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proverb—' A tile in time saves nine. ' A house may stand for ages if some very small repairs and alterations are promptly made from time to time as they are needed; whereas if decay is suffered to go on unheeded, it may become necessary to pull down and rebuild the whole house. The longer any needful reform is delayed, the greater and the more difficult, and the more sudden, and the more dangerous and unsettling, it will be. And then, perhaps, those who had caused this delay by their pertinacious resistance to any change at all, will point to these evils—evils brought on by themselves—in justification of their conduct. If they would have allowed a few broken slates on the roof to be at once replaced by new ones, the timbers would not have rotted, nor the walls, in consequence, leaned, nor would the house have thence needed to be demolished and rebuilt.
Most wise, therefore, is Bacon's admonition, to copy the great innovator Time, by vigilantly watching for, and promptly counteracting, the first small insidious approaches of decay, and introducing gradually, from time to time, such small improvements (individually small, but collectively great) as there may be room for, and which will prevent the necessity of violent and sweeping reformations.
'It is good 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 pretendeth the reformation.'
It has been above remarked that most men have no desire for change, as change, in what concerns the serious business of life. True it is, that great and sudden and violent changes do take place—that ancient institutions have been recklessly overthrown—that sanguinary revolutions have taken place in quick succession, and that new schemes, often the most wild and extravagant, both in civil and religious matters, have been again and again introduced. We need not seek far to find countries that have had, within the memory of persons now living, not less than nine or ten perfectly distinct systems of government. But no changes of this kind ever originate in the mere love of change for its own sake. Never do men adopt a new form of about introducing some different, and, perhaps, greater evil in its place. It is seldom very difficult to dam up a stream that incommodes us; only we should remember that it will then force for itself a new channel, or else spread out into an unwholesome marsh. The evils of contested elections, the bribery, the intimidation, and the deception which they often give rise to, are undeniable; and they would be completely cured by suppressing the House of Commons altogether, or making the seats in it hereditary; but we should not be gainers by the exchange. There are evils belonging specifically to a pure monarchy, and to an oligarchy, and to a democracy, and to a mixed government: and a change in the form of government would always remedy one class of evils, and introduce another. And under all governments, civil and ecclesiastical, there are evils arising from the occasional incapacity or misconduct of those to whom power is entrusted; evils which might be at once remedied by introducing the far greater evil of anarchy, and leaving every man to 'do as is right in his own eyes.' There are inconveniences, again, from being governed by fixed laws, which must always bear hard on some particular cases; but we should be no gainers by leaving every judge to act like a Turkish cadi, entirely at his own discretion. And the like holds good in all departments of life. There are careless and inefficient clergymen: abolish endowments, and resort to what is called the ' voluntary system,' and you will have no inactive ministers; only, 'preaching' will, as Paley observes, 'become a mode of begging: and a Minister whose flock consists of persons all engaged in some one bad practice, such as smugglers, rebels, slave-dealers, or wreckers, will find that he is a man hired to keep their conscience quiet in a wrong course. This also may be cured by prohibiting the ministers receiving any contributions; only, this will confine the ministry to men of fortune. And so of the rest. to acquiesce without inquiry in the necessity of any existing practice. In short, we should, on the one hand, not venture rashly on untrodden paths without a careful survey of the country, and, on the other hand, to be on our guard against following, in confident security, the track of our own footsteps.' 1
government, or a new system of religion, merely from that delight in variety which leads them to seek new amusements, or to alter the fashion of their dress. They seek changes in what relates to serious matters of fundamental importance, only through the pressure of severe suffering, or of some vehement want, or, at least, from the perception of some great evil or deficiency. "Widely as the vulgar are often mistaken as to the causes of any distress, or as to the remedies to be sought, the distress itself is real, when they aim at any great revolution. If an infant beats its nurse, although its acts are as irrational as those of a mad dog, you may be assured that it is really in pain. And when men are suffering from a famine or pestilence, though it is absurd for them to seek to obtain relief by establishing a new kind of senate or parliament, or by setting up a dictator, or by slaughtering all people of property, still the evil itself is real, and is keenly felt; and it is that, and not a mere love of change, for change sake, that drives them to take the most irrational steps.
And when evils are really occasioned by absurd and oppressive laws and tyrannical governments, it is right and rational to aim at a change, though the changes which an infuriated populace does bring about will usually be both irrational and wrong—will overthrow the good along with the evil, and will be pregnant with worse evils than they seek to remedy. The ancient despotism of France, detestable as it was, did not cause more misery in a century than the Reign of Terror did in a year. And, universally, the longer and the more grievously any people have been oppressed, the more violent and extravagant will be the reaction. And the people will often be in the condition of King Lear, going to and fro between his daughters, and deprived first of half his attendants, and then of half the remainder, then of all.
Hence, though it is true that innovations in important matters are never sought through mere love of change for its own sake, but for relief from some evil, the danger is not the less, of rash and ill-advised innovations; because evils, greater or less, and more or less of imperfection, always do exist in all human institutions administered by fallible men.
And what is more, there is seldom any kind of evil that does not admit of a complete and effectual remedy, if we are careless
One of the greatest evils produced by the thorough-going Reformer is that the alarm which he excites is the great strengthener of the ultra-conservative principle. 'See what we shall come to if we listen to these lovers of change V This is one of the infinite number of cases in which evils are brought on by their contraries: in short, by a re-action.
The mass of mankind rush eagerly into whatever extreme happens to be the fashion of the day; like planks floating to and fro with the tides. Those a few degrees above them see and try to avoid an error, but take no precautions against a contrary extreme. 'Dum vitant stulti vitia, in contraria currant.' They are like a mariner sailing and rowing with all his might as far as possible against a flood-tide, and never thinking that an ebb is to come. A wise man always anticipates re-actions, and takes his measures accordingly. But I have already dwelt upon this point in the remarks on ' Superstition.'
It should be remembered, then, that though pure conservatism is a folly, and though it is true that men do not covet innovation, as such, with equal blindness, still there is as much folly, and as much danger, in a blindly reformatory principle. For though men do not seek a change except when they perceive some evil, inconvenience, or imperfection, the thoroughgoing Reformer always will find some—not unreal—ground of complaint, in the working of every institution. 'Erunt vitia donee homines.' And if the house is to be pulled down and rebuilt till we have got one that is perfect, and, moreover, that every one will think such, we shall be as constantly in brick and mortar as if we did delight in pulling down for its own sake.
And we should remember, also, that 'custom will often blind one to the good as well as to the evil effects of any longestablished system. The agues engendered by a marsh (like that ancient one which bore the name and surrounded the city of Camarina), and which have so long been common as to be little regarded, may not be its only effects: it may be also a defence against an enemy. The Camarinaeans having drained the swamp, their city became healthy, but was soon after besieged and taken. The preventive effects, indeed, whether good or evil, of any long-established system are hardly ever duly appreciated. But though no law or system, whether actually existing or proposed, can be expected to be unexceptionable, or should have its defects pointed out without any notice of corresponding advantages, it is most important to examine every measure, whether new or old, and to try it on its intrinsic merits; always guarding against the tendency
The two kinds of absurdity here adverted to may be compared respectively to the acts of two kinds of irrational animals, a moth, and a horse. The moth rushes into a flame, and is burned: and the horse obstinately stands still in a stable that is on fire, and is burned likewise. One may often meet with persons of opposite dispositions, though equally unwise, who are accordingly prone respectively to these opposite errors: the one partaking more of the character of the moth, and the other of the horse. This comparison, I may add, suggests a practical rule. The only way to lead a horse out of a burning stable, is to put on him his accustomed gear; the saddle and bridle, if a saddle-horse, or the collar, if a draught-horse; and then by the force of association, he will submit to be led out. So also, a man of the disposition alluded to, will the more readily comply with a suggestion, if put into the form, as far as may be, of his accustomed practice. He may be led, if put into his usual gear.
The opposite course to this is taken by not a few, who have a passion to be accounted original. They exaggerate the novelty of anything they propose, and put whatever they say into the most paradoxical form, as if on purpose to make people stare. They must be always broaching something that is new; or at least, as the phrase is, putting ' old things in a new light.' But if your object be to instruct, convince, or persuade, rather than to astonish, you will find it quite as often advisable to put new things in an old light.
Bacon's maxim, therefore, is most wise, to 'make a stand upon the ancient way, and look about us to discover what is the best way;' neither changing at once anything that is established, merely because of some evils actually existing, without considering whether we can substitute something that is, on the whole, better; nor, again, steadily rejecting every plan or system
1 See Appendix E. to Lectures on Political Economy, p. 225.