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comprehensive views of human affairs. She ascribes less importance than is usually done to our attainments in mere science, and the arts that relate to matter; and augurs less confidently as to the future fortune of the species, from the exploits of Newton, Watt, and Davy, than from those of Bacon, Bossuet, Locke, Hume, and Voltaire. In eloquence, too, and in taste and fancy, she admits that there has been a less conspicuous advancement; because, in these things, there is a natural limit or point of perfection, which has been already attained: but there are no boundaries to the increase of human knowledge, or to the discovery of the means of human happiness; and every step that is gained in those higher walks, is gained, she conceives, for posterity and for ever.
The great objection derived from the signal check which the arts and civility of life received from the inroads of the northern barbarians on the decline of the Roman power, and the long period of darkness and degradation which ensued, she endeavours to obviate, by a very bold and ingenious speculation. It is her object here to show, that the invasion of the northern tribes not only promoted their own civilization more effectually than any thing else could have done, but actually imparted to the genius of the vanquished, a character of energy, solidity and seriousness, which could never have sprung up of itself in the volatile regions of the south. The amalgamation of the two races, she thinks, has produced a mighty improvement on both; and the vivacity, the elegance and versatility of the warmer latitudes, been mingled, infinitely to their mutual advantage, with the majestic melancholy, the profound thought, and the sterner morality of the north. This combination, again, she conceives, could have been effected in no way so happily as by the successful invasion of the ruder people, and the conciliating influence of that common faith, which at once repressed the frivolous, and mollified the ferocious tendencies of our nature. The temporary disappearance, therefore, of literature and politeness, upon the first shock of this mighty collision, was but the subsidence of the sacred flame under the heaps of fuel which were thus profusely provided for its increase; and the seeming waste and sterility that ensued, was but the first aspect of the fertilizing flood and accumulated manure under which vegetation was buried for a while, that it might break out at last with a richer and more indestructible luxuriance. The human intellect was neither dead nor inactive, she contends, during that long slumber, in which it was collecting vigour for unprecedented exertions; and the occupations to which it was devoted, though not of the most brilliant or attractive description, were perhaps the best fitted for its ultimate and substantial improvement. The subtle distinctions, the refined casuistry, and ingenious logic of the
VOL. II. Ner Series.
school divines, were all favourable to habits of careful and accurate thinking; and led insensibly to a far more thorough and profound knowledge of human nature the limits of its faculties and the grounds of its duties—than had been attained by the more careless inquirers of antiquity. When men, therefore, began again to reason upon human affairs, they were found to have made an immense progress during the period when all appeared to be either retrograde or stationary; and Shakspeare, Bacon, Machiavel, Montaigne, and Galileo, who appeared, almost at the same time, in the most distant countries of Europe; each displayed a reach of thought and a power of reasoning which we should look for in vain in the eloquent dissertations of the classical ages. To them succeeded such men as Jeremy Taylor, Moliere, Pascal, Locke, and La Bruyere--all of them observers of a character, to which there is nothing at all parallel in antiquity; and yet only preparing the way, in the succeeding age, for Montesquieu, Hume, Voltaire, Smith, Burke, Malthus, and so many others, who have made the world familiar with truths, which, however important and demonstrable at all times, certainly never entered into the conception of the earlier inhabitants of the world. Those truths, and others still more important, of which they are destined to be the parents, have already, according to Mad. de Staël, produced a prodigious alteration, and an incalculable improvement on the condition of human nature. Through their influence, assisted no doubt by that of the gospel, slavery has been abolished, trade and industry set free from restriction, and war disarmed of half its horrors; while, in private life, women have been restored to their just rank in society; sentiments of justice and humanity have been universally cultivated, and public opinion been armed with a power which renders every other both safe and salutary.
Many of these truths, which were once the derided discoveries of men of original genius, are now admitted as elementary principles in the reasonings of ordinary people; and are every day extending their empire, and multiplying their progeny. Mad. de Staël sees no reason to doubt, therefore, that they will one day inherit the whole earth; and, under their reign, she takes it to be clear, that war and poverty, and all the misery that arises from vice and ignorance, will disappear from the face of society; and that men universally, convinced that justice and benevolence are the true sources of enjoyment, will seek their own happiness in a constant endeavour to promote that of their neighbours.
It would be very agreeable to believe all this in spite of the grudging which would necessarily arise, froin the reflection that we were born so much too soon for virtue and enjoyment in this world. But it is really impossible to overlook the manifold imperfections of the reasoning on which this splendid anticipation is
founded ;-though it may be worth while to ascertain, if possible, in what degree it is founded in truth.
The first thing that occurs to a sober-minded listener to this dream of perfectibility, is the extreme narrowness of the induction from which these sweeping conclusions are so confidently deduced. A progress that is in its own nature infinite and irre. sistible, must necessarily have been both universal and unremitting; and yet the evidence of its existence is founded, if we do not deceive ourselves, upon the history of a very small portion of the human race, for a very small number of generations. The proposition is, that the human species is advancing, and has always advanced, to a state of perfection, by a law of their nature, of the existence of which their past history and present state leaves no room to doubt. But when we cast a glance upon this high destined species, we find this necessary and eternal progress scarcely begun in the old inbabited continent of Africa-stationary, as far back as our information reaches, in China---and retrograde, for a period of at least twelve centuries, and up to this day, in Egypt, India, Persia, and Greece. Even in our own Europe, which contains, probably, less than one tenth part of our kind, it is admitted, that, for upwards of a thousand years, this great work of moral nature not only stood still, but went visibly backwards over its fairest regions; and though there has been a prodigious progress in England, and France, and Germany, during the last two hundred years, it may be doubted whether any thing of this sort can be said of Spain or Italy, or various other portions of this favoured quarter of the world. It may be very natural for Mad. de Staël, or for us, looking only to what has happened in our own world, and in our own times, to indulge in those dazzling views of the unbounded and universal improvement of the whole human race; but such speculations would appear rather wild, we suspect, to those whose lot it is to philosophize among the unchanging nations of Asia ; and would probably carry even something of ridicule with them, if propounded upon the ruins of Thebes or Babylon, or even among the profaned relics of Athens or Rome.
We are not inclined, however, to push this very far. The world is certainly something the wiser for its past experience; and there is an accumulation of useful knowledge, which we think likely to increase. The invention of printing and fire arms, and the perfect communication that is established over all Europe, insures us, we think, against any considerable falling back in respect to the sciences, or the arts and attainments that minister to the conveniences of ordinary life. We have no idea that any of the important discoveries of modern times will ever again be lost or forgotten; or that any future generation will be put to the trouble of inventing, for a second time, the art of making
gunpowder or telescopes—the astronomy of Newton, or the mechanics of Watt. All knowledge which admits of demonstration will advance, we have no doubt, and extend itself; and all processes will be improved, that do not interfere with the passions of human nature, or the apparent interest of its ruling classes. But with regard to every thing depending on probable reasoning, or susceptible of debate, and especially with regard to every thing touching morality and enjoyment, we really are not sanguine enough to reckon on any considerable improvement; and suspect that men will go on blundering in speculation, and transgressing in practice, pretty nearly as they do at present, to the latest period of their history.
In the nature of things, indeed, there can be no end to disputes, upon probable, or what is called moral evidence; nor to the contradictory conduct, and consequent hostility and oppression, which must result from the opposite views that are taken of such subjects ;--and that, partly, because the elements that are to be taken into the calculation are so vast and numerous, that the most material must always be overlooked by persons of ordinary talent and information; and partly because there not only is no standard by which the value of those elements can be ascertained and made manifest, but that they actually have a different value to almost every different individual. With regard to all nice, and indeed all debatable questions of happiness or morals, therefore, there never can be any agreement among men; because, in reality, there is no truth in which they can agree. All questions of this kind turn upon a comparison of the opposite advantages and disadvantages of any particular course of conduct or habit of mind: but these are of very different magnitude and importance to different persons; and their decision, therefore, even if they all saw the whole consequences, or even the same set of consequences, must be irreconcilably diverse. If the matter in deliberation, for example, he, whether it is better to live without toil or exertion, but, at the same time, without wealth or glory, or to venture for both upon a scene of labour and hazard it is easy to see, that the determination which would be wise and expedient for one individual, might be just the reverse for another. Ease and obscurity are the summum bonum of one description of men; while others have an irresistible vocation to strenuous enterprise, and a positive delight in contention and danger. Nor is the magnitude of our virtues and vices referrible to a more invariable standard. Intemperance is less a vice in the robust, and dishonesty less foolish in those who care but little for the scorn of society. Some men find their chief happiness in relieving sorrow-some in sympathizing with mirth. Some, again, derive most of their enjoyment from the exercise of their reasoning faculties—others from that of their imagination ;-while a third
sort attend to little but the gratification of their senses, and a fourth to that of their vanity. One delights in crowds, and another in solitude ;-one thinks of nothing but glory, and another of comfort; -and so on, through all the infinite variety of human tastes, temperaments, and habits. Now, it is plain, that each of those persons should pursue a different road to the common object of happiness; and that they must necessarily clash and jostle with each other, even if each were fully aware of the peculiarity of his own notions, and of the consequences of all that he did in obedience to their impulses. It is altogether impossible, therefore, we humbly conceive, that men should ever settle the point as to what is the wisest course of conduct, or the best disposition of mind; or, consequently, take even the first step towards that perfection of moral science, or that cordial concert and coöperation in their common pursuit of happiness, which is the only alternative to their fatal opposition.
This impossibility will become more apparent when it is considered that the only instrument by which it is pretended that this moral perfection is to be attained, is such a general illumination of the intellect as to make all men fully aware of the consequences of their actions; and that it is not in general, through ignorance of their consequences, that actions producing misery are actually performed. When the misery is inflicted upon others, the actors most frequently disregard it, upon a fair comparison with the pain they should inflict on themselves by forbearance; and even when it falls on their own heads, they will generally be found rather to have been unlucky in the game, than to have been unacquainted with its hazards; and to have ventured with as full a knowledge of the risks, as the fortunes of others can ever impress on the enterprising. There are many men, it should always be recollected, to whom the happiness of others gives very little satisfaction, and their sufferings very little painand who would rather eat a luxurious meal by themselves, than scatter plenty and gratitude over twenty famishing cottages. No enlightening of the understanding will make such men the instruments of general happiness; and wherever there is a competition -wherever the question is stirred as to whose claims shall be renounced or asserted, we are all such men, in a greater or a less degree. There are others, again, who presume upon their own good fortune, with a degree of confidence that no exposition of the chances of failure can ever repress; and in all cases where failure is possible, there must be a risk of suffering from its occurrence, however prudent the venture might have appeared. These, however, are the chief sources of all the unhappiness which results from the conduct of man;--and they are sources which we do not see that the improved intellect, or added experience, of the species, is likely to close or diminish.