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ESSAY XXIV. OF INNOVATIONS.
AS the births of living creatures at first are ill-shapen, so are all innovations, which are the births of time: yet, notwithstanding, as those that first bring honour into their family are commonly more worthy than most that succeed, so the first precedent (if it be good) is seldom attained by imitation: for ill, to man's nature as it stands perverted, hath a natural motion, strongest in continuance; but good,as a forced motion, strongest at first. Surely every medicine is an innovation, and he that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils: for time is the greatest innovator; and if time of course alters things tol the worse, and wisdom and counsel shall not alter them to the better, what shall be the end? It is true that what is settled by custom, though it be not good, yet at least it is fit; and those things which have long gone together, are, as it were, confederate with themselves; whereas new things piece not so well; but, though they help by their utility, yet they trouble by their inconformity ;2 besides, they are like strangers, more admired, and less favoured. All this is true, if time stood still; which, contrariwise, moveth so round,3 that a froward retention of custom is as turbulent a thing as an innovation; and they that reverence too much old times, are but a scorn to the new. It were good, therefore, that men in their innovations, would follow the example of time itself, which indeed innovateth greatly, but quietly, and by degrees scarce to be perceived; for otherwise, whatsoever is new is unlooked for—and ever it mends some, and pairs4 others; and he that is holpen takes it for a fortune, and thanks the time; and he that is hurt, for a wrong, and imputeth it to the author. It is good also not to try experiments in States, except the necessity be urgent, or the utility evident; and well to beware, that it be the reformation that draweth on the change, and not the desire of change that pretendeth1 the reformation: and lastly, that the novelty, though it be not rejected, yet be held for a suspect f and, as the Scripture saith, 'That we make a stand upon the ancient way, and then look about us, and discover what is the straight and right way, and so to walk in it.'3
1 To. For.
'Marks and points out each man of us to slaughter.'— Ben Jonson. - Inconformity, Incongruity; discordance.
3 Bound. Rapid. 'Sir Roger heard them on a round trot.'—Addison. 4 Pair. To impair.
'' No faith so fast,' quoth she, 'but flesh does paire.' 'Flesh may impaire,' quoth he, 'but reason can repaire.''—Spenser. 'What profitoth it to a man if he wynne all the world, and do peyringe to his soul P'—Wickliff's Translation of Mark viii.
ANTITHETA ON INNOVATIONS.
Vao. 'Omnis medicina innovatio.'Every medicament is an innovation.'
'Qui nova remedia fugit, nova mala operitur.
'He who shuns new remedies must expect new evils.'
'Novator maximus tempus: quidni igitur tempus imitemur?
'Time is the great innovator; why then not imitate Time V
'Morosa morum retentio, res turbulenta est ;vque ac novitas.
'Astubborn adherence to old practices breeds tumults no less than novelty.'
'Cam per sc res mutentur in deterius, si consilio in melius non mutentur, quis finis erit mali?
'Since things spontaneously change for the worse, if they be not by design changed for the better, evils must accumulate without end.'
Contka. 'Nullus auctor placet, prater tempus. 'One bows willingly to no authority but Time.'
'Nulla novitas absque injuria; nam priesentia convellit.
'Every novelty does some hurt, for it unsettles what is established.'
'Quffi usu obtinuere, si non bona, at saltem aptu inter sc sunt.
'Things that are settled by long use, if not absolutely good, at least fit well together.'
'Quis novator tempus imitatur, quod novationes ita insinuat, ut sensus fallant?
'Show me the innovator who imitates Time, that slides in changes imperceptibly.'
'Quod prater spem evenit, cni prodest, minus acceptum; cui obest imigis molestum.
'What happens unexpectedly, is, for that reason, less welcome to him whom it profits, and more galling to him whom it hurls.'
1 Pretend. To put forward or exhibit as a cover.'Lest that heavenly form, pretended To hellish falsehood, snare them.'—Milton. 3 Suspect. Something suspicious. 'If the king ends the difference, and takes away the suspect.'—Suckling. 3 Compare Jer. vi. 16.
'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 in 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
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
Remains of Bishop Copleston.
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.
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, Sec., 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 on 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 introduction 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 system 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.
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. 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 'J 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 turnpike-roads 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
1 What follows is extracted from the London Review of ] 8J9.