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JULY 1, 1858.
ART. I.-History of Civilization in England. By HENRY THOMAS
BUCKLE. Vol. I. John W. Parker and Son.
The book which Mr. Buckle has here given us as the 'first volume' of his first work,' is manifestly the result of much reading and of much thought. The material in it is varied and abundant; and there is ability, in many respects, and no lack of boldness, in the manner of using it. It is long since any single volume has come before us characterized by so much learning, and, on the whole, by so much power. Nevertheless the book is, for the most part, a book of half-truths, and the reasonings based on these half-truths lead, as in all such cases, in the main, to the untrue. Clearsightedness, and the want of it; strength, and something we cannot describe by that name, alternate continually in this work. If its great principles be sound, the prospects of the human race are indeed deplorable, and the elevation possible even to the most favoured remnant of it, is an elevation singularly devoid of all heart and nobleness.
When we express ourselves, we do not mean to say that we think Mr. Buckle singularly destitute of such qualities. We mean by these terms to say that the spirit which pervades his philosophy is, in our estimation, cold, hard, disheartening, and all but hopeless.
Of Mr. Buckle himself we know nothing; there is, however, much in the tone in which this book is written to justify some severity of treatment. Its author must be aware that the doctrines he is endeavouring to establish will be regarded by the majority of the public he is addressing as not only false, but gravely mischievous. He is, however, ostentatiously regardless of the manner in which his teachings may be received by such persons. Furthermore, nothing can exceed the contempt which he evinces
for the understanding of men generally, unless it be the confidence he is disposed to place in his own. The man who writes in such a mood should be careful to stand at as slight a remove from the infallible as may be. What Mr. Buckle's case may have been on this point it is not for us to determine; we can only speak of its result, and that is far from being wholly satisfactory.
The propositions to which the most material part of this volume may be reduced are the following :-First, that the barbarisms and the civilizations of more than three-fourths of the globe have received their complexions from the action of climate, of soil, and of the aspects of nature; and that the necessary laws embodied in these influences are not likely to be less potent in the future than in the past. Second, that in Europe, the part of the world in which such influences are most resistible, their action is such as to leave no place for what is called the freedom of the will, and that there, as everywhere, the great civilizing power has always been knowledge-scientific truth; the action of other supposed causes in that direction, such as religion, morality, literature, and government, being imaginary, not real. Third, that the ages in which this dynamic force—knowledge concerning physical and mental laws, has done most to civilize men, have been ages strongly marked by scepticism.
Many minor topics come up in the course of the illustrations included under the above divisions, but these propositions exhibit the drift and scheme of the volume. Assuredly, this view of the case of humanity is not very cheering. Intellectcold, emotionless intellect, and destiny-hard and pitiless destiny, divide the world between them. Progress may be realized within certain geographical limits, and to a certain extent; but if it be itself a good, it must come from a cause which has in itself no necessary relation to evil or to good—that is, from pure intellect. These will be felt by many of our readers as startling dogmas. Happily, to state them is almost to refute them; and that we may not be suspected of misrepresenting our author, we shall allow him to express his views in his own language.
Here is the case of physical law versus mental freedom :
The evidence that I have collected seems to establish two leading facts, which, unless they can be impugned, are the necessary basis of universal history. The first fact is that, in the civilizations out of Europe, the powers of nature have been far greater than in those in Europe. The second fact is, that those powers have worked immense mischief; and that while one division of them (climate and soil) has caused an unequal distribution of wealth, another division of them (the aspects of nature) has caused an unequal distribution of thought, by concentrating the attention upon subjects which inflame the imagina
Leading Principles of the World.
5 tion. So far as the experience of the past may guide us, we may say that, in all the extra-European civilizations, these obstacles were insuperable.'-p. 138.
For in India, slavery-abject, eternal slavery-was the natural state of the great body of the people; it was the state to which they were doomed by physical laws utterly impossible to resist. Among nations subjected to these conditions the people have counted for nothing.'-p. 73.
'It is evident that if it can be demonstrated that the bad actions of men vary in obedience to the changes in the surrounding society, we shall be obliged to infer that their good actions, which are, as it were, the residue of their bad ones, vary in the same manner; and we shall be forced to the further conclusion that such variations are the result of large and general causes, which, working upon the aggregate of society, must produce certain consequences, without regard to the volition of those particular men, of whom the society is composed.?
The following extracts show the place assigned to scientific truth in relation to human progress, in comparison with all other supposed causes of such progress :
* By applying to the history of man those methods of investigation which have been found successful in other branches of knowledge, and by rejecting all preconceived notions that would not bear the test of those methods, we have arrived at certain results, the heads of which it may now be convenient to recapitulate. We have seen that our actions, being solely the result of internal and external agencies, must be explicable by the laws of those agencies. That is to say, by mental laws, and by physical laws. We have also seen that mental laws are, in Europe, more powerful than physical laws, and that in the progress of civilization their superiority is constantly increasing, because advancing knowledge multiplies the resources of the mind, but leaves the old resources of nature stationary. On this account we have treated the mental laws as being the great regulators of progress; and we have looked at the physical laws as occupying a subordinate place, and as merely displaying themselves in occasional disturbances, the force and frequency of which have been long declining, and are now, on a large average, almost inoperative. Having by this means resolved the study of what may be called the dynamics of society into the study of the laws of mind, we have subjected these last to a similar analysis ; and we have found that they consist of two partsviz., moral laws and intellectual laws. By comparing these two parts we have clearly ascertained the superiority of the intellectual laws, and we have seen that as the progress of civilization is marked by the triumph of the mental laws over the physical, just so is it marked by the triumph of the intellectual laws over the moral ones. This important inference rests on two distinct arguments. First, that moral truths being stationary, and intellectual truths being progressive, it is highly improbable that the progress of society should be due to moral knowledge, which, for many centuries, has remained the same, rather than to intellectual knowledge which, for many centuries, has been incessantly advancing. The otherargument consists in the fact that the two greatest evils known to mankind (religious persecution and war) have not been diminished by moral improvement, but have been, and still are, yielding to intellectual discoveries. From all this it evidently follows that if we wish to ascertain the conditions which regulate the progress of modern civilization, we must seek them in the amount and diffusion of intellectual knowledge; and we must consider physical phenomena and moral principles as causing, no doubt, great aberrations in short periods, but in long periods correcting and balancing themselves, and thus leaving the intellectual laws to act uncontrolled by these inferior and subordinate agents.'—pp. 207, 208.
* Before entering that wide field which now lies in our way, it will be well to clear up some preliminary points. The subjects to which I allude are Religion, Literature, and Government; three topics of vast importance, and which, in the opinion of many persons, are the. prime movers of human affairs. That this opinion is altogether erroneous will be amply proved in the present work . . . . If a people were lest entirely to themselves, their religion, their literature, and their government, would be, not the causes of their civilization, but the effects of it.' (p. 232.) No literature can ever benefit a people unless it finds them in a state of preliminary preparation. In this respect, the analogy with religious opinions is complete. If the religion and the literature of a country are unsuited to its wants they will be useless, because the literature will be neglected, and the religion will be disobeyed. The other opinion is, that the civilization of Europe is chiefly owing to the ability which has been displayed by the different governments, and to the sagacity with which the evils of society have been palliated by legislative remedies. To any one who has studied history in its original sources, this notion must appear so extravagant as to make it difficult to refute it with becoming gravity.' -pp. 249, 250.
Concerning the virtues and good works of scepticism Mr. Buckle is very copious and eloquent. But the term scepticism in his hands acquires a large, an unwarranted, and, in our judgment, a sophistical meaning. Scepticism in a bad sense is coupled with scepticism in a good sense, and with scepticism in no sense at all. Voltaire's atheists and Cromwell's Ironsides have their place alike in this category. Whoever happens to suspect that the world may not be infallible — that it may still have something to learn, is claimed by Mr. Buckle as belonging to his noble army of doubters. This loose employment of language does not promise well for Mr. Buckle's caution and precision as a public instructor :
Here, then,' says our author, 'we have the act of doubting as the originator, or, at all events, as the necessary antecedent of all progress. Here we have that scepticism, the very name of which is an abomi.
Effects attributed to Climate and Cheap Food. 7 nation to the ignorant; because it disturbs their lazy and complacent minds; because it troubles their cherished superstitions ; because it imposes on them the fatigue of inquiry ; and because it rouses even sluggish understandings to ask if things are as they are commonly supposed, and if all is really true which they, from their childhood, have been taught to believe.'--p. 308.
Such is Mr. Buckle's statement of his case.
I. The first question to be settled is, Are cheap food, the indolence consequent on cheap food, and the aspects of nature, sufficient to account for the complexion of the extra-European civilizations ? No doubt these causes have contributed, in some measure, toward that result. But their influence has not been so general nor so great as Mr. Buckle would have us suppose, and they have all been subordinate to other influences, of which our author makes little account.
Those civilizations have all been associated with despotic governments. This, in fact, has been their great characteristic. But in the history of Asia, this form of government is older than the oldest of its known civilizations; and a fact which preceded these civilizations can hardly be said to have been produced by them. The patriarchal authority naturally took this shape. It grew up in the centre of those lesser sovereignties which were at length so largely absorbed in the great Asiatic empires. It migrated, moreover, with the populations which found their home in the mountains and plains lying northward from the seat of those empires.
It must be remembered that Asia is a large place. It is a world in itself. Its surface presents almost every conceivable variety, and its people are like it. It has its level and fertile plains watered by the Tigris and the Ganges. But only a little to the north are chains of mountains, sending their arms right and left, and stretching along the whole space between the Black Sea and the Pacific. Only a little more northward lie those boundless plains, those lands which look so much like sea, over which hordes—we may almost say nations, of rude herdsmen have roamed from the earliest time. The old Scythian warriors have survived in the modern Tartars and Mongolians. Now these races—mountaineers and nomads, hardy, brave, faithful to each other, and, in their way, virtuous-these are the races who have really founded the great Asiatic empires. They have often descended from the north to the south, as the northern nations once did in Europe ; and, having vanquished the corrupt civilization they found, whether in Babylon or Delhi, they have set up their own sovereignty upon its ruins. The first herdsman king of Babylon has had many a successor. Coming in as conquerors, had the rule of these chiefs not been arbitrary before, it was