Page images

and banners, admirals and generals, all the great state officers of a great and stirring yet pious and reverent age, passed up the river on the 4th of September. At Westminster, salvoes of artillery received it; and heralds were in attendance to marshal the line in conformity with the traditions of earlier ceremonies in honour of earlier heroes. His remains were then laid in a vault in Henry the Seventh's Chapel, in the old Abbey; and one of the simplest, bravest, truest of all English captains was handed over to history and to a posterity which, if it understands its own interests, will never let such memories die. At the Restoration, his corpse was taken out of its place of honour, and, says Mr. Dixon, cast into a pit.' But though it was certainly removed from the Chapel of Henry the Seventh, it is not so certain that it was treated with the indecency which our biographer reprehends. Other writers of credit represent the remains as having been simply transferred to the Abbey yard. To whatever situation his dust was consigned, it rests in peace; and England, juster to his renown than was possible in the hour of retaliation to the heated spirits of that age, numbers him among her greatest naval heroes.

Art. II.- History of Civilization in England. By Henry

Thomas Buckle. Vol. I. London, 1857. HE present volume is the first instalment of a work whose

modest pretensions are no less than to be the Novum Organum of historical and social science. According to the writer, all that has hitherto been presented. to the world as history must be rejected as worthless, and all the conclusions at which divines, philosophers, and statesmen have been arriving for the last two thousand years may be put aside as worse than useless. Religion has been a marplot, government a blunder, and literature foolishness. All existing histories, having for the most part been written by ecclesiastics or persons engaged in politics or letters, partake of the necessary ignorance of their writers and the imbecility of their pursuits, and are of less value than the old almanacs to which they have been sometimes likened. These petty special occupations lead to prejudice, and prevent their professors from being able historians. Only the man who knows nothing in particular, but everything in general, is qualified to instruct mankind as a writer of history. Such men may be rare, but Mr. Buckle, in his own estimate of himself, is one of them, and he undertakes the task accordingly. The volume has the somewhat unusual prefix of a list, extending


[ocr errors]

to fifteen pages, of the authors quoted in the body of the work, forming, as may be presumed, a portion of the catalogue of the writer's library. It comprises many books, the relevancy of which to the matter in hand is not at first sight apparent. It ornits some, of which the absence, in a work professing to survey all that has been done in physical and metaphysical science, is remarkable. Neither Aristotle, Plato, Aquinas, Galileo, Bacon, Newton, or La Place, if they rest upon Mr. Buckle's shelves, appear ever to have been taken down from them, and their labours do not figure in the vast parade of authorities who are made to usher into public notice the first volume of Mr. Buckle's first work.

This first volume is, however, only a portion, not of the work itself—-- The History of Civilization in England'—but of the Introduction to it, treating of the method in which history should be written. It commences by an examination of the resources available for the investigation of history, and by an attempt to prove the necessary sequence of all human actions, which actions are said to be governed by mental and physical laws, both of which he maintains must be studied, and that there can be no history without the natural sciences. An instance is very soon encountered of the way in which Mr. Buckle is in the habit of proving his case, namely, by the simple and easy process of not proving it at all, but of assuming it either as proved, or as not wanting proof; and then comfortably proceeding as if everything had been established by the soundest logic and the plainest facts

. The following sentence occurs:"The most celebrated historians are manifestly inferior to the most successful cultivators of physical science : no one having devoted himself to history who in point of intellect is at all to be compared with Kepler, Newton, or many others that might be named.'--(p. 7.)

In this manner, by a bare assertion, the comparative capacity of all the bistorians from Herodotus to Macaulay is quietly disposed of. How would the case have stood if Kepler had devoted himself to history? The difference would have been not in the man, but in the subject, and he would at once have become, on Mr. Buckle's easy system of demonstration, manifestly inferior, How does it stand with Bacon (llegraded to a note), of whom Mr. Buckle chooses to say that he wrote history, only as a subordinate object, and that it evidently cost him nothing like the thought which he devoted to other subjects.'

This “ manifestly' and this "evidently' are favourite substitutes for argument throughout the yolume, and the reader must'always


be on his guard against having something thrust upon him as proved, for which nothing has been advanced but a bold asseveration.

The question asked and proposed for discussion in the first chapter furnishes a key to the greater part of the speculations which follow. It is this : Are the actions of men, and therefore of societies, governed by fixed laws, or are they the result either of chance or of supernatural interference ?-a question so loosely framed, and so little in harmony in its wording with the author's own subsequent language, that we need not be surprised that no sound conclusions should follow. What is chance? What is supernatural interference ? No definition is given of the sense in which either phrase is to be accepted, nor is it clear that Mr. Buckle has any right to employ them as if they meant different things; for it may be inferred from the whole tone of the book that he rejects miracles altogether, and therefore his supernatural interference cannot be understood as applying to the exceptional cases in which a Higher Power has operated in opposition to the usual course of events; and chance is afterwards admitted to be an unmeaning word used to conceal our ignorance of causes when events happen without obvious necessary antecedents. Dr. Johnson, indeed, has defined chance rather in accordance with the popular impersonation of Fortune, than philosophically as the cause of fortuitous events.' But he cites a passage from Bentley, which puts it on its proper footing:

* Chance is but a mere name, and really nothing in itself: a conception of our minds, and only a compendious way of speaking whereby we would express that such effects as are commonly attributed to chance were verily produced by their true and proper causes, but without their design to produce them.'

Supernatural interference, then, being left to stand for the ordinary course of Providence, and chance really standing for nothing, the question is reduced to this : Are men and human societies governed by fixed laws, or by a personal Supreme Intelligence ? and the entire tendency of the book is to get the question answered in the sense that blind laws (enacted or prevailing by or through whom or what does not appear) govern everything, and that there is no place for a presiding personal Intelligence, and, in short, no occasion for moral government, either human or divine.

The argument is commenced with the purely arbitrary assumption that the relations of cause and effect will be sooner perceived among agricultural tban among hunting tribes of

savages :

savages: the former having occasion to observe that crops follow the putting of seed into the ground, and to become interested in the regular sequence of the seasons. This, however, is a piece of pure fancy. The hunter who depends upon the chase for his food must have his wits quite as much sharpened by having to bear in mind the favourite haunts of his game, the artifices by which they can be most easily taken, the weather or time of year in which they may most probably be expected to appear, the tracks by which they may be most successfully followed, as the rude tiller of the soil is likely to be enlightened by tbe comparatively inactive life of preparing the ground for the reception of his seed and awaiting the appearance of his CTOP. Nor is there the slightest foundation, according to our experience, for the extraordinary remark that 'a taste for abstract reasoning springs up' in the agricultural mind—a statement which it would startle many a wearer of a smock-frock to hear applied to himself. Indeed the agricultural classes of a later period are afterwards denounced by Mr. Buckle himself as the most blindly ignorant and prejudiced of all (p. 347).

Upon this supposed transition of human society in its earlier stages, from a hunting and fishing to a soil-cultivating state, and upon its supposed effects, is founded the assertion that in the ordinary march of society, an increasing perception of the regularity of Nature destroys the doctrine of chance, and replaces it hy that of necessary connexion.' The doctrine of chance ! which no doubt occupies a large space in the philosophical systems of the Ojibway Indians, or the highly metaphysical aboriginals of Australia! This great fact being established upon so firm a basis, and by such ample and cogent reasoning, Mr. Buckle is now in a condition to announce a very great discovery, which, however, is put forward with more diffidence than is usual with bim :

* It is,' he says, 'I think, highly probable that out of these two doctrines of Chance and Necessity there have respectively arisen the subsequent dogmas of Free Will and Predestination.'—(p. 9.) This is followed by a vast amount of common-placing, in which there is nothing new or which seems much to advance the purpose of the book; and after admitting the irrelevancy of this display of reading, we are invited to concede the position that all human actions depend on motives, and that these motives are the result of antecedents; and that if we were acquainted with the whole of the antecedents, and with all the laws of their moveinents, we could with certainty predict the whole of their immcdiate results ; or, as it is somewhat differently stated a few pages


afterwards, the moral actions of men are the product not of their volition, but of their antecedents.'

If these views were sound, men would be reduced to the condition of inanimate matter. There would be no room left for individual merit or exertion. Each man would be a powerless fragment of the universe, to be swayed to and fro, and tossed up and down, by successive waves of events, sinking or swimming, drowping or saved, by the operation of forces external to himself, and over which he has no control. There could be no more virtue and no more vice, no more ambition, no more passions, no more aspirations, no more hope. We should be, one and all, the mere cogs and pinions of some huge machine, in the working of which we could take no controlling part, and of which we could not even hope to modify the motions.

A result so helpless and so unhappy is made to rest upon an appeal to the science of mathematical probability, and to the information afforded by the accurate observations of modern statistics. There is nothing original in the attempt to show that all such events as are usually ascribed to chance may, and indeed must, really depend on soine antecedent chain of causation hidden from our view. Kepler, writing on the new star which appeared in the constellation Cassiopeia in 1604, and refuting the opinion of those who asserted that it came by chance, expressed himself distinctly on the matter. His opponents took the instance of a set of dice supposed to be thrown an infinite number of times, and said it must happen that any given number must at last be thrown. But Kepler wrote:

Why does six fall in one throw and ace in another? Because this last time the player took up the die by a different side, and put his hand upon it differently, shook it, threw it in a different manner; or because the wind was blowing differently upon it, or it fell on a different part of the board. There is nothing in all this which is without its proper cause, if any one could investigate such niceties.'

In the case contemplated by Kepler, however, no human volition is at work to determine a desired position of the dice. If, on the contrary, any one wishes to place a couple of dice on the table, with the ace or any given side of each uppermost, he can do so as often as he pleases, and need never fail. But, in throwing the same dice from a dice-box, the chances are 35 to 1 against their coming up aces or any other given numbers; and the chances against the same event happening several times in succession rapidly become enormous.

would be the same if ten, or a thousand, or a million persons were engaged in the act. If a million of persons wished each of them to place a pair of


« PreviousContinue »