Page images
PDF
EPUB

ANNOTATIONS.

* Time is the greatest innovator.'

When Bacon speaks of time as an 'innovator,' he might have remarked, by the way—what of course he well knew— that though this is an allowable and convenient form of expression, it is not literally correct . Bishop Copleston, in the remark already referred to in the notes on 'Delays,' terms the regarding time as an agent, one of the commonest errors; for, 'in reality time does nothing and is nothing. We use it,' he goes on to say, 'as a compendious expression for all those causes which act slowly and imperceptibly. But, unless some positive cause is in action, no change takes place in the lapse of one thousand years; as, for instance, in a drop of water enclosed in a cavity of silex. The most intelligent writers are not free from this illusion. For instance, Simond, in his Switzerland, speaking of a mountain-scene, says—' The quarry from which the materials of the bridge came, is just above your head, and the miners are still at work: air, water, frost, weight, and time.' Thus, too, those politicians who object to any positive enactments affecting the Constitution, and who talk of the gentle operation of time, and of our Constitution itself being the work of time, forget that it is human agency all along which is the efficient cause. Time does nothing.' Thus far Bishop Copleston.1

But we are so much influenced by our own use of language, that, though no one can doubt, when the question is put before him, that effects are produced not by time, but tra'time, we are accustomed to represent Time as armed with a scythe, and mowing down all before him.

'New things are like strangers, more admired, and less
favoured.'

Bacon has omitted to notice, in reference to this point, what nevertheless is well worth remarking as a curious circumstance, that there are in most languages proverbial sayings respecting it, apparently opposed to each other; as for instance, that men are attached to what they have been used to; that use is a second nature; that they fondly cling to the institutions and practices they have been accustomed to, and can hardly be prevailed on to change them even for better; and then, again, on the other side, that men have a natural craving for novelty; that unvarying sameness is tiresome; that some variety—some change, even for the worse, is agreeably refreshing, &c.

1 Remains of Bishop Cojileiston.

The truth is, that in all the serious and important affairs of life men are attached to what they have been used to; in matters of ornament they covet novelty; in all systems and institutions—in all the ordinary business of life—in all fundamentals—they cling to what is the established course; in matters of detail—in what lies, as it were, on the surface—they seek variety. Man may, in reference to this point, be compared to a tree, whose stem and main branches stand year after year, but whose leaves and flowers are fresh every season.

In most countries people like change in the fashions of their dress and furniture; in almost all, they like new music, new poems, and novels (so called in reference to this taste), pictures, flowers, games, &c., but they are wedded to what is established in laws, institutions, systems, and in all that relates to the main business of life.

This distinction is one which it may often be of great importance to keep in mind. For instance, the ancient Romans and other Pagans seldom objected to the addition of a new god to their list; and it is said that some of them actually did propose to enrol Jesus among the number. This was quite consonant to the genius of their mythological system. But the overthrow of the whole system itself, and the substitution of a fundamentally different religion, was a thing they at first regarded with alarm and horror: all their feelings were enlisted against such a radical change. So also in the unreformed Churches. The enrolment from time to time of a new Saint in the calendar, or the promulgation of a new Dogma, are acceptable novelties. But those who would abolish all saint-worship, and restore Christianity to its primitive purity, are denounced as heretical innovators. Any one, therefore, who should imagine that the Gospel may have been originally received with some degree of favour ou account of its being new, because, forsooth, men like novelties, and that, therefore, something short of the most overpowering miraculous proofs might have sufficed for its intraduction and spread,—such a person must have entirely overlooked the distinction between the kinds of things in which men do or do not favour what is new.

And the like holds good in all departments of life. New medicines, for instance, come into vogue from time to time, with or without good reason; but a fundamentally new m/ti<m of medicine, whether right or wrong, is sure to have the strongest prejudices enlisted against it. If, when the celebrated Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood, he had, on the ground that people often readily introduced some new medicine, calculated on a favourable reception, or even a fair hearing, for his doctrine, which went to establish a fundamental revolution, he would soon have been undeceived by the vehement and general opposition with which he was encountered. Astronomers, again, hail with glad welcome (as we have often seen of late years) the discovery of a new Planet or Comet . But the doctrine of Copernicus and Galileo, which went to subvert the existing System of astronomy, met with a very different reception.

And it was the physicians of the highest standing that most opposed Harvey. It was the most experienced navigators that opposed Columbus' views. It was those most conversant with the management of the Post-office that were the last to approve of the plan of the uniform penny-postage. The most eminent Engineers were those most opposed to locomotive steam-carriages; and derided George Stephenson, to whom, chiefly, if not wholly, we owe the great revolution these have produced in the whole civilized World, for his extravagant expectation that they could be propelled at the rate of twelve miles an hour! For, the greater any one's experience and skill in his own department, and the more he is entitled to the deference which is proverbially due to each man in his own province [' peritis credendum est in arte sua'], the more likely, indeed, he will be to be a good judge of improvements in details, or even to introduce them himself; but the more unlikely to give a fair hearing to any proposed radical change. An experienced stage-coachman is likely to be a good judge of all that relates to turnpikeroads and coach-horses; but you should not consult him about railroads and steam-carriages. Again, every one knows how slowly and with what difficulty farmers are prevailed on to adopt any new system of husbandry, even when the faults of an old-established usage, and the advantage of a change, can be made evident to the senses.

An anecdote' is told of a gentleman who, in riding through the deep and shady Devonshire lanes, became entangled in the intricacies of their numberless windings; and not being able to obtain a sufficiently wide view of the country to know whereabouts he was, trotted briskly on, in the confident hope that he should at length come to some house whose inhabitants would direct him, or to some more open spot from which he could take a survey of the different roads, and observe whither they led. After proceeding a long time in this manner, he was surprised to find a perfect uniformity in the country through which he passed, and to meet with no human being, nor come in sight of any habitation. He was, however, encouraged by observing, as he advanced, the prints of horses' feet, which indicated that he was in no unfrequented track: these became continually more and more numerous the further he went, so as to afford him a still increasing assurance of his being in the immediate neighbourhood of some great road or populous village; and he accordingly paid the less anxious attention to the bearings of the country, from being confident that he was in the right way. But still he saw neither house nor human creature; and, at length the recurrence of the same objects by the roadside, opened his eyes to the fact, that all this time, misled by the multitude of the turnings, he had been riding in a circle; and that the footmarks, the sight of which had so cheered him, were those of his own horse; their number, of course, increasing with every circuit he took. Had he not fortunately made this discovery, perhaps he might have been riding there now.

The truth of the tale (and we can assure our readers that we at least did not invent it) does not make it the less useful by way of apologue: and the moral we would deduce from it is, that in many parts of the conduct of life, and not least in government and legislation, meu are liable to follow the track oftheir own footsteps,—to set themselves an example,—and to flatter themselves that they are going right, from their conformity to their own precedent.

It is commonly and truly said, when any new and untried

What follows is extracted from the London Review of 1829.

measure is proposed, that we cannot fully estimate the inconveniences it may lead to in practice; but we are convinced this is even still more the case with any system which has long been in operation. The evils to which it may contribute, and the obstacles it may present to the attainment of any good, are partly overlooked, or lightly regarded, on account of their familiarity, partly attributed to such other causes as perhaps really do co-operate in producing the same effects, and ranked along with the unavoidable alloys of human happiness,—the inconveniences from which no human policy can entirely exempt us. In some remote and unimproved districts, if you complain of the streets of a town being dirty and dark, as those of London were for many ages, the inhabitants tell you that the nights are cloudy and the weather rainy: as for their streets, they are just such as they have long been; and the expedient of paving and lighting has occurred to nobody. The ancient Romans had, probably, no idea that a civilized community could exist without slaves. That the same work can be done much better and cheaper by freemen, and that their odious system contained the seeds of the destruction of their empire, were truths which, familiarized as they were to the then existing state of society, they were not likely to suspect. 'If you allow of no plundering,' said an astonished Mahratta chief to some English officers, 'how is it possible for you to maintain such fine armies as you bring into the field?' He and his ancestors, time out of mind, had doubtless been following their ownfrntsteps in the established routine; and had accordingly never dreamed that pillage is inexpedient as a source of revenue, or even one that can possibly be dispensed with. 'That is the way it is always done, Sir;' or 'We always do so and so;' are the answers generally returned by the vulgar to an inquiry as to the reason of any practice. Recent experiment, indeed, may bring to light and often exaggerate the defects of a new system; but long familiarity blinds us to those very defects.1

And among the obstacles those have to encounter who are advocating any kind of novelty, this is one: that every instance of failure in the application of any new system is sure to be, by most people, attributed to the system itself; while in the case

1 London Review, 1829.

« PreviousContinue »