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of an old and established system, any failure is either reckoned a mere unavoidable accident, or is attributed to the individual.
If, for instance, some crop turns out ill, under an established system of agriculture, this failure is attributed either to the weather, or else to unskilfulness in the individual farmer; but if it takes place under a new system of husbandry, it will usually be taken as a decisive proof that the system itself is wrong. So again, if a patient dies, under the routine-system of Medicine, blame is laid, if there be any, on the individual practitioner: but if a patient die who has been treated according to some new system, this is likely to be taken as conclusive against the system itself. And so, in other cases.
The reluctance to change operates chiefly in reference to whatever men have been very long used to, and does not extend to what is recent. And hence, in any case where a change is desirable, it is a great point gained, to have brought about some change, even though it may have been little or no improvement; because we have then a fairer prospect of a further and better change. A remedy of the remedy,—a removal of newly-introduced inconveniences—is a change far easier to be effected than the first change. Alterations in any building are easily made while the mortar is wet. 'So it is in legislation and in all human affairs. While the most inconvenient and absurd laws are suffered to remain unchanged for successive generations, hardly an Act is passed that any defects in it are not met by 'acts to amend' it, in the next and in succeeding sessions.
'Those who remember the University of Oxford at the commencement of this century, when, in fact, it hardly deserved the name of an university,—who remember with what difficulty, and after what long delay, the first statute for Degree-examinations was introduced—how palpable were the defects of that statute, and how imperfectly it worked,—and, lastly, how easily, in comparison, these defects were, one by one, remedied, and successive improvements from time to time introduced,—such persons must have profited little by experience, if they deprecate the application of any remedy to any existing law or institution that is in itself evil, for fear the remedy should not be such, in the first essay, as to meet their wishes.'1
See Kingdom of Chri$t, Appendix to Essay ii. note O, p. 355, 4th' edition.
'Afrmoard retention of custom is as turbulent as an innovation; and they that reverence old times too much are but a scorn to tlie new.'
To avoid the two opposite evils—the liability to sudden and violent changes, and the adherence to established usage, when inconvenient or mischievous,—to give the requisite stability to governments and other institutions, without shutting the door against improvement,—this is a problem which both ancient and modern legislators have not well succeeded in solving. Some, like the ancient Medes and Persians, and like Lycurgus, have attempted to prohibit all change; but those who constantly appeal to the wisdom of their ancestors as a sufficient reason for perpetuating everything these have established, forget two things: first, that they cannot hope to persuade all successive generations of men that there was once one generation of such infallible wisdom as to be entitled to control all their descendants for ever; which is to make the earth, in fact, the possession not of the living, but of the dead; and, secondly, that even supposing our ancestors gifted with such infallibility, many cases must arise in which it may be reasonably doubted whether they themselves would not have advocated, if living, changes called for by altered circumstances. For instance, those who denoted the southern quarter from ?neridies (noon-) would not have been so foolish as to retain that language had they gone to live in a hemisphere where the sun at noon is in the north. But, as Dr. Cooke Taylor remarks in The Bishop: 'An antiquated form, however perverted from its original purpose, gratifies the lazy in their love of ease; it saves them the trouble of exchanging their old mumpsimus for the new sumpsimus: and new the sumpsimus must appear, though it be a restoration; it averts the mortification of confessing error, which is always so abhorrent to the self-satisfied stupidity of those who grow old without gaining experience.'
'Vel quia nil rectum, nisi quod placuit sibi, ducunt;
It is to be observed, however, that in almost every department of life, the evil that has very long existed will often be less clearly perceived, and less complained of, than in proportion to the actual extent of the evil.
'If you look to any department of government, or to any parish or diocese, that has long been left to the management of apathetic or inefficient persons, you will usually find that there are few or no complaints; because complaints having long since been found vain, will have long since ceased to be made. There will be no great arrears of business undone, and of applications unanswered; because business will not have been brought before those who it is known will not transact it; nor applications made, to which no answer can be hoped for. Abuses, and defects, and evils of various kinds, which ought to have been prevented or remedied, men will have learned to submit to as to visitations of Providence; having been left without redress till they have at length forgotten that any redress is due, or is possible: and this stagnation will have come to be regarded as the natural state of things.
'Hence, it will often happen that in a parish for instance, where for a long time very little has been done, it will appear at first sight as if there were in fact very little to do: the spiritual wants of members of the Church not appearing to be unattended to, because many persons will have ceased to be members of the Church, and many others will be unconscious that they have any spiritual wants.
'And in a Church, accordingly, that has been long without an efficient government, the want of such government will often be very inadequately perceived, from its not even occurring to men to consider whether the enormous increase of dissent, of internal discord, and of indifference to the Church, are evils which it comes within the province of a government in any degree to prevent or mitigate.'1
With those who maintain that the present is not the best time,—on account of the violence of contending parties—for the restoration of a Church-government, I so far agree, that I am convinced it would have been much better to have taken the step several years ago; before the excitement caused by one of those parties had arisen; and yet better, some years earlier still, when
1 This, and another passage in this note, are extracted from Tlioughti on Church•joiernment.
the removal of religious disabilities first left the Church destitute of any legislature consisting exclusively of its own members: and that, "again, a still earlier period would have been preferable, when considerable attention was for a time attracted to a work on the subject, by a person, then, holding the office of Archdeacon.
'But it is far from being sufficient,—as seems to be tbe notion of some persons—to show that the present is not the fittest conceivable occasion for taking a certain step. Besides this, it is requisite to show,—not merely that a better occasion may be imagined,—or that a better occasion is past;—that the Sibylline Books might have been purchased cheaper some time ago -—but that a more suitable occasion is likely to arise henafter: and how soon; and also, that the mischief which may be going on during the interval will be more than compensated by the superior suitableness of that future occasion; in short, that it will have been worth waiting for. And in addition to all this, it is requisite to show also the probability that when this golden opportunity shall arise, men will be more disjmsed to take advantage of it than they-have heretofore appeared to be;— that they will not again fall into apathetic security, and fondness for indefinite procrastination.
'This last point is as needful to be established as any; for it is remarkable that those who deprecate taking any step jud rm, in these times of extraordinary excitement, did not, on those former occasions, come forward to propose taking advantage of a comparatively calmer state of things. They neither made any call, nor responded to the call made by others.
'And indeed all experience seems to show—comparing the apathy on the subject which was so general at those periods, with the altered state of feeling now existing,—that a great and pressing emergency, and nothing else, will induce men to take any step in this matter; and that a period of dissension and perplexing difficulty, is, though not, in itself, the most suitable occasion for such a step, yet—constituted as human nature is— the best, because the only occasion on which one can hope that it will be taken. A season of famine may have been, in some respects, a bad occasion for altering the corn-laws; but experience showed that nothing less would suffice.
'When the valley of Martigny, in Switzerland, was threatened (a good many years ago) with a frightful deluge from the bursting of a lake formed by a glacier which had dammed up a river, the inhabitants were for some time not sufficiently alarmed to take steps for averting the danger, by cutting channels to let off the water. They cannot, therefore, be said to have chosen the best time for commencing their operations; for had they begun earlier,—as soon as ever the dam was formed—the work would have been much easier, and probably all damage would have been prevented. As it was, they bad to encounter much difficulty, and, after all, were but partially successful: for the undrained portion of the lake did at length burst the barrier, and considerable damage ensued; perhaps a fourth part of what would have taken place had things been left to themselves. But they were wise in not deferring their operations yet longer, in the hope that matters would mend spontaneously, when they saw that the evil was daily increasing. And after having mitigated in a great degree the calamity that did ensue, they took measures to provide against the like in future.
'Still, however, we must expect to be told by many, that, sooner or later, matters will come right spontaneously, if left untouched; that, in time, though we cannot tell how soon, a period of extraordinary excitement is sure to be succeeded by one of comparative calm. In the meantime it is forgotten at w)sat cost such spontaneous restoration of tranquillity is usually purchased—how much the fire will have consumed before it shall have burnt out of itself. The case is very similar to what takes place in the natural body: the anguish of acute inflammation, when left to itself, is succeeded by the calm of a mortification: a limb is amputated, or drops off; and the body—but no longer the whole body—is restored to a temporary ease, at the expense of a mutilation. Who can say that a large proportion of those who are now irrecoverably alienated from the Church, might not have been at this moment sound members of it had timely steps been taken, not by any departure from the principles of our Reformers, but by following more closely the track they marked out for us?'
One, however, of the greatest difficulties attending the introduction of any alteration into any Formulary, is, that inferences from this are likely to be drawn, which would not at all nave occurred to any one from the same words, if they had been in