Page images



THERE is an exact correspondence between the changes which an individual undergoes in the stages of his life, and the changes which humanity undergoes in the stages of its history. The life of an individual is the biography of a single mind. The life of the race is the history of mind itself. History is the visible image of the mind, spreading out on its ample sheet the same mental facts which in biography are collected within the narrow limits of individual consciousness. What is seen in miniature in one man is seen magnified in the colossal proportions of that image of man which history reflects. What is fleeting and evanescent in the brief and rapidly succeeding stages of an individual's development, is slow enough to submit itself to examination when seen occupying its broad space in the development of the race, and fixing a character not on one of the fugitive stages of a single life, but on one of the epochs of history. Biography and history ought, therefore, to be used to verify one another, as to the information which they respectively afford in answer to the question, what is in man, what are all the elements of his nature, and in what order do they make their appearance on the theatre of his development? In other words, what is found dim and fleeting in the consciousness of an individual should in the long history of the consciousness of humanity be legible and marked: the mental results discoverable by a metaphysical analysis should be also discoverable by an historical analysis—and the order in which our faculties unfold, as deduced from the natural history of a single mind, should also be the order in which humanity undergoes similar changes in the succession of its broadly charactered epochs. If the results obtained by these two methods agree, their absolute certainty is proved.

It may appear to some, that the history of our race is only a number of the histories of individuals, a digest of biographies, and that therefore the larger space which we have supposed the elements of our nature would occupy when traced in the life of the race, is merely imaginary. This, however, would not be a true account of human progress. There is an infancy of the race, bearing, as far as we have data to calculate, the same proportion to the whole duration of humanity, as the infancy of

an individual does to his whole earthly existence. And the infancy of an individual now, though bearing the same proportion to his maturity as in the earliest ages of society, is yet commenced, as it were, from a higher level, because of the transmitted experience of the past.

In using psychology and history to verify one another, it is clear that we must begin with the former, that we must first obtain our results from the narrower and more manageable limits, and then employ them as a guide to enable us to define different stages in the development of the species.

The period of infancy is the stage of sensation. The child is occupied with its own feelings, and with the impressions received from without. It is, as it were, collecting the knowledge which is to provide the materials for after combinations, the mental objects which when shuffled through its mind take new forms, and excite the dormant faculties of the embryo philosopher. There is a vast amount of knowledge gained of the sensible qualities of external objects, of their shapes and visible appearances, and more than this a vast extent of correction passed by one sense upon the apparent information conveyed by another, a correction, for instance, through tactual experience of false impressions conveyed by sight, whilst the infant knowledge-gatherer is but crawling on the carpet, stopping at every little obstruction to feel it with its hands, and groping round the legs of tables and chairs. Whoever has watched the happy eagerness of this apparently objectless employment, will not doubt that stores of impressions are being taken in for after use, and that sensation is forming the rudiments of the intellectual nature. Sensation would seem the prevailing mental power of infancy. In other words, the mind acquires, but does not reason upon or take any distinct notice of its own acquirements. Now it is to be remarked, that in the written history of our species there is no record of that period which corresponds with the infancy of an individualand the reason is very plain. It is evident that no autobiography could contain an account of those few first years in which sensation predominates—that whatever we know of that period, we know not by consciousness, but by observation. It is utterly impossible that the child should be his own historian; for he is only receiving impressions—he is not thinking about them, he is too busy as well as too unfurnished, and indeed far too well employed for any reflex or introverted operation of his mind. Now if the species ever stood in the same relative condition, when they were gathering in from the outward world the rudiments of a mental structure, the stuff for intellectual operations neither could there be any historian of that period; there was no spectator further advanced than the rest to tell what he witnessed. History implies development, progress, and change—thought employed upon thought. Humanity must, therefore, at least arrive at its second stage before it could have a record. Of the first stage there could be nothing told, simply because there was nobody to tell it. Accordingly, of the organic infancy of the species we have no monuments, unless, indeed, it be in that Eden of history, that golden age of the life of the race, when in quietism man conversed with nature, and lay motionless on the bosom of his nurse—with which poets and grave historians have prefaced the world's development, casting back on the dawnings of the mind of the race, their own experience of sunny but unreflective childhood.

When sensation has stocked the mind with numerous impressions, the intellectual being becomes to a certain degree independent of the occupation supplied to him from without; his impressions intermingle and combine with one another, and the results are new forms of thought, the simple elements of feelings coming together and forming new products in the mental laboratory. It is evident, however, that as yet the mind would exercise no direct control over these combinations; their elements would come together by natural affinity; the mind, though now the theatre of busy internal operations, would yet suffer those operations to go on as it were spontaneously, and the results would be produced by a kind of metaphysical chemistry, without any interference of the will, without any active thought or predetermination as to the form they should assume, or view to any practical end. Ideas would seem to float through the mind loosely and at pleasure, to form acquaintances according to their own fancy, and to enter into combinations often fantastical enough, if indeed everything is a phantasy which is not strictly reduced to the sober realizations of this existing world. In short, the second period in the history of the mind would seem to be that in which the impressions received from without during the first period, enter into combination with one another, and create a world of ideas, without the mental architect troubling himself much to inquire whether it is in very exact correspondence with the world of external realities,-in other words, when sensation has done its work,- Imagination would seem the next faculty that holds a temporary predominance in the mental nature. The child, when he gets a considerable furniture of impressions, does not think of them practically-does not think what use may be made of them; neither does he reason about them, and strive to account for them; he exercises on them not his active and practically useful

powers, nor his philosophical powers, but his fancy. To him, indeed, it is scarcely fancy. He knows not as yet by experience what is comprehended in the world of realities; law has not yet laid upon him its restriction; he knows of no law but that unconscious law which combines the materials of his own visionary world, and therefore that world is to him a sober and unquestioned existence. The period that follows infancy is proverbially the time when the mind feeds on fiction and the marvellous, not regarded indeed as fiction, but as reality.

Now to look for the correspondent period in the history of the race, we must commence with the first record of the life of humanity. The earliest records of the species are derived from the East. The theatre of that first development of our faculties over which Imagination predominates, is to be looked for in the oriental world. Oriental literature, oriental art, philosophy, and religion, ought therefore to be distinguished by an imaginative impress. We might expect that in the history of such a period, everything would be found visionary, shadowy, and vast, that the material world would be but little examined,—that thought occupied but little with actual existences, would become indefinite, limitless, obscure, and tending towards the infinite. We might expect that in such a state everything would appear ideal, abstract, unrealized, and vague. We might expect that the useful and practical arts of life would be neglected, that there would be no experimental philosophy, no chemistry, no mechanical science,—and that whatever intellectual pursuits there were, would be such as least connected themselves with real existences, such as least required an examination of facts,-.pure mathematics for instance, and an hypothetical astronomy. We might expect that in such a state man would not be occupied much with an examination of himself,—that his thoughts would not stand still to reflect upon themselves, and that therefore in that age there would be no metaphysics. We might expect that religion would attach itself to the invisible and the dreamy—that it would care little for the common duties and moral relationships of life; that it would teach men rather to despise existence than to use it,—that it would be contemplative, more occupied with the future than the present, and its theology more based on hypothesis than on facts. We might expect that its philosophy would be little more than hypothetical explanations of an hypothetical faith,— that art in such a period would not take its objects from real life,--that striving to embody thought, and thought then being indefinite, art seeking for it a correspondent form, would be extravagant, gigantic, and colossal, making vast and unwieldly efforts to represent the sublime, but with no conception Vol. I. No. 6.–New Series.

2 R

of proportion or of the beautiful. We might expect that such a period would produce nothing that deserved the name of accurate history; that its monuments would be chiefly symbolical, because thought had not yet got beyond its state of dependence on external form, so as to apprehend itself in pure ideation, and that man always stretching beyond himself, not reflecting on himself, would keep no record of himself, or of passing events, and therefore, whatever history might be deduced from the symbols of such an era, would be destitute of chronology. Such are the effects which, à priori, from our knowledge of an individual, we might expect imagination to produce on the whole mind, and literature, and productions of an age in which it predominates, and such, in fact, is the broad character stamped on the first page of History, the History of the Oriental World.

The predominance of the imaginative faculty cannot, however, in an individual, at least ordinarily be a lasting state. If it holds much converse with the real world, it is constantly corrected and limited; if it does not hold that converse, it soon exhausts its own materials; and without observation and reflection to give it the stuff of new combinations, it must become either barren, or insipid and childish. There is thus a provision in the workings of our nature, for the passage of the mind out of that state in which Imagination predominates, into that state in which Observation predominates, and the active powers and principles of our nature take the lead. This we regard as the third period in the history of mind. In the individual it is the active portion of life—when he seeks the practical and useful—is busied with the realities of existence, and perhaps gives scarcely its fair share of influence to that imaginative tendency of his thought which has now passed away. This is that middle period of our life, when everything is individual, personal, definite, and conceived with a strong bearing on practical effect. There is but little contemplation for contemplation's sake; but little indulgence to trains of thought unless the will is suffered to come and bend them to some business-like end. In short, through every department of the mind of such a period, the prevailing character is clearness, definiteness of purpose, and present effect.

Classical antiquity is the page of History on which we are to look for the first development of the active powers of our race. From the East to Greece lay the direction of Civilization. When Imagination gave place to observation, and the actual world took the place of a visionary one, it is obvious that a uniform habit of-close attention to individual objects would be introduced into

« PreviousContinue »