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disheartened, too, by the extreme insignificance of any thing that he can expect to contribute, when compared with the great store that is already in possession of the public; and is extremely apt to conclude that it is not only safer, but more profitable, to follow than to lead; and that it is fortunate for the lovers of wisdom, that our ancestors have accumulated enough of it for our use as well as for their own,
But while the general diffusion of knowledge tends thus powerfully to repress all original and independent speculation in individuals, it operates still more powerfully in rendering the public indifferent and unjust to their exertions. The treasures they have inherited from their predecessors are so ample, as not only to take away all disposition to labour for their farther increase, but to lead them to undervalue and overlook any little addition that may be made to them by the voluntary offerings of individuals. The works of the best models are perpetually before their eyes, and their accumulated glory in their remembrance; the very variety of the sorts of excellence which are constantly obtruded on their notice, renders excellence itself cheap and vulgar in their estimation. As the mere possessors or judges of such things, they are apt to ascribe to themselves a character of superiority, which renders any moderate performance unworthy of their regard ; and their cold and languid familiarity with what is best, ultimately produces no other effect than to render them insensible to its beauties, and at the same time intolerant of all that appears to fall short of it. This state of public feeling, which we think inseparable from the long and general diffusion of knowledge, is admirably described by Mad. de Staël, in a passage to which she has given a more limited application.
“ Mais il ne faut jamais comparer l'ignorance a la degradation ; un peuple qui a été civilisé par les lumières, s'il retombe dans l'in. différence pour le talent et la philosophie, devient incapable de toute espèce de sentiment vif; il lui reste une sorte d'esprit de dénigrement, qui le porte à tout hasard à se refuser à l'admiration; il craint de se tromper dans les louanges, et croit, comme les jeunes gens qui prétendent au bon air, qu'on se fait plus d'honneur en critiquant même avec injustice, qu'en approuvant trop facilement. Un tel peuple est alors dans une disposition presque toujours insouciante; le froid de l'âge semble atteindre la nation toute entière : on en sait assez pour n'être pas étonné; on n'a pas acquis assez de connoissances pour démêler avec certitude ce qui mérite l'estime; beaucoup d'illusions sont détruites, sans qu'aucune vérité soit établie; on est retombé dans l'enfance par la vieillesse, dans l'incertitude par le raisonnement; l'intérêt mutuel n'existe plus : on est dans cet état que le Dante appeloit l'enfer des tièdes. Celui qui cherche à se distinguer inspire d'abord une prévention défavorable ; le public malade est fatigué d'avance par qui vent obtenir encore un signe de lui.” Tom. 1. p. 40, 41.
In such a condition of society, it is obvious that men must be peculiarly disinclined from indulging in these bold and original speculations, for which their whole training had previously disqualified them; and we appeal to our readers, whether there are not, at this day, apparent symptoms of such a condition of society. A childish lover of novelty may indeed give a transient popularity to works of mere amusement; but the age of original genius, and of comprehensive and independent reasoning, seems to be
Instead of such works as those of Bacon, and Shakspeare, and Taylor, and Hooker, we have Encyclopædias, and geographical compilations, and county histories, and new editions of black letter authors and trashy biographies and posthumous lettersand disputations upon prosody-and ravings about orthodoxy and methodism. Men of general information and curiosity seldom think of adding to the knowledge that is already in the world ; and the inferior persons upon whom that task is consequently devolved, carry it on, for the most part, by means of that minute subdivision of labour which is the great secret of the mechanical arts, but can never be introduced into literature without depriving its higher branches of all force, dignity, or importance. One man spends his life in improving a method of dying cotton red; another in adding a few insects to a catalogue which nobody reads ;-a third in settling the metres of a few Greek choruses;-a fourth in decyphering illegible romances, or old grants of farms ;-a fifth in picking rotten bones out of the earth ;-a sixth in describing all the old walls and billocks in his parish ;—and five hundred others in occupations equally liberal and important: each of them being, for the most part, profoundly ignorant of every thing out of his own narrow department, and very generally and deservedly despised by his competitors for the favour of that public which despises and supports them all.
Such, however, it appears to us, is the state of mind that is naturally produced by the great accumulation and general diffusion of various sorts of knowledge. Men learn, instead of reasoning. Instead of meditating, they remember; and in place of the glow of inventive genius, or the warmth of a generous admiration, nothing is to be met with in society, but timidity on the one hand, and fastidiousness on the other--a paltry accuracy, and a more paltry derision—a sensibility to small faults, and an incapacity of great merits-a disposition to exaggerate the value of knowledge that is not to be used, and to underrate the importance of powers which have ceased to exist. If these, however, are the consequences of accumulated and diffused knowledge, it may well be questioned whether the human intellect will gain in point of dignity and energy by the only certain acquisitions to which we are entitled to look forward. For our own part, we will confess we
have no such expectations. There will be improvements, we make no doubt, in all the mechanical and domestic arts;-better methods of working metal and preparing cloth ;-more commodious vehicles, and more efficient implements of war. Geography will be made more complete, and astronomy more precise ;natural history will be enlarged and digested; and perhaps some little improvement suggested in the forms of administering law. But as to any general enlargement of the understanding, or more prevailing vigour of judgment, we will own, that the tendency seems to be all the other way; and that we think strong sense, and extended views of human affairs, are more likely to be found, and to be listened to at this moinent, than two or three hundred years hereafter. The truth is, we suspect, that the vast and enduring products of the virgin soil can no longer be reared in that factitious mould to which cultivation has since given existence; and that its forced and deciduous progeny will go on degenerating, till some new deluge shall restore the vigour of the glebe by a temporary destruction of all its generations.
Hitherto we have spoken only of the higher and more instructed classes of society-to whom it is reasonable to suppose that the perfection of wisdom and happiness will come first, in their progress through the whole race of men; and we have seen what reason there is to doubt of their near approach. The lower orders, however, we think, have still less good fortune to reckop on. In the whole history of the species, there has been nothing at all comparable to the improvement of England within the last century; never anywhere was there such an increase of wealth and luxury-so many admirable inventions in the arts—so many works of learning and ingenuity-such a progress in cultivation such an enlargement of commerce :-and yet, in that century, the number of paupers in England has increased fourfold, and is now rated at one tenth of her whole population; and, notwithstanding the enormous sums that are levied, and given privately, for their relief, and the multitudes that are drained off by the waste of war, the peace of the country is perpetually threatened by the outrages of famishing multitudes. This fact of itself is decisive, we think, as to the effect of general refinement and intelligence on the condition of the lower orders ; but it is not difficult to trace the steps of its operation. Increasing refinement and ingenuity lead naturally to the establishment of manufactures; and not only enable society to spare a great proportion of its agricultural labourers for this purpose, but actually encourage the breeding of an additional population; to be maintained out of the profits of this new occupation. For a time, too, this answers; and the artisan shares in the conveniences to which his labours have contributed to give birth : but it is in the very nature of the manufacturing system, to be liable
to great fluctuation, occasional check, and possible destruction; and at all events, it has a tendency to produce a greater popula. tion than it can permanently support in comfort or prosperity. The average rate of wages, for the last forty years, has been in, sufficient to maintain a labourer with a tolerably large family; and yet such have been the occasional Auctuations, and such the sanguine calculations of persons incapable of taking a comprehen: sive view of the whole, that the manufacturing population has been prodigiously increased in the same period. It is the interest of the manufacturer to keep this population in excess, as the only sure means of keeping wages low ; and wherever the means of subsistence are uncertain, and liable to variation, it seems to be the general law of our nature, that the population should be adapted to the highest, and not to the average rate of supply. In India, where a dry season used to produce a failure of the crop once in every ten or twelve years, the population was always up to the measure of the greatest abundance; and in manufacturing countries, the miscalculation is still more sanguine and erroneous. Such countries, therefore, are always overpeopled; and it seems to be the necessary effect of increasing talent and refinement, to convert all countries into this denomination. China, the oldest manufacturing nation in the world, and by far the greatest that ever existed with the use of little machinery, has always suffered from a redundant population, and has always kept the largest part of its inhabitants in a state of the greatest poverty,
The effect, then, which is produced on the lower orders of society, by that increase of industry and refinement, and that multiplication of conveniences which are commonly looked upon as the surest tests of increasing prosperity, is to convert the peasants into manufacturers, and the manufacturers into paupers; while the chance of their ever emerging from this condition becomes constantly less, the more complete and mature the system is which had originally produced it.
When manufactures are long established, and thoroughly understood, it will always be found, that persons possessed of a large capital, can carry them on upon lower profits than persons of any other description; and the natural tendency of this system, therefore, is to throw the whole business into the hands of great capitalists: and thus not only to render it next to impossible for a common workman to advance himself into the condition of a master, but to drive from the competition the greater part of those moderate dealers, by whose prosperity alone the general happiness of the nation can be promoted. The state of the operative manufacturers, therefore, seems every day more hopelessly stationary; and that great body of the people, it appears to us, is likely to grow into a fixed and degraded caste, out of which no person can hope to escape, who has once been enrolled among its members. They cannot look up to the rank of master manufacturers; because, without capital, it will every day be more impossible to engage in that occupation and back they cannot go to the labours of agriculture, because there is no demand for their services. The improved system of farming, furnishes an increased produce with many fewer hands than were formerly employed in procuring a much smaller return; and besides all this, the lower population has actually increased to a far greater amount than ever was at any time employed in the cultivation of the ground.
To remedy all these evils, which are likely, as we conceive, to be aggravated, rather than relieved, by the general progress of refinement and intelligence we have little to look to but the beneficial effects of this increasing intelligence upon the lower orders themselves and we are far from undervaluing this influence. By the universal adoption of a good system of education, habits of foresight, and self control, and rigid economy, may in time no doubt be pretty generally introduced, instead of the improvidence and profligacy which too commonly characterize the larger assemblages of our manufacturing population; and if these lead, as they are likely to do, to the general institution of friendly societies among the workmen, a great palliative will have been provided for the disadvantages of a situation, which must always be considered as one of the least fortunate which providence has assigned to any of the human race.
There is no end, however, we find, to these speculations; and we must here close our remarks on perfectibility, without touching upon the political changes which are likely to be produced by a long course of progressive refinements and scientific improvement -though we are afraid that an enlightened anticipation would not be much more cheering in this view, than in any of those we have hitherto considered. Luxury and refinement have a tendency undoubtedly to make men sensual and selfish; and in that state, increased talent and intelligence is apt only to render them more mercenary and servile. Among the prejudices which this kind of philosophy roots out, that of patriotism is among the first to be surmounted ;-and then a dangerous opposition to power, and a sacrifice of interest to affection, speedily come to be considered as romantic. Arts are discovered to palliate the encroachments of arbitrary power; and a luxurious, patronizing, and vitious monarchy, is firmly established amidst the adulations of a corrupt nation.