to perceive that such a body, protected from outrage by what he calls superstition, was in fact the guardian of civilisation itself in a barbarous age. The more barbarous he makes out the country to have been, the more essential is the service rendered by the Church.
Before, however, we proceed further, it is necessary to show what Mr. Buckle means by the word superstition. He applies it indiscriminately to the most brutal forms of idolatry, to the most extravagant legends of Romanism, to the most repulsive tenets of Calvinism; but he applies it, in fact, no less to every form of Christian faith, because he absolutely rejects all belief whatever in supernatural interference (and consequently in any form of revelation) since the dawn of creation, and he even extends it to the faith of the Deist, because he denies with equal scorn the doctrine of the Moral Government of the world. These charges are so grave, that we prefer to leave Mr. Buckle to describe his opinions in his own words:—
'Having once recognised that the condition of the material universe, at any one moment, is simply the result of every thing which has happened at all preceding moments, and that the most trivial disturbance would so violate the general scheme, as to render anarchy inevitable, and that, to sever from the total mass even the minutest fragment, would, by dislocating the structure, bury the whole in one common ruin, we, thus admitting the exquisite adjustment of the different parts, and discerning, too, in the very beauty and completeness of the design, the best proof that it has never been tampered with by the Divine Architect, who called it into being, in whose Omniscience both the plan, and the issue of the plan, resided with such clearness and unerring certainty, that not a stone in that superb and symmetrical edifice has been touched since the foundation of the edifice was laid, are, by ascending to this pitch and elevation of thought, most assuredly advancing towards that far higher step, which it will remain for our posterity to take, and which will raise their view to so commanding a height, as to insure the utter rejection of those old and eminently irreligious dogmas of supernatural interference with the affairs of life, which superstition has invented, and ignorance has bequeathed, and the present acceptance of which betokens the yet early condition of our knowledge, the penury of our intellectual resources, and the inveteracy of the prejudices in which we are still immersed.' (Pp. 489, 490.)And again:—
'While, however, in regard to the material world, the narrow notions formerly entertained are, in the most enlightened countries, almost extinct, it must be confessed that, in regard to the moral world, the progress of opinion is less rapid. The same men who believe that Nature is undisturbed by miraculous interposition, refuse to believe that Man is equally undisturbed. In the one case, they assert the scientific doctrine of regularity; in the other, they assert the theological doctrine of irregularity. . . . Science has explained an immense number of physical phenomena, and therefore, even to the vulgar, those phenomena no longer seem supernatural, but are ascribed to natural causes. On the other hand, science has not yet explained the phenomena of history; consequently the theological spirit lays hold of them, and presses them into its own service. In this way, there has arisen that famous and ancient theory, which has received the name of the moral government of the world. It is a high-sounding title, and imposes on many, who, if they examined its pretensions, would never be duped by them. For, like that other notion which we have just considered, it is not only unscientific, but it is eminently irreligious.
'For when you assert what is termed the moral government of the world, you slander Omniscience, inasmuch as you declare that the mechanism of the entire universe, including the actions both of Nature and of Man, planned as it is by Infinite Wisdom, is unequal to its duties, unless that same Wisdom does from time to time interfere with it.' (Pp. 597-600.)We leave the reader to judge from these passages to what it is that Mr. Buckle limits the sum of human belief, if indeed that term can hold any place in his vocabulary. But it is clear and certain that he rejects every form of supernatural revelation, and the governing power of a Divine Providence, except in as far as the same is exercised in pursuance of established physical laws. That is Mr. Buckle's creed: we shall not pause to point out its moral consequences, or to ask him what would become of his established physical laws, if they were not in reality forces impelled and guided by the never-ceasing will of Omnipotence. These questions would lead us too far from our immediate subject.
It follows by strict and legitimate inference that Mr. Buckle ranks under the term superstition, one in kind though different in degree, the Hindu at the wheels of Juggernaut; the Spanish peasant invoking the Virgin and the Saints; men like Pascal, who have allied the highest powers of the intellect to an intense conviction of the Christian verities; and men like Cromwell, who, though endowed with the highest powers of action, lived ever in the Great Taskmaster's eye,' and with a reverent sense of the all-pervading presence of the Deity in the moral as in the physical world. Mr. Buckle therefore in effect refuses to discriminate between the dark delusions of heathenism and the temper of an earnest God-fearing people, which walks according to its light, in the faith of the Gospel. If indeed there be no better foundation for the belief of the one than for the belief of the other, and if it be true that 'what remains of the domain of theology is hardly worth the struggle to defend it, and cannot be defended at all by a chain of inductive reasoning,' Mr. Buckle's philosophy will supersede the religion of the civilised world: but we cannot at present admit the wisdom or the fairness of a writer who affects to describe the character and intellect of a people, when he denies the first elements on which their civilisation and opinions are founded.
Indeed Mr. Buckle himself appears to be so far aware of the weakness of his case that in order to support an overwhelming charge of bigotry and superstition against the people of Scotland for three centuries, he has ransacked the records of mystics and fanatics, he has waded through a course of Presbyterian sermons, and he has collected an enormous mass of extravagant and revolting examples of the abuse of spiritual power. There is, however, less originality in this part of his volume than he appears to imagine. Every one who has a moderate acquaintance with Scottish Church History has heard of the 'Experiences of Mr. Peden,' and 'Satan's Invisible World discovered': they are just as well known, and of as much authority on this side the Border, as the Life of William Huntington, S.S., or the Visions of Joanna Southcote may be on the other. [Mr. Robert Chambers's most instructive and entertaining volumes, 'The Domestic Annals of Scotland,' compiled from original sources, afford innumerable examples of the intolerance, superstition, and lawlessness of our ancestors down to the last century, and these are recorded with a thorough knowledge of the country, to which Mr. Buckle certainly cannot aspire.] Mr. Buckle's blunder consists in quoting these works and these events as in a peculiar manner characteristic of Scotland; they belong to the history of religious enthusiasm all over the world; they are the very basis of the ascetic practices of the Romish Church, of the monastic orders, and of the celibacy of the clergy; they occur with peculiar force in every country where Calvinistic tenets have been strictly held — they manifested themselves with ridiculous violence in England during the Great Rebellion; they reached their acme in the theocratic commonwealths of New England; and they prevail at this very instant, in spite of the noonday sunshine of modern civilisation and physical science, in the disgusting excesses of Mormonism and the Agapemone. Nay, they prevail not only in the frantic excitement of an American revival, but in the heart of London, in Exeter Hall, and in the practices of a considerable portion of English society. Any writer who may choose to misapply an industry equal to that of Mr. Buckle in ransacking the records of credulity and fanaticism throughout the world, would have no difficulty in accumulating a similar collection of the aberrations of faith from every nation under heaven. [See, for example, Sydney Smith's inimitable article on Methodism in this Journal for 1808, and in his collected works. Some of the instances quoted by Mr. Buckle show a ludicrous ignorance of the subject he is dealing with. Thus he finds in 'Abernethy's Physick 'for the Soul,' the words ' Hell hath enlarged itself,' which he expands into the following sentence: 'Ample, however, as the arrangements were (for future punishment), they were insufficient; and hell, not being big enough to contain the countless victims incessantly poured into it, had, in these latter days, been enlarged. There was now sufficient room.' Mr. Buckle is evidently not at all aware that the Scotch divine was merely quoting from an older author, the Prophet Isaiah, chap. v. ver. 14.: 'Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and 'opened her mouth without measure.' Irrefragable evidence!] Fanaticism is of no country; it is an overgrowth of the human mind, but it may sometimes spring from the same root as the noblest and truest aspirations of human nature.
If Mr. Buckle had been so minded, he might with equal truth have limited his researches to the three kingdoms united under the British sceptre and have proved that they are the most benighted portion of Europe, for in no part of Europe does the 'theological' theory prevail with more entire sway. In Ireland, Mr. Buckle would find the Church of Rome wholly unrestrained by the action of the civil power, and enjoying a degree of authority over the mass of the people, which has never been surpassed in any country or in any age; in Scotland he has sufficiently denounced the extremes of Calvinism and Presbyterian Church government; and even in England, if he will candidly pursue his inquiries into the prevailing theological opinions of what are called the Evangelical sects and a large portion of the middle classes, we are afraid that he will find at least as much narrowness and intolerance as in any part of the world. But while, in common with Mr. Buckle, we deplore the extent to which these extravagant opinions exist amongst ourselves, we draw from the fact a totally opposite conclusion. We infer from it, not that men of strong religious sentiments are necessarily the most benighted of mankind, but that intolerance itself is but the excess of the earnestness and deep conviction which produce energetic characters, and that faith, even though it be tinged with superstition, is a far surer foundation of national greatness and of personal virtue, than the destructive agency of scepticism or the vacant creed which denies the Providential attributes of God.
But Mr. Buckle asserts that whatever may have been the fanaticism of other countries and other Churches, Scotland stands on a bad pre-eminence, comparable only to the intense bigotry of Spain, by reason of the political power the clergy acquired and the social influence they have retained. The following passage expresses with fairness and moderation his view of the chief cause of this domination:—
'For a hundred and twenty years after the establishment of Protestantism, the rulers of Scotland either neglected the Church or persecuted it, thereby driving the clergy into the arms of the people, from whom alone they could obtain sympathy and support. Hence an alliance between the two parties, more intimate than would otherwise have been possible; and hence, too, the rise of that democratic spirit which was the necessary consequence of such an union, and which the clergy encouraged, because they were opposed and thwarted by the upper classes. So far, the result was extremely beneficial, as it produced a love of independence and a hatred of tyranny, which, twice during the seventeenth century, saved the country from the yoke of a cruel despotism. But these very circumstances, which guarded the people against political despotism, exposed them all the more to ecclesiastical despotism. For, having no one to trust except their preachers, they trusted them entirely, and upon all subjects. The clergy gradually became supreme, not only in spiritual matters, but also in temporal ones. Late in the sixteenth century, they had been glad to take refuge among the people; before the middle of the seventeenth century, they ruled the people. How shamefully they abused their power, and how, by encouraging the worst kind of superstition, they prolonged the reign of ignorance, and stopped the march of society, will be related in the course of this chapter; but, in fairness to them, we ought to acknowledge, that the religious servitude into which the Scotch fell during the seventeenth century, was, on the whole, a willing one, and that, mischievous as it was, it had at least a noble origin, inasmuch as the influence of the Protestant clergy is mainly to be ascribed to the fearlessness with which they came forward as leaders of the people, at a period when that post was full of danger, and when the upper classes were ready to unite with the crown in destroying the last vestiges of national liberty.' (Pp. 330, 331.)It is a remarkable circumstance that in this passage and throughout this Essay, Mr. Buckle appears never to have taken the trouble to inform himself or to explain to his readers, what the constitution of the Church of Scotland really is: had he done so, he would have perceived that the use of the words 'clergy,' 'priest-ridden,' 'ecclesiastical despotism,' and the like, are inapplicable to the subject. The essential condition of the Church of Scotland is, in the words of one of its latest historians, that from the very first it laid aside the notion of priestly exclusiveness. ['Cunningham's Church History of Scotland,'vol. i. p. 481., an excellent and liberal book, which Mr. Buckle might have consulted with advantage. We hope to give a more extended notice of it in our next number.] The laity were largely admitted into all its courts, just because it did not recognise the distinction between the laity and the clergy. It never knew a sacerdotal caste. Every man in the nation professing the Reformed faith, who held a high office or an influential position, was invited to attend the General Assembly. In the first General Assembly there were but forty-one members, of whom only six were ministers. The General Assembly was from the first a representative body, and a much more thorough representation of the people at large than the Scottish Parliament. The same condition pervaded all the Church Courts, down to the Kirk Session; and whatever their spirit may have been, it was and is undoubtedly not the spirit of the clergy alone, but the genuine spirit and will of the nation.
Mr. Buckle has correctly described the spirit of the Church of Scotland as democratic, and he acknowledges the services it has rendered in the worst of times to civil liberty. But he entirely fails to perceive that the true cause of the want of enlightenment and tolerance which he deplores in the Scotch clergy is their dependence on the least enlightened and tolerant portion of the people.
Had Mr. Buckle possessed any real knowledge of Scotland, or had he been able to discover in books the true key to her history, he would have perceived that it is not the people who are overridden by the clergy, but the clergy who are overridden by the people. Everything has been done to lower the minister to the rank of the servant of his congregation. The divine commission of the priesthood is fiercely denied; the right of temporal patronage vehemently disputed; the admission of ministers by the call of the Presbyteries rigidly maintained; the control of lay members of the Church is exercised even over the doctrine preached from the pulpit. [The Presbyteries exercised an equal control over the ministers and the people. Thus, when a committee of the Presbytery of Strathbogie visited the parish of Rhynie, they interrogated the elders as to the efficiency of the minister, who 'all in one voice deponed that concerning his literature he was very weak, and gave them little or no comfort in his ministry.'] This one fact explains the whole maze of events in which Mr. Buckle has lost his way. The revolutions and persecutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries threw the Reformed ministers of the Church of Scotland on the body of the people. The Church became, what it still is, essentially the Church of the people, and at the same time the principal seat and instrument of popular power. It was the most formidable engine of resistance to the prerogatives of the Crown and the dominion of the great owners of the soil, but it has exercised in its own sphere an authority not less absolute and arbitrary.
The immediate subjects of this democratic authority were the clergy themselves: far from being its masters, they have too often been its slaves. The Reformation, which gave so great an impulse to learning in England and in Germany, lowered the standard of scholarship in Scotland. The parochial schools flourished within certain limits, the high schools and the universities held a humbler position than they ought to have done; though, by the way, Mr. Buckle is again wrong in stating that the Scotch Universities are under the control of the clergy: it is notorious that they have, till lately, been mainly governed by municipal authorities, neither academical nor clerical. Everything conspired to place the ministers at the mercy of the prejudices, and even of the vices, of their flocks; being compelled to descend to this level, the Church gradually counted in its ministry fewer members of the most highly educated classes of society; it has made up in violence what it lacked in wisdom; it has alienated to a considerable degree the higher classes from its communion; whilst the extreme democracy of the Church chose to throw off even the slight restraint of the law, and seek in a vast schism to exercise a still more paramount authority. [Even the intensely doctrinal tone of Scotch preaching, and the tendency to Antinomianism which pervades it, are attributable to this cause. It is extremely rare to meet with a Scotch minister who dares to pronounce from the pulpit a searching denunciation of those grosser violations of moral laws to which both sexes are in many parts of Scotland unhappily too prone. The theology of Scotland has so moulded itself to the popular mind, that the habits and prejudices of the people have sensibly affected the importance attached to the truths and the laws of Christianity itself.] If Mr. Buckle is anxious to extend his gloomy catalogue of the misdeeds of ignorant fanaticism, he will find an abundant harvest in those popular sects which have, both in Scotland and in England, been most eager to throw off clerical authority. He will find the Free Kirk of Scotland incomparably more imbued with the doctrines he abhors than the Established Church. He may hear in an English Methodist Meeting, or a Baptist Tabernacle, the superstitions which he conceives to be most adverse to the progress of the human mind. And we hope he will forgive us for asserting our conviction that the safest barrier against the excess of popular fanaticism and intolerance, which we dread and deplore as much as Mr. Buckle, is an enlightened clergy, independent by position, tolerant by reason, and attached to the service of a Church which is not governed by the prejudices of the lower orders.
Mr. Buckle speaks with extreme contempt of the state of literature in Scotland in the seventeenth century, and calls Burnet the only Scotch writer of eminence from the Restoration down to the Union. We should have thought that the eloquence and wisdom of Archbishop Leighton might have exempted him from this sweeping act of oblivion. But Mr. Buckle also forgets that 'the Aberdeen Doctors' of the seventeenth century, as they were called, Bishop Patrick Forbes, Dr. John Forbes, Dr. William Leslie, who defended the moderate Episcopacy of Scotland against the Covenanters, formed as learned and accomplished a society as Scotland has ever known. They were crushed by a visitation of the Presbyterian Assembly of 1640. 'The Assembly's errand,' says Gordon of Rothinsay, 'was thoroughly done; these eminent divines of Aberdeen either dead, deposed, or banished; in whom fell more learning than was left in all Scotland beside at that time.' At this very time when learning was most depressed by revolutionary violence in Scotland, there was hardly a University in Protestant Europe which did not boast of its Scotch Professors; and Scotland was as well known abroad by the men of letters she sent forth, as by the soldiers of fortune who fought the battles of Gustavus.
Mr. Buckle does not appear to be aware (or at least he never adverts to the fact) that for upwards of a century two great parties have existed in the Church of Scotland—the Moderate party, and the Popular party—names which already indicate their respective positions. The Moderate party, which sought to maintain the authority of the higher Church Courts, has been constantly on the side of liberal opinions and toleration. In the last century it reckoned Principal Robertson as its acknowledged head; it counted men like Thomas Reid, John Home, Drs. Beattie, Blair, and George Campbell, the antagonist of David Hume, among its members. [An excellent account of the Moderate party will be found in the interesting book, entitled 'My own Life and Times,' by the late Dr. Somerville, minister of Jedburgh, recently published in Edinburgh. So little is the General Assembly a conclave of fanatical priests, that in the last century Sir Gilbert Elliot, Henry Dundas, and Sir Henry Jardine took a prominent part in its debates.] These divines defended patronage because it tended to raise the character of the clergy by making them less dependent on the opinions and the passions of the people. Their opponents, in the name of what they called 'God's people,' appealed to those traditions of the Covenant which cause such infinite surprise and dismay to Mr. Buckle. The same contest has gone on to the present day, and whatever may be the strength of the Popular party in numbers and in intolerance, we deny that they exclusively represent the mind of the Church of Scotland, still less the mind of the Scottish nation.
For there is this contradiction, by which the science of Mr. Buckle is sorely perplexed, that at the very time when he discovers numerous indications of extreme bigotry and superstition in the annals of the Scottish people, he is compelled to acknowledge that no part of Britain, and no country in Europe, could boast of a more splendid array of intellectual gifts—more acute and ingenious philosophers, more accomplished historians, more wise economists, more profound men of science. To these Mr. Buckle has somewhat ungraciously done justice, though he attributes to the deductive method of their reasoning the slender influence exercised by such men in correcting the prejudices of the nation at large. [With his accustomed proneness to hasty generalisation, Mr. Buckle attempts to show that the Scotch philosophers are all prone to the method of a priori reasoning, now called the deductive method. He even quotes John Hunter and Black in proof of this assertion, though their experiments are models of inductive observation. Does not Mr. Buckle perceive that the true progress of science depends on the use of both methods, each in its proper place; and that in Scotland, as well as in England, both have been employed?] But this contrast proves that it is not on Scotland or on the Scottish character, that the reproach of these prejudices falls, but on the peculiar institutions which keep them in viridi observantia among the humbler classes of society; just as the mists of our Scottish hills lie thick upon the valley, long after the mountain top is exulting in the sunshine. The essential difference between the historical phenomena which Mr. Buckle discovers alike in Spain and in Scotland, is, that in Spain an arbitrary and sacerdotal Church has imposed its yoke on the mind of the nation—in Scotland, a democratic Church has blended the religious convictions of the laity with the exercise of spiritual power; in one case the influence came from above; in the other from below.
If there be any truth in these general criticisms, they are fatal to Mr. Buckle's pretensions. He has not founded the science of history; he has not thrown any fresh light or certainty on the objects of historical inquiry by the application of his general principles. Whatever merit or value his book may possess is due not to its general principles, but to the industry with which he has accumulated a large mass of heterogeneous extracts from many writers. He has applied his system to Spain and Scotland in the volume now before us, but the result is that the peculiar characteristics of the Spanish and Scottish nations are mainly due to special occurrences rather than to general causes. Mr. Buckle's theory utterly fails to explain such events as the invasion and final expulsion of the Moors, the discovery of America, or the democratic form of the Scotch Reformation; and these peculiar events manifestly originated in circumstances, which, if he explains them at all, he must explain by other means. If Mr. Buckle had the faculty of looking with somewhat less of passion on human affairs, he would perceive, that opinions and events which to him appear to be good or evil are in fact so mixed up and interdependent, that evil is often the parent of good, and good sometimes the parent of evil. Nothing in life deserves unqualified abhorrence or unqualified admiration. For, as every individual man now living in the world is the descendant of innumerable progenitors, ascending in geometrical progression from his own parents to their parents, and so on in an extending series, every event is the result of an infinite number of causes, some great, some small, some visible, some imperceptible, but all in their degree contributing to each particular consequence. ‘It were infinite,' said Lord Bacon, 'to judge the causes of causes, and their impulsions one of another.' To embrace this infinite series is in the power of Omniscience alone; and, as the omission of a single unit in an intricate calculation disturbs the whole result, so in the great reckoning of human history no positive general knowledge can be reached without faculties far surpassing those of man. In the divine order of the universe, doubtless each particular event, becoming in its turn the cause of innumerable other events, has its appropriate place and object; and the great mystery of creation is that every event conspires to advance the progress of the whole, although the freedom of the will of intelligent beings remains unfettered in all parts. To explain that mystery is the task of a purer philosophy than that of the writer before us, and of a nobler state of being than that of man. Mr. Buckle has yet to learn another lesson. Knowledge and power, as he conceives them, what are they (to use the language of Mr. Tennyson), if they be cut off from reverence and charity, and if no higher hand guide the course of life from a divine commencement to some diviner end?
Edinburgh Review, April 1858 and July 1861.