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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 hereafter: 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 disposed 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 just now, 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 had 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 what 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?'
It is true, that whatever is established and already existing has a presumption on its side; that is, the burden of proof lies on those who propose a change. No one is called on to bring reasons against any alteration, till some reasons have been offered for it. But the deference which is thus claimed for old laws and institutions is sometimes extended (through the ambiguity of language—the use of 'old' for 'ancient')1 to what are called 'the good old times;' as if the world had formerly been older, instead of younger, than it is now. But it is manifest that the advantage possessed by old men—that of long experience—must belong to the present age more than to any preceding.
1 See Elements of Logic, Appendix.
Ts there not, then, some reason for the ridicule which Bacon speaks of, as attaching to those 'who too much reverence old times?' To say that no changes shall take place is to talk idly. We might as well pretend to control the motions of the earth. To resolve that none shall take place except what are undesigned and accidental, is to resolve that though a clock may gain or lose indefinitely, at least we will take care that it shall never be regulated. 'If time' (to use Bacon's warning words) 'alters things to the worse, and wisdom and counsel jhall not alter them to the better, what shall be the end?'
'It were good 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.'
There is no more striking instance of the silent and imperceptible changes brought about by what is called ' Time/ than that of a language becoming dead. To point out the precise period at which Greek or Latin ceased to be a living language, would be as impossible as to say when a man becomes old. And much confusion of thought and many important practical results arise from not attending to this. For example, many persons have never reflected on the circumstance that one of the earliest translations of the Scriptures into a vernacular tongue was made by the Church of Rome. The Latin Vulgate was so called from its being in the vulgar, i.e. the popular language then spoken in Italy and the neighbouring countries; and that version was evidently made on purpose that the Scriptures might be intelligibly read by, or read to, the mass of the people. But gradually and imperceptibly Latin was superseded by the languages derived from it—Italian, Spanish, and French, —while the Scriptures were still left in Latin: and when it was proposed to translate them into modern tongues, this was regarded as a perilous innovation, though it is plain that the real innovation was that which had taken place imperceptibly, since the very object proposed by the Vulgate-version was, that the Scriptures might not be left in an unknown tongue. Yet we meet with many among the fiercest declaimers against the Church of Rome, who earnestly deprecate any the slightest changes in our authorized version, and cannot endure even the gradual substitution of other words for such as have become obsolete, for fear of 'unsettling men's minds.' It never occurs to them that it was this very dread that kept the Scriptures in the Latin tongue, when that gradually became a dead language.
It has been suggested in a popular Periodical, that if the mass of the People had been habitual readers of the Vulgate, Latin might have never become a dead language. No doubt, if printing had been in use in those days, and the People generally had had as ready access to cheap Bibles as now, this would have retarded and modified the change of the language. But the case which is adduced as parallel is very far from oeing such: namely, the stability given to our language by the use of our English version. For, it ought not to have been forgotten that our country was not, like Italy—subjugated and overrun (subsequently to the translation of the Bible) by numerous tribes speaking a different language. As it is, there can indeed be no doubt that our Authorized Version, and our Prayer-book (and, in a minor degree, Shakespere and Bacon) have contributed to give some fixedness to our language: but after all, the changes that have actually taken place in it are greater than perhaps some persons would at first sight suspect. For, though the words in our Bible and Prayer-book which have become wholly obsolete, are but few, the number is many times greater, of words which, though still in common use, have greatly changed their meaning: such as 'conversation/ 'convenient/ 'carriage/ (Acts xxi. 15) 'prevent/ 'reasonable,' 'lively/ ' incomprehensible/ those most important words 'shall' and 'will/ and many others.1 And words which have thus changed their meaning are, of course, much more likely to perplex and bewilder the reader, than those entirely out of use. These latter only leave him in darkness; the others mislead him by a false light.
Universally, the removal at once of the accumulated effects gradually produced in a very long time, is apt to strike the vulgar as a novelty, when, in truth, it is only a restoration of things to their original state.1
1 See Bishop Hinds on the Authorized Version; and also a most useful little Vocabulary of Obsolete Words in our version, by the Rev. Mr. Booker.
For example, suppose a clock to lose only one minute and a few seconds in the week, and to be left uncorrected for a year; it will then have lost a whole hour; and any one who then sets it right, will appear to the ignorant to have suddenly robbed them of that amount of time.
This case is precisely analogous to that of the change of style. There was, in what is called the Julian Calendar (that fixed by Julius Caesar), a minute error, which made every fourth year a trifle too long; in the course of centuries the error amounted to eleven days, and when, about a century ago, we rectified this (as had been done in Roman Catholic countries a century earlier), this mode of reckoning was called 'the new style.' The Russians, who still use what is called the 'old style/ are, now, not eleven, but twelve days wrong; that is, they are one day further from the original position of the days of the month, as fixed in the time of Julius Caesar: and this they call adhering to the Julian Calendar.
So, also, to reject the religious practices and doctrines that have crept in by little and little since the days of the Apostles, and thus to restore Christianity to what it was under them, appears to the unthinking to be forsaking the old religion and bringing in a new.2
It is to be observed that hurtful changes are often attributed to harmless ones; and apprehensions are entertained that a change, however small, is necessarily a dangerous thing, as tending to produce extensive and hurtful innovations. Many instances may be found of small alterations being followed by great and mischievous ones (' Post hoc; ergo propter hoc'); but I doubt whether all history can furnish an instance of the greater innovation having been, properly speaking, caused by the lesser. Of course, the first change will always precede the second; and many mischievous innovations have taken place; but these may often be explained by the too long postponement of the requisite changes; by the neglect of the homely old
1 See Cautions for the Times, No. 2.
2 Bishop Hinds's views, in his work on Tlte Three Temples, have been censured (;is he himself had anticipated) as novel; though so familiar to the Apostles as to have tinged all their language; as in their use of the word ' edify/ &c.