The Project Gutenberg Etext of Physics and Politics, by Walter Bagehot




NEW AND CHEAPER EDITION (also published in the International
Scientific Series, crown 8vo. 5s.)



No. I.


One peculiarity of this age is the sudden acquisition of much
physical knowledge. There is scarcely a department of science or art
which is the same, or at all the same, as it was fifty years ago. A
new world of inventions--of railways and of telegraphs--has grown up
around us which we cannot help seeing; a new world of ideas is in
the air and affects us, though we do not see it. A full estimate of
these effects would require a great book, and I am sure I could not
write it; but I think I may usefully, in a few papers, show how,
upon one or two great points, the new ideas are modifying two old
sciences--politics and political economy. Even upon these points my
ideas must be incomplete, for the subject is novel; but, at any
rate, I may suggest some conclusions, and so show what is requisite
even if I do not supply it.

If we wanted to describe one of the most marked results, perhaps the
most marked result, of late thought, we should say that by it
everything is made 'an antiquity.' When, in former times; our
ancestors thought of an antiquarian, they described him as occupied
with coins, and medals, and Druids' stones; these were then the
characteristic records of the decipherable past, and it was with
these that decipherers busied themselves. But now there are other
relics; indeed, all matter is become such. Science tries to find in
each bit of earth the record of the causes which made it precisely
what it is; those forces have left their trace, she knows, as much
as the tact and hand of the artist left their mark on a classical
gem. It would be tedious (and it is not in my way) to reckon up the
ingenious questionings by which geology has made part of the earth,
at least, tell part of its tale; and the answers would have been
meaningless if physiology and conchology and a hundred similar
sciences had not brought their aid. Such subsidiary sciences are to
the decipherer of the present day what old languages were to the
antiquary of other days; they construe for him the words which he
discovers, they give a richness and a truth-like complexity to the
picture which he paints, even in cases where the particular detail
they tell is not much. But what here concerns me is that man himself
has, to the eye of science, become 'an antiquity.' She tries to
read, is beginning to read, knows she ought to read, in the frame of
each man the result of a whole history of all his life, of what he
is and what makes him so,--of all his fore-fathers, of what they
were and of what made them so. Each nerve has a sort of memory of
its past life, is trained or not trained, dulled or quickened, as
the case may be; each feature is shaped and characterised, or left
loose and meaningless, as may happen; each hand is marked with its
trade and life, subdued to what it works in;--IF WE COULD BUT SEE

It may be answered that in this there is nothing new; that we always
knew how much a man's past modified a man's future; that we all knew
how much, a man is apt to be like his ancestors; that the existence
of national character is the greatest commonplace in the world; that
when a philosopher cannot account for anything in any other manner,
he boldly ascribes it to an occult quality in some race. But what
physical science does is, not to discover the hereditary element,
but to render it distinct,--to give us an accurate conception of
what we may expect, and a good account of the evidence by which we
are led to expect it. Let us see what that science teaches on the
subject; and, as far as may be, I will give it in the words of those
who have made it a professional study, both that I may be more sure
to state it rightly and vividly, and because--as I am about to apply
these principles to subjects which are my own pursuit--I would
rather have it quite clear that I have not made my premises to suit
my own conclusions.

1st, then, as respects the individual, we learn as follows: 'Even
while the cerebral hemispheres are entire, and in full possession of
their powers, the brain gives rise to actions which are as
completely reflex as those of the spinal cord.

'When the eyelids wink at a flash of light, or a threatened blow, a
reflex action takes place, in which the afferent nerves are the
optic, the efferent, the facial. When a bad smell causes a grimace,
there is a reflex action through the same motor nerve, while the
olfactory nerves constitute the afferent channels. In these cases,
therefore, reflex action must be effected through the brain, all the
nerves involved being cerebral. 'When the whole body starts at a
loud noise, the afferent auditory nerve gives rise to an impulse
which passes to the medulla oblongata, and thence affects the great
majority of the motor nerves of the body. 'It may be said that these
are mere mechanical actions, and have nothing to do with the acts
which we associate with intelligence. But let us consider what takes
place in such an act as reading aloud. In this case, the whole
attention of the mind is, or ought to be, bent upon the subject-
matter of the book; while a multitude of most delicate muscular
actions are going on, of which the reader is not in the slightest
degree aware. Thus the book is held in the hand, at the right
distance from the eyes; the eyes are moved, from side to side, over
the lines, and up and down the pages. Further, the most delicately
adjusted and rapid movements of the muscles of the lips, tongue, and
throat, of laryngeal and respiratory muscles, are involved in the
production of speech. Perhaps the reader is standing up and
accompanying the lecture with appropriate gestures. And yet every
one of these muscular acts may be performed with utter
unconsciousness, on his part, of anything but the sense of the words
in the book. In other words, they are reflex acts.

'The reflex actions proper to the spinal cord itself are NATURAL,
and are involved in the structure of the cord and the properties of
its constituents. By the help of the brain we may acquire an
affinity of ARTIFICIAL reflex actions. That is to say, an action may
require all our attention and all our volition for its first, or
second, or third performance, but by frequent repetition it becomes,
in a manner, part our organisation, and is performed without
volition, or even consciousness.

'As everyone knows, it takes a soldier a very long time to learn his
drill--to put himself, for instance, into the attitude of
'attention' at the instant the word of command is heard. But, after
a time, the sound of the word gives rise to the act, whether the
soldier be thinking of it or not. There is a story, which is
credible enough, though it may not be true, of a practical joker,
who, seeing a discharged veteran carrying home his dinner, suddenly
called out 'Attention!' whereupon the man instantly brought his
hands down, and lost his mutton and potatoes in the gutter. The
drill had been gone through, and its effects had become embodied in
the man's nervous structure.

'The possibility of all education (of which military drill is only
one particular form) is based upon, the existence of this power
which the nervous system possesses, of organising conscious actions
into more or less unconscious, or reflex, operations. It may be laid
down as a rule, that if any two mental states be called up together,
or in succession, with due frequency and vividness, the subsequent
production of the one of them will suffice to call up the other, and
that whether we desire it or not.' [Footnote: Huxley's Elementary
Physiology, pp. 284-286.]

The body of the accomplished man has thus become by training
different from what it once was, and different from that of the rude
man; it is charged with stored virtue and acquired faculty which
come away from it unconsciously.

Again, as to race, another authority teaches:--'Man's life truly
represents a progressive development of the nervous system, none the
less so because it takes place out of the womb instead of in it. The
regular transmutation of motions which are at first voluntary into
secondary automatic motions, as Hartley calls them, is due to a
gradually effected organisation; and we may rest assured of this,
that co-ordinate activity always testifies to stored-up power,
either innate or acquired.

'The way in which an acquired faculty of the parent animal is
sometimes distinctly transmitted to the progeny as a heritage,
instinct, or innate endowment, furnishes a striking confirmation of
the foregoing observations. Power that has been laboriously acquired
and stored up as statical in one generation manifestly in such case
becomes the inborn faculty of the next; and the development takes
place in accordance with that law of increasing speciality and
complexity of adaptation to external nature which is traceable
through the animal kingdom; or, in other words, that law, of
progress from the general to the special in development which the
appearance of nerve force amongst natural forces and the complexity
of the nervous system of man both illustrate. As the vital force
gathers up, as it were, into itself inferior forces, and might be
said to be a development of them, or, as in the appearance of nerve
force, simpler and more general forces are gathered up and
concentrated in a more special and complex mode of energy; so again
a further specialisation takes place in the development of the
nervous system, whether watched through generations or through
individual life. It is not by limiting our observations to the life
of the individual, however, who is but a link in the chain of
organic beings connecting the past with the future, that we shall
come at the full truth; the present individual is the inevitable
consequence of his antecedents in the past, and in the examination
of these alone do we arrive at the adequate explanation of him. It
behoves us, then, having found any faculty to be innate, not to rest
content there, but steadily to follow backwards the line of
causation, and thus to display, if possible, its manner of origin.
This is the more necessary with the lower animals, where so much is
innate.' [Footnote: Maudsley on the Physiology and Pathology of the
Mind, p. 73.]

The special laws of inheritance are indeed as yet unknown. All which
is clear, and all which is to my purpose is, that there is a
tendency, a probability, greater or less according to circumstances,
but always considerable, that the descendants of cultivated parents
will have, by born nervous organisation, a greater aptitude for
cultivation than the descendants of such as are not cultivated; and
that this tendency augments, in some enhanced ratio, for many

I do not think any who do not acquire--and it takes a hard effort to
acquire--this notion of a transmitted nerve element will ever
understand 'the connective tissue' of civilisation. We have here the
continuous force which binds age to age, which enables each to begin
with some improvement on the last, if the last did itself improve;
which makes each civilisation not a set of detached dots, but a line
of colour, surely enhancing shade by shade. There is, by this
doctrine, a physical cause of improvement from generation to
generation: and no imagination which has apprehended it can forget
it; but unless you appreciate that cause in its subtle materialism,
unless you see it, as it were, playing upon the nerves of men, and,
age after age, making nicer music from finer chords, you cannot
comprehend the principle of inheritance either in its mystery or its

These principles are quite independent of any theory as to the
nature of matter, or the nature of mind. They are as true upon the
theory that mind acts on matter--though separate and altogether
different from it--as upon the theory of Bishop Berkeley that there
is no matter, but only mind; or upon the contrary theory--that there
is no mind, but only matter; or upon the yet subtler theory now
often held--that both mind and matter are different modifications of
some one tertium quid, some hidden thing or force. All these
theories admit--indeed they are but various theories to account for-
-the fact that what we call matter has consequences in what we call
mind, and that what we call mind produces results in what we call
matter; and the doctrines I quote assume only that. Our mind in some
strange way acts on our nerves, and our nerves in some equally
strange way store up the consequences, and somehow the result, as a
rule and commonly enough, goes down to our descendants; these
primitive facts all theories admit, and all of them labour to

Nor have these plain principles any relation to the old difficulties
of necessity and freewill. Every Freewillist holds that the special
force of free volition is applied to the pre-existing forces of our
corporeal structure; he does not consider it as an agency acting in
vacuo, but as an agency acting upon other agencies. Every
Freewillist holds that, upon the whole, if you strengthen the motive
in a given direction, mankind tend more to act in that direction.
Better motives--better impulses, rather--come from a good body:
worse motives or worse impulses come from a bad body. A Freewillist
may admit as much as a Necessarian that such improved conditions
tend to improve human action, and that deteriorated conditions tend
to deprave human action. No Freewillist ever expects as much from
St. Giles's as he expects from Belgravia: he admits an hereditary
nervous system as a datum for the will, though he holds the will to
be an extraordinary incoming 'something.' No doubt the modern
doctrine of the 'Conservation of Force,' if applied to decision, is
inconsistent with free will; if you hold that force 'is never lost
or gained,' you cannot hold that there is a real gain--a sort of new
creation of it in free volition. But I have nothing to do here with
the universal 'Conservation of Force.' The conception of the nervous
organs as stores of will-made power does not raise or need so vast a

Still less are these principles to be confounded with Mr. Buckle's
idea that material forces have been the main-springs of progress,
and moral causes secondary, and, in comparison, not to be thought
of. On the contrary, moral causes are the first here. It is the
action of the will that causes the unconscious habit; it is the
continual effort of the beginning that creates the hoarded energy of
the end; it is the silent toil of the first generation that becomes
the transmitted aptitude of the next. Here physical causes do not
create the moral, but moral create the physical; here the beginning
is by the higher energy, the conservation and propagation only by
the lower. But we thus perceive how a science of history is
possible, as Mr. Buckle said,--a science to teach the laws of
tendencies--created by the mind, and transmitted by the body--which
act upon and incline the will of man from age to age.


But how do these principles change the philosophy of our politics? I
think in many ways; and first, in one particularly. Political
economy is the most systematised and most accurate part of political
philosophy; and yet, by the help of what has been laid down, I think
we may travel back to a sort of 'pre-economic age,' when the very
assumptions of political economy did not exist, when its precepts
would have been ruinous, and when the very contrary precepts were
requisite and wise.

For this purpose I do not need to deal with the dim ages which
ethnology just reveals to us--with the stone age, and the flint
implements, and the refuse-heaps. The time to which I would go back
is only that just before the dawn of history--coeval with the dawn,
perhaps, it would be right to say--for the first historians saw such
a state of society, though they saw other and more advanced states
too: a period of which we have distinct descriptions from eye-
witnesses, and of which the traces and consequences abound in the
oldest law. 'The effect,' says Sir Henry Maine, the greatest of our
living jurists--the only one, perhaps, whose writings are in keeping
with our best philosophy--'of the evidence derived from comparative
jurisprudence is to establish that view of the primeval condition of
the human race which is known as the Patriarchal Theory. There is no
doubt, of course, that this theory was originally based on the
Scriptural history of the Hebrew patriarchs in Lower Asia; but, as
has been explained already, its connection with Scripture rather
militated than otherwise against its reception as a complete theory,
since the majority of the inquirers who till recently addressed
themselves with most earnestness to the colligation of social
phenomena, were either influenced by the strongest prejudice against
Hebrew antiquities or by the strongest desire to construct their
system without the assistance of religious records. Even now there
is perhaps a disposition to undervalue these accounts, or rather to
decline generalising from them, as forming part of the traditions of
a Semitic people. It is to be noted, however, that the legal
testimony comes nearly exclusively from the institutions of
societies belonging to the Indo-European stock, the Romans,
Hindoos, and Sclavonians supplying the greater part of it; and
indeed the difficulty, at the present stage of the inquiry, is to
know where to stop, to say of what races of men it is NOT allowable
to lay down that the society in which they are united was originally
organised on the patriarchal model. The chief lineaments of such a
society, as collected from the early chapters in Genesis, I need not
attempt to depict with any minuteness, both because they are
familiar to most of us from our earliest childhood, and because,
from the interest once attaching to the controversy which takes its
name from the debate between Locke and Filmer, they fill a whole
chapter, though not a very profitable one, in English literature.
The points which lie on the surface of the history are these:--The
eldest male parent--the eldest ascendant--is absolutely supreme in
his household. His dominion extends to life and death, and is as
unqualified over his children and their houses as over his slaves;
indeed the relations of sonship and serfdom appear to differ in
little beyond the higher capacity which the child in blood possesses
of becoming one day the head of a family himself. The flocks and
herds of the children are the flocks and herds of the father, and
the possessions of the parent, which he holds in a representative
rather than in a proprietary character, are equally divided at his
death among his descendants in the first degree, the eldest son
sometimes receiving a double share under the name of birthright, but
more generally endowed with no hereditary advantage beyond an
honorary precedence. A less obvious inference from the Scriptural
accounts is that they seem to plant us on the traces of the breach
which is first effected in the empire of the parent. The families of
Jacob and Esau separate and form two nations; but the families of
Jacob's children hold together and become a people. This looks like
the immature germ of a state or commonwealth, and of an order of
rights superior to the claims of family relation.

'If I were attempting for the more special purposes of the jurist to
express compendiously the characteristics, of the situation in which
mankind disclose themselves at the dawn of their history, I should
be satisfied to quote a few verses from the "Odyssee" of Homer:--
[Words in Greek.] '"They have neither assemblies for consultation
nor THEMISTES, but everyone exercises jurisdiction over his wives
and his children, and they pay no regard to one another."' And this
description of the beginnings of history is confirmed by what may be
called the last lesson of prehistoric ethnology. Perhaps it is the
most valuable, as it is clearly the most sure result of that
science, that it has dispelled the dreams of other days as to a
primitive high civilisation. History catches man as he emerges, from
the patriarchal state: ethnology shows how he lived, grew, and
improved in that state. The conclusive arguments against the
imagined original civilisation are indeed plain to everyone. Nothing
is more intelligible than a moral deterioration of mankind--nothing
than an aesthetic degradation--nothing than a political degradation.
But you cannot imagine mankind giving up the plain utensils of
personal comfort, if they once knew them; still less can you imagine
them giving up good weapons--say bows and arrows--if they once knew
them. Yet if there were a primitive civilisation these things MUST
have been forgotten, for tribes can be found in every degree of
ignorance, and every grade of knowledge as to pottery, as to the
metals, as to the means of comfort, as to the instruments of war.
And what is more, these savages have not failed from stupidity; they
are, in various degrees of originality, inventive about these
matters. You cannot trace the roots of an old perfect system
variously maimed and variously dying; you cannot find it, as you
find the trace of the Latin language in the mediaeval dialects. On
the contrary, you find it beginning--as new scientific discoveries
and inventions now begin--here a little and there a little, the same
thing half-done in various half-ways, and so as no one who knew the
best way would ever have begun. An idea used to prevail that bows
and arrows were the 'primitive weapons'--the weapons of universal
savages; but modern science has made a table, [Footnote: See the
very careful table and admirable discussion in Sir John Lubbock's
Pre-Historic Times.] and some savages have them and some have not,
and some have substitutes of one sort and some have substitutes of
another--several of these substitutes being like the 'boomerang,' so
much more difficult to hit on or to use than the bow, as well as so
much less effectual. And not only may the miscellaneous races of the
world be justly described as being upon various edges of industrial
civilisation, approaching it by various sides, and falling short of
it in various particulars, but the moment they see the real thing
they know how to use it as well, or better, than civilised man. The
South American uses the horse which the European brought better than
the European. Many races use the rifle--the especial and very
complicated weapon of civilised man--better, upon an average, than
he can use it. The savage with simple tools--tools he appreciates--
is like a child, quick to learn, not like an old man, who has once
forgotten and who cannot acquire again. Again, if there had been an
excellent aboriginal civilisation in Australia and America, where,
botanists and zoologists, ask, are its vestiges? If these savages
did care to cultivate wheat, where is the wild wheat gone which
their abandoned culture must have left? if they did give up using
good domestic animals, what has become of the wild ones which would,
according to all natural laws, have sprung up out of them? This much
is certain, that the domestic animals of Europe have, since what may
be called the discovery of the WORLD during the last hundred years,
run up and down it. The English rat--not the pleasantest of our
domestic creatures--has gone everywhere; to Australia, to New
Zealand, to America: nothing but a complicated rat-miracle could
ever root him out. Nor could a common force expel the horse from
South America since the Spaniards took him thither; if we did not
know the contrary we should suppose him a principal aboriginal
animal. Where then, so to say, are the rats and horses of the
primitive civilisation? Not only can we not find them, but
zoological science tells us that they never existed, for the 'feebly
pronounced,' the ineffectual, marsupials of Australia and New
Zealand could never have survived a competition with better
creatures, such as that by which they are now perishing. We catch
then a first glimpse of patriarchal man, not with any industrial
relics of a primitive civilisation, but with some gradually learnt
knowledge of the simpler arts, with some tamed animals and some
little knowledge of the course of nature as far as it tells upon the
seasons and affects the condition of simple tribes. This is what,
according to ethnology, we should expect the first historic man to
be, and this is what we in fact find him. But what was his mind; how
are we to describe that?

I believe the general description in which Sir John Lubbock sums up
his estimate of the savage mind suits the patriarchal mind.
'Savages,' he says, 'unite the character of childhood with the
passions and strength of men.' And if we open the first record of
the pagan world--the poems of Homer--how much do we find that suits
this description better than any other. Civilisation has indeed
already gone forward ages beyond the time at which any such
description is complete. Man, in Homer, is as good at oratory, Mr.
Gladstone seems to say, as he has ever been, and, much as that
means, other and better things might be added to it. But after all,
how much of the 'splendid savage' there is in Achilles, and how much
of the 'spoiled child sulking in his tent.' Impressibility and
excitability are the main characteristics of the oldest Greek
history, and if we turn to the east, the 'simple and violent' world,
as Mr. Kinglake calls it, of the first times meets us every moment.

And this is precisely what we should expect. An 'inherited drill,'
science says, 'makes modern nations what they are; their born
structure bears the trace of the laws of their fathers;' but the
ancient nations came into no such inheritance; they were the
descendants of people who did what was right in their own eyes; they
were born to no tutored habits, no preservative bonds, and therefore
they were at the mercy of every impulse and blown by every passion.

The condition of the primitive man, if we conceive of him rightly,
is, in several respects, different from any we know. We
unconsciously assume around us the existence of a great
miscellaneous social machine working to our hands, and not only
supplying our wants, but even telling and deciding when those wants
shall come. No one can now without difficulty conceive how people
got on before there were clocks and watches; as Sir G. Lewis said,
'it takes a vigorous effort of the imagination' to realise a period
when it was a serious difficulty to know the hour of day. And much
more is it difficult to fancy the unstable minds of such men as
neither knew nature, which is the clock-work of material
civilisation, nor possessed a polity, which is a kind of clock-work
to moral civilisation. They never could have known what to expect;
the whole habit of steady but varied anticipation, which makes our
minds what they are, must have been wholly foreign to theirs.

Again, I at least cannot call up to myself the loose conceptions (as
they must have been) of morals which then existed. If we set aside
all the element derived from law and polity which runs through our
current moral notions, I hardly know what we shall have left. The
residuum was somehow, and in some vague way, intelligible to the
ante-political man, but it must have been uncertain, wavering, and
unfit to be depended upon. In the best cases it existed much as the
vague feeling of beauty now exists in minds sensitive but untaught;
a still small voice of uncertain meaning; an unknown something
modifying everything else, and higher than anything else, yet in
form so indistinct that when you looked for it, it was gone--or if
this be thought the delicate fiction of a later fancy, then morality
was at least to be found in the wild spasms of 'wild justice,' half
punishment, half outrage,--but anyhow, being unfixed by steady law,
it was intermittent, vague, and hard for us to imagine. Everybody
who has studied mathematics knows how many shadowy difficulties he
seemed to have before he understood the problem, and how impossible
it was when once the demonstration had flashed upon him, ever to
comprehend those indistinct difficulties again, or to call up the
mental confusion, that admitted them. So in these days, when we
cannot by any effort drive out of our minds the notion of law, we
cannot imagine the mind of one who had never known it, and who could
not. by any effort have conceived it.

Again, the primitive man could not have imagined what we mean by a
nation. We on the other hand cannot imagine those to whom it is a
difficulty; 'we know what it is when you do not ask us,' but we
cannot very quickly explain or define it. But so much as this is
plain, a nation means a LIKE body of men, because of that likeness
capable of acting together, and because of that likeness inclined to
obey similar rules; and even this Homer's Cyclops--used only to
sparse human beings--could not have conceived.

To sum up--LAW--rigid, definite, concise law--is the primary want of
early mankind; that which they need above anything else, that which
is requisite before they can gain anything else. But it is their
greatest difficulty, as well as their first requisite; the thing
most out of their reach, as well as that most beneficial to them if
they reach it. In later ages many races have gained much of this
discipline quickly, though painfully; a loose set of scattered clans
has been often and often forced to substantial settlement by a rigid
conqueror; the Romans did half the work for above half Europe. But
where could the first ages find Romans or a conqueror? Men conquer
by the power of government, and it was exactly government which then
was not. The first ascent of civilisation was at a steep gradient,
though when now we look down upon it, it seems almost nothing.


How the step from polity to no polity was made distinct, history
does not record,--on this point Sir Henry Maine has drawn a most
interesting conclusion from his peculiar studies:--

'It would be,' he tells us, 'a very simple explanation of the origin
of society if we could base a general conclusion on the hint
furnished us by the scriptural example already adverted to, and
could suppose that communities began to exist wherever a family held
together instead of separating at the death of its patriarchal
chieftain. In most of the Greek states and in Rome there long
remained the vestiges of an ascending series of groups out of which
the state was at first constituted. The family, house, and tribe of
the Romans may be taken as a type of them, and they are so described
to us that we can scarcely help conceiving them as a system of
concentric circles which have gradually expanded from the same
point. The elementary group is the family, connected by common
subjection to the highest male ascendant. The aggregation of
families forms the gens, or house. The aggregation of houses makes
the tribe. The aggregation of tribes constitutes the commonwealth.
Are we at liberty to follow these indications, and to lay down that
the commonwealth is a collection of persons united by common descent
from the progenitor of an original family? Of this we may at least
be certain, that all ancient societies regarded themselves as having
proceeded from one original stock, and even laboured under an
incapacity for comprehending any reason except this for their
holding together in political union. The history of political ideas
begins, in fact, with the assumption that kinship in blood is the
sole possible ground of community in political functions; nor is
there any of those subversions of feeling, which we term
emphatically revolutions, so startling and so complete as the change
which is accomplished when some other principle--such as that, for
instance, of LOCAL CONTIGUITY--establishes itself for the first time
as the basis of common political action.'

If this theory were true, the origin of politics would not seem a
great change, or, in early days, be really a great change. The
primacy of the elder brother, in tribes casually cohesive, would be
slight; it would be the beginning of much, but it would be nothing
in itself; it would be--to take an illustration from the opposite
end of the political series--it would be like the headship of a weak
parliamentary leader over adherents who may divide from him in a
moment; it was the germ of sovereignty,--it was hardly yet
sovereignty itself.

I do not myself believe that the suggestion of Sir Henry Maine--for
he does not, it will be seen, offer it as a confident theory--is an
adequate account of the true origin of politics. I shall in a
subsequent essay show that there are, as it seems to me, abundant
evidences of a time still older than that which he speaks of. But
the theory of Sir Henry Maine serves my present purpose well. It
describes, and truly describes, a kind of life antecedent to our
present politics, and the conclusion I have drawn from it will be
strengthened, not weakened, when we come to examine and deal with an
age yet older, and a social bond far more rudimentary.

But when once polities were began, there is no difficulty in
explaining why they lasted. Whatever may be said against the
principle of 'natural selection' in other departments, there is no
doubt of its predominance in early human history. The strongest
killed out the weakest, as they could. And I need not pause to prove
that any form of politics more efficient than none; that an
aggregate of families owning even a slippery allegiance to a single
head, would be sure to have the better of a set of families
acknowledging no obedience to anyone, but scattering loose about the
world and fighting where they stood. Homer's Cyclops would be
powerless against the feeblest band; so far from its being singular
that we find no other record of that state of man, so unstable and
sure to perish was it that we should rather wonder at even a single
vestige lasting down to the age when for picturesqueness it became
valuable in poetry.

But, though the origin of polity is dubious, we are upon the terra
firma of actual records when we speak of the preservation of
polities. Perhaps every young Englishman who comes now-a-days to
Aristotle or Plato is struck with their conservatism: fresh from the
liberal doctrines of the present age, he wonders at finding in those
recognised teachers so much contrary teaching. They both--unlike as
they are--hold with Xenophon--so unlike both--that man is the
'hardest of all animals to govern.' Of Plato it might indeed be
plausibly said that the adherents of an intuitive philosophy, being
'the tories of speculation,' have commonly been prone to
conservatism in government; but Aristotle, the founder of the
experience philosophy, ought, according to that doctrine, to have
been a liberal, if anyone ever was a liberal. In fact, both of these
men lived when men had not 'had time to forget' the difficulties of
government. We have forgotten them altogether. We reckon, as the
basis of our culture, upon an amount of order, of tacit obedience,
of prescriptive governability, which these philosophers hoped to get
as a principal result of their culture. We take without thought as a
datum, what they hunted as a quaesilum.

In early times the quantity of government is much more important
than its quality. What you want is a comprehensive rule binding men
together, making them do much the same things, telling them what to
expect of each other--fashioning them alike, and keeping them so.
What this rule is does not matter so much. A good rule is better
than a bad one, but any rule is better than none; while, for reasons
which a jurist will appreciate, none can be very good. But to gain
that rule, what may be called the impressive elements of a polity
are incomparably more important than its useful elements. How to get
the obedience of men is the hard problem; what you do with that
obedience is less critical.

To gain that obedience, the primary condition is the identity--not
the union, but the sameness--of what we now call Church and State.
Dr. Arnold, fresh from the study of Greek thought and Roman history,
used to preach that this identity was the great cure for the
misguided modern world. But he spoke to ears filled with other
sounds and minds filled with other thoughts, and they hardly knew
his meaning, much less heeded it. But though the teaching was wrong
for the modern age to which it was applied, it was excellent for the
old world from which it was learnt. What is there requisite is a
single government--call it Church or State, as you like--regulating
the whole of human life. No division of power is then endurable
without danger--probably without destruction; the priest must not
teach one thing and the king another; king must be priest, and
prophet king: the two must say the same, because they are the same.
The idea of difference between spiritual penalties and legal
penalties must never be awakened. Indeed, early Greek thought or
early Roman thought would never have comprehended it. There was a
kind of rough public opinion and there were rough, very rough, hands
which acted on it. We now talk of political penalties and
ecclesiastical prohibition, and the social censure, but they were
all one then. Nothing is very like those old communities now, but
perhaps a 'trade's union' is as near as most things; to work cheap
is thought to be a 'wicked' thing, and so some Broadhead puts it

The object of such organisations is to create what may be called a
cake of custom. All the actions of life are to be submitted to a
single rule for a single object; that gradually created the
'hereditary drill' which science teaches to be essential, and which
the early instinct of men saw to be essential too. That this regime
forbids free thought is not an evil; or rather, though an evil, it
is the necessary basis for the greatest good; it is necessary for
making the mould of civilisation, and hardening the soft fibre of
early man.

The first recorded history of the Aryan race shows everywhere a
king, a council, and, as the necessity of early conflicts required,
the king in much prominence and with much power. That there could be
in such ages anything like an oriental despotism, or a Caesarean
despotism, was impossible; the outside extra-political army which
maintains them could not exist when the tribe was the nation, and
when all the men in the tribe were warriors. Hence, in the time of
Homer, in the first times of Rome, in the first times of ancient
Germany, the king is the most visible part of the polity, because
for momentary welfare he is the most useful. The close oligarchy,
the patriciate, which alone could know the fixed law, alone could
apply the fixed law, which was recognised as the authorised
custodian of the fixed law, had then sole command over the primary
social want. It alone knew the code of drill; it alone was obeyed;
it alone could drill. Mr. Grote has admirably described the rise of
the primitive oligarchies upon the face of the first monarchy, but
perhaps because he so much loves historic Athens, he has not
sympathised with pre-historic Athens. He has not shown us the need
of a fixed life when all else was unfixed life.

It would be schoolboyish to explain at length how well the two great
republics, the two winning republics of the ancient world, embody
these conclusions. Rome and Sparta were drilling aristocracies, and
succeeded because they were such. Athens was indeed of another and
higher order; at least to us instructed moderns who know her and
have been taught by her. But to the 'Philistines' of those days
Athens was of a lower order. She was beaten; she lost the great
visible game which is all that short-sighted contemporaries know.
She was the great 'free failure' of the ancient world. She began,
she announced, the good things that were to come; but she was too
weak to display and enjoy them; she was trodden down by those of
coarser make and better trained frame.

How much these principles are confirmed by Jewish history is
obvious. There was doubtless much else in Jewish history--whole
elements with which I am not here concerned. But so much is plain.
The Jews were in the beginning the most unstable of nations; they
were submitted to their law, and they came out the most stable of
nations. Their polity was indeed defective in unity. After they
asked for a king the spiritual and the secular powers (as we should
speak) were never at peace, and never agreed. And the ten tribes who
lapsed from their law, melted away into the neighbouring nations.
Jeroboam has been called the 'first Liberal;' and, religion apart,
there is a meaning in the phrase. He began to break up the binding
polity which was what men wanted in that age, though eager and
inventive minds always dislike it. But the Jews who adhered to their
law became the Jews of the day, a nation of a firm set if ever there
was one.

It is connected with this fixity that jurists tell us that the title
'contract' is hardly to be discovered in the oldest law. In modern
days, in civilised days, men's choice determines nearly all they do.
But in early times that choice determined scarcely anything. The
guiding rule was the law of STATUS. Everybody was born to a place in
the community: in that place he had to stay: in that place he found
certain duties which he had to fulfil, and which were all he needed
to think of. The net of custom caught men in distinct spots, and
kept each where he stood.

What are called in European politics the principles of 1789, are
therefore inconsistent with the early world; they are fitted only to
the new world in which society has gone through its early task; when
the inherited organisation is already confirmed and fixed; when the
soft minds and strong passions of youthful nations are fixed and
guided by hard transmitted instincts. Till then not equality before
the law is necessary but inequality, for what is most wanted is an
elevated elite who know the law: not a good government seeking the
happiness of its subjects, but a dignified and overawing government
getting its subjects to obey: not a good law, but a comprehensive
law binding all life to one routine. Later are the ages of freedom;
first are the ages of servitude. In 1789, when the great men of the
Constituent Assembly looked on the long past, they hardly saw
anything in it which could be praised, or admired, or imitated: all
seemed a blunder--a complex error to be got rid of as soon as might
be. But that error had made themselves. On their very physical
organisation the hereditary mark of old times was fixed; their
brains were hardened and their nerves were steadied by the
transmitted results of tedious usages. The ages of monotony had
their use, for they trained men for ages when they need not be


But even yet we have not realised the full benefit of those early
polities and those early laws. They not only 'bound up' men in
groups, not only impressed on men a certain set of common usages,
but often, at least in an indirect way, suggested, if I may use the
expression, national character.

We cannot yet explain--I am sure, at least, I cannot attempt to
explain--all the singular phenomena of national character: how
completely and perfectly they seem to be at first framed; how
slowly, how gradually they can alone be altered, if they can be
altered at all. But there is one analogous fact which may help us to
see, at least dimly, how such phenomena are caused. There is a
character of ages, as well as of nations; and as we have full
histories of many such periods, we can examine exactly when and how
the mental peculiarity of each began, and also exactly when and how
that mental peculiarity passed away. We have an idea of Queen Anne's
time, for example, or of Queen Elizabeth's time, or George II.'s
time; or again of the age of Louis XIV., or Louis XV., or the French
Revolution; an idea more or less accurate in proportion as we study,
but probably even in the minds who know these ages best and most
minutely, more special, more simple, more unique than the truth was.
We throw aside too much, in making up our images of eras, that which
is common to all eras. The English character was much the same in
many great respects in Chaucer's time as it was in Elizabeth's time
or Anne's time, or as it is now; But some qualities were added to
this common element in one era and some in another; some qualities
seemed to overshadow and eclipse it in one era, and others in
another. We overlook and half forget the constant while we see and
watch the variable. But--for that is the present point--why is there
this variable? Everyone must, I think, have been puzzled about it.
Suddenly, in a quiet time--say, in Queen Anne's time--arises a
special literature, a marked variety of human expression, pervading
what is then written and peculiar to it: surely this is singular.

The true explanation is, I think, something like this. One
considerable writer gets a sort of start because what he writes is
somewhat more--only a little more very often, as I believe--
congenial to the minds around him than any other sort. This writer
is very often not the one whom posterity remembers--not the one who
carries the style of the age farthest towards its ideal type, and
gives it its charm and its perfection. It was not Addison who began
the essay-writing of Queen Anne's time, but Steele; it was the
vigorous forward man who struck out the rough notion, though it was
the wise and meditative man who improved upon it and elaborated it,
and whom posterity reads. Some strong writer, or group of writers,
thus seize on the public mind, and a curious process soon
assimilates other writers in appearance to them. To some extent, no
doubt, this assimilation is effected by a process most intelligible,
and not at all curious--the process of conscious imitation; A sees
that B's style of writing answers, and he imitates it. But
definitely aimed mimicry like this is always rare; original men who
like their own thoughts do not willingly clothe them in words they
feel they borrow. No man, indeed, can think to much purpose when he
is studying to write a style not his own. After all, very few men
are at all equal to the steady labour, the stupid and mistaken
labour mostly, of making a style. Most men catch the words that are
in the air, and the rhythm which comes to them they do not know from
whence; an unconscious imitation determines their words, and makes
them say what of themselves they would never have thought of saying.
Everyone who has written in more than one newspaper knows how
invariably his style catches the tone of each paper while he is
writing for it, and changes to the tone of another when in turn he
begins to write for that. He probably would rather write the
traditional style to which the readers of the journal are used, but
he does not set himself to copy it; he would have to force himself
in order NOT to write it if that was what he wanted. Exactly in this
way, just as a writer for a journal without a distinctly framed
purpose gives the readers of the journal the sort of words and the
sort of thoughts they are used to--so, on a larger scale, the
writers of an age, without thinking of it, give to the readers of
the age the sort of words and the sort of thoughts--the special
literature, in fact--which those readers like and prize. And not
only does the writer, without thinking, choose the sort of style and
meaning which are most in vogue, but the writer is himself chosen. A
writer does not begin to write in the traditional rhythm of an age
unless he feels, or fancies he feels, a sort of aptitude for writing
it, any more than a writer tries to write in a journal in which the
style is uncongenial or impossible to him. Indeed if he mistakes he
is soon weeded out; the editor rejects, the age will not read his
compositions. How painfully this traditional style cramps great
writers whom it happens not to suit, is curiously seen in
Wordsworth, who was bold enough to break through it, and, at the
risk of contemporary neglect, to frame a style of his own. But he
did so knowingly, and he did so with an effort. 'It is supposed,' he
says, 'that by the act of writing in verse an author makes a formal
engagement that he will gratify certain known habits of association;
that he not only then apprizes the reader that certain classes of
ideas and expressions will be found in his book, but that others
will be carefully eschewed. The exponent or symbol held forth by
metrical language must, in different ages of literature, have
excited very different expectations; for example, in the age of
Catullus, Terence, or Lucretius, and that of Statius or Claudian;
and in our own country, in the age of Shakespeare and Beaumont and
Metcher, and that of Donne and Cowley, or Pope.' And then, in a kind
of vexed way, Wordsworth goes on to explain that he himself can't
and won't do what is expected from him, but that he will write his
own words, and only his own words. A strict, I was going to say a
Puritan, genius will act thus, but most men of genius are
susceptible and versatile, and fall into the style of their age. One
very unapt at the assimilating process, but on that account the more
curious about it, says:--

How we
Track a livelong day, great heaven, and watch our shadows!
What our shadows seem, forsooth, we will ourselves be.
Do I look like that? You think me that: then I AM that.

What writers are expected to write, they write; or else they do not
write at all; but, like the writer of these lines, stop discouraged,
live disheartened, and die leaving fragments which their friends
treasure, but which a rushing world never heeds. The Nonconformist
writers are neglected, the Conformist writers are encouraged, until
perhaps on a sudden the fashion shifts. And as with the writers, so
in a less degree with readers. Many men--most men--get to like or
think they like that which is ever before them, and which those
around them like, and which received opinion says they ought to
like; or if their minds are too marked and oddly made to get into
the mould, they give up reading altogether, or read old books and
foreign books, formed under another code and appealing to a
different taste. The principle of 'elimination,' the 'use and
disuse' of organs which naturalists speak of, works here. What is
used strengthens; what is disused weakens: 'to those who have, more
is given;' and so a sort of style settles upon an age, and
imprinting itself more than anything else in men's memories becomes
all that is thought of about it.

I believe that what we call national character arose in very much
the same way. At first a sort of 'chance predominance' made a model,
and then invincible attraction, the necessity which rules all but
the strongest men to imitate what is before their eyes, and to be
what they are expected to be, moulded men by that model. This is, I
think, the very process by which new national characters are being
made in our own time. In America and in Australia a new modification
of what we call Anglo-Saxonism is growing. A sort of type of
character arose from the difficulties of colonial life--the
difficulty of struggling with the wilderness; and this type has
given its shape to the mass of characters because the mass of
characters have unconsciously imitated it. Many of the American
characteristics are plainly useful in such a life, and consequent on
such a life. The eager restlessness, the highly-strung nervous
organisation are useful in continual struggle, and also are promoted
by it. These traits seem to be arising in Australia, too, and
wherever else the English race is placed in like circumstances. But
even in these useful particulars the innate tendency of the human
mind to become like what is around it, has effected much: a sluggish
Englishman will often catch the eager American look in a few years;
an Irishman or even a German will catch it, too, even in all English
particulars. And as to a hundred minor points--in so many that go to
mark the typical Yankee--usefulness has had no share either in their
origin or their propagation. The accident of some predominant person
possessing them set the fashion, and it has been imitated to this
day. Anybody who inquires will find even in England, and even in
these days of assimilation, parish peculiarities which arose, no
doubt, from some old accident, and have been heedfully preserved by
customary copying. A national character is but the successful parish
character; just as the national speech is but the successful parish
dialect, the dialect, that is, of the district which came to be
more--in many cases but a little more--influential than other
districts, and so set its yoke on books and on society. I could
enlarge much on this, for I believe this unconscious imitation to be
the principal force in the making of national characters; but I have
already said more about it than I need. Everybody who weighs even
half these arguments will admit that it is a great force in the
matter, a principal agency to be acknowledged and watched; and for
my present purpose I want no more. I have only to show the efficacy
of the tight early polity (so to speak) and the strict early law on
the creation of corporate characters. These settled the predominant
type, set up a sort of model, made a sort of idol; this was
worshipped, copied, and observed, from all manner of mingled
feelings, but most of all because it was the 'thing to do,' the then
accepted form of human action. When once the predominant type was
determined, the copying propensity of man did the rest. The
tradition ascribing Spartan legislation to Lycurgus was literally
untrue, but its spirit was quite true. In the origin of states
strong and eager individuals got hold of small knots of men, and
made for them a fashion which they were attached to and kept.

It is only after duly apprehending the silent manner in which
national characters thus form themselves, that we can rightly
appreciate the dislike which old Governments had to trade. There
must have been something peculiar about it, for the best
philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, shared it. They regarded commerce
as the source of corruption as naturally as a modern economist
considers it the spring of industry, and all the old Governments
acted in this respect upon the philosophers' maxims. 'Well,' said
Dr. Arnold, speaking ironically and in the spirit of modern times--
'Well, indeed, might the policy of the old priest-nobles of Egypt
and India endeavour to divert their people from becoming familiar
with the sea, and represent the occupation of a seaman as
incompatible with the purity of the highest castes. The sea deserved
to be hated by the old aristocracies, inasmuch as it has been the
mightiest instrument in the civilisation of mankind.' But the old
oligarchies had their own work, as we now know. They were imposing a
fashioning yoke; they were making the human nature which after times
employ. They were at their labours, we have entered into these
labours. And to the unconscious imitation which was their principal
tool, no impediment was so formidable as foreign intercourse. Men
imitate what is before their eyes, if it is before their eyes alone,
but they do not imitate it if it is only one among many present
things--one competitor among others, all of which are equal and some
of which seem better. 'Whoever speaks two languages is a rascal,'
says the saying, and it rightly represents the feeling of primitive
communities when the sudden impact of new thoughts and new examples
breaks down the compact despotism of the single consecrated code,
and leaves pliant and impressible man--such as he then is--to follow
his unpleasant will without distinct guidance by hereditary morality
and hereditary religion. The old oligarchies wanted to keep their
type perfect, and for that end they were right not to allow
foreigners to touch it. 'Distinctions of race,' says Arnold himself
elsewhere in a remarkable essay--for it was his last on Greek
history, his farewell words on a long favourite subject--'were not
of that odious and fantastic character which they have been in
modern times; they implied real differences of the most important
kind, religious and moral.' And after exemplifying this at length he
goes on, 'It is not then to be wondered at that Thucydides, when
speaking of a city founded jointly by Ionians and Dorians, should
have thought it right to add "that the prevailing institutions of
the two were Ionian," for according as they were derived from one or
the other the prevailing type would be different. And therefore the
mixture of persons of different race in the same commonwealth,
unless one race had a complete ascendancy, tended to confuse all the
relations of human life, and all men's notions of right and wrong;
or by compelling men to tolerate in so near a relation as that of
fellow-citizens differences upon the main points of human life, led
to a general carelessness and scepticism, and encouraged the notion
that right and wrong had no real existence, but were mere creatures
of human opinion.' But if this be so, the oligarchies were right.
Commerce brings this mingling of ideas, this breaking down of old
creeds, and brings it inevitably. It is now-a-days its greatest good
that it does so; the change is what we call 'enlargement of mind'.
But in early times Providence 'set apart the nations;' and it is not
till the frame of their morals is set by long ages of transmitted
discipline, that such enlargement can be borne. The ages of
isolation had their use, for they trained men for ages when they
were not to be isolated.



'The difference between progression and stationary inaction,' says
one of our greatest living writers, 'is one of the great secrets
which science has yet to penetrate.' I am sure I do not pretend that
I can completely penetrate it; but it undoubtedly seems to me that
the problem is on the verge of solution, and that scientific
successes in kindred fields by analogy suggest some principles--
which wholly remove many of its difficulties, and indicate the sort
of way in which those which remain may hereafter be removed too.

But what is the problem? Common English, I might perhaps say common
civilised thought, ignores it. Our habitual instructors, our
ordinary conversation, our inevitable and ineradicable prejudices
tend to make us think that 'Progress' is the normal fact in human
society, the fact which we should expect to see, the fact which we
should be surprised if we did not see. But history refutes this. The
ancients had no conception of progress; they did not so much as
reject the idea; they did not even entertain the idea. Oriental
nations are just the same now. Since history began they have always
been what they are. Savages, again, do not improve; they hardly seem
to have the basis on which to build, much less the material to put
up anything worth having. Only a few nations, and those of European
origin, advance; and yet these think--seem irresistibly compelled to
think--such advance to be inevitable, natural, and eternal. Why then
is this great contrast? Before we can answer, we must investigate
more accurately. No doubt history shows that most nations are
stationary now; but it affords reason to think that all nations once
advanced. Their progress was arrested at various points; but
nowhere, probably not even in the hill tribes of India, not even in
the Andaman Islanders, not even in the savages of Terra del Fuego,
do we find men who have not got some way. They have made their
little progress in a hundred different ways; they have framed with
infinite assiduity a hundred curious habits; they have, so to say,
screwed themselves into the uncomfortable corners of a complex life,
which is odd and dreary, but yet is possible. And the corners are
never the same in any two parts of the world. Our record begins with
a thousand unchanging edifices, but it shows traces of previous
building. In historic times there has been little progress; in
prehistoric times there must have been much. In solving, or trying
to solve, the question, we must take notice of this remarkable
difference, and explain it, too, or else we may be sure our
principles are utterly incomplete, and perhaps altogether unsound.
But what then is that solution, or what are the principles which
tend towards it? Three laws, or approximate laws, may, I think, be
laid down, with only one of which I can deal in this paper, but all
three of which it will be best to state, that it may be seen what I
am aiming at.

First. In every particular state of the world, those nations which
are strongest tend to prevail over the others; and in certain marked
peculiarities the strongest tend to be the best. Secondly. Within
every particular nation the type or types of character then and
there most attractive tend to prevail; and, the most attractive,
though with exceptions, is what we call the best character. Thirdly.
Neither of these competitions is in most historic conditions
intensified by extrinsic forces, but in some conditions, such as
those now prevailing in the most influential part of the world, both
are so intensified.

These are the sort of doctrines with which, under the name of
'natural selection' in physical science, we have become familiar;
and as every great scientific conception tends to advance its
boundaries and to be of use in solving problems not thought of when
it was started, so here, what was put forward for mere animal
history may, with a change of form, but an identical essence, be
applied to human history. At first some objection was raised to the
principle of 'natural selection' in physical science upon religious
grounds; it was to be expected that so active an idea and so large a
shifting of thought would seem to imperil much which men valued. But
in this, as in other cases, the objection is, I think, passing away;
the new principle is more and more seen to be fatal to mere outworks
of religion, not to religion itself. At all events, to the sort of
application here made of it, which only amounts to searching out and
following up an analogy suggested by it, there is plainly no
objection. Everyone now admits that human history is guided by
certain laws, and all that is here aimed at is to indicate, in a
more or less distinct way, an infinitesimally small portion of such
laws. The discussion of these three principles cannot be kept quite
apart except by pedantry; but it is almost exclusively with the
first--that of the competition between nation and nation, or tribe
and tribe (for I must use these words in their largest sense, and so
as to include every cohering aggregate of human beings)--that I can
deal now; and even as to that I can but set down a few principal
considerations. The progress of the military art is the most
conspicuous, I was about to say the most SHOWY, fact in human
history. Ancient civilisation may be compared with modern in many
respects, and plausible arguments constructed to show that it is
better; but you cannot compare the two in military power. Napoleon
could indisputably have conquered Alexander; our Indian army would
not think much of the Retreat of the Ten Thousand. And I suppose the
improvement has been continuous: I have not the slightest pretence
to special knowledge; but, looking at the mere surface of the facts,
it seems likely that the aggregate battle array, so to say, of
mankind, the fighting force of the human race, has constantly and
invariably grown. It is true that the ancient civilisation long
resisted the 'barbarians,' and was then destroyed by the barbarians.
But the barbarians had improved. 'By degrees,' says a most
accomplished writer, [Footnote: Mr. Bruce] 'barbarian mercenaries
came to form the largest, or at least the most effective, part of
the Roman armies. The body-guard of Augustus had been so composed;
the praetorians were generally selected from the bravest frontier
troops, most of them Germans.' 'Thus,' he continues, 'in many ways
was the old antagonism broken down, Romans admitting barbarians to
rank and office; barbarians catching something of the manners and
culture of their neighbours. And thus, when the final movement came,
the Teutonic tribes slowly established themselves through the
provinces, knowing something of the system to which they came, and
not unwilling to be considered its members.' Taking friend and foe
together, it may be doubted whether the fighting capacity of the two
armies was not as great at last, when the Empire fell, as ever it
was in the long period while the Empire prevailed. During the Middle
Ages the combining power of men often failed; in a divided time you
cannot collect as many soldiers as in a concentrated time. But this
difficulty is political, not military. If you added up the many
little hosts of any century of separation, they would perhaps be
found equal or greater than the single host, or the fewer hosts, of
previous centuries which were more united. Taken as a whole, and
allowing for possible exceptions, the aggregate fighting power of
mankind has grown immensely, and has been growing continuously since
we knew anything about it.

Again, this force has tended to concentrate itself more and more in
certain groups which we call 'civilised nations.' The literati of
the last century were for ever in fear of a new conquest of the
barbarians, but only because their imagination was overshadowed and
frightened by the old conquests. A very little consideration would
have shown them that, since the monopoly of military inventions by
cultivated states, real and effective military power tends to
confine itself to those states. The barbarians are no longer so much
as vanquished competitors; they have ceased to compete at all. The
military vices, too, of civilisation seem to decline just as its
military strength augments. Somehow or other civilisation does not
make men effeminate or unwarlike now as it once did. There is an
improvement in our fibre--moral, if not physical. In ancient times
city people could not be got to fight--seemingly could not fight;
they lost their mental courage, perhaps their bodily nerve. But now-
a-days in all countries the great cities could pour out multitudes
wanting nothing but practice to make good soldiers, and abounding in
bravery and vigour. This was so in America; it was so in Prussia;
and it would be so in England too. The breed of ancient times was
impaired for war by trade and luxury, but the modern breed is not so

A curious fact indicates the same thing probably, if not certainly.
Savages waste away before modern civilisation; they seem to have
held their ground before the ancient. There is no lament in any
classical writer for the barbarians. The New Zealanders say that the
land will depart from their children; the Australians are vanishing;
the Tasmanians have vanished. If anything like this had happened in
antiquity, the classical moralists would have been sure to muse over
it; for it is just the large solemn kind of fact that suited them.
On the contrary, in Gaul, in Spain, in Sicily--everywhere that we
know of--the barbarian endured the contact of the Roman, and the
Roman allied himself to the barbarian. Modern science explains the
wasting away of savage men; it says that we have diseases which we
can bear, though they cannot, and that they die away before them as
our fatted and protected cattle died out before the rinderpest,
which is innocuous, in comparison, to the hardy cattle of the
Steppes. Savages in the first year of the Christian era were pretty
much what they were in the 1800th; and if they stood the contact of
ancient civilised men, and cannot stand ours, it follows that our
race is presumably tougher than the ancient; for we have to bear,
and do bear, the seeds of greater diseases than those the ancients
carried with them. We may use, perhaps, the unvarying savage as a
metre to gauge the vigour of the constitutions to whose contact he
is exposed.

Particular consequences may be dubious, but as to the main fact
there is no doubt: the military strength of man has been growing
from the earliest time known to our history, straight on till now.
And we must not look at times known by written records only; we must
travel back to older ages, known to us only by what lawyers call
REAL evidence--the evidence of things. Before history began, there
was at least as much progress in the military art as there has been
since. The Roman legionaries or Homeric Greeks were about as
superior to the men of the shell mounds and the flint implements as
we are superior to them. There has been a constant acquisition of
military strength by man since we know anything of him, either by
the documents he has composed or the indications he has left.

The cause of this military growth is very plain. The strongest
nation has always been conquering the weaker; sometimes even
subduing it, but always prevailing over it. Every intellectual gain,
so to speak, that a nation possessed was in the earliest times made
use of--was INVESTED and taken out--in war; all else perished. Each
nation tried constantly to be the stronger, and so made or copied
the best weapons; by conscious and unconscious imitation each nation
formed a type of character suitable to war and conquest. Conquest
improved mankind by the intermixture of strengths; the armed truce,
which was then called peace, improved them by the competition of
training and the consequent creation of new power. Since the long-
headed men first drove the short-headed men out of the best land in
Europe, all European history has been the history of the
superposition of the more military races over the less military of
the efforts, sometimes successful, sometimes unsuccessful, of each
race to get more military; and so the art of war has constantly
improved. But why is one nation stronger than another? In the answer
to that, I believe, lies the key to the principal progress of early
civilisation, and to some of the progress of all civilisation. The
answer is that there are very many advantages--some small and some
great--every one of which tends to make the nation which has it
superior to the nation which has it not; that many of these
advantages can be imparted to subjugated races, or imitated by
competing races; and that, though some of these advantages may be
perishable or inimitable, yet, on the whole, the energy of
civilisation grows by the coalescence of strengths and by the
competition of strengths.


By far the greatest advantage is that on which I observed before--
that to which I drew all the attention I was able by making the
first of these essays an essay on the Preliminary Age. The first
thing to acquire is if I may so express it, the LEGAL FIBRE; a
polity first--what sort of polity is immaterial; a law first--what
kind of law is secondary; a person or set of persons to pay
deference to--though who he is, or they are, by comparison scarcely
signifies. 'There is,' it has been said, 'hardly any exaggerating
the difference between civilised and uncivilised men; it is greater
than the difference between a tame and a wild animal,' because man
can improve more. But the difference at first was gained in much the
same way. The taming of animals as it now goes on among savage
nations, and as travellers who have seen it describe it, is a kind
of selection. The most wild are killed when food is wanted, and the
most tame and easy to manage kept, because they are more agreeable
to human indolence, and so the keeper likes them best. Captain
Galton, who has often seen strange scenes of savage and of animal
life, had better describe the process:--'The irreclaimably wild
members of every flock would escape and be utterly lost; the wilder
of those that remained would assuredly be selected for slaughter--
whenever it was necessary that one of the flock should be killed.
The tamest cattle--those which seldom ran away, that kept the flocks
together, and those which led them homeward--would be preserved
alive longer than any of the others. It is, therefore, these that
chiefly become the parents of stock and bequeath their domestic
aptitudes to the future herd. I have constantly witnessed this
process of selection among the pastoral savages of South Africa. I
believe it to be a very important one on account of its rigour and
its regularity. It must have existed from the earliest times, and
have been, in continuous operation, generation after generation,
down to the present day.' [Footnote: Ethnological Society's
Transactions, vol. iii. p. 137.]

Man, being the strongest of all animals, differs from the rest; he
was obliged to be his own domesticator; he had to tame himself. And
the way in which it happened was, that the most obedient, the tamest
tribes are, at the first stage in the real struggle of life, the
strongest and the conquerors. All are very wild then; the animal
vigour, the savage virtue of the race has died out in none, and all
have enough of it. But what makes one tribe--one incipient tribe,
one bit of a tribe--to differ from another is their relative faculty
of coherence. The slightest symptom of legal development, the least
indication of a military bond, is then enough to turn the scale. The
compact tribes win, and the compact tribes are the tamest.
Civilisation begins, because the beginning of civilisation is a
military advantage. Probably if we had historic records of the ante-
historic ages--if some superhuman power had set down the thoughts
and actions of men ages before they could set them down for
themselves--we should know that this first step in civilisation was
the hardest step. But when we come to history as it is, we are more
struck with the difficulty of the next step. All the absolutely
incoherent men--all the 'Cyclopes'--have been cleared away long
before there was an authentic account of them. And the least
coherent only remain in the 'protected' parts of the world, as we
may call them. Ordinary civilisation begins near the Mediterranean
Sea; the best, doubtless, of the ante-historic civilisations were
not far off. From this centre the conquering SWARM--for such it is--
has grown and grown; has widened its subject territories steadily,
though not equably, age by age. But geography long defied it. An
Atlantic Ocean, a Pacific Ocean, an Australian Ocean, an
unapproachable interior Africa, an inaccessible and undesirable hill
India, were beyond its range. In such remote places there was no
real competition, and on them inferior, half-combined men continued
to exist. But in the regions of rivalry--the regions where the
better man pressed upon the worse man--such half-made associations
could not last. They died out and history did not begin till after
they were gone. The great difficulty which history records is not
that of the first step, but that of the second step. What is most
evident is not the difficulty of getting a fixed law, but getting
out of a fixed law; not of cementing (as upon a former occasion I
phrased it) a cake of custom, but of breaking the cake of custom;
not of making the first preservative habit, but of breaking through
it, and reaching something better.

This is the precise case with the whole family of arrested
civilisations. A large part, a very large part, of the world seems
to be ready to advance to something good--to have prepared all the
means to advance to something good,--and then to have stopped, and
not advanced. India, Japan, China, almost every sort of Oriental
civilisation, though differing in nearly all other things, are in
this alike. They look as if they had paused when there was no reason
for pausing--when a mere observer from without would say they were
likely not to pause.

The reason is, that only those nations can progress which preserve
and use the fundamental peculiarity which was given by nature to
man's organism as to all other organisms. By a law of which we know
no reason, but which, is among the first by which Providence guides
and governs the world, there is a tendency in descendants to be like
their progenitors, and yet a tendency also in descendants to DIFFER
from their progenitors. The work of nature in making generations is
a patchwork--part resemblance, part contrast. In certain respects
each born generation is not like the last born; and in certain other
respects it is like the last. But the peculiarity of arrested
civilisation is to kill out varieties at birth almost; that is, in
early childhood, and before they can develop. The fixed custom which
public opinion alone tolerates is imposed on all minds, whether it
suits them or not. In that case the community feel that this custom
is the only shelter from bare tyranny, and the only security for
they value. Most Oriental communities live on land which in theory
is the property of a despotic sovereign, and neither they nor their
families could have the elements of decent existence unless they
held the land upon some sort of fixed terms. Land in that state of
society is (for all but a petty skilled minority) a necessary of
life, and all the unincreasable land being occupied, a man who is
turned out of his holding is turned out of this world, and must die.
And our notion of written leases is as out of place in a world
without writing and without reading as a House of Commons among
Andaman Islanders. Only one check, one sole shield for life and
good, is then possible;--usage. And it is but too plain how in such
places and periods men cling to customs because customs alone stand
between them and starvation.

A still more powerful cause co-operated, if a cause more powerful
can be imagined. Dryden had a dream of an early age, 'when wild in
woods the noble savage ran;' but 'when lone in woods the cringing
savage crept' would have been more like all we know of that early,
bare, painful period. Not only had they no comfort, no convenience,
not the very beginnings of an epicurean life, but their mind within
was as painful to them as the world without. It was full of fear. So
far as the vestiges inform us, they were afraid of everything; they
were afraid of animals, of certain attacks by near tribes, and of
possible inroads from far tribes. But, above all things, they were
frightened of 'the world;' the spectacle of nature filled them with
awe and dread. They fancied there were powers behind it which must
be pleased, soothed, flattered, and this very often in a number of
hideous ways. We have too many such religions, even among races of
great cultivation. Men change their religions more slowly than they
change anything else; and accordingly we have religions 'of the
ages'--(it is Mr. Jowett who so calls them)--of the 'ages before
morality;' of ages of which the civil life, the common maxims, and
all the secular thoughts have long been dead. 'Every reader of the
classics,' said Dr. Johnson, 'finds their mythology tedious.' In
that old world, which is so like our modern world in so many things,
so much more like than many far more recent, or some that live
beside us, there is a part in which we seem to have no kindred,
which we stare at, of which we cannot think how it could be
credible, or how it came to be thought of. This is the archaic part
of that very world which we look at as so ancient; an 'antiquity'
which descended to them, hardly altered, perhaps, from times long
antecedent, which were as unintelligible to them as to us, or more
so. How this terrible religion--for such it was in all living
detail, though we make, and the ancients then made, an artistic use
of the more attractive bits of it--weighed on man, the great poem of
Lucretius, the most of a nineteenth-century poem of any in
antiquity, brings before us with a feeling so vivid as to be almost
a feeling of our own. Yet the classical religion is a mild and
tender specimen of the preserved religions. To get at the worst, you
should look where the destroying competition has been least--at
America, where sectional civilisation was rare, and a pervading
coercive civilisation did not exist; at such religions as those of
the Aztecs.

At first sight it seems impossible to imagine what conceivable
function such awful religions can perform in the economy of the
world. And no one can fully explain them. But one use they assuredly
had: they fixed the yoke of custom thoroughly on mankind. They were
the prime agents of the era. They put upon a fixed law a sanction so
fearful that no one could dream of not conforming to it. No one will
ever comprehend the arrested civilisations unless he sees the strict
dilemma of early society. Either men had no law at all, and lived in
confused tribes, hardly hanging together, or they had to obtain a
fixed law by processes of incredible difficulty. Those who
surmounted that difficulty soon destroyed all those that lay in
their way who did not. And then they a themselves were caught in
their own yoke. The customary discipline, which could only be
imposed on any early men by terrible sanctions, continued with those
sanctions, and killed out of the whole society the propensities to
variation which are the principle--of progress. Experience shows how
incredibly difficult it is to get men really to encourage the
principle of originality. They will admit it in theory, but in
practice the old error--the error which arrested a hundred
civilisations--returns again. Men are too fond of their own life,
too credulous of the completeness of their own ideas, too angry at
the pain of new thoughts, to be able to bear easily with a changing
existence; or else, having new ideas, they want to enforce them on
mankind--to make them heard, and admitted, and obeyed before, in
simple competition with other ideas, they would ever be so
naturally. At this very moment there are the most rigid Comtists
teaching that we ought to be governed by a hierarchy--a combination
of savans orthodox in science. Yet who can doubt that Comte would
have been hanged by his own hierarchy; that his essor materiel,
which was in fact troubled by the 'theologians and metaphysicians'
of the Polytechnic School, would have been more impeded by the
government he wanted to make? And then the secular Comtists, Mr.
Harrison and Mr. Beesly, who want to 'Frenchify the English
institutions'--that is, to introduce here an imitation of the
Napoleonic system, a dictatorship founded on the proletariat--who
can doubt that if both these clever writers had been real Frenchmen
they would have been irascible anti-Bonapartists, and have been sent
to Cayenne long ere now? The wish of these writers is very natural.
They want to 'organise society,' to erect a despot who will do what
they like, and work out their ideas; but any despot will do what he
himself likes, and will root out new ideas ninety-nine times for
once that he introduces them. Again, side by side with these
Comtists, and warring with them--at least with one of them--is Mr.
Arnold, whose poems we know by heart, and who has, as much as any
living Englishman, the genuine literary impulse; and yet even he
wants to put a yoke upon us--and, worse than a political yoke, an
academic yoke, a yoke upon our minds and our styles. He, too, asks
us to imitate France; and what else can we say than what the two
most thorough Frenchmen of the last age did say?--'Dans les corps a
talent, nulle distinction ne fait ombrage, si ce n'est pas celle du
talent. Un due et pair honore l'Academie Francaise, qui ne veut
point de Boileau, refuse la Bruyere, fait attendre Voltaire, mais
recoit tout d'abord Chapelain et Conrart. De meme nous voyons a
l'Academie Grecque le vicomte invite, Corai repousse, lorsque
Jormard y entre comme dans un moulin.' Thus speaks Paul-Louis
Courier in his own brief inimitable prose. And a still greater
writer--a real Frenchman, if ever there was one, and (what many
critics would have denied to be possible) a great poet by reason of
his most French characteristics--Beranger, tells us in verse:--

Je croyais voir le president
Fairs bailler--en repondant
Que l'on vient de perdre un grand homme;
Que moi je le vaux, Dieu sait comme.
Mais ce president sans facon [Footnote: Desaugiers.]
Ne perore ici qu'en chanson:
Toujours trop tot sa harangue est finie.
Non, non, ce n'est point comme a l'Academia;
Ce n'est point comme a l'Academie.

Admis enfin, aurai-jo alors,
Pour tout esprit, l'esprit de corps?
Il rend le bon sens, quoi qu'on dise,
Solidaire de la sottise;
Mais, dans votes societe,
L'esprit de corps, c'est la gaite.
Cet esprit la regne sans tyrannie.
Non, non, ce n'est point comme a l'Academie;
Ce n'est point comme a l'Acadenie.

Asylums of common-place, he hints, academies must ever be. But that
sentence is too harsh; the true one is--the academies are asylums of
the ideas and the tastes of the last age. 'By the time,' I have
heard a most eminent man of science observe. 'by the time a man of
science attains eminence on any subject, he becomes a nuisance upon
it, because he is sure to retain errors which were in vogue when he
was young, but which the new race have refuted.' These are the sort
of ideas which find their home in academies, and out of their
dignified windows pooh-pooh new things. I may seem to have wandered
far from early society, but I have not wandered. The true scientific
method is to explain the past by the present--what we see by what we
do not see. We can only comprehend why so many nations have not
varied, when we see how hateful variation is; how everybody turns
against it; how not only the conservatives of speculation try to
root it out, but the very innovators invent most rigid machines for
crushing the 'monstrosities and anomalies'--the new forms, out of
which, by competition and trial, the best is to be selected for the
future. The point I am bringing out is simple:--one most important
pre-requisite of a prevailing nation is that it should have passed
out of the first stage of civilisation into the second stage--out of
the stage where permanence is most wanted into that where
variability is most wanted; and you cannot comprehend why progress
is so slow till you see how hard the most obstinate tendencies of
human nature make that step to mankind.

Of course the nation we are supposing must keep the virtues of its
first stage as it passes into the after stage, else it will be
trodden out; it will have lost the savage virtues in getting the
beginning of the civilised virtues; and the savage virtues which
tend to war are the daily bread of human nature. Carlyle said, in
his graphic way, 'The ultimate question between every two human
beings is, "Can I kill thee, or canst thou kill me?"' History is
strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little
progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and
have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the
movements of the world gave a chance for it. But these nations have
come out of the 'pre-economic stage' too soon; they have been put to
learn while yet only too apt to unlearn. Such cases do not vitiate,
they confirm, the principle--that a nation which has just gained
variability without losing legality has a singular likelihood to be
a prevalent nation.

No nation admits of an abstract definition; all nations are beings
of many qualities and many sides; no historical event exactly
illustrates any one principle; every cause is intertwined and
surrounded with a hundred others. The best history is but like the
art of Rembrandt; it casts a vivid light on certain selected causes,
on those which were best and greatest; it leaves all the rest in
shadow and unseen. To make a single nation illustrate a principle,
you must exaggerate much and you must omit much. But, not forgetting
this caution, did not Rome--the prevalent nation in the ancient
world--gain her predominance by the principle on which I have dwelt?
In the thick crust of her legality there was hidden a little seed of
adaptiveness. Even in her law itself no one can fail to see that,
binding as was the habit of obedience, coercive as use and wont at
first seem, a hidden impulse of extrication DID manage, in some
queer way, to change the substance while conforming to the
accidents--to do what was wanted for the new time while seeming to
do only what was directed by the old time. And the moral of their
whole history is the same each Roman generation, so far as we know,
differs a little-and in the best times often but a VERY little--from
its predecessors. And therefore the history is so continuous as it
goes, though its two ends are so unlike. The history of many nations
is like the stage of the English drama: one scene is succeeded on a
sudden by a scene quite different,--a cottage by a palace, and a
windmill by a fortress. But the history of Rome changes as a good
diorama changes; while you look, you hardly see it alter; each
moment is hardly different from the last moment; yet at the close
the metamorphosis is complete, and scarcely anything is as it began.
Just so in the history of the great prevailing city: you begin with
a town and you end with an empire, and this by unmarked stages?--So
shrouded, so shielded, in the coarse fibre of other qualities--was
the delicate principle of progress, that it never failed, and it was
never broken.

One standing instance, no doubt, shows that the union of
progressiveness and legality does not secure supremacy in war. The
Jewish nation has its type of progress in the prophets, side by side
with its type of permanence in the law and Levites, more distinct
than any other ancient people. Nowhere in common history do we see
the two forces--both so necessary and both so dangerous--so apart
and so intense: Judaea changed in inward thought, just as Borne
changed in exterior power. Each change was continuous, gradual and
good. In early times every sort of advantage tends to become a
military advantage; such is the best way, then, to keep it alive.
But the Jewish advantage never did so; beginning in religion,
contrary to a thousand analogies, it remained religious. For that we
care for them; from that have issued endless consequences. But I
cannot deal with such matters here, nor are they to my purpose. As
respects this essay, Judaea is an example of combined variability
and legality not investing itself in warlike power, and so perishing
at last, but bequeathing nevertheless a legacy of the combination in
imperishable mental effects.

It may be objected that this principle is like saying that men walk
when they do walk, and sit when they do sit. The problem, is, why do
men progress? And the answer suggested seems to be, that they
progress when they have a certain sufficient amount of variability
in their nature. This seems to be the old style of explanation by
occult qualities. It seems like saying that opium sends men to sleep
because it has a soporific virtue, and bread feeds because it has an
alimentary quality. But the explanation is not so absurd. It says:
'The beginning of civilisation is marked by an intense legality;
that legality is the very condition of its existence, the bond which
ties it together; but that legality--that tendency to impose a
settled customary yoke upon all men and all actions if it goes on,
kills out the variability implanted by nature, and makes different
men and different ages facsimiles of other men and other ages, as we
see them so often. Progress is only possible in those happy cases
where the force of legality has gone far enough to bind the nation
together, but not far enough to kill out all varieties and destroy
nature's perpetual tendency to change.' The point of the solution is
not the invention of an imaginary agency, but an assignment of
comparative magnitude to two known agencies.


This advantage is One of the greatest in early civilisation--one of
the facts which give a decisive turn to the battle of nations; but
there are many others. A little perfection in POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS
may do it. Travellers have noticed that among savage tribes those
seemed to answer best in which the monarchical power was most
predominant, and those worst in which the 'rule of many' was in its
vigour. So long as war is the main business of nations, temporary
despotism--despotism during the campaign--is indispensable. Macaulay
justly said that many an army has prospered under a bad commander,
but no army has ever prospered under a 'debating society;' that
many-headed monster is then fatal. Despotism grows in the first
societies, just as democracy grows in more modern societies; it is
the government answering the primary need, and congenial to the
whole spirit of the time. But despotism is unfavourable to the
principle of variability, as all history shows. It tends to keep men
in the customary stage of civilisation; its very fitness for that
age unfits it for the next. It prevents men from passing into the
first age of progress--the VERY slow and VERY gradually improving
age. Some 'standing system' of semi-free discussion is as necessary
to break the thick crust of custom and begin progress as it is in
later ages to carry on progress when begun; probably it is even more
necessary. And in the most progressive races we find it. I have
spoken already of the Jewish prophets, the life of that nation, and
the principle of all its growth. But a still more progressive race--
that by which secular civilisation was once created, by which it is
now mainly administered--had a still better instrument of
progression. 'In the very earliest glimpses,' says Mr. Freeman, 'of
Teutonic political life, we find the monarchic, the aristocratic,
and the democratic elements already clearly marked. There are
leaders with or without the royal title; there are men of noble
birth, whose noble birth (in whatever the original nobility may have
consisted) entitles them to a pre-eminence in every way; but beyond
these there is a free and armed people, in whom it is clear that the
ultimate sovereignty resides. Small matters are decided by the
chiefs alone; great matters are submitted by the chiefs to the
assembled nation. Such a system is far more than Teutonic; it is a
common Aryan possession; it is the constitution of the Homeric
Achaians on earth and of the Homeric gods on Olympus.' Perhaps, and
indeed probably, this constitution may be that of the primitive
tribe which Romans left to go one way, and Greeks to go another, and
Teutons to go a third. The tribe took it with them, as the English
take the common law with them, because it was the one kind of polity
which they could conceive and act upon; or it may be that the
emigrants from the primitive Aryan stock only took with them a good
aptitude--an excellent political nature, which similar circumstances
in distant countries were afterwards to develop into like forms. But
anyhow it is impossible not to trace the supremacy of Teutons,
Greeks, and Romans in part to their common form of government. The
contests of the assembly cherished the principle of change; the
influence of the elders insured sedateness and preserved the mould
of thought; and, in the best cases, military discipline was not
impaired by freedom, though military intelligence was enhanced with
the general intelligence. A Roman army was a free body, at its own
choice governed by a peremptory despotism.

The MIXTURE OF RACES was often an advantage, too. Much as the old
world believed in pure blood, it had very little of it. Most
historic nations conquered prehistoric nations, and though they
massacred many, they did not massacre all. They enslaved the subject
men, and they married the subject women. No doubt the whole bond of
early society was the bond of descent; no doubt it was essential to
the notions of a new nation that it should have had common
ancestors; the modern idea that vicinity of habitation is the
natural cement of civil union would have been repelled as an impiety
if it could have been conceived as an idea. But by one of those
legal fictions which Sir Henry Maine describes so well, primitive
nations contrived to do what they found convenient, as well as to
adhere to what they fancied to be right. When they did not beget
they ADOPTED; they solemnly made believe that new persons were
descended from the old stock, though everybody knew that in flesh
and blood they were not. They made an artificial unity in default of
a real unity; and what it is not easy to understand now, the sacred
sentiment requiring unity of race was somehow satisfied: what was
made did as well as what was born. Nations with these sort of maxims
are not likely to have unity of race in the modern sense, and as a
physiologist understands it. What sorts of unions improve the breed,
and which are worse than both the father-race and the mother, it is
not very easy to say. The subject was reviewed by M. Quatrefages in
an elaborate report upon the occasion of the French Exhibition, of
all things in the world. M. Quatrefages quotes from another writer
the phrase that South America is a great laboratory of experiments
in the mixture of races, and reviews the different results which
different cases have shown. In South Carolina the Mulatto race is
not very prolific, whereas in Louisiana and Florida it decidedly is
so. In Jamaica and in Java the Mulatto cannot reproduce itself after
the third generation; but on the continent of America, as everybody
knows, the mixed race is now most numerous, and spreads generation
after generation without impediment. Equally various likewise in
various cases has been the fate of the mixed race between the white
man and the native American; sometimes it prospers, sometimes it
fails. And M. Quatrefages concludes his description thus: 'En
acceptant comme vraies toutes les observations qui tendent a faire
admettre qu'il en sera autrement dans les localites dont j'ai parle
plus haut, quelle est la conclusion a tirer de faits aussi peu
semblables? Evidemment, on est oblige de reconnaitre que le
developpement de la race mulatre est favorise, retarde, ou empeche
par des circonstances locales; en d'autres termes, qu'il depend des
influences exercees par l'ensemble des conditions d'existence, par
le MILIEU.' By which I understand him to mean that the mixture of
race sometimes brings out a form of character better suited than
either parent form to the place and time; that in such cases, by a
kind of natural selection, it dominates over both parents, and
perhaps supplants both, whereas in other cases the mixed race is not
as good then and there as other parent forms, and then it passes
away soon and of itself.

Early in history the continual mixtures by conquest were just so
many experiments in mixing races as are going on in South America
now. New races wandered into new districts, and half killed, half
mixed with the old races. And the result was doubtless as various
and as difficult to account for then as now; sometimes the crossing
answered, sometimes it failed. But when the mixture was at its best,
it must have excelled both parents in that of which so much has been
said; that is, variability, and consequently progressiveness. There
is more life in mixed nations. France, for instance, is justly said
to be the mean term between the Latin and the German races. A
Norman, as you may see by looking at him, is of the north; a
Provencal is of the south, of all that there is most southern. You
have in France Latin, Celtic, German, compounded in an infinite
number of proportions: one as she is in feeling, she is various not
only in the past history of her various provinces, but in their
present temperaments. Like the Irish element and the Scotch element
in the English House of Commons, the variety of French races
contributes to the play of the polity; it gives a chance for fitting
new things which otherwise there would not be. And early races must
have wanted mixing more than modern races. It is said, in answer to
the Jewish boast that 'their race still prospers, though it is
scattered and breeds in-and-in,' 'You prosper BECAUSE you are so
scattered; by acclimatisation in various regions your nation has
acquired singular elements of variety; it contains within itself the
principle of variability which other nations must seek by
intermarriage.' In the beginning of things there was certainly no
cosmopolitan race like the Jews; each race was a sort of 'parish
race,' narrow in thought and bounded in range, and it wanted mixing

But the mixture of races has a singular danger as well as a singular
advantage in the early world. We know now the Anglo-Indian suspicion
or contempt for 'half-castes.' The union of the Englishman and the
Hindoo produces something not only between races, but BETWEEN
MORALITIES. They have no inherited creed or plain place in the
world; they have none of the fixed traditional sentiments which are
the stays of human nature. In the early world many mixtures must
have wrought many ruins; they must have destroyed what they could
not replace--an inbred principle of discipline and of order. But if
these unions of races did not work thus; if, for example, the two
races were so near akin that their morals united as well as their
breeds, if one race by its great numbers and prepotent organisation
so presided over the other as to take it up and assimilate it, and
leave no separate remains of it, THEN the admixture was invaluable.
It added to the probability of variability, and therefore of
improvement; and if that improvement even in part took the military
line, it might give the mixed and ameliorated state a steady
advantage in the battle of nations, and a greater chance of lasting
in the world.

Another mode in which one state acquires a superiority over
competing states is by PROVISIONAL institutions, if I may so call
them. The most important of these--slavery--arises out of the same
early conquest as the mixture of races. A slave is an unassimilated,
an undigested atom; something which is in the body politic, but yet
is hardly part of it. Slavery, too, has a bad name in the later
world, and very justly. We connect it with gangs in chains, with
laws which keep men ignorant, with laws that hinder families. But
the evils which we have endured from slavery in recent ages must not
blind us to, or make us forget, the great services that slavery
rendered in early ages. There is a wonderful presumption in its
favour; it is one of the institutions which, at a certain stage of
growth, all nations in all countries choose and cleave to.
'Slavery,' says Aristotle, 'exists by the law of nature,' meaning
that it was everywhere to be found--was a rudimentary universal
point of polity. 'There are very many English colonies,' said Edward
Gibbon Wakefield, as late as 1848, 'who would keep slaves at once if
we would let them,' and he was speaking not only of old colonies
trained in slavery, and raised upon the products of it, but likewise
of new colonies started by freemen, and which ought, one would
think, to wish to contain freemen only. But Wakefield knew what he
was saying; he was a careful observer of rough societies, and he had
watched the minds of men in them. He had seen that LEISURE is the
great need of early societies, and slaves only can give men leisure.
All freemen in new countries must be pretty equal; every one has
labour, and every one has land; capital, at least in agricultural
countries (for pastoral countries are very different), is of little
use; it cannot hire labour; the labourers go and work for
themselves. There is a story often told of a great English
capitalist who went out to Australia with a shipload of labourers
and a carriage; his plan was that the labourers should build a house
for him, and that he would keep his carriage, just as in England.
But (so the story goes) he had to try to live in his carriage, for
his labourers left him, and went away to work for themselves. In
such countries there can be few gentlemen and no ladies. Refinement
is only possible when leisure is possible; and slavery first makes
it possible. It creates a set of persons born to work that others
may not work, and not to think in order that others may think. The
sort of originality which slavery gives is of the first practical
advantage in early communities; and the repose it gives is a great
artistic advantage when they come to be described in history. The
patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could not have had the steady
calm which marks them, if they had themselves been teased and
hurried about their flocks and herds. Refinement of feeling and
repose of appearance have indeed no market value in the early
bidding of nations; they do not tend to secure themselves a long
future or any future. But originality in war does, and slave-owning
nations, having time to think, are likely to be more shrewd in
policy, and more crafty in strategy.

No doubt this momentary gain is bought at a ruinous after-cost. When
other sources of leisure become possible, the one use of slavery is
past. But all its evils remain, and even grow worse. 'Retail'
slavery--the slavery in which a master owns a few slaves, whom he
well knows and daily sees--is not at all an intolerable state; the
slaves of Abraham had no doubt a fair life, as things went in that
day. But wholesale slavery, where men are but one of the investments
of large capital, and where a great owner, so far from knowing each
slave, can hardly tell how many gangs of them he works, is an
abominable state. This is the slavery which has made the name
revolting to the best minds, and has nearly rooted the thing out of
the best of the world. There is no out-of-the-way marvel in this.
The whole history of civilisation, is strewn with creeds and
institutions which were invaluable at first, and deadly afterwards.
Progress would not have been the rarity it is if the early food had
not been the late poison. A full examination of these provisional
institutions would need half a volume, and would be out of place and
useless here. Venerable oligarchy, august monarchy, are two that
would alone need large chapters. But the sole point here necessary
is to say that such preliminary forms and feelings at first often
bring many graces and many refinements, and often tend to secure
them by the preservative military virtue. There are cases in which
some step in INTELLECTUAL progress gives an early society some gain
in war; more obvious cases are when some kind of MORAL quality gives
some such gain. War both needs and generates certain virtues; not
the highest, but what may be called the preliminary virtues, as
valour, veracity, the spirit of obedience, the habit of discipline.
Any of these, and of others like them, when possessed by a nation,
and no matter how generated, will give them a military advantage,
and make them more likely to stay in the race of nations. The Romans
probably had as much of these efficacious virtues as any race of the
ancient world,--perhaps as much as any race in the modern world too.
And the success of the nations which possess these martial virtues
has been the great means by which their continuance has been secured
in the world, and the destruction of the opposite vices insured
also. Conquest is the missionary of valour, and the hard impact of
military virtues beats meanness out of the world.

In the last century it would have sounded strange to speak, as I am
going to speak, of the military advantage of RELIGION. Such an idea
would have been opposed to ruling prejudices, and would hardly have
escaped philosophical ridicule. But the notion is but a commonplace
in our day, for a man of genius has made it his own. Mr. Carlyle's
books are deformed by phrases like 'infinities' and 'verities' and
altogether are full of faults, which attract the very young, and
deter all that are older. In spite of his great genius, after a long
life of writing, it is a question still whether even a single work
of his can take a lasting place in high literature. There is a want
of sanity in their manner which throws a suspicion on their
substance (though it is often profound); and he brandishes one or
two fallacies, of which he has himself a high notion, but which
plain people will always detect and deride. But whatever may be the
fate of his fame, Mr. Carlyle has taught the present generation many
lessons, and one of these is that 'God-fearing' armies are the best
armies. Before his time people laughed at Cromwell's saying, 'Trust
in God, and keep your powder dry.' But we now know that the trust
was of as much use as the powder, if not of more. That high
concentration of steady feeling makes men dare everything and do

This subject would run to an infinite extent if any one were
competent to handle it. Those kinds of morals and that kind of
religion which tend to make the firmest and most effectual character
are sure to prevail, all else being the same; and creeds or systems
that conduce to a soft limp mind tend to perish, except some hard
extrinsic force keep them alive. Thus Epicureanism never prospered
at Rome, but Stoicism did; the stiff, serious character of the great
prevailing nation was attracted by what seemed a confirming creed,
and deterred by what looked like a relaxing creed. The inspiriting
doctrines fell upon the ardent character, and so confirmed its
energy. Strong beliefs win strong men, and then make them stronger.
Such is no doubt one cause why Monotheism tends to prevail over
Polytheism; it produces a higher, steadier character, calmed and
concentrated by a great single object; it is not confused by
competing rites, or distracted by miscellaneous deities. Polytheism
is religion IN COMMISSION, and it is weak accordingly. But it will
be said the Jews, who were monotheist, were conquered by the Romans,
who were polytheist. Yes, it must be answered, because the Romans
had other gifts; they had a capacity for politics, a habit of
discipline, and of these the Jews had not the least. The religious
advantage WAS an advantage, but it was counter-weighed.

No one should be surprised at the prominence given to war. We are
dealing with early ages; nation-MAKING is the occupation of man in
these ages, and it is war that makes nations. Nation-CHANGING comes
afterwards, and is mostly effected by peaceful revolution, though
even then war, too, plays its part. The idea of an indestructible
nation is a modern idea; in early ages all nations were
destructible, and the further we go back, the more incessant was the
work of destruction. The internal decoration of nations is a sort of
secondary process, which succeeds when the main forces that create
nations have principally done their work. We have here been
concerned with the political scaffolding; it will be the task of
other papers to trace the process of political finishing and
building. The nicer play of finer forces may then require more
pleasing thoughts than the fierce fights of early ages can ever
suggest. It belongs to the idea of progress that beginnings can
never seem attractive to those who live far on; the price of
improvement is, that the unimproved will always look degraded.

But how far are the strongest nations really the best nations? how
far is excellence in war a criterion of other excellence? I cannot
answer this now fully, but three or four considerations are very
plain. War, as I have said, nourishes the 'preliminary' virtues, and
this is almost as much as to say that there are virtues which it
does not nourish. All which may be called 'grace' as well as virtue
it does not nourish; humanity, charity, a nice sense of the rights
of others, it certainly does not foster. The insensibility to human
suffering, which is so striking a fact in the world as it stood when
history first reveals it, is doubtless due to the warlike origin of
the old civilisation. Bred in war, and nursed in war, it could not
revolt from the things of war, and one of the principal of these is
human pain. Since war has ceased to be the moving force in the
world, men have become more tender one to another, and shrink from
what they used to inflict without caring; and this not so much
because men are improved (which may or may not be in various cases),
but because they have no longer the daily habit of war--have no
longer formed their notions upon war, and therefore are guided by
thoughts and feelings which soldiers as such--soldiers educated
simply by their trade--are too hard to understand.

Very like this is the contempt for physical weakness and for women
which marks early society too. The non-combatant population is sure
to fare ill during the ages of combat. But these defects, too, are
cured or lessened; women have now marvellous means of winning their
way in the world; and mind without muscle has far greater force than
muscle without mind. These are some of the after-changes in the
interior of nations, of which the causes must be scrutinised, and I
now mention them only to bring out how many softer growths have now
half-hidden the old and harsh civilisation which war made. But it is
very dubious whether the spirit of war does not still colour our
morality far too much. Metaphors from law and metaphors from war
make most of our current moral phrases, and a nice examination would
easily explain that both rather vitiate what both often illustrate.
The military habit makes man think far too much of definite action,
and far too little of brooding meditation. Life is not a set
campaign, but an irregular work, and the main forces in it are not
overt resolutions, but latent and half-involuntary promptings. The
mistake of military ethics is to exaggerate the conception of
discipline, and so to present the moral force of the will in a barer
form than it ever ought to take. Military morals can direct the axe
to cut down the tree, but it knows nothing of the quiet force by
which the forest grows. What has been said is enough, I hope, to
bring out that there are many qualities and many institutions of the
most various sort which give nations an advantage in military
competition; that most of these and most warlike qualities tend
principally to good; that the constant winning of these favoured
competitors is the particular mode by which the best qualities
wanted in elementary civilisation are propagated and preserved.



In the last essay I endeavoured to show that in the early age of
man--the 'fighting age' I called it--there was a considerable,
though not certain, tendency towards progress. The best nations
conquered the worst; by the possession of one advantage or another
the best competitor overcame the inferior competitor. So long as
there was continual fighting there was a likelihood of improvement
in martial virtues, and in early times many virtues are really
'martial'--that is, tend to success in war--which in later times we
do not think of so calling, because the original usefulness is hid
by their later usefulness. We judge of them by the present effects,
not by their first. The love of law, for example, is a virtue which
no one now would call martial, yet in early times it disciplined
nations, and the disciplined nations won. The gift of 'conservative
innovation'--the gift of MATCHING new institutions to old--is not
nowadays a warlike virtue, yet the Romans owed much of their success
to it. Alone among ancient nations they had the deference to usage
which, combines nations, and the partial permission of selected
change which improves nations; and therefore they succeeded. Just so
in most cases, all through the earliest times, martial merit is a
token of real merit: the nation that wins is the nation that ought
to win. The simple virtues of such ages mostly make a man a soldier
if they make him anything. No doubt the brute force of number may be
too potent even then (as so often it is afterwards): civilisation
may be thrown back by the conquest of many very rude men over a few
less rude men. But the first elements of civilisation are great
military advantages, and, roughly, it is a rule of the first times
that you can infer merit from conquest, and that progress is
promoted by the competitive examination of constant war.

This principle explains at once why the 'protected' regions of the
world--the interior of continents like Africa, outlying islands like
Australia or New Zealand--are of necessity backward. They are still
in the preparatory school; they have not been taken on class by
class, as No. II., being a little better, routed effaced No. I.; and
as No. III., being a little better still, routed and effaced No. II.
And it explains why Western Europe was early in advance of other
countries, because there the contest of races was exceedingly
severe. Unlike most regions, it was a tempting part of the world,
and yet not a corrupting part; those who did not possess it wanted
it, and those who had it, not being enervated, could struggle hard
to keep it. The conflict of nations is at first a main force in the
improvement of nations.

But what ARE nations? What are these groups which are so familiar to
us, and yet, if we stop to think, so strange; which are as old as
history; which Herodotus found in almost as great numbers and with
quite as marked distinctions as we see them now? What breaks the
human race up into fragments so unlike one another, and yet each in
its interior so monotonous? The question is most puzzling, though
the fact is so familiar, and I would not venture to say that I can
answer it completely, though I can advance some considerations
which, as it seems to me, go a certain way towards answering it.
Perhaps these same considerations throw some light, too, on the
further and still more interesting question why some few nations
progress, and why the greater part do not.

Of course at first all such distinctions of nation and nation were
explained by original diversity of race. They ARE dissimilar, it was
said, because they were created dissimilar. But in most cases this
easy supposition will not do its work. You cannot (consistently with
plain facts) imagine enough original races to make it tenable. Some
half-dozen or more great families of men may or may not have been
descended from separate first stocks, but sub-varieties have
certainly not so descended. You may argue, rightly or wrongly, that
all Aryan nations are of a single or peculiar origin, just as it was
long believed that all Greek-speaking nations were of one such
stock. But you will not be listened to if you say that there were
one Adam and Eve for Sparta, and another Adam and Eve for Athens.
All Greeks are evidently of one origin, but within the limits of the
Greek family, as of all other families, there is some contrast-
making force which causes city to be unlike city, and tribe unlike

Certainly, too, nations did not originate by simple natural
selection, as wild varieties of animals (I do not speak now of
species) no doubt arise in nature. Natural selection means the
preservation of those individuals which struggle best with the
forces that oppose their race. But you could not show that the
natural obstacles opposing human life much differed between Sparta
and Athens, or indeed between Rome and Athens; and yet Spartans,
Athenians, and Romans differ essentially. Old writers fancied (and
it was a very natural idea) that the direct effect of climate, or
rather of land, sea, and air, and the sum total of physical
conditions varied man from man, and changed race to race. But
experience refutes this. The English immigrant lives in the same
climate as the Australian or Tasmanian, but he has not become like
those races; nor will a thousand years, in most respects, make him
like them. The Papuan and the Malay, as Mr. Wallace finds, live now,
and have lived for ages, side by side in the same tropical regions,
with every sort of diversity. Even in animals his researches show,
as by an object-lesson, that the direct efficacy of physical
conditions is overrated. 'Borneo,' he says 'closely resembles New
Guinea, not only in its vast size and freedom from volcanoes, but in
its variety of geological structure, its uniformity of climate, and
the general aspect of the forest vegetation that clothes its
surface. The Moluccas are the counterpart of the Philippines in
their volcanic structure, their extreme fertility, their luxuriant
forests, and their frequent earthquakes; and Bali, with the east end
of Java, has a climate almost as arid as that of Timor. Yet between
these corresponding groups of islands, constructed, as it were,
after the same pattern, subjected to the same climate, and bathed by
the same oceans, there exists the greatest possible contrast, when
we compare their animal productions. Nowhere does the ancient
doctrine--that differences or similarities in the various forms of
life that inhabit different countries are due to corresponding
physical differences or similarities in the countries themselves--
meet with so direct and palpable a contradiction. Borneo and New
Guinea, as alike physically as two distinct countries can be, are
zoologically as wide as the poles asunder; while Australia, with its
dry winds, its open plains, its stony deserts and its temperate
climate, yet produces birds and quadrupeds which are closely related
to those inhabiting the hot, damp, luxuriant forests which
everywhere clothe the plains and mountains of New Guinea.' That is,
we have like living things in the most dissimilar situations, and
unlike living things in the most similar ones. And though some of
Mr. Wallace's speculations on ethnology may be doubtful, no one
doubts that in the archipelago he has studied so well, as often
elsewhere in the world, though rarely with such marked emphasis, we
find like men in contrasted places, and unlike men in resembling
places. Climate is clearly not THE force which makes nations, for it
does not always make them, and they are often made without it.

The problem of 'nation-making'--that is, the explanation of the
origin of nations such as we now see them, and such as in historical
times they have always been--cannot, as it seems to me, be solved
without separating it into two: one, the making of broadly-marked
races, such as the negro, or the red man, or the European; and the
second, that of making the minor distinctions, such as the
distinction between Spartan and Athenian, or between Scotchman and
Englishman. Nations, as we see them, are (if my arguments prove
true) the produce of two great forces: one the race-making force
which, whatever it was, acted in antiquity, and has now wholly, or
almost, given over acting; and the other the nation-making force,
properly so called, which is acting now as much as it ever acted,
and creating as much as it ever created.

The strongest light on the great causes which have formed and are
forming nations is thrown by the smaller causes which are altering
nations. The way in which nations change, generation after
generation, is exceedingly curious, and the change occasionally
happens when it is very hard to account for. Something seems to
steal over society, say of the Regency time as compared with that of
the present Queen. If we read of life at Windsor (at the cottage now
pulled down), or of Bond Street as it was in the days of the
Loungers (an extinct race), or of St. James's Street as it was when
Mr. Fox and his party tried to make 'political capital' out of the
dissipation of an heir apparent, we seem to be reading not of the
places we know so well, but of very distant and unlike localities.
Or let anyone think how little is the external change in England
between the age of Elizabeth and the age of Anne compared with the
national change. How few were the alterations in physical condition,
how few (if any) the scientific inventions affecting human life
which the later period possessed, but the earlier did not! How hard
it is to say what has caused the change in the people! And yet how
total is the contrast, at least at first sight! In passing from
Bacon to Addison, from Shakespeare to Pope, we seem to pass into a
new world.

In the first of these essays I spoke of the mode in which the
literary change happens, and I recur to it because, literature being
narrower and more definite than life, a change in the less serves as
a model and illustration of the change in the greater. Some writer,
as was explained, not necessarily a very excellent writer or a
remembered one, hit on something which suited the public taste: he
went on writing, and others imitated him, and they so accustomed
their readers to that style that they would bear nothing else. Those
readers who did not like it were driven to the works of other ages
and other countries,--had to despise the 'trash of the day,' as they
would call it. The age of Anne patronised Steele, the beginner of
the essay, and Addison its perfecter, and it neglected writings in a
wholly discordant key. I have heard that the founder of the 'Times'
was asked how all the articles in the 'Times' came to seem to be
written by one man, and that he replied--'Oh, there is always some
one best contributor, and all the rest copy.' And this is doubtless
the true account of the manner in which a certain trade mark, a
curious and indefinable unity, settles on every newspaper. Perhaps
it would be possible to name the men who a few years since created
the 'Saturday Review' style, now imitated by another and a younger
race. But when the style of a periodical is once formed, the
continuance of it is preserved by a much more despotic impulse than
the tendency to imitation,--by the self-interest of the editor, who
acts as trustee, if I may say so, for the subscribers. The regular
buyers of a periodical want to read what they have been used to
read--the same sort of thought, the same sort of words. The editor
sees that they get that sort. He selects the suitable, the
conforming articles, and he rejects the non-conforming. What the
editor does in the case of a periodical, the readers do in the case
of literature in general. They patronise one thing and reject the

Of course there was always some reason (if we only could find it)
which gave the prominence in each age to some particular winning
literature. There always is some reason why the fashion of female
dress is what it is. But just as in the case of dress we know that
now-a-days the determining cause is very much of an accident, so in
the case of literary fashion, the origin is a good deal of an
accident. What the milliners of Paris, or the demi-monde of Paris,
enjoin our English ladies, is (I suppose) a good deal chance; but as
soon as it is decreed, those whom it suits and those whom it does
not all wear it. The imitative propensity at once insures
uniformity; and 'that horrid thing we wore last year' (as the phrase
may go) is soon nowhere to be seen. Just so a literary fashion
spreads, though I am far from saying with equal primitive
unreasonableness--a literary taste always begins on some decent
reason, but once started, it is propagated as a fashion in dress is
propagated; even those who do not like it read it because it is
there, and because nothing else is easily to be found.

The same patronage of favoured forms, and persecution of disliked
forms, are the main causes too, I believe, which change national
character. Some one attractive type catches the eye, so to speak, of
the nation, or a part of the nation, as servants catch the gait of
their masters, or as mobile girls come home speaking the special
words and acting the little gestures of each family whom they may
have been visiting. I do not know if many of my readers happen to
have read Father Newman's celebrated sermon, 'Personal Influence the
Means of Propagating the Truth;' if not, I strongly recommend them
to do so. They will there see the opinion of a great practical
leader of men, of one who has led very many where they little
thought of going, as to the mode in which they are to be led; and
what he says, put shortly and simply, and taken out of his delicate
language, is but this--that men are guided by TYPE, not by argument;
that some winning instance must be set up before them, or the sermon
will be vain, and the doctrine will not spread. I do not want to
illustrate this matter from religious history, for I should be led
far from my purpose, and after all I can but teach the commonplace
that it is the life of teachers which is CATCHING, not their tenets.
And again, in political matters, how quickly a leading statesman can
change the tone of the community! We are most of us earnest with Mr.
Gladstone; we were most of NOT so earnest in the time of Lord
Palmerston. The change is what every one feels, though no one can
define it. Each predominant mind calls out a corresponding sentiment
in the country: most feel it a little. Those who feel it much
express it much; those who feel it excessively express it
excessively; those who dissent are silent, or unheard.

After such great matters as religion and politics, it may seem
trifling to illustrate the subject from little boys. But it is not
trifling. The bane of philosophy is pomposity: people will not see
that small things are the miniatures of greater, and it seems a loss
of abstract dignity to freshen their minds by object lessons from
what they know. But every boarding-school changes as a nation
changes. Most of us may remember thinking, 'How odd it is that this
"half" should be so unlike last "half:" now we never go out of
bounds, last half we were always going: now we play rounders, then
we played prisoner's base;' and so through all the easy life of that
time. In fact, some ruling spirits, some one or two ascendant boys,
had left, one or two others had come; and so all was changed. The
models were changed, and the copies changed; a different thing was
praised, and a different thing bullied. A curious case of the same
tendency was noticed to me only lately. A friend of mine--a Liberal
Conservative--addressed a meeting of working men at Leeds, and was
much pleased at finding his characteristic, and perhaps refined
points, both apprehended and applauded. 'But then,' as he narrated,
'up rose a blatant Radical who said the very opposite things, and
the working men cheered him too, and quite equally.' He was puzzled
to account for so rapid a change. But the mass of the meeting was no
doubt nearly neutral, and, if set going, quite ready to applaud any
good words without much thinking. The ringleaders changed. The
radical tailor started the radical cheer; the more moderate
shoemaker started the moderate cheer; and the great bulk followed
suit. Only a few in each case were silent, and an absolute contrast
was in ten minutes presented by the same elements.

The truth is that the propensity of man to imitate what is before
him is one of the strongest parts of his nature. And one sign of it
is the great pain which we feel when our imitation has been
unsuccessful. There is a cynical doctrine that most men would rather
be accused of wickedness than of gaucherie. And this is but another
way of saying that the bad copying of predominant manners is felt to
be more of a disgrace than common consideration would account for
its being, since gaucherie in all but extravagant cases is not an
offence against religion or morals, but is simply bad imitation. We
must not think that this imitation is voluntary, or even conscious.
On the contrary, it has its seat mainly in very obscure parts of the
mind, whose notions, so far from having been consciously produced,
are hardly felt to exist; so far from being conceived beforehand,
are not even felt at the time. The main seat of the imitative part
of our nature is our belief, and the causes predisposing us to
believe this, or disinclining us to believe that, are among the
obscurest parts of our nature. But as to the imitative nature of
credulity there can be no doubt. In 'Eothen' there is a capital
description of how every sort of European resident in the East, even
the shrewd merchant and 'the post-captain,' with his bright, wakeful
eyes of commerce, comes soon to believe in witchcraft, and to assure
you, in confidence, that there 'really is something in it.' He has
never seen anything convincing himself, but he has seen those who
have seen those who have seen those who have seen. In fact, he has
lived in an atmosphere of infectious belief, and he has inhaled it.
Scarcely any one can help yielding to the current infatuations of
his sect or party. For a short time--say some fortnight--he is
resolute; he argues and objects; but, day by day, the poison
thrives, and reason wanes. What he hears from his friends, what he
reads in the party organ, produces its effect. The plain, palpable
conclusion which every one around him believes, has an influence yet
greater and more subtle; that conclusion seems so solid and
unmistakable; his own good arguments get daily more and more like a
dream. Soon the gravest sage shares the folly of the party with
which he acts, and the sect with which he worships.

In true metaphysics I believe that, contrary to common opinion,
unbelief far oftener needs a reason and requires an effort than
belief. Naturally, and if man were made according to the pattern of
the logicians, he would say, 'When I see a valid argument I will
believe, and till I see such argument I will not believe.' But, in
fact, every idea vividly before us soon appears to us to be true,
unless we keep up our perceptions of the arguments which prove it
untrue, and voluntarily coerce our minds to remember its falsehood.
'All clear ideas are true,' was for ages a philosophical maxim, and
though no maxim can be more unsound, none can be more exactly
conformable to ordinary human nature. The child resolutely accepts
every idea which passes through its brain as true; it has no
distinct conception of an idea which is strong, bright, and
permanent, but which is false too. The mere presentation of an idea,
unless we are careful about it, or unless there is within some
unusual resistance, makes us believe it; and this is why the belief
of others adds to our belief so quickly, for no ideas seem so very
clear as those inculcated on us from every side.

The grave part of mankind are quite as liable to these imitated
beliefs as the frivolous part. The belief of the money-market, which
is mainly composed of grave people, is as imitative as any belief.
You will find one day everyone enterprising, enthusiastic, vigorous,
eager to buy, and eager to order: in a week or so you will find
almost the whole society depressed, anxious, and wanting to sell. If
you examine the reasons for the activity, or for the inactivity, or
for the change, you will hardly be able to trace them at all, and as
far as you can trace them, they are of little force. In fact, these
opinions were not formed by reason, but by mimicry. Something
happened that looked a little good, on which eager sanguine men
talked loudly, and common people caught their tone. A little while
afterwards, and when people were tired of talking this, something
also happened looking a little bad, on which the dismal, anxious
people began, and all the rest followed their words. And in both
cases an avowed dissentient is set down as 'crotchety.' 'If you
want,' said Swift, 'to gain the reputation of a sensible man, you
should be of the opinion of the person with whom for the time being
you are conversing.' There is much quiet intellectual persecution
among 'reasonable' men; a cautious person hesitates before he tells
them anything new, for if he gets a name for such things he will be
called 'flighty,' and in times of decision he will not be attended

In this way the infection of imitation catches men in their most
inward and intellectual part--their creed. But it also invades men--
by the most bodily part of the mind--so to speak--the link between
soul and body--the manner. No one needs to have this explained; we
all know how a kind of subtle influence makes us imitate or try to
imitate the manner of those around us. To conform to the fashion of
Rome--whatever the fashion may be, and whatever Rome we may for the
time be at--is among the most obvious needs of human nature. But
what is not so obvious, though as certain, is that the influence of
the imitation goes deep as well as extends wide. 'The matter,' as
Wordsworth says, 'of style very much comes out of the manner.' If
you will endeavour to write an imitation of the thoughts of Swift in
a copy of the style of Addison, you will find that not only is it
hard to write Addison's style, from its intrinsic excellence, but
also that the more you approach to it the more you lose the thought
of Swift. The eager passion of the meaning beats upon the mild
drapery of the words. So you could not express the plain thoughts of
an Englishman in the grand manner of a Spaniard. Insensibly, and as
by a sort of magic, the kind of manner which a man catches eats into
him, and makes him in the end what at first he only seems.

This is the principal mode in which the greatest minds of an age
produce their effect. They set the tone which others take, and the
fashion which others use. There is an odd idea that those who take
what is called a 'scientific view' of history need rate lightly the
influence of individual character. It would be as reasonable to say
that those who take a scientific view of nature need think little of
the influence of the sun. On the scientific view a great man is a
great new cause (compounded or not out of other causes, for I do not
here, or elsewhere in these papers, raise the question of free-
will), but, anyhow, new in all its effects, and all its results.
Great models for good and evil sometimes appear among men, who
follow them either to improvement or degradation.

I am, I know, very long and tedious in setting out this; but I want
to bring home to others what every new observation of society brings
more and more freshly to myself--that this unconscious imitation and
encouragement of appreciated character, and this equally unconscious
shrinking from and persecution of disliked character, is the main
force which moulds and fashions men in society as we now see it.
Soon I shall try to show that the more acknowledged causes, such as
change of climate, alteration of political institutions, progress of
science, act principally through this cause; that they change the
object of imitation and the object of avoidance, and so work their
effect. But first I must speak of the origin of nations--of nation-
making as one may call it--the proper subject of this paper.

The process of nation-making is one of which we have obvious
examples in the most recent times, and which is going on now. The
most simple example is the foundation of the first State of America,
say New England, which has such a marked and such a deep national
character. A great number of persons agreeing in fundamental
disposition, agreeing in religion, agreeing in politics, form a
separate settlement; they exaggerate their own disposition, teach
their own creed, set up their favourite government; they discourage
all other dispositions, persecute other beliefs, forbid other forms
or habits of government. Of course a nation so made will have a
separate stamp and mark. The original settlers began of one type;
they sedulously imitated it; and (though other causes have
intervened and disturbed it) the necessary operation of the
principles of inheritance has transmitted many original traits still
unaltered, and has left an entire New England character--in no
respect unaffected by its first character.

This case is well known, but it is not so that the same process, in
a weaker shape, is going on in America now. Congeniality of
sentiment is a reason of selection, and a bond of cohesion in the
'West' at present. Competent observers say that townships grow up
there by each place taking its own religion, its own manners, and
its own ways. Those who have these morals and that religion go to
that place, and stay there; and those who have not these morals and
that religion either settle elsewhere at first, or soon pass on. The
days of colonisation by sudden 'swarms' of like creed is almost
over, but a less visible process of attraction by similar faith over
similar is still in vigour, and very likely to continue.

And in cases where this principle does not operate all new
settlements, being formed of 'emigrants,' are sure to be composed of
rather restless people, mainly. The stay-at-home people are not to
be found there, and these are the quiet, easy people. A new
settlement voluntarily formed (for of old times, when people were
expelled by terror, I am not speaking) is sure to have in it much
more than the ordinary proportion of active men, and much less than
the ordinary proportion of inactive; and this accounts for a large
part, though not perhaps all, of the difference between the English
in England, and the English in Australia.

The causes which formed New England in recent times cannot be
conceived as acting much upon mankind in their infancy. Society is
not then formed upon a 'voluntary system' but upon an involuntary. A
man in early ages is born to a certain obedience, and cannot
extricate himself from an inherited government. Society then is made
up, not of individuals, but of families; creeds then descend by
inheritance in those families. Lord Melbourne once incurred the
ridicule of philosophers by saying he should adhere to the English
Church BECAUSE it was the religion of his fathers. The philosophers,
of course, said that a man's fathers' believing anything was no
reason for his believing it unless it was true. But Lord Melbourne
was only uttering out of season, and in a modern time, one of the
most firm and accepted maxims of old times. A secession on religious
grounds of isolated Romans to sail beyond sea would have seemed to
the ancient Romans an impossibility. In still ruder ages the
religion of savages is a thing too feeble to create a schism or to
found a community. We are dealing with people capable of history
when we speak of great ideas, not with prehistoric flint-men or the
present savages. But though under very different forms, the same
essential causes--the imitation of preferred characters and the
elimination of detested characters--were at work in the oldest
times, and are at work among rude men now. Strong as the propensity
to imitation is among civilised men, we must conceive it as an
impulse of which their minds have been partially denuded. Like the
far-seeing sight, the infallible hearing, the magical scent of the
savage, it is a half-lost power. It was strongest in ancient times,
and IS strongest in uncivilised regions.

This extreme propensity to imitation is one great reason of the
amazing sameness which every observer notices in savage nations.
When you have seen one Euegian, you have seen all Fuegians--one
Tasmanian, all Tasmanians. The higher savages, as the New
Zealanders, are less uniform; they have more of the varied and
compact structure of civilised nations, because in other respects
they are more civilised. They have greater mental capacity--larger
stores of inward thought. But much of the same monotonous nature
clings to them too. A savage tribe resembles a herd of gregarious
beasts; where the leader goes they go too; they copy blindly his
habits, and thus soon become that which he already is. For not only
the tendency, but also the power to imitate, is stronger in savages
than civilised men. Savages copy quicker, and they copy better.
Children, in the same way, are born mimics; they cannot help
imitating what comes before them. There is nothing in their minds to
resist the propensity to copy. Every educated man has a large inward
supply of ideas to which he can retire, and in which he can escape
from or alleviate unpleasant outward objects. But a savage or a
child has no resource. The external movements before it are its very
life; it lives by what it sees and hears. Uneducated people in
civilised nations have vestiges of the same condition. If you send a
housemaid and a philosopher to a foreign country of which neither
knows the language, the chances are that the housemaid will catch it
before the philosopher. He has something else to do; he can live in
his own thoughts. But unless she can imitate the utterances, she is
lost; she has no life till she can join in the chatter of the
kitchen. The propensity to mimicry, and the power of mimicry, are
mostly strongest in those who have least abstract minds. The most
wonderful examples of imitation in the world are perhaps the
imitations of civilised men by savages in the use of martial
weapons. They learn the knack, as sportsmen call it, with
inconceivable rapidity. A North American Indian--an Australian even-
-can shoot as well as any white man. Here the motive is at its
maximum, as well as the innate power. Every savage cares more for
the power of killing than for any other power.

The persecuting tendency of all savages, and, indeed, of all
ignorant people, is even more striking than their imitative
tendency. No barbarian can bear to see one of his nation deviate
from the old barbarous customs and usages of their tribe. Very
commonly all the tribe would expect a punishment from the gods if
any one of them refrained from what was old, or began what was new.
In modern times and in cultivated countries we regard each person as
responsible only for his own actions, and do not believe, or think
of believing, that the misconduct of others can bring guilt on them.
Guilt to us is an individual taint consequent on choice and cleaving
to the chooser. But in early ages the act of one member of the tribe
is conceived to make all the tribe impious, to offend its peculiar
god, to expose all the tribe to penalties from heaven. There is no
'limited liability' in the political notions of that time. The early
tribe or nation is a religious partnership, on which a rash member
by a sudden impiety may bring utter ruin. If the state is conceived
thus, toleration becomes wicked. A permitted deviation from the
transmitted ordinances becomes simple folly. It is a sacrifice of
the happiness of the greatest number. It is allowing one individual,
for a moment's pleasure or a stupid whim, to bring terrible and
irretrievable calamity upon all. No one will ever understand even
Athenian history, who forgets this idea of the old world, though
Athens was, in comparison with others, a rational and sceptical
place, ready for new views, and free from old prejudices. When the
street statues of Hermes were mutilated, all the Athenians were
frightened and furious; they thought that they should ALL be ruined
because some one had mutilated a god's image, and so offended him.
Almost every detail of life in the classical times--the times when
real history opens--was invested with a religious sanction; a sacred
ritual regulated human action; whether it was called 'law' or not,
much of it was older than the word 'law;' it was part of an ancient
usage conceived as emanating from a superhuman authority, and not to
be transgressed without risk of punishment by more than mortal
power. There was such a solidarite then between citizens, that each
might be led to persecute the other for fear of harm to himself.

It may be said that these two tendencies of the early world--that to
persecution and that to imitation--must conflict; that the imitative
impulse would lead men to copy what is new, and that persecution by
traditional habit would prevent their copying it. But in practice
the two tendencies co-operate. There is a strong tendency to copy
the most common thing, and that common thing is the old habit. Daily
imitation is far oftenest a conservative force, for the most
frequent models are ancient. Of course, however, something new is
necessary for every man and for every nation. We may wish, if we
please, that to-morrow shall be like to-day, but it will not be like
it. New forces will impinge upon us; new wind, new rain, and the
light of another sun; and we must alter to meet them. But the
persecuting habit and the imitative combine to insure that the new
thing shall be in the old fashion; it must be an alteration, but it
shall contain as little of variety as possible. The imitative
impulse tends to this, because men most easily imitate what their
minds are best prepared for,--what is like the old, yet with the
inevitable minimum of alteration; what throws them least out of the
old path, and puzzles least their minds. The doctrine of development
means this,--that in unavoidable changes men like the new doctrine
which is most of a 'preservative addition' to their old doctrines.
The imitative and the persecuting tendencies make all change in
early nations a kind of selective conservatism, for the most part
keeping what is old, but annexing some new but like practice--an
additional turret in the old style.

It is this process of adding suitable things and rejecting
discordant things which has raised those scenes of strange manners
which in every part of the world puzzle the civilised men who come
upon them first. Like the old head-dress of mountain villages, they
make the traveller think not so much whether they are good or
whether they are bad, as wonder how any one could have come to think
of them; to regard them as 'monstrosities,' which only some wild
abnormal intellect could have hit upon. And wild and abnormal indeed
would be that intellect if it were a single one at all. But in fact
such manners are the growth of ages, like Roman law or the British
constitution. No one man--no one generation--could have thought of
them,--only a series of generations trained in the habits of the
last and wanting something akin to such habits, could have devised
them. Savages PET their favourite habits, so to say, and preserve
them as they do their favourite animals; ages are required, but at
last a national character is formed by the confluence of congenial
attractions and accordant detestations.

Another cause helps. In early states of civilisation there is a
great mortality of infant life, and this is a kind of selection in
itself--the child most fit to be a good Spartan is most likely to
survive a Spartan childhood. The habits of the tribe are enforced on
the child; if he is able to catch and copy them he lives; if he
cannot he dies. The imitation which assimilates early nations
continues through life, but it begins with suitable forms and acts
on picked specimens. I suppose, too, that there is a kind of
parental selection operating in the same way and probably tending to
keep alive the same individuals. Those children which gratified
their fathers and mothers most would be most tenderly treated by
them, and have the best chance to live, and as a rough rule their
favourites would be the children of most 'promise,' that is to say,
those who seemed most likely to be a credit to the tribe according
to the leading tribal manners and the existing tribal tastes. The
most gratifying child would be the best looked after, and the most
gratifying would be the best specimen of the standard then and there
raised up.

Even so, I think there will be a disinclination to attribute so
marked, fixed, almost physical a thing as national character to
causes so evanescent as the imitation of appreciated habit and the
persecution of detested habit. But, after all, national character is
but a name for a collection of habits more or less universal. And
this imitation and this persecution in long generations have vast
physical effects. The mind of the parent (as we speak) passes
somehow to the body of the child. The transmitted 'something' is
more affected by habits than, it is by anything else. In time an
ingrained type is sure to be formed, and sure to be passed on if
only the causes I have specified be fully in action and without

As I have said, I am not explaining the origin of races, but of
nations, or, if you like, of tribes. I fully admit that no imitation
of predominant manner, or prohibitions of detested manners, will of
themselves account for the broadest contrasts of human nature. Such
means would no more make a Negro out of a Brahmin, or a Red-man out
of an Englishman, than washing would change the spots of a leopard
or the colour of an Ethiopian. Some more potent causes must co-
operate, or we should not have these enormous diversities. The minor
causes I deal with made Greek to differ from Greek, but they did not
make the Greek race. We cannot precisely mark the limit, but a limit
there clearly is.

If we look at the earliest monuments of the human race, we find
these race-characters as decided as the race-characters now. The
earliest paintings or sculptures we anywhere have, give us the
present contrasts of dissimilar types as strongly as present
observation. Within historical memory no such differences have been
created as those between Negro and Greek, between Papuan and Red
Indian, between Esquimaux and Goth. We start with cardinal
diversities; we trace only minor modifications, and we only see
minor modifications. And it is very hard to see how any number of
such modifications could change man as he is in one race-type to man
as he is in some other. Of this there are but two explanations; ONE,
that these great types were originally separate creations, as they
stand--that the Negro was made so, and the Greek made so. But this
easy hypothesis of special creation has been tried so often, and has
broken down so very often, that in no case, probably, do any great
number of careful inquirers very firmly believe it. They may accept
it provisionally, as the best hypothesis at present, but they feel
about it as they cannot help feeling as to an army which has always
been beaten; however strong it seems, they think it will be beaten
again. What the other explanation is exactly I cannot pretend to
say. Possibly as yet the data for a confident opinion are not before
us. But by far the most plausible suggestion is that of Mr. Wallace,
that these race-marks are living records of a time when the
intellect of man was not as able as it is now to adapt his life and
habits to change of region; that consequently early mortality in the
first wanderers was beyond conception great; that only those (so to
say) haphazard individuals throve who were born with a protected
nature--that is, a nature suited to the climate and the country,
fitted to use its advantages, shielded from its natural diseases.
According to Mr. Wallace, the Negro is the remnant of the one
variety of man who without more adaptiveness than then existed could
live in Interior Africa. Immigrants died off till they produced him
or something like him, and so of the Esquimaux or the American.

Any protective habit also struck out in such a time would have a far
greater effect than it could afterwards. A gregarious tribe, whose
leader was in some imitable respects adapted to the struggle for
life, and which copied its leader, would have an enormous advantage
in the struggle for life. It would be sure to win and live, for it
would be coherent and adapted, whereas, in comparison, competing
tribes would be incoherent and unadapted. And I suppose that in
early times, when those bodies did not already contain the records
and the traces of endless generations, any new habit would more
easily fix its mark on the heritable element, and would be
transmitted more easily and more certainly. In such an age, man
being softer and more pliable, deeper race-marks would be more
easily inscribed and would be more likely to continue legible.

But I have no pretence to speak on such matters; this paper, as I
have so often explained, deals with nation-making and not with race-
making. I assume a world of marked varieties of man, and only want
to show how less marked contrasts would probably and naturally arise
in each. Given large homogeneous populations, some Negro, some
Mongolian, some Aryan, I have tried to prove how small contrasting
groups would certainly spring up within each--some to last and some
to perish. These are the eddies in each race-stream which vary its
surface, and are sure to last till some new force changes the
current. These minor varieties, too, would be infinitely compounded,
not only with those of the same race, but with those of others.
Since the beginning of man, stream has been a thousand times poured
into stream--quick into sluggish, dark into pale--and eddies and
waters have taken new shapes and new colours, affected by what went
before, but not resembling it. And then on the fresh mass, the old
forces of composition and elimination again begin to act, and create
over the new surface another world. 'Motley was the wear' of the
world when Herodotus first looked on it and described it to us, and
thus, as it seems to me, were its varying colours produced.

If it be thought that I have made out that these forces of imitation
and elimination be the main ones, or even at all powerful ones, in
the formation of national character, it will follow that the effect
of ordinary agencies upon that character will be more easy to
understand than it often seems and is put down in books. We get a
notion that a change of government or a change of climate acts
equally on the mass of a nation, and so are we puzzled--at least, I
have been puzzled--to conceive how it acts. But such changes do not
at first act equally on all people in the nation, On many, for a
very long time, they do not act at all. But they bring out new
qualities, and advertise the effects of new habits. A change of
climate, say from a depressing to an invigorating one, so acts.
Everybody feels it a little, but the most active feel it
exceedingly. They labour and prosper, and their prosperity invites
imitation. Just so with the contrary change, from an animating to a
relaxing place,--the naturally lazy look so happy as they do
nothing, that the naturally active are corrupted. The effect of any
considerable change on a nation is thus an intensifying and
accumulating effect. With its maximum power it acts on some prepared
and congenial individuals; in them it is seen to produce attractive
results, and then the habits creating those results are copied far
and wide. And, as I believe, it is in this simple but not quite
obvious way, that the process of progress and of degradation may
generally be seen to run.

No. IV.


All theories as to the primitive man must be very uncertain.
Granting the doctrine of evolution to be true, man must be held to
have a common ancestor with the rest of the Primates. But then we do
not know what their common ancestor was like. If ever we are to have
a distinct conception of him, it can only be after long years of
future researches and the laborious accumulation of materials,
scarcely the beginning of which now exists. But science has already
done something for us. It cannot yet tell us our first ancestor, but
it can tell us much of an ancestor very high up in the line of
descent. We cannot get the least idea (even upon the full assumption
of the theory of evolution) of the first man; but we can get a very
tolerable idea of the Paulo-prehistoric man, if I may so say--of man
as he existed some short time (as we now reckon shortness), some ten
thousand years, before history began. Investigators whose acuteness
and diligence can hardly be surpassed--Sir John Lubbock and Mr.
Tylor are the chiefs among them--have collected so much and
explained so much that they have left a fairly vivid result.

That result is, or seems to me to be, if I may sum it up in my own
words, that the modern pre-historic men--those of whom we have
collected so many remains, and to whom are due the ancient, strange
customs of historical nations (the fossil customs, we might call
them, for very often they are stuck by themselves in real
civilisation, and have no more part in it than the fossils in the
surrounding strata)--pre-historic men in this sense were 'savages
without the fixed habits of savages;' that is, that, like savages,
they had strong passions and weak reason; that, like savages, they
preferred short spasms of greedy pleasure to mild and equable
enjoyment; that, like savages, they could not postpone the present
to the future; that, like savages, their ingrained sense of morality
was, to say the best of it, rudimentary and defective. But that,
unlike present savages, they had not complex customs and singular
customs, odd and seemingly inexplicable rules guiding all human
life. And the reasons for these conclusions as to a race too ancient
to leave a history, but not too ancient to have left memorials, are
briefly these:--First, that we cannot imagine a strong reason
without attainments; and, plainly, pre-historic men had not
attainments. They would never have lost them if they had. It is
utterly incredible that whole races of men in the most distant parts
of the world (capable of counting, for they quickly learn to count)
should have lost the art of counting, if they had ever possessed it.
It is incredible that whole races could lose the elements of common
sense, the elementary knowledge as to things material and things
mental--the Benjamin Franklin philosophy--if they had ever known it.
Without some data the reasoning faculties of man cannot work. As
Lord Bacon said, the mind of man must 'work upon stuff.' And in the
absence of the common knowledge which trains us in the elements of
reason as far as we are trained, they had no 'stuff.' Even,
therefore, if their passions were not absolutely stronger than ours,
relatively they were stronger, for their reason was weaker than our
reason. Again, it is certain that races of men capable of postponing
the present to the future (even if such races were conceivable
without an educated reason) would have had so huge an advantage in
the struggles of nations, that no others would have survived them. A
single Australian tribe (really capable of such a habit, and really
practising it) would have conquered all Australia almost as the
English have conquered it. Suppose a race of long-headed Scotchmen,
even as ignorant as the Australians, and they would have got from
Torres to Bass's Straits, no matter how fierce was the resistance of
the other Australians. The whole territory would have been theirs,
and theirs only. We cannot imagine innumerable races to have lost,
if they had once had it, the most useful of all habits of mind--the
habit which would most ensure their victory in the incessant
contests which, ever since they began, men have carried on with one
another and with nature, the habit, which in historical times has
above any other received for its possession the victory in those
contests. Thirdly, we may be sure that the morality of pre-historic
man was as imperfect and as rudimentary as his reason. The same sort
of arguments apply to a self-restraining morality of a high type as
apply to a settled postponement of the present to the future upon
grounds recommended by argument. Both are so involved in difficult
intellectual ideas (and a high morality the most of the two) that it
is all but impossible to conceive their existence among people who
could not count more than five--who had only the grossest and
simplest forms of language--who had no kind of writing or reading--
who, as it has been roughly said, had 'no pots and no pans'--who
could indeed make a fire, but who could hardly do anything else--who
could hardly command nature any further. Exactly also like a shrewd
far-sightedness, a sound morality on elementary transactions is far
too useful a gift to the human race ever to have been thoroughly
lost when they had once attained it. But innumerable savages have
lost all but completely many of the moral rules most conducive to
tribal welfare. There are many savages who can hardly be said to
care for human life--who have scarcely the family feelings--who are
eager to kill all old people (their own parents included) as soon as
they get old and become a burden--who have scarcely the sense of
truth--who, probably from a constant tradition of terror, wish to
conceal everything, and would (as observers say) 'rather lie than
not'--whose ideas of marriage are so vague and slight that the idea,
'communal marriage' (in which all the women of the tribe are common
to all the men, and them only), has been invented to denote it. Now
if we consider how cohesive and how fortifying to human societies
are the love of truth, and the love of parents, and a stable
marriage tie, how sure such feelings would be to make a tribe which
possessed them wholly and soon victorious over tribes which were
destitute of them, we shall begin to comprehend how unlikely it is
that vast masses of tribes throughout the world should have lost all
these moral helps to conquest, not to speak of others. If any
reasoning is safe as to pre-historic man, the reasoning which
imputes to him a deficient sense of morals is safe, for all the
arguments suggested by all our late researches converge upon it, and
concur in teaching it.

Nor on this point does the case rest wholly on recent
investigations. Many years ago Mr. Jowett said that the classical
religions bore relics of the 'ages before morality.' And this is
only one of several cases in which that great thinker has proved by
a chance expression that he had exhausted impending controversies
years before they arrived, and had perceived more or less the
conclusion at which the disputants would arrive long before the
public issue was joined. There is no other explanation of such
religions than this. We have but to open Mr. Gladstone's 'Homer' in
order to see with how intense an antipathy a really moral age would
regard the gods and goddesses of Homer; how inconceivable it is that
a really moral age should first have invented and then bowed down
before them; how plain it is (when once explained) that they are
antiquities, like an English court-suit, or a STONE-sacrificial
knife, for no one would use such things as implements of ceremony,
except those who had inherited them from a past age, when there was
nothing better.

Nor is there anything inconsistent with our present moral theories
of whatever kind in so thinking about our ancestors. The intuitive
theory of morality, which would be that naturally most opposed to
it, has lately taken a new development. It is not now maintained
that all men have the same amount of conscience. Indeed, only a most
shallow disputant who did not understand even the plainest facts of
human nature could ever have maintained it; if men differ in
anything they differ in the fineness and the delicacy of their moral
intuitions, however we may suppose those feelings to have been
acquired. We need not go as far as savages to learn that lesson; we
need only talk to the English poor or to our own servants, and we
shall be taught it very completely. The lower classes in civilised
countries, like all classes in uncivilised countries, are clearly
wanting in the nicer part of those feelings which, taken together,
we call the SENSE of morality. All this an intuitionist who knows
his case will now admit, but he will add that, though the amount of
the moral sense may and does differ in different persons, yet that
as far as it goes it is alike in all. He likens it to the intuition
of number, in which some savages are so defective that they cannot
really and easily count more than three. Yet as far as three his
intuitions are the same as those of civilised people. Unquestionably
if there are intuitions at all, the primary truths of number are
such. There is a felt necessity in them if in anything, and it would
be pedantry to say that any proposition of morals was MORE certain
than that five and five make ten. The truths of arithmetic,
intuitive or not, certainly cannot be acquired independently of
experience nor can those of morals be so either. Unquestionably they
were aroused in life and by experience, though after that comes the
difficult and ancient controversy whether anything peculiar to them
and not to be found in the other facts of life is superadded to them
independently of experience out of the vigour of the mind itself. No
intuitionist, therefore, fears to speak of the conscience of his
pre-historic ancestor as imperfect, rudimentary, or hardly to be
discerned, for he has to admit much the same so as to square his
theory to plain modern facts, and that theory in the modern form may
consistently be held along with them. Of course if an intuitionist
can accept this conclusion as to pre-historic men, so assuredly may
Mr. Spencer, who traces all morality back to our inherited
experience of utility, or Mr. Darwin, who ascribes it to an
inherited sympathy, or Mr. Mill, who with characteristic courage
undertakes to build up the whole moral nature of man with no help
whatever either from ethical intuition or from physiological
instinct. Indeed of the everlasting questions, such as the reality
of free will, or the nature of conscience, it is, as I have before
explained, altogether inconsistent with the design of these papers
to speak. They have been discussed ever since the history of
discussion begins; human opinion is still divided, and most people
still feel many difficulties in every suggested theory, and doubt if
they have heard the last word of argument or the whole solution of
the problem in any of them. In the interest of sound knowledge it is
essential to narrow to the utmost the debatable territory; to see
how many ascertained facts there are which are consistent with all
theories, how many may, as foreign lawyers would phrase it, be
equally held in condominium by them.

But though in these great characteristics there is reason to imagine
that the pre-historic man--at least the sort of pre-historic man I
am treating of, the man some few thousand years before history
began, and not at all, at least not necessarily, the primitive man--
was identical with a modern savage, in another respect there is
equal or greater reason to suppose that he was most unlike a modern
savage. A modern savage is anything but the simple being which
philosophers of the eighteenth century imagined him to be; on the
contrary, his life is twisted into a thousand curious habits; his
reason is darkened by a thousand strange prejudices; his feelings
are frightened by a thousand cruel superstitions. The whole mind of
a modern savage is, so to say, tattooed over with monstrous images;
there is not a smooth place anywhere about it. But there is no
reason to suppose the minds of pre-historic men to be so cut and
marked; on the contrary, the creation of these habits, these
superstitions, these prejudices, must have taken ages. In his
nature, it may be said, pre-historic man was the same as a modern
savage; it is only in his acquisition that he was different.

It may be objected that if man was developed out of any kind of
animal (and this is the doctrine of evolution which, if it be not
proved conclusively, has great probability and great scientific
analogy in its favour) he would necessarily at first possess animal
instincts; that these would only gradually be lost; that in the
meantime they would serve as a protection and an aid, and that pre-
historic men, therefore, would have important helps and feelings
which existing savages have not. And probably of the first men, the
first beings worthy to be so called, this was true: they had, or may
have had, certain remnants of instincts which aided them in the
struggle of existence, and as reason gradually came these instincts
may have waned away. Some instincts certainly do wane when the
intellect is applied steadily to their subject-matter. The curious
'counting boys,' the arithmetical prodigies, who can work by a
strange innate faculty the most wonderful sums, lose that faculty,
always partially, sometimes completely, if they are taught to reckon
by rule like the rest of mankind. In like manner I have heard it
said that a man could soon reason himself out of the instinct of
decency if he would only take pains and work hard enough. And
perhaps other primitive instincts may have in like manner passed
away. But this does not affect my argument. I am only saying that
these instincts, if they ever existed, DID pass away--that there was
a period; probably an immense period as we reckon time in human
history, when pre-historic men lived much as savages live now,
without any important aids and helps.

The proofs of this are to be found in the great works of Sir John
Lubbock and Mr. Tylor, of which I just now spoke. I can only bring
out two of them here. First, it is plain that the first pre-historic
men had the flint tools which the lowest savages use, and we can
trace a regular improvement in the finish and in the efficiency of
their simple instruments corresponding to that which we see at this
day in the upward transition from the lowest savages to the highest.
Now it is not conceivable that a race of beings with valuable
instincts supporting their existence and supplying their wants would
need these simple tools. They are exactly those needed by very poor
people who have no instincts, and those were used by such, for
savages are the poorest of the poor. It would be very strange if
these same utensils, no more no less, were used by beings whose
discerning instincts made them in comparison altogether rich. Such a
being would know how to manage without such things, or if it wanted
any, would know how to make better.

And, secondly, on the moral side we know that the pre-historic age
was one of much licence, and the proof is that in that age descent
was reckoned through the female only, just as it is among the lowest
savages. 'Maternity,' it has been said, 'is a matter of fact,
paternity is a matter of opinion;' and this not very refined
expression exactly conveys the connection of the lower human
societies. In all slave-owning communities--in Rome formerly, and in
Virginia yesterday--such was the accepted rule of law; the child
kept the condition of the mother, whatever that condition was;
nobody inquired as to the father; the law, once for all, assumed
that he could not be ascertained. Of course no remains exist which
prove this or anything else about the morality of pre-historic man;
and morality can only be described by remains amounting to a
history. But one of the axioms of pre-historic investigation binds
us to accept this as the morality of the pre-historic races if we
receive that axiom. It is plain that the wide-spread absence of a
characteristic which greatly aids the possessor in the conflicts
between race and race probably indicates that the primary race did
not possess that quality. If one-armed people existed almost
everywhere in every continent; if people were found in every
intermediate stage, some with the mere germ of the second arm, some
with the second arm half-grown, some with it nearly complete; we
should then argue--'the first race cannot have had two arms, because
men have always been fighting, and as two arms are a great advantage
in fighting, one-armed and half-armed people would immediately have
been killed off the earth; they never could have attained any
numbers. A diffused deficiency in a warlike power is the best
attainable evidence that the pre-historic men did not possess that
power.' If this axiom be received it is palpably applicable to the
marriage-bond of primitive races. A cohesive 'family' is the best
germ for a campaigning nation. In a Roman family the boys, from the
time of their birth, were bred to a domestic despotism, which well
prepared them for a subjection in after life to a military
discipline, a military drill, and a military despotism. They were
ready to obey their generals because they were compelled to obey
their fathers; they centered the world in manhood because as
children they were bred in homes where the tradition of passionate
valour was steadied by the habit of implacable order. And nothing of
this is possible in loosely-bound family groups (if they can be
called families at all) where the father is more or less uncertain,
where descent is not traced through him, where, that is, property
does not come from him, where such property as he has passes to his
SURE relations--to his sister's children. An ill-knit nation which
does not recognise paternity as a legal relation, would be conquered
like a mob by any other nation which had a vestige or a beginning of
the patria potestas. If, therefore, all the first men had the strict
morality of families, they would no more have permitted the rise of
SEMI-moral nations anywhere in the world than the Romans would have
permitted them to arise in Italy. They would have conquered, killed,
and plundered them before they became nations; and yet semi-moral
nations exist all over the world.

It will be said that this argument proves too much. For it proves
that not only the somewhat-before-history men, but the absolutely
first men, could not have had close family instincts, and yet if
they were like most though not all of the animals nearest to man
they had such instincts. There is a great story of some African
chief who expressed his disgust at adhering to one wife, by saying
it was 'like the monkeys.' The semi-brutal ancestors of man, if they
existed, had very likely an instinct of constancy which the African
chief, and others like him, had lost. How, then, if it was so
beneficial, could they ever lose it? The answer is plain: they could
lose it if they had it as an irrational propensity and habit, and
not as a moral and rational feeling. When reason came, it would
weaken that habit like all other irrational habits. And reason is a
force of such infinite vigour--a victory-making agent of such
incomparable efficiency--that its continually diminishing valuable
instincts will not matter if it grows itself steadily all the while.
The strongest competitor wins in both the cases we are imagining; in
the first, a race with intelligent reason, but without blind
instinct, beats a race with that instinct but without that reason;
in the second, a race with reason and high moral feeling beats a
race with reason but without high moral feeling. And the two are
palpably consistent.

There is every reason, therefore, to suppose pre-historic man to be
deficient in much of sexual morality, as we regard that morality. As
to the detail of 'primitive marriage' or 'NO marriage,' for that is
pretty much what it comes to, there is of course much room for
discussion. Both Mr. M'Clennan and Sir John Lubbock are too
accomplished reasoners and too careful investigators to wish
conclusions so complex and refined as theirs to be accepted all in a
mass, besides that on some critical points the two differ. But the
main issue is not dependent on nice arguments. Upon broad grounds we
may believe that in pre-historic times men fought both to gain and
to keep their wives; that the strongest man took the best wife away
from the weaker man; and that if the wife was restive, did not like
the change, her new husband beat her; that (as in Australia now) a
pretty woman was sure to undergo many such changes, and her back to
bear the marks of many such chastisements; that in the principal
department of human conduct (which is the most tangible and easily
traced, and therefore the most obtainable specimen of the rest) the
minds of pre-historic men were not so much immoral as UNmoral: they
did not violate a rule of conscience, but they were somehow not
sufficiently developed for them to feel on this point any
conscience, or for it to prescribe to them any rule.

The same argument applies to religion. There are, indeed, many
points of the greatest obscurity, both in the present savage
religions and in the scanty vestiges of pre-historic religion. But
one point is clear. All savage religions are full of superstitions
founded on luck. Savages believe that casual omens are a sign of
coming events; that some trees are lucky, that some animals are
lucky, that some places are lucky, that some indifferent actions--
indifferent apparently and indifferent really--are lucky, and so of
others in each class, that they are unlucky. Nor can a savage well
distinguish between a sign of 'luck' or ill-luck, as we should say,
and a deity which causes the good or the ill; the indicating
precedent and the causing being are to the savage mind much the
same; a steadiness of head far beyond savages is required
consistently to distinguish them. And it is extremely natural that
they should believe so. They are playing a game--the game of life--
with no knowledge of its rules. They have not an idea of the laws of
nature; if they want to cure a man, they have no conception at all
of true scientific remedies. If they try anything they must try it
upon bare chance. The most useful modern remedies were often
discovered in this bare, empirical way. What could be more
improbable--at least, for what could a pre-historic man have less
given a good reason--than that some mineral springs should stop
rheumatic pains, or mineral springs make wounds heal quickly? And
yet the chance knowledge of the marvellous effect of gifted springs
is probably as ancient as any sound knowledge as to medicine
whatever. No doubt it was mere casual luck at first that tried these
springs and found them answer. Somebody by accident tried them and
by that accident was instantly cured. The chance which happily
directed men in this one case, misdirected them in a thousand cases.
Some expedition had answered when the resolution to undertake it was
resolved on under an ancient tree, and accordingly that tree became
lucky and sacred. Another expedition failed when a magpie crossed
its path, and a magpie was said to be unlucky. A serpent crossed the
path of another expedition, and it had a marvellous victory, and
accordingly the serpent became a sign of great luck (and what a
savage cannot distinguish from it--a potent deity which makes luck).
Ancient medicine is equally unreasonable: as late down as the Middle
Ages it was full of superstitions founded on mere luck. The
collection of prescriptions published under the direction of the
Master of the Rolls abounds in such fancies as we should call them.
According to one of them, unless I forget, some disease--a fever, I
think--is supposed to be cured by placing the patient between two
halves of a hare and a pigeon recently killed. [Footnote: Readers of
Scott's life will remember that an admirer of his in humble life
proposed to cure him of inflammation of the bowels by making him
sleep a whole night on twelve smooth stones, painfully collected by
the admirer from twelve brooks, which was, it appeared, a recipe of
sovereign traditional power. Scott gravely told the proposer that he
had mistaken the charm, and that the stones were of no virtue unless
wrapped up in the petticoat of a widow who never wished to marry
again, and as no such widow seems to have been forthcoming, he
escaped the remedy.] Nothing can be plainer than that there is no
ground for this kind of treatment, and that the idea of it arose out
of a chance hit, which came right and succeeded. There was nothing
so absurd or so contrary to common sense as we are apt to imagine
about it. The lying between two halves of a hare or a pigeon was a
priori, and to the inexperienced mind, quite as likely to cure
disease as the drinking certain draughts of nasty mineral water.
Both, somehow, were tried; both answered--that is. Both were at the
first time, or at some memorable time, followed by a remarkable
recovery; and the only difference is, that the curative power of the
mineral is persistent, and happens constantly; whereas, on an
average of trials, the proximity of a hare or pigeon is found to
have no effect, and cures take place as often in cases where it is
not tried as in cases where it is. The nature of minds which are
deeply engaged in watching events of which they do not know the
reason, is to single out some fabulous accompaniment or some
wonderful series of good luck or bad luck, and to dread ever after
that accompaniment if it brings evil, and to love it and long for it
if it brings good. All savages are in this position, and the
fascinating effect of striking accompaniments (in some single case)
of singular good fortune and singular calamity, is one great source
of savage religions.

Gamblers to this day are, with respect to the chance part of their
game, in much the same plight as savages with respect to the main
events of their whole lives. And we well know how superstitious they
all are. To this day very sensible whist-players have a certain
belief--not, of course, a fixed conviction, but still a certain
impression--that there is 'luck under a black deuce,' and will half
mutter some not very gentle maledictions if they turn up as a trump
the four of clubs, because it brings ill-luck, and is 'the devil's
bed-post.' Of course grown-up gamblers have too much general
knowledge, too much organised common sense to prolong or cherish
such ideas; they are ashamed of entertaining them, though,
nevertheless, they cannot entirely drive them out of their minds.
But child gamblers--a number of little boys set to play loo-are just
in the position of savages, for their fancy is still impressible,
and they have not as yet been thoroughly subjected to the confuting
experience of the real world and child gamblers have idolatries--at
least I know that years ago a set of boy loo-players, of whom I was
one, had considerable faith in a certain 'pretty fish' which was
larger and more nicely made than the other fish we had. We gave the
best evidence of our belief in its power to 'bring luck;' we fought
for it (if our elders were out of the way); we offered to buy it
with many other fish from the envied holder, and I am sure I have
often cried bitterly if the chance of the game took it away from me.
Persons who stand up for the dignity of philosophy, if any such
there still are, will say that I ought not to mention this, because
it seems trivial; but the more modest spirit of modern thought
plainly teaches, if it teaches anything, the cardinal value of
occasional little facts. I do not hesitate to say that many learned
and elaborate explanations of the totem--the 'clan' deity--the beast
or bird which in some supernatural way, attends to the clan and
watches over it--do not seem to me to be nearly akin to the reality
as it works and lives among--the lower races as the 'pretty fish' of
my early boyhood. And very naturally so, for a grave philosopher is
separated from primitive thought by the whole length of human
culture; but an impressible child is as near to, and its thoughts
are as much like, that thought as anything can now be.

The worst of these superstitions is that they are easy to make and
hard to destroy. A single run of luck has made the fortune of many a
charm and many idols. I doubt if even a single run of luck be
necessary. I am sure that if an elder boy said that 'the pretty fish
was lucky--of course it was,' all the lesser boys would believe it,
and in a week it would be an accepted idol. And I suspect the Nestor
of a savage tribe--the aged repository of guiding experience--would
have an equal power of creating superstitions. But if once created
they are most difficult to eradicate. If any one said that the
amulet was of certain efficacy--that it always acted whenever it was
applied--it would of course be very easy to disprove; but no one
ever said that the 'pretty fish' always brought luck; it was only
said that it did so on the whole, and that if you had it you were
more likely to be lucky than if you were without it. But it requires
a long table of statistics of the results of games to disprove this
thoroughly; and by the time people can make tables they are already
above such beliefs, and do not need to have them disproved. Nor in
many cases where omens or amulets are used would such tables be easy
to make, for the data could not be found; and a rash attempt to
subdue the superstition by a striking instance may easily end in
confirming it. Francis Newman, in the remarkable narrative of his
experience as a missionary in Asia, gives a curious example of this.
As he was setting out on a distant and somewhat hazardous
expedition, his native servants tied round the neck of the mule a
small bag supposed to be of preventive and mystic virtue. As the
place was crowded and a whole townspeople looking on, Mr. Newman
thought that he would take an opportunity of disproving the
superstition. So he made a long speech of explanation in his best
Arabic, and cut off the bag, to the horror of all about him. But as
ill-fortune would have it, the mule had not got thirty yards up the
street before she put her foot into a hole and broke her leg; upon
which all the natives were confirmed in their former faith in the
power of the bag, and said, 'You see now what happens to

Now the present point as to these superstitions is their military
inexpediency. A nation which was moved by these superstitions as to
luck would be at the mercy of a nation, in other respects equal,
which, was not subject to them. In historical times, as we know, the
panic terror at eclipses has been the ruin of the armies which have
felt it; or has made them delay to do something necessary, or rush
to do something destructive. The necessity of consulting the
auspices, while it was sincerely practised and before it became a
trick for disguising foresight, was in classical history very
dangerous. And much worse is it with savages, whose life is one of
omens, who must always consult their sorcerers, who may be turned
this way or that by some chance accident, who, if they were
intellectually able to frame a consistent military policy--and some
savages in war see farther than in anything else--are yet liable to
be put out, distracted, confused, and turned aside in the carrying
out of it, because some event, really innocuous but to their minds
foreboding, arrests and frightens them. A religion full of omens is
a military misfortune, and will bring a nation to destruction if set
to fight with a nation at all equal otherwise, who had a religion
without omens. Clearly then, if all early men unanimously, or even
much the greater number of early men, had a religion WITHOUT omens,
no religion, or scarcely a religion, anywhere in the world could
have come into existence WITH omens; the immense majority possessing
the superior military advantage, the small minority destitute of it
would have been crushed out and destroyed. But, on the contrary, all
over the world religions with omens once existed, in most they still
exist; all savages have them, and deep in the most ancient
civilisations we find the plainest traces of them. Unquestionably
therefore the pre-historic religion was like that of savages--viz.,
in this that it largely consisted in the watching of omens and in
the worship of lucky beasts and things, which are a sort of embodied
and permanent omens.

It may indeed be objected--an analogous objection was taken as to
the ascertained moral deficiencies of pre-historic mankind--that if
this religion of omens was so pernicious and so likely to ruin a
race, no race would ever have acquired it. But it is only likely to
ruin a race contending with another race otherwise equal. The
fancied discovery of these omens--not an extravagant thing in an
early age, as I have tried to show, not a whit then to be
distinguished as improbable from the discovery of healing herbs or
springs which pre-historic men also did discover--the discovery of
omens was an act of reason as far as it went. And if in reason the
omen-finding race were superior to the races in conflict with them,
the omen-finding race would win, and we may conjecture that omen-
finding races were thus superior since they won and prevailed in
every latitude and in every zone.

In all particulars therefore we would keep to our formula, and say
that pre-historic man was substantially a savage like present
savages, in morals, intellectual attainments, and in religion; but
that he differed in this from our present savages, that he had not
had time to ingrain his nature so deeply with bad habits, and to
impress bad beliefs so unalterably on his mind as they have. They
have had ages to fix the stain on them selves, but primitive man was
younger and had no such time.

I have elaborated the evidence for this conclusion at what may seem
needless and tedious length, but I have done so on account of its
importance. If we accept it, and if we are sure of it, it will help
us to many most important conclusions. Some of these I have dwelt
upon in previous papers, but I will set them down again.

First, it will in part explain to us what the world was about, so to
speak, before history. It was making, so to say, the intellectual
consistence--the connected and coherent habits, the preference of
equable to violent enjoyment, the abiding capacity to prefer, if
required, the future to the present, the mental pre-requisites
without which civilisation could not begin to exist, and without
which it would soon cease to exist even had it begun. The primitive
man, like the present savage, had not these pre-requisites, but,
unlike the present savage, he was capable of acquiring them and of
being trained in them, for his nature was still soft and still
impressible, and possibly, strange as it may seem to say, his
outward circumstances were more favourable to an attainment of
civilisation than those of our present savages. At any rate, the
pre-historic times were spent in making men capable of writing a
history, and having something to put in it when it is written, and
we can see how it was done.

Two preliminary processes indeed there are which seem inscrutable.
There was some strange preliminary process by which the main races
of men were formed; they began to exist very early, and except by
intermixture no new ones have been formed since. It was a process
singularly active in early ages, and singularly quiescent in later
ages. Such differences as exist between the Aryan, the Turanian, the
negro, the red man, and the Australian, are differences greater--
altogether than any causes now active are capable of creating in
present men, at least in any way explicable by us. And there is,
therefore, a strong presumption that (as great authorities now hold)
these differences were created before the nature of men, especially
before the mind and the adaptive nature of men had taken their
existing constitution. And a second condition precedent of
civilisation seems, at least to me, to have been equally inherited,
if the doctrine of evolution be true, from some previous state or
condition. I at least find it difficult to conceive of men, at all
like the present men, unless existing in something like families,
that is, in groups avowedly connected, at least on the mother's
side, and probably always with a vestige of connection, more or
less, on the father's side, and unless these groups were like many
animals, gregarious, tinder a leader more or less fixed. It is
almost beyond imagination how man, as we know man, could by any sort
of process have gained this step in civilisation. And it is a great
advantage, to say the least of it, in the evolution theory that it
enables us to remit this difficulty to a pre-existing period in
nature, where other instincts and powers than our present ones may
perhaps have come into play, and where our imagination can hardly
travel. At any rate, for the present I may assume these two steps in
human progress made, and these two conditions realized.

The rest of the way, if we grant these two conditions, is plainer.
The first thing is the erection of what--we may call a custom-making
power, that is, of an authority which can enforce a fixed rule of
life, which, by means of that fixed rule, can in some degree create
a calculable future, which can make it rational to postpone present
violent but momentary pleasure for future continual pleasure,
because it ensures, what else is not sure, that if the sacrifice of
what is in hand be made, enjoyment of the contingent expected
recompense will be received. Of course I am not saying that we shall
find in early society any authority of which these shall be the
motives. We must have travelled ages (unless all our evidence be
wrong) from the first men before there was a comprehension of such
motives. I only mean that the first thing in early society was an
authority of whose action this shall be the result, little as it
knew what it was doing, little as it would have cared if it had
known. The conscious end of early societies was not at all, or
scarcely at all, the protection of life and property, as it was
assumed to be by the eighteenth-century theory of government. Even
in early historical ages--in the youth of the human race, not its
childhood--such is not the nature of early states. Sir Henry Maine
has taught us that the earliest subject of jurisprudence is not the
separate property of the individual, but the common property of the
family group; what we should call private property hardly then
existed; or if it did, was so small as to be of no importance: it
was like the things little children are now allowed to CALL their
own, which they feel it very hard to have taken from them, but which
they have no real right to hold and keep. Such is our earliest
property-law, and our earliest life--law is that the lives of all
members of the family group were at the mercy of the head of the
group. As far as the individual goes, neither his goods nor his
existence were protected at all. And this may teach us that
something else was lacked in early societies besides what in our
societies we now think of.

I do not think I put this too high when I say that a most important
if not the most important object of early legislation was the
enforcement of LUCKY rites. I do not like to say religious rites,
because that would involve me in a great controversy as to the
power, or even the existence, of early religions. But there is no
savage tribe without a notion of luck; and perhaps there is hardly
any which has not a conception of luck for the tribe as a tribe, of
which each member has not some such a belief that his own action or
the action of any other member of it--that he or the others doing
anything which was unlucky or would bring a 'curse'--might cause
evil not only to himself, but to all the tribe as well. I have said
so much about 'luck' and about its naturalness before, that I ought
to say nothing again. But I must add that the contagiousness of the
idea of 'luck' is remarkable. It does not at all, like the notion of
desert, cleave to the doer. There are people to this day who would
not permit in their house people to sit down thirteen to dinner.
They do not expect any evil to themselves particularly for
permitting it or sharing in it, but they cannot get out of their
heads the idea that some one or more of the number will come to harm
if the thing is done. This is what Mr. Tylor calls survival in
culture. The faint belief in the corporate liability of these
thirteen is the feeble relic and last dying representative of that
great principle of corporate liability to good and ill fortune which
has filled such an immense place in the world.

The traces of it are endless. You can hardly take up a book of
travels in rude regions without finding 'I wanted to do so and so.
But I was not permitted, for the natives feared it might bring ill
luck on the "party," or perhaps the tribe.' Mr. Galton, for
instance, could hardly feed his people. The Damaras, he says, have
numberless superstitions about meat which are very troublesome. In
the first place, each tribe, or rather family, is prohibited from
eating cattle of certain colours, savages 'who come from the sun'
eschewing sheep spotted in a particular way, which those 'who come
from the rain' have no objection to. 'As,' he says, 'there are five
or six eandas or descents, and I had men from most of them with me,
I could hardly kill a sheep that everybody would eat;' and he could
not keep his meat, for it had to be given away because it was
commanded by one superstition, nor buy milk, the staple food of
those parts, because it was prohibited by another. And so on without
end. Doing anything unlucky is in their idea what putting on
something that attracts the electric fluid is in fact, you cannot be
sure that harm will not be done, not only to the person in fault,
but to those about him too. As in the Scriptural phrase, doing what
is of evil omen is 'like one that letteth out water.' He cannot tell
what are the consequences of his act, who will share them, or how
they can be prevented.

In the earliest historical nations I need not say that the corporate
liabilities of states is to a modern student their most curious
feature. The belief is indeed raised far above the notion of mere
'luck,' because there is a distinct belief in gods or a god whom the
act offends, But the indiscriminate character of the punishment
still survives; not only the mutilator of the Hermae, but all the
Athenians--not only the violator of the rites of the Bona dea, but
all the Romans--are liable to the curse engendered; and so all
through ancient history. The strength of the corporate anxiety so
created is known to every one. Not only was it greately than any
anxiety about personal property, but it was immeasurably greater.
Naturally, even reasonably we may say, it was greater. The dread of
the powers of nature, or of the beings who rule those powers, is
properly, upon grounds of reason, as much greater than any other
dread as the might of the powers of nature is superior to that of
any other powers. If a tribe or a nation have, by a contagious
fancy, come to believe that the doing of any one thing by any number
will be 'unlucky,' that is, will bring an intense and vast liability
on them all, then that tribe and that nation will prevent the doing
of that thing more than anything else. They will deal with the most
cherished chief who even by chance should do it, as in a similar
case the sailors dealt with Jonah.

I do not of course mean that this strange condition of mind as it
seems to us was the sole source of early customs. On the contrary,
man might be described as a custom-making animal with more justice
than by many of the short descriptions. In whatever way a man has
done anything once, he has a tendency to do it again: if he has done
it several times he has a great tendency so to do it, and what is
more, he has a great tendency to make others do it also. He
transmits his formed customs to his children by example and by
teaching. This is true now of human nature, and will always be true,
no doubt. But what is peculiar in early societies is that over most
of these customs there grows sooner or later a semi-supernatural
sanction. The whole community is possessed with the idea that if the
primal usages of the tribe be broken, harm unspeakable will happen
in ways you cannot think of, and from sources you cannot imagine. As
people now-a-days believe that 'murder will out,' and that great
crime will bring even an earthly punishment, so in early times
people believed that for any breach of sacred custom certain
retribution would happen. To this day many semi-civilised races have
great difficulty in regarding any arrangement as binding and
conclusive unless they can also manage to look at it as an inherited
usage. Sir H. Maine, in his last work, gives a most curious case.
The English Government in India has in many cases made new and great
works of irrigation, of which no ancient Indian Government ever
thought; and it has generally left it to the native village
community to say what share each man of the village should have in
the water; and the village authorities have accordingly laid down a
series of most minute rules about it. But the peculiarity is that in
no case do these rules 'purport to emanate from the personal
authority of their author or authors, which rests on grounds of
reason not on grounds of innocence and sanctity; nor do they assume
to be dictated by a sense of equity; there is always, I am assured,
a sort of fiction under which some customs as to the distribution of
water are supposed to have emanated from a remote antiquity,
although, in fact, no such artificial supply had ever been so much
as thought of.' So difficult does this ancient race--like, probably,
in this respect so much of the ancient world-find it to imagine a
rule which is obligatory, but not traditional.

The ready formation of custom-making groups in early society must
have been greatly helped by the easy divisions of that society. Much
of the world--all Europe, for example--was then covered by the
primeval forest; men had only conquered, and as yet could only
conquer, a few plots and corners from it. These narrow spaces were
soon exhausted, and if numbers grew some of the new people must
move. Accordingly, migrations were constant, and were necessary. And
these migrations were not like those of modern times. There was no
such feeling as binds even Americans who hate, or speak as if they
hated, the present political England--nevertheless to 'the old
home.' There was then no organised means of communication--no
practical communication, we may say, between parted members of the
same group; those who once went out from the parent society went out
for ever; they left no abiding remembrance, and they kept no abiding
regard. Even the language of the parent tribe and of the descended
tribe would differ in a generation or two. There being no written
literature and no spoken intercourse, the speech of both would vary
(the speech of such communities is always varying), and would vary
in different directions. One set of causes, events, and associations
would act on one, and another set on another; sectional differences
would soon arise, and, for speaking purposes, what philologists call
a dialectical difference often amounts to real and total difference:
no connected interchange of thought is possible any longer. Separate
groups soon 'set up house;' the early societies begin a new set of
customs, acquire and keep a distinct and special 'luck.'

If it were not for this facility of new formations, one good or bad
custom would long since have 'corrupted' the world; but even this
would not have been enough but for those continual wars, of which I
have spoken at such length in the essay on 'The Use of Conflict,'
that I need say nothing now. These are by their incessant fractures
of old images, and by their constant infusion of new elements, the
real regenerators of society. And whatever be the truth or falsehood
of the general dislike to mixed and half-bred races, no such
suspicion was probably applicable to the early mixtures of primitive
society. Supposing, as is likely, each great aboriginal race to have
had its own quarter of the world (a quarter, as it would seem,
corresponding to the special quarters in which plants and animals
are divided), then the immense majority of the mixtures would be
between men of different tribes but of the same stock, and this no
one would object to, but every one would praise.

In general, too, the conquerors would be better than the conquered
(most merits in early society are more or less military merits), but
they would not be very much better, for the lowest steps in the
ladder of civilisation are very steep, and the effort to mount them
is slow and tedious. And this is probably the better if they are to
produce a good and quick effect in civilising those they have
conquered. The experience of the English in India shows--if it shows
anything--that a highly civilised race may fail in producing a
rapidly excellent effect on a less civilised race, because it is too
good and too different. The two are not en rapport together; the
merits of the one are not the merits prized by the other; the
manner-language of the one is not the manner-language of the other.
The higher being is not and cannot be a model for the lower; he
could not mould himself on it if he would, and would not if he
could. Consequently, the two races have long lived together, 'near
and yet far off,' daily seeing one another and daily interchanging
superficial thoughts, but in the depths of their mind separated by a
whole era of civilisation, and so affecting one another only a
little in comparison with what might have been hoped. But in early
societies there were no such great differences, and the rather
superior conqueror must have easily improved the rather inferior

It is in the interior of these customary groups that national
characters are formed. As I wrote a whole essay on the manner of
this before, I cannot speak of it now. By proscribing nonconformist
members for generations, and cherishing and rewarding conformist
members, nonconformists become fewer and fewer, and conformists more
and more. Most men mostly imitate what they see, and catch the tone
of what they hear, and so a settled type--a persistent character--is
formed. Nor is the process wholly mental. I cannot agree, though the
greatest authorities say it, that no 'unconscious selection' has
been at work at the breed of man. If neither that nor conscious
selection has been at work, how did there come to be these breeds,
and such there are in the greatest numbers, though we call them
nations? In societies tyrannically customary, uncongenial minds
become first cowed, then melancholy, then out of health, and at last
die. A Shelley in New England could hardly have lived, and a race of
Shelleys would have been impossible. Mr. Galton wishes that breeds
of men should be created by matching men with marked characteristics
with women of like characteristics. But surely this is what nature
has been doing time out of mind, and most in the rudest nations and
hardest times. Nature disheartened in each generation the ill-fitted
members of each customary group, so deprived them of their full
vigour, or, if they were weakly, killed them. The Spartan character
was formed because none but people with, a Spartan make of mind
could endure a Spartan existence. The early Roman character was so
formed too. Perhaps all very marked national characters can be
traced back to a time of rigid and pervading discipline. In modern
times, when society is more tolerant, new national characters are
neither so strong, so featurely, nor so uniform.

In this manner society was occupied in pre-historic times,--it is
consistent with and explicable by our general principle as to
savages, that society should for ages have been so occupied, strange
as that conclusion is, and incredible as it would be, if we had not
been taught by experience to believe strange things.

Secondly, this principle and this conception of pre-historic times
explain to us the meaning and the origin of the oldest and strangest
of social anomalies--an anomaly which is among the first things
history tells us--the existence of caste nations. Nothing is at
first sight stranger than the aspect of those communities where
several nations seem to be bound up together--where each is governed
by its own rule of law, where no one pays any deference to the rule
of law of any of the others. But if our principles be true, these
are just the nations most likely to last, which would have a special
advantage in early times, and would probably not only maintain
themselves, but conquer and kill out others also. The characteristic
necessity of early society as we have seen, is strict usage and
binding coercive custom. But the obvious result and inevitable evil
of that is monotony in society; no one can be much different from
his fellows, or can cultivate his difference.

Such societies are necessarily weak from the want of variety in
their elements. But a caste nation is various and composite; and has
in a mode suited to early societies the constant co-operation of
contrasted persons, which in a later age is one of the greatest
triumphs of civilisation. In a primitive age the division between
the warrior caste and the priestly caste is especially advantageous.
Little popular and little deserving to be popular now-a-days as are
priestly hierarchies, most probably the beginnings of science were
made in such, and were for ages transmitted in such. An intellectual
class was in that age only possible when it was protected by a
notion that whoever hurt them would certainly be punished by heaven.
In this class apart discoveries were slowly made and some beginning
of mental discipline was slowly matured. But such a community is
necessarily unwarlike, and the superstition which protects priests
from home murder will not aid them in conflict with the foreigner.
Few nations mind killing their enemies' priests, and many priestly
civilisations have perished without record before they well began.
But such a civilisation will not perish if a warrior caste is tacked
on to it and is bound to defend it. On the contrary, such a
civilisation will be singularly likely to live. The head of the sage
will help the arm of the soldier.

That a nation divided into castes must be a most difficult thing to
found is plain. Probably it could only begin in a country several
times conquered, and where the boundaries of each caste rudely
coincided with the boundaries of certain sets of victors and
vanquished. But, as we now see, when founded it is a likely nation
to last. A party-coloured community of many tribes and many usages
is more likely to get on, and help itself, than a nation of a single
lineage and one monotonous rule. I say 'at first,' because I
apprehend that in this case, as in so many others in the puzzling
history of progress, the very institutions which most aid at step
number one are precisely those which most impede at step number two.
The whole of a caste nation is more various than the whole of a non-
caste nation, but each caste itself is more monotonous than anything
is, or can be, in a non-caste nation. Gradually a habit of action
and type of mind forces itself on each caste, and it is little
likely to be rid of it, for all who enter it are taught in one way
and trained to the same employment. Several non-caste nations have
still continued to progress. But all caste nations have stopped
early, though some have lasted long. Each colour in the singular
composite of these tesselated societies has an indelible and
invariable shade.

Thirdly, we see why so few nations have made rapid advance, and how
many have become stationary. It is in the process of becoming a
nation, and in order to become such, that they subjected themselves
to the influence which has made them stationary. They could not
become a real nation without binding themselves by a fixed law and
usage, and it is the fixity of that law and usage which has kept
them as they were ever since. I wrote a whole essay on this before,
so I need say nothing now; and I only name it because it is one of
the most important consequences of this view of society, if not
indeed the most important.

Again, we can thus explain one of the most curious facts of the
present world. 'Manner,' says a shrewd observer, who has seen much
of existing life, 'manner gets regularly worse as you go from the
East to the West; it is best in Asia, not so good in Europe, and
altogether bad in the western states of America.' And the reason is
this--an imposing manner is a dignified usage, which tends to
preserve itself and also all other existing usages along with
itself. It tends to induce the obedience of mankind. One of the
cleverest novelists of the present day has a curious dissertation to
settle why on the hunting-field, and in all collections of men, some
men 'snub and some men get snubbed;' and why society recognises in
each case the ascendancy or the subordination as if it was right.
'It is not at all,' Mr. Trollope fully explains, 'rare ability which
gains the supremacy; very often the ill-treated man is quite as
clever as the man who ill-treats him. Nor does it absolutely depend
on wealth; for, though great wealth is almost always a protection
from social ignominy, and will always ensure a passive respect, it
will not in a miscellaneous group of men of itself gain an active
power to snub others. Schoolboys, in the same way,' the novelist
adds, 'let some boys have dominion, and make other boys slaves.' And
he decides, no doubt truly, that in each case 'something in the
manner or gait' of the supreme boy or man has much to do with it. On
this account in early society a dignified manner is of essential
importance; it is, then, not only an auxiliary mode of acquiring
respect, but a principal mode. The competing institutions which have
now much superseded it, had not then begun. Ancient institutions or
venerated laws did not then exist; and the habitual ascendancy of
grave manner was a primary force in winning and calming mankind. To
this day it is rare to find a savage chief without it; and almost
always they greatly excel in it. Only last year a red Indian chief
came from the prairies to see President Grant, and everybody
declared that he had the best manners in Washington. The secretaries
and heads of departments seemed vulgar to him; though, of course,
intrinsically they were infinitely above him, for he was only 'a
plundering rascal.' But an impressive manner had been a tradition in
the societies in which he had lived, because it was of great value
in those societies; and it is not a tradition in America, for
nowhere is it less thought of, or of less use, than in a rough
English colony; the essentials of civilisation there depend on far
different influences.

And manner, being so useful and so important, usages and customs
grow up to develop it. Asiatic society is full of such things, if it
should not rather be said to be composed of them.

'From the spirit and decision of a public envoy upon ceremonies and
forms,' says Sir John Malcolm, 'the Persians very generally form
their opinion of the character of the country he represents. This
fact I had read in books, and all I saw convinced me of its truth.
Fortunately the Elchee had resided at some of the principal courts
of India, whose usages are very similar. He was, therefore, deeply
versed in that important science denominated "Kaida-e-nishest-oo-
berkhast" (or the art of sitting and rising), in which is included a
knowledge of the forms and manners of good society, and particularly
those of Asiatic kings and their courts.

'He was quite aware, on his first arrival in Persia, of the
consequence of every step he took on such delicate points; he was,
therefore, anxious to fight all his battles regarding ceremonies
before he came near the footstool of royalty. We were consequently
plagued, from the moment we landed at Ambusheher, till we reached
Shiraz, with daily almost hourly drilling, that we might be perfect
in our demeanour at all places, and under all circumstances. We were
carefully instructed where to ride in a procession, where to stand
or sit within-doors, when to rise from our seats, how far to advance
to meet a visitor, and to what part of the tent or house we were to
follow him when he departed, if he was of sufficient rank to make us
stir a step.

'The regulations of our risings and standings, and movings and
reseatings, were, however, of comparatively less importance than the
time and manner of smoking our Kellians and taking our coffee. It is
quite astonishing how much depends upon coffee and tobacco in
Persia. Men are gratified or offended, according to the mode in
which these favourite refreshments are offered. You welcome a
visitor, or send him off, by the way in which you call for a pipe or
a cup of coffee. Then you mark, in the most minute manner, every
shade of attention and consideration, by the mode in which he is
treated. If he be above you, you present these refreshments
yourself, and do not partake till commanded; if equal, you exchange
pipes, and present him with coffee, taking the next cup yourself; if
a little below you, and you wish to pay him attention, you leave him
to smoke his own pipe, but the servant gives him, according to your
condescending nod, the first cup of coffee; if much inferior, you
keep your distance and maintain your rank, by taking the first cup
of coffee yourself, and then directing the servant, by a wave of the
hand, to help the guest. 'When a visitor arrives, the coffee and
pipe are called for to welcome him; a second call for these articles
announces that he may depart; but this part of the ceremony varies
according to the relative rank or intimacy of the parties.

'These matters may appear light to those with whom observances of
this character are habits, not rules; but in this country they are
of primary consideration, a man's importance with himself and with
others depending on them.'

In ancient customary societies the influence of manner, which is a
primary influence, has been settled into rules, so that it may aid
established usages and not thwart them--that it may, above all,
augment the HABIT of going by custom, and not break and weaken it.
Every aid, as we have seen, was wanted to impose the yoke of custom
upon such societies; and impressing the power of manner to serve
them was one of the greatest aids.

And lastly, we now understand why order and civilisation are so
unstable even in progressive communities. We see frequently in
states what physiologists call 'Atavism'--the return, in part, to
the unstable nature of their barbarous ancestors. Such scenes of
cruelty and horror as happened in the great French Revolution, and
as happen, more or less, in every great riot, have always been said
to bring out a secret and suppressed side of human nature; and we
now see that they were the outbreak of inherited passions long
repressed by fixed custom, but starting into life as soon as that
repression was catastrophically removed and when sudden choice was
given. The irritability of mankind, too, is only part of their
imperfect, transitory civilisation and of their original savage
nature. They could not look steadily to a given end for an hour in
their pre-historic state; and even now, when excited or when
suddenly and wholly thrown out of their old grooves, they can
scarcely do so. Even some very high races, as the French and the
Irish, seem in troubled times hardly to be stable at all, but to be
carried everywhere as the passions of the moment and the ideas
generated at the hour may determine. But, thoroughly to deal with
such phenomena as these, we must examine the mode in which national
characters can be emancipated from the rule of custom, and can be
prepared for the use of choice.

No. V.


The greatest living contrast is between the old Eastern and
customary civilisations and the new Western and changeable
civilisations. A year or two ago an inquiry was made of our most
intelligent officers in the East, not as to whether the English
Government were really doing good in the East, but as to whether the
natives of India themselves thought we were doing good; to which, in
a majority of cases, the officers who wore the best authority,
answered thus: 'No doubt you are giving the Indians many great
benefits: you give them continued peace, free trade, the right to
live as they like, subject to the laws; in these points and others
they are far better off than, they ever were; but still they cannot
make you out. What puzzles them is your constant disposition to
change, or as you call it, improvement. Their own life in every
detail being regulated by ancient usage, they cannot comprehend a
policy which is always bringing something new; they do not a bit
believe that the desire to make them comfortable and happy is the
root of it; they believe, on the contrary, that you are aiming at
something which they do not understand--that you mean to "take away
their religion;" in a word, that the end and object of all these continual
changes is to make Indians not what they are and what they like to be,
but something new and different from what they are, and what they
would not like to be.' In the East, in a word, we are attempting to put
new wine into old bottles-to pour what we can of a civilisation whose
spirit is progress into the form of a civilisation whose spirit is fixity,
and whether we shall succeed or not is perhaps the most interesting
question in an age abounding almost beyond example in questions of
political interest.

Historical inquiries show that the feeling of the Hindoos is the old
feeling, and that the feeling of the Englishman is a modern feeling.
' Old law rests,' as Sir Henry Maine puts it, 'not on contract but
on status.' The life of ancient civilisation, so far as legal
records go, runs back to a time when every important particular of
life was settled by a usage which was social, political, and
religious, as we should now say, all in one--which those who obeyed
it could not have been able to analyse, for those distinctions had
no place in their mind and language, but which they felt to be a
usage of imperishable import, and above all things to be kept
unchanged. In former papers I have shown, or at least tried to show,
why these customary civilisations were the only ones which suited an
early society; why, so to say, they alone could have been first; in
what manner they had in their very structure a decisive advantage
over all competitors. But now comes the farther question: If fixity
is an invariable ingredient in early civilisations, how then did any
civilisation become unfixed? No doubt most civilisations stuck where
they first were; no doubt we see now why stagnation is the rule of
the world, and why progress is the very rare exception; but we do
not learn what it is which has caused progress in these few cases,
or the absence of what it is which has denied it in all others.

To this question history gives a very clear and very remarkable
answer. It is that the change from the age of status to the age of
choice was first made in states where the government was to a great
and a growing extent a government by discussion, and where the
subjects of that discussion were in some degree abstract, or, as we
should say, matters of principle. It was in the small republics of
Greece and Italy that the chain of custom was first broken.
'Liberty said, Let there be light, and, like a sunrise on the sea,
Athens arose,' says Shelley, and his historical philosophy is in
this case far more correct than is usual with him. A free state--a
state with liberty--means a state, call it republic or call it
monarchy, in which the sovereign power is divided between many
persons, and in which there is a discussion among those persons. Of
these the Greek republics were the first in history, if not in time,
and Athens was the greatest of those republics.

After the event it is easy to see why the teaching of history should
be this and nothing else. It is easy to see why the common
discussion of common actions or common interests should become the
root of change and progress. In early society, originality in life
was forbidden and repressed by the fixed rule of life. It may not
have been quite so much so in Ancient Greece as in some other parts
of the world. But it was very much so even there. As a recent writer
has well said, 'Law then presented itself to men's minds as
something venerable and unchangeable, as old as the city; it had
been delivered by the founder himself, when he laid the walls of the
city, and kindled its sacred fire.' An ordinary man who wished to
strike out a new path, to begin a new and important practice by
himself, would have been peremptorily required to abandon his
novelties on pain of death; he was deviating, he would be told, from
the ordinances imposed by the gods on his nation, and he must not do
so to please himself. On the contrary, others were deeply interested
in his actions. If he disobeyed, the gods might inflict grievous
harm on all the people as well as him. Each partner in the most
ancient kind of partnerships was supposed to have the power of
attracting the wrath of the divinities on the entire firm, upon the
other partners quite as much as upon himself. The quaking bystanders
in a superstitious age would soon have slain an isolated bold man in
the beginning of his innovations, What Macaulay so relied on as the
incessant source of progress--the desire of man to better his
condition--was not then permitted to work; man was required to live
as his ancestors had lived.

Still further away from those times were the 'free thought' and the
'advancing sciences' of which we now hear so much. The first and
most natural subject upon which human thought concerns itself is
religion; the first wish of the half-emancipated thinker is to use
his reason on the great problems of human destiny--to find out
whence he came and whither he goes, to form for himself the most
reasonable idea of God which he can form. But, as Mr. Grote happily
said--'This is usually what ancient times would not let a man do.
His GENS or his [word in Greek] required him to believe as they
believed.' Toleration is of all ideas the most modern, because the
notion that the bad religion of A cannot impair, here or hereafter,
the welfare of B, is, strange to say, a modern idea. And the help of
'science,' at that stage of thought, is still more nugatory.
Physical science, as we conceive it--that is, the systematic
investigation of external nature in detail--did not then exist. A
few isolated observations on surface things--a half-correct
calendar, secrets mainly of priestly invention, and in priestly
custody--were all that was then imagined; the idea of using a
settled study of nature as a basis for the discovery of new
instruments and new things, did not then exist. It is indeed a
modern idea, and is peculiar to a few European countries even yet.
In the most intellectual city of the ancient world, in its most
intellectual age, Socrates, its most intellectual inhabitant,
discouraged the study of physics because they engendered
uncertainty, and did not augment human happiness. The kind of
knowledge which is most connected with human progress now was that
least connected with it then.

But a government by discussion, if it can be borne, at once breaks
down the yoke of fixed custom. The idea of the two is inconsistent.
As far as it goes, the mere putting up of a subject to discussion,
with the object of being guided by that discussion, is a clear
admission that that subject is in no degree settled by established
rule, and that men are free to choose in it. It is an admission too
that there is no sacred authority--no one transcendent and divinely
appointed man whom in that matter the community is bound to obey.
And if a single subject or group of subjects be once admitted to
discussion, ere long the habit of discussion comes to be
established, the sacred charm of use and wont to be dissolved.
'Democracy,' it has been said in modern times, 'is like the grave;
it takes, but it does not give.' The same is true of 'discussion.'
Once effectually submit a subject to that ordeal, and you can never
withdraw it again; you can never again clothe it with mystery, or
fence it by consecration; it remains for ever open to free choice,
and exposed to profane deliberation.

The only subjects which can be first submitted, or which till a very
late age of civilisation can be submitted to discussion in the
community, are the questions involving the visible and pressing
interests of the community; they are political questions of high and
urgent import. If a nation has in any considerable degree gained the
habit, and exhibited the capacity, to discuss these questions with
freedom, and to decide them with discretion, to argue much on
politics and not to argue ruinously, an enormous advance in other
kinds of civilisation may confidently be predicted for it. And the
reason is a plain deduction from the principles which we have found
to guide early civilisation. The first pre-historic men were
passionate savages, with the greatest difficulty coerced into order
and compressed into a state. For ages were spent in beginning that
order and founding that state; the only sufficient and effectual
agent in so doing was consecrated custom; but then that custom
gathered over everything, arrested all onward progress, and stayed
the originality of mankind. If, therefore, a nation is able to gain
the benefit of custom without the evil--if after ages of waiting it
can have order and choice together--at once the fatal clog is
removed, and the ordinary springs of progress, as in a modern
community we conceive them, begin their elastic action.

Discussion, too, has incentives to progress peculiar to itself. It
gives a premium to intelligence. To set out the arguments required
to determine political action with such force and effect that they
really should determine it, is a high and great exertion of
intellect. Of course, all such arguments are produced under
conditions; the argument abstractedly best is not necessarily the
winning argument. Political discussion must move those who have to
act; it must be framed in the ideas, and be consonant with the
precedent, of its time, just as it must speak its language. But
within these marked conditions good discussion is better than bad;
no people can bear a government of discussion for a day, which does
not, within the boundaries of its prejudices and its ideas, prefer
good reasoning to bad reasoning, sound argument to unsound. A prize
for argumentative mind is given in free states, to which no other
states have anything to compare.

Tolerance too is learned in discussion, and, as history shows, is
only so learned. In all customary societies bigotry is the ruling
principle. In rude places to this day any one who says anything new
is looked on with suspicion, and is persecuted by opinion if not
injured by penalty. One of the greatest pains to human nature is the
pain of a new idea. It is, as common people say, so 'upsetting;' it
makes you think that, after all, your favourite notions may be
wrong, your firmest beliefs ill-founded; it is certain that till now
there was no place allotted in your mind to the new and startling
inhabitant, and now that it has conquered an entrance you do not at
once see which of your old ideas it will or will not turn out, with
which of them it can he reconciled, and with which it is at
essential enmity. Naturally, therefore, common men hate a new idea,
and are disposed more or less to ill-treat the original man who
brings it. Even nations with long habits of discussion are
intolerant enough. In England, where there is on the whole probably
a freer discussion of a greater number of subjects than ever was
before in the world, we know how much power bigotry retains. But
discussion, to be successful, requires tolerance. It fails wherever,
as in a French political assembly, any one who hears anything which
he dislikes tries to howl it down. If we know that a nation is
capable of enduring continuous discussion, we know that it is
capable of practising with equanimity continuous tolerance.

The power of a government by discussion as an instrument of
elevation plainly depends--other things being equal--on the
greatness or littleness of the things to be discussed. There are
periods when great ideas are 'in the air,' and when, from some cause
or other, even common persons seem to partake of an unusual
elevation. The age of Elizabeth in England was conspicuously such a
time. The new idea of the Reformation in religion, and the
enlargement of the MOENIA MUNDI by the discovery of new and singular
lands, taken together, gave an impulse to thought which few, if any,
ages can equal. The discussion, though not wholly free, was yet far
freer than in the average of ages and countries. Accordingly, every
pursuit seemed to start forward. Poetry, science, and architecture,
different as they are, and removed as they all are at first sight
from such an influence as discussion, were suddenly started onward.
Macaulay would have said you might rightly read the power of
discussion 'in the poetry of Shakespeare, in the prose of Bacon, in
the oriels of Longleat, and the stately pinnacles of Burleigh.' This
is, in truth, but another case of the principle of which I have had
occasion to say so much as to the character of ages and countries.
If any particular power is much prized in an age, those possessed of
that power will be imitated; those deficient in that power will be
despised. In consequence an unusual quantity of that power will be
developed, and be conspicuous. Within certain limits vigorous and
elevated thought was respected in Elizabeth's time, and, therefore,
vigorous and elevated thinkers were many; and the effect went far
beyond the cause. It penetrated into physical science, for which
very few men cared; and it began a reform in philosophy to which
almost all were then opposed. In a word, the temper of the age
encouraged originality, and in consequence original men started into
prominence, went hither and thither where they liked, arrived at
goals which the age never expected, and so made it ever memorable.

In this manner all the great movements of thought in ancient and
modern times have been nearly connected in time with government by
discussion. Athens, Rome, the Italian republics of the Middle Ages,
the COMMUNES and states-general of feudal Europe, have all had a
special and peculiar quickening influence, which they owed to their
freedom, and which states without that freedom have never
communicated. And it has been at the time of great epochs of
thought--at the Peloponnesian war, at the fall of the Roman
Republic, at the Reformation, at the French Revolution--that such
liberty of speaking and thinking have produced their full effect.

It is on this account that the discussions of savage tribes have
produced so little effect in emancipating those tribes from their
despotic customs. The oratory of the North American Indian--the
first savage whose peculiarities fixed themselves in the public
imagination--has become celebrated, and yet the North American
Indians were scarcely, if at all, better orators than many other
savages. Almost all of the savages who have melted away before the
Englishman were better speakers than he is. But the oratory of the
savages has led to nothing, and was likely to lead to nothing. It is
a discussion not of principles, but of undertakings; its topics are
whether expedition A will answer, and should be undertaken; whether
expedition B will not answer, and should not be undertaken; whether
village A is the best village to plunder, or whether village B is a
better. Such discussions augment the vigour of language, encourage a
debating facility, and develop those gifts of demeanour and of
gesture which excite the confidence of the hearers. But they do not
excite the speculative intellect, do not lead men to argue
speculative doctrines, or to question ancient principles. They, in
some material respects, improve the sheep within the fold; but they
do not help them or incline them to leap out of the fold.

The next question, therefore, is, Why did discussions in some cases
relate to prolific ideas, and why did discussions in other cases
relate only to isolated transactions? The reply which history
suggests is very clear and very remarkable. Some races of men at our
earliest knowledge of them have already acquired the basis of a free
constitution; they have already the rudiments of a complex polity--a
monarch, a senate, and a general meeting of citizens. The Greeks
were one of those races, and it happened, as was natural, that there
was in process of time a struggle, the earliest that we know of,
between the aristocratical party, originally represented by the
senate, and the popular party, represented by the 'general meeting.'
This is plainly a question of principle, and its being so has led to
its history being written more than two thousand years afterwards in
a very remarkable manner. Some seventy years ago an English country
gentleman named Mitford, who, like so many of his age, had been
terrified into aristocratic opinions by the first French Revolution,
suddenly found that the history of the Peloponnesian War was the
reflex of his own time. He took up his Thucydides, and there he saw,
as in a mirror, the progress and the struggles of his age. It
required some freshness of mind to see this; at least, it had been
hidden for many centuries. All the modern histories of Greece before
Mitford had but the vaguest idea of it; and not being a man of
supreme originality, he would doubtless have had very little idea of
it either, except that the analogy of what he saw helped him by a
telling object-lesson to the understanding of what he read. Just as
in every country of Europe in 1793 there were two factions, one of
the old-world aristocracy, and the other of the incoming democracy,
just so there was in every city of ancient Greece, in the year 400
B.C., one party of the many and another of the few. This Mr. Mitford
perceived, and being a strong aristocrat, he wrote a 'history,'
which is little except a party pamphlet, and which, it must be said,
is even now readable on that very account. The vigour of passion
with which it was written puts life into the words, and retains the
attention of the reader. And that is not all. Mr. Grote, the great
scholar whom we have had lately to mourn, also recognising the
identity between the struggles of Athens and Sparta and the
struggles of our modern world, and taking violently the contrary
side to that of Mitford, being as great a democrat as Mitford was an
aristocrat, wrote a reply, far above Mitford's history in power and
learning, but being in its main characteristic almost identical,
being above all things a book of vigorous political passion, written
for persons who care for politics, and not, as almost all histories
of antiquity are and must be, the book of a man who cares for
scholarship more than for anything else, written mainly if not
exclusively, for scholars. And the effect of fundamental political
discussion was the same in ancient as in modern times. The whole
customary ways of thought were at once shaken by it, and shaken not
only in the closets of philosophers, but in the common thought and
daily business of ordinary men. The 'liberation of humanity,' as
Goethe used to call it--the deliverance of men from the yoke of
inherited usage, and of rigid, unquestionable law--was begun in
Greece, and had many of its greatest effects, good and evil, on
Greece. It is just because of the analogy between the controversies
of that time and those of our times that some one has said,
'Classical history is a part of modern history; it is mediaeval
history only which is ancient.'

If there had been no discussion of principle in Greece, probably she
would still have produced works of art. Homer contains no such
discussion. The speeches in the 'Iliad,' which Mr. Gladstone, the
most competent of living judges, maintains to be the finest ever
composed by man, are not discussions of principle. There is no more
tendency in them to critical disquisition than there is to political
economy. In Herodotus you have the beginning of the age of
discussion. He belongs in his essence to the age which is going out.
He refers with reverence to established ordinance and fixed
religion. Still, in his travels through Greece, he must have heard
endless political arguments; and accordingly you can find in his
book many incipient traces of abstract political disquisition. The
discourses on democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy, which he puts
into the mouth of the Persian conspirators when the monarchy was
vacant, have justly been called absurd, as speeches supposed to have
been spoken by those persons. No Asiatic ever thought of such
things. You might as well imagine Saul or David speaking them, as
those to whom Herodotus attributes them. They are Greek speeches,
full of free Greek discussion, and suggested by the experience,
already considerable, of the Greeks in the results of discussion.
The age of debate is beginning, and even Herodotus, the least of a
wrangler of any man, and the most of a sweet and simple narrator,
felt the effect. When we come to Thucydides, the results of
discussion are as full as they have ever been; his light is pure,
'dry light,' free from the 'humours' of habit, and purged from
consecrated usage. As Grote's history often reads like a report to
Parliament, so half Thucydides reads like a speech, or materials for
a speech, in the Athenian Assembly. Of later times it is unnecessary
to speak. Every page of Aristotle and Plato bears ample and
indelible trace of the age of discussion in which they lived; and
thought cannot possibly be freer. The deliverance of the speculative
intellect from traditional and customary authority was altogether

No doubt the 'detachment' from prejudice, and the subjection to
reason, which I ascribe to ancient Athens, only went down a very
little way among the population of it. Two great classes of the
people, the slaves and women, were almost excluded from such
qualities; even the free population doubtless contained a far
greater proportion of very ignorant and very superstitious persons
than we are in the habit of imagining. We fix our attention on the
best specimens of Athenian culture--on the books which have
descended to us, and we forget that the corporate action of the
Athenian people at various critical junctures exhibited the most
gross superstition. Still, as far as the intellectual and cultivated
part of society is concerned, the triumph of reason was complete;
the minds of the highest philosophers were then as ready to obey
evidence and reason as they have ever been since; probably they were
more ready. The rule of custom over them at least had been wholly
broken, and the primary conditions of intellectual progress were in
that respect satisfied.

It may be said that I am giving too much weight to the classical
idea of human development; that history contains the record of
another progress as well; that in a certain sense there was progress
in Judaea as well as in Athens. And unquestionably there was
progress, but it was only progress upon a single subject. If we
except religion and omit also all that the Jews had learned from
foreigners, it may be doubted if there be much else new between the
time of Samuel and that of Malachi. In Religion there was progress,
but without it there was not any. This was due to the cause of that
progress. All over antiquity, all over the East, and over other
parts of the world which preserve more or less nearly their ancient
condition, there are two classes of religious teachers--one, the
priests, the inheritors of past accredited inspiration; the other,
the prophet, the possessor of a like present inspiration. Curtius
describes the distinction well in relation to the condition of
Greece with which history first presents us:--

'The mantic art is an institution totally different from the
priesthood. It is based on the belief that the gods are in constant
proximity to men, and in their government of the world, which
comprehends every thing both great and small, will not disdain to
manifest their will; nay, it seems necessary that, whenever any
hitch has arisen in the moral system of the human world, this should
also manifest itself by some sign in the world of nature, if only
mortals are able to understand and avail themselves of these divine

'For this a special capacity is requisite; not a capacity which can
be learnt like a human art or science, but rather a peculiar state
of grace in the case of single individuals and single families whose
ears and eyes are opened to the divine revelations, and who
participate more largely than the rest of mankind in the divine
spirit. Accordingly it is their office and calling to assert
themselves as organs of the divine will; they are justified in
opposing their authority to every power of the world. On this head
conflicts were unavoidable, and the reminiscences living in the
Greek people, of the agency of a Tiresias and Calchas, prove how the
Heroic kings experienced not only support and aid, but also
opposition and violent protests, from the mouths of the men of

In Judaea there was exactly the same opposition as elsewhere. All
that is new comes from the prophets; all which is old is retained by
the priests. But the peculiarity of Judaea--a peculiarity which I do
not for a moment pretend that I can explain--is that the prophetic
revelations are, taken as a whole, indisputably improvements; that
they contain, as time goes on, at each succeeding epoch, higher and
better views of religion. But the peculiarity is not to my present
purpose. My point is that there is no such spreading impetus in
progress thus caused as there is in progress caused by discussion.
To receive a particular conclusion upon the ipse dixit, upon the
accepted authority of an admired instructor, is obviously not so
vivifying to the argumentative and questioning intellect as to argue
out conclusions for yourself. Accordingly the religious progress
caused by the prophets did not break down that ancient code of
authoritative usage. On the contrary, the two combined. In each
generation the conservative influence 'built the sepulchres' and
accepted the teaching of past prophets, even while it was slaying
and persecuting those who were living. But discussion and custom
cannot be thus combined; their 'method,' as modern philosophers
would say, is antagonistic. Accordingly, the progress of the
classical states gradually awakened the whole intellect; that of
Judaea was partial and improved religion only. And, therefore, in a
history of intellectual progress, the classical fills the superior
and the Jewish the inferior place; just as in a special history of
theology only, the places of the two might be interchanged.

A second experiment has been tried on the same subject--matter. The
characteristic of the Middle Ages may be approximately--though only
approximately--described as a return to the period of authoritative
usage and as an abandonment of the classical habit of independent
and self-choosing thought. I do not for an instant mean that this is
an exact description of the main mediaeval characteristic; nor can I
discuss how far that characteristic was an advance upon those of
previous times; its friends say it is far better than the
peculiarities of the classical period; its enemies that it is far
worse. But both friends and enemies will admit that the most marked
feature of the Middle Ages may roughly be described as I have
described it. And my point is that just as this mediaeval
characteristic was that of a return to the essence of the customary
epoch which had marked the pre-Athenian times, so it was dissolved
much in the same manner as the influence of Athens, and other
influences like it, claim to have dissolved that customary epoch.

The principal agent in breaking up the persistent medieval customs,
which were so fixed that they seemed likely to last for ever, or
till some historical catastrophe overwhelmed them, was the popular
element in the ancient polity which was everywhere diffused in the
Middle Ages. The Germanic tribes brought with them from their
ancient dwelling-place a polity containing, like the classical, a
king, a council, and a popular assembly; and wherever they went,
they carried these elements and varied them, as force compelled or
circumstances required. As far as England is concerned, the
excellent dissertations of Mr. Freeman and Mr. Stubbs have proved
this in the amplest manner, and brought it home to persons who
cannot claim to possess much antiquarian learning. The history of
the English Constitution, as far as the world cares for it, is, in
fact, the complex history of the popular element in this ancient
polity, which was sometimes weaker and sometimes stronger, but which
has never died out, has commonly possessed great though varying
power, and is now entirely predominant. The history of this growth
is the history of the English people; and the discussions about this
constitution and the discussions within it, the controversies as to
its structure and the controversies as to its true effects, have
mainly trained the English political intellect, in so far as it is
trained. But in much of Europe, and in England particularly, the
influence of religion has been very different from what it was in
antiquity. It has been an influence of discussion. Since Luther's
time there has been a conviction more or less rooted, that a man may
by an intellectual process think out a religion for himself, and
that, as the highest of all duties, he ought to do so. The influence
of the political discussion, and the influence of the religious
discussion, have been so long and so firmly combined, and have so
effectually enforced one another, that the old notions of loyalty,
and fealty, and authority, as they existed in the Middle Ages, have
now over the best minds almost no effect.

It is true that the influence of discussion is not the only force
which has produced this vast effect. Both in ancient and in modern
times other forces cooperated with it. Trade, for example, is
obviously a force which has done much to bring men of different
customs and different beliefs into close contiguity, and has thus
aided to change the customs and the beliefs of them all.
Colonisation is another such influence: it settles men among
aborigines of alien race and usages, and it commonly compels the
colonists not to be over-strict in the choice of their own elements;
they are obliged to coalesce with and 'adopt' useful bands and
useful men, though their ancestral customs may not be identical,
nay, though they may be, in fact, opposite to their own. In modern
Europe, the existence of a cosmopolite Church, claiming to be above
nations, and really extending through nations, and the scattered
remains of Roman law and Roman civilisation co-operated with the
liberating influence of political discussion. And so did other
causes also. But perhaps in no case have these subsidiary causes
alone been able to generate intellectual freedom; certainly in all
the most remarkable cases the influence of discussion has presided
at the creation of that freedom, and has been active and dominant in

No doubt apparent cases of exception may easily be found. It may be
said that in the court of Augustus there was much general
intellectual freedom, an almost entire detachment from ancient
prejudice, but that there was no free political discussion at all.
But, then, the ornaments of that time were derived from a time of
great freedom: it was the republic which trained the men whom the
empire ruled. The close congregation of most miscellaneous elements
under the empire, was, no doubt, of itself unfavourable to inherited
prejudice, and favourable to intellectual exertion. Yet, except in
the instance of the Church, which is a peculiar subject that
requires a separate discussion, how little was added to what the
republic left! The power of free interchange of ideas being wanting,
the ideas themselves were barren. Also, no doubt, much intellectual
freedom may emanate from countries of free political discussion, and
penetrate to countries where that discussion is limited. Thus the
intellectual freedom of France in the eighteenth century was in
great part owing to the proximity of and incessant intercourse with
England and Holland. Voltaire resided among us; and every page of
the 'Esprit des Lois' proves how much Montesquieu learned from
living here. But, of course, it was only part of the French culture
which was so derived: the germ might be foreign, but the tissue was
native. And very naturally, for it would be absurd to call the
ancien regime a government without discussion: discussion abounded
there, only, by reason of the bad form of the government, it was
never sure with ease and certainty to affect political action. The
despotism 'tempered by epigram,' was a government which permitted
argument of licentious freedom within changing limits, and which was
ruled by that argument spasmodically and practically, though not in
name or consistently.

But though in the earliest and in the latest time government by
discussion has been a principal organ for improving mankind, yet,
from its origin, it is a plant of singular delicacy. At first the
chances are much against its living. In the beginning, the members
of a free state are of necessity few. The essence of it requires
that discussion shall be brought home to those members. But in early
time, when writing is difficult, reading rare, and representation
undiscovered, those who are to be guided by the discussion must hear
it with their own ears, must be brought face to face with the
orator, and must feel his influence for themselves. The first free
states were little towns, smaller than any political division which
we now have, except the Republic of Andorre, which is a sort of
vestige of them. It is in the market-place of the country town, as
we should now speak, and in petty matters concerning the market-
town, that discussion began, and thither all the long train of its
consequences may be traced back. Some historical inquirers, like
myself, can hardly look at such a place without some sentimental
musing, poor and trivial as the thing seems. But such small towns
are very feeble. Numbers in the earliest wars, as in the latest, are
a main source of victory. And in early times one kind of state is
very common and is exceedingly numerous. In every quarter of the
globe we find great populations compacted by traditional custom and
consecrated sentiment, which are ruled by some soldier--generally
some soldier of a foreign tribe, who has conquered them, and, as it
has been said, 'vaulted on the back' of them, or whose ancestors
have done so. These great populations, ruled by a single will, have,
doubtless, trodden down and destroyed innumerable little cities who
were just beginning their freedom.

In this way the Greek cities in Asia were subjected to the Persian
Power, and so OUGHT the cities in Greece proper to have been
subjected also. Every schoolboy must have felt that nothing but
amazing folly and unmatched mismanagement saved Greece from conquest
both in the time of Xerxes and in that of Darius. The fortunes of
intellectual civilisation were then at the mercy of what seems an
insignificant probability. If the Persian leaders had only shown
that decent skill and ordinary military prudence which it was likely
they would show, Grecian freedom would have been at an end. Athens,
like so many Ionian cities on the other side of the AEgean, would
have been absorbed into a great despotism; all we now remember her
for we should not remember, for it would never have occurred. Her
citizens might have been ingenious, and imitative, and clever; they
could not certainly have been free and original. Rome was preserved
from subjection to a great empire by her fortunate distance from
one. The early wars of Rome are with cities like Rome--about equal
in size, though inferior in valour. It was only when she had
conquered Italy that she began to measure herself against Asiatic
despotisms. She became great enough to beat them before she advanced
far enough to contend with them. But such great good fortune was and
must be rare. Unnumbered little cities which might have rivalled
Rome or Athens doubtless perished without a sign long before history
was imagined. The small size and slight strength of early free
states made them always liable to easy destruction.

And their internal frailty is even greater. As soon as discussion
begins the savage propensities of men break forth; even in modern
communities, where those propensities, too, have been weakened by
ages of culture, and repressed by ages of obedience, as soon as a
vital topic for discussion is well started the keenest and most
violent passions break forth. Easily destroyed as are early free
states by forces from without, they are even more liable to
destruction by forces from within.

On this account such states are very rare in history. Upon the first
view of the facts a speculation might even be set up that they were
peculiar to a particular race. By far the most important free
institutions, and the only ones which have left living
representatives in the world, are the offspring either of the first
constitutions of the classical nations or of the first constitutions
of the Germanic nations. All living freedom runs back to them, and
those truths which at first sight would seem the whole of historical
freedom, can be traced to them. And both the Germanic and the
classical nations belong to what ethnologists call the Aryan race.
Plausibly it might be argued that the power of forming free states
was superior in and peculiar to that family of mankind. But
unfortunately for this easy theory the facts are inconsistent with
it. In the first place, all the so-called Aryan race certainly is
not free. The eastern Aryans--those, for example, who speak
languages derived from the Sanscrit--are amongst the most slavish
divisions of mankind. To offer the Bengalese a free constitution,
and to expect them to work one, would be the maximum of human folly.
There then must be something else besides Aryan descent which is
necessary to fit men for discussion and train them for liberty; and,
what is worse for the argument we are opposing, some non-Aryan
races have been capable of freedom. Carthage, for example, was a
Semitic republic. We do not know all the details of its
constitution, but we know enough for our present purpose. We know
that it was a government in which many proposers took part, and
under which discussion was constant, active, and conclusive. No
doubt Tyre, the parent city of Carthage, the other colonies of Tyre
besides Carthage, and the colonies of Carthage, were all as free as
Carthage. We have thus a whole group of ancient republics of non-
Aryan race, and one which, being more ancient than the classical
republics, could not have borrowed from or imitated them. So that
the theory which would make government by discussion the exclusive
patrimony of a single race of mankind is on the face of it

I am not prepared with any simple counter theory. I cannot profess
to explain completely why a very small minimum of mankind were, as
long as we know of them, possessed of a polity which as time went on
suggested discussions of principle, and why the great majority of
mankind had nothing like it. This is almost as hopeless as asking
why Milton was a genius and why Bacon was a philosopher. Indeed it
is the same, because the causes which give birth to the startling
varieties of individual character, and those which give birth to
similar varieties of national character, are, in fact, the same. I
have, indeed, endeavoured to show that a marked type of individual
character once originating in a nation and once strongly preferred
by it, is likely to be fixed on it and to be permanent in it, from
causes which were stated. Granted the beginning of the type, we may,
I think, explain its development and aggravation; but we cannot in
the least explain why the incipient type of curious characters broke
out, if I may so say, in one place rather than in another. Climate
and 'physical' surroundings, in the largest sense, have
unquestionably much influence; they are one factor in the cause, but
they are not the only factor; for we find most dissimilar races of
men living in the same climate and affected by the same
surroundings, and we have every reason to believe that those unlike
races have so lived as neighbours for ages. The cause of types must
be something outside the tribe acting on something within--something
inherited by the tribe. But what that something is I do not know
that any one can in the least explain.

The following conditions may, I think, be historically traced to the
nation capable of a polity, which suggests principles for
discussion, and so leads to progress. First, the nation must possess
the PATRIA POTESTAS in some form so marked as to give family life
distinctness and precision, and to make a home education and a home
discipline probable and possible. While descent is traced only
through the mother, and while the family is therefore a vague
entity, no progress to a high polity is possible. Secondly, that
polity would seem to have been created very gradually; by the
aggregation of families into clans or GENTES, and of clans into
nations, and then again by the widening of nations, so as to include
circumjacent outsiders, as well as the first compact and sacred
group--the number of parties to a discussion was at first augmented
very slowly. Thirdly, the number of 'open' subjects--as we should
say nowadays--that is, of subjects on which public opinion was
optional, and on which discussion was admitted, was at first very
small. Custom ruled everything originally, and the area of free
argument was enlarged but very slowly. If I am at all right, that
area could only be enlarged thus slowly, for Custom was in early
days the cement of society, and if you suddenly questioned such
custom you would destroy society. But though the existence, of these
conditions may be traced historically, and though the reason of them
may be explained philosophically, they do not completely solve the
question why some nations have the polity and some not; on the
contrary, they plainly leave a large 'residual phenomenon'
unexplained and unknown.


In this manner politics or discussion broke up the old bonds of
custom which were now strangling mankind, though they had once aided
and helped it. But this is only one of the many gifts which those
polities have conferred, are conferring, and will confer on mankind.
I am not going to write an eulogium on liberty, but I wish to set
down three points which have not been sufficiently noticed.

Civilised ages inherit the human nature which was victorious in
barbarous ages, and that nature is, in many respects, not at all
suited to civilised circumstances. A main and principal excellence
in the early times of the human races is the impulse to action. The
problems before men are then plain and simple. The man who works
hardest, the man who kills the most deer, the man who catches the
most fish--even later on, the man who tends the largest herds, or
the man who tills the largest field--is the man who succeeds; the
nation which is quickest to kill its enemies, or which kills most of
its enemies, is the nation which succeeds. All the inducements of
early society tend to foster immediate action; all its penalties
fall on the man who pauses; the traditional wisdom of those times
was never weary of inculcating that 'delays are dangerous,' and that
the sluggish man--the man 'who roasteth not that which he took in
hunting'--will not prosper on the earth, and indeed will very soon
perish out of it. And in consequence an inability to stay quiet, an
irritable desire to act directly, is one of the most conspicuous
failings of mankind.

Pascal said that most of the evils of life arose from 'man's being
unable to sit still in a room;' and though I do not go that length,
it is certain that we should have been a far wiser race than we are
if 'we had been readier to sit quiet--we should have known much
better the way in which it was best to act when we came to act. The
rise of physical science, the first great body of practical truth
provable to all men, exemplifies this in the plainest way. If it had
not been for quiet people, who sat still and studied the sections of
the cone, if other quiet people had not sat still and studied the
theory of infinitesimals, or other quiet people had not sat still
and worked out the doctrine of chances, the most 'dreamy moonshine,'
as the purely practical mind would consider, of all human pursuits;
if 'idle star-gazers' had not watched long and carefully the motions
of the heavenly bodies--our modern astronomy would have been
impossible, and without our astronomy 'our ships, our colonies, our
seamen,' all which makes modern life modern life could not have
existed. Ages of sedentary, quiet, thinking people were required
before that noisy existence began, and without those pale
preliminary students it never could have been brought into being.
And nine-tenths of modern science is in this respect the same: it is
the produce of men whom their contemporaries thought dreamers--who
were laughed at for caring for what did not concern them--who, as
the proverb went, 'walked into a well from looking at the stars'--
who were believed to be useless, if any one could be such. And the
conclusion is plain that if there had been more such people, if the
world had not laughed at those there were, if rather it had
encouraged them there would have been a great accumulation of proved
science ages before there was. It was the irritable activity, the
'wish to be doing something,' that prevented it. Most men inherited
a nature too eager and too restless to be quiet and find out things;
and even worse--with their idle clamour they 'disturbed the brooding
hen,' they would not let those be quiet who wished to be so, and out
of whose calm thought much good might have come forth.

If we consider how much science has done and how much it is doing
for mankind, and if the over-activity of men is proved to be the
cause why science came so late into the world, and is so small and
scanty still, that will convince most people that our over-activity
is a very great evil. But this is only part, and perhaps not the
greatest part of the harm that over-activity does. As I have said,
it is inherited from times when life was simple, objects were plain,
and quick action generally led to desirable ends. If A kills B
before B kills A, then A survives, and the human race is a race of
A's. But the issues of life are plain no longer. To act rightly in
modern society requires a great deal of previous study, a great deal
of assimilated information, a great deal of sharpened imagination;
and these pre-requisites of sound action require much time, and, I
was going to say, much 'lying in the sun,' a long period of 'mere
passiveness.' Even the art of killing one another, which at first
particularly trained men to be quick, now requires them to be slow.
A hasty general is the worst of generals nowadays; the best is a
sort of Von Moltke, who is passive if any man ever was passive; who
is 'silent in seven languages;' who possesses more and better
accumulated information as to the best way of killing people than
any one who ever lived. This man plays a restrained and considerate
game of chess with his enemy. I wish the art of benefiting men had
kept pace with the art of destroying them; for though war has become
slow, philanthropy has remained hasty. The most melancholy of human
reflections, perhaps, is that, on the whole, it is a question
whether the, benevolence of mankind does most good or harm. Great
good, no doubt, philanthropy does, but then it also does great evil.
It augments so much vice, it multiplies so much suffering, it brings
to life such great populations to suffer and to be vicious, that it
is open to argument whether it be or be not an evil to the world,
and this is entirely because excellent people fancy that they can do
much by rapid action--that they will most benefit the world when
they most relieve their own feelings; that as soon as an evil is
seen 'something' ought to be done to stay and prevent it. One may
incline to hope that the balance of good over evil is in favour of
benevolence; one can hardly bear to think that it is not so; but
anyhow it is certain that there is a most heavy debit of evil, and
that this burden might almost all have been spared us if
philanthropists as well as others had not inherited from their
barbarous forefathers a wild passion for instant action.

Even in commerce, which is now the main occupation of mankind, and
one in which there is a ready test of success and failure wanting in
many higher pursuits, the same disposition to excessive action is
very apparent to careful observers. Part of every mania is caused by
the impossibility to get people to confine themselves to the amount
of business for which their capital is sufficient, and in which they
can engage safely. In some degree, of course, this is caused by the
wish, to get rich; but in a considerable degree, too, by the mere
love of activity. There is a greater propensity to action in such
men than they have the means of gratifying. Operations with their
own capital will only occupy four hours of the day, and they wish to
be active and to be industrious for eight hours, and so they are
ruined. If they could only have sat idle the other four hours, they
would have been rich men. The amusements of mankind, at least of the
English part of mankind, teach the same lesson. Our shooting, our
hunting, our travelling, our climbing have become laborious
pursuits. It is a common saying abroad that 'an Englishman's notion
of a holiday is a fatiguing journey;' and this is only another way
of saying that the immense energy and activity which have given us
our place in the world have in many cases descended to those who do
not find in modern life any mode of using that activity, and of
venting that energy.

Even the abstract speculations of mankind bear conspicuous traces of
the same excessive impulse. Every sort of philosophy has been
systematised, and yet as these philosophies utterly contradict one
another, most of them cannot be true. Unproved abstract principles
without number have been eagerly caught up by sanguine men, and then
carefully spun out into books and theories, which were to explain
the whole world. But the world goes clear against these
abstractions, and it must do so, as they require it to go in
antagonistic directions. The mass of a system attracts the young and
impresses the unwary; but cultivated people are very dubious about
it. They are ready to receive hints and suggestions, and the
smallest real truth is ever welcome. But a large book of deductive
philosophy is much to be suspected. No doubt the deductions may be
right; in most writers they are so; but where did the premises come
from? Who is sure that they are the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth, of the matter in hand? Who is not almost sure beforehand that
they will contain a strange mixture of truth and error, and
therefore that it will not be worth while to spend life in reasoning
over their consequences? In a word, the superfluous energy of
mankind has flowed over into philosophy, and has worked into big
systems what should have been left as little suggestions.

And if the old systems of thought are not true as systems, neither
is the new revolt from them to be trusted in its whole vigour. There
is the same original vice in that also. There is an excessive energy
in revolutions if there is such energy anywhere. The passion for
action is quite as ready to pull down as to build up; probably it is
more ready, for the task is easier.

'Old things need not be therefore true, O brother men, nor yet the
new; Ah, still awhile the old thought retain, And yet consider it

But this is exactly what the human mind will not do. It will act
somehow at once. It will not 'consider it again.'

But it will be said, What has government by discussion to do with
these things? Will it prevent them, or even mitigate them? It can
and does do both in the very plainest way. If you want to stop
instant and immediate action, always make it a condition that the
action shall not begin till a considerable number of persons have
talked over it, and have agreed on it. If those persons be people of
different temperaments, different ideas, and different educations,
you have an almost infallible security that nothing, or almost
nothing, will be done with excessive rapidity. Each kind of persons
will have their spokesman; each spokesman will have his
characteristic objection, and each his characteristic counter-
proposition, and so in the end nothing will probably be done, or at
least only the minimum which is plainly urgent. In, many cases this
delay may be dangerous; in many cases quick action will be
preferable. A campaign, as Macaulay well says, cannot be directed by
a 'debating society;' and many other kinds of action also require a
single and absolute general. But for the purpose now in hand--that
of preventing hasty action, and ensuring elaborate consideration--
there is no device like a polity of discussion.

The enemies of this object--the people who want to act quickly--see
this very distinctly. They are for ever explaining that the present
is 'an age of committees,' that the committees do nothing, that all
evaporates in talk. Their great enemy is parliamentary government;
they call it, after Mr. Carlyle, the 'national palaver;' they add up
the hours that are consumed in it, and the speeches which are made
in it, and they sigh for a time when England might again be ruled,
as it once was, by a Cromwell--that is, when an eager, absolute man
might do exactly what other eager men wished, and do it immediately.
All these invectives are perpetual and many-sided; they come from
philosophers, each of whom wants some new scheme tried; from
philanthropists, who want some evil abated; from revolutionists, who
want some old institution destroyed; from new aeraists, who want
their new aera started forthwith. And they all are distinct
admissions that a polity of discussion is the greatest hindrance to
the inherited mistake of human nature, to the desire to act
promptly, which in a simple age is so excellent, but which in a
later and complex time leads to so much evil.

The same accusation against our age sometimes takes a more general
form. It is alleged that our energies are diminishing; that ordinary
and average men have not the quick determination nowadays which they
used to have when the world was younger; that not only do not
committees and parliaments act with rapid decisiveness, but that no
one now so acts. And I hope that in fact this is true, for according
to me, it proves that the hereditary barbaric impulse is decaying
and dying out. So far from thinking the quality attributed to us a
defect, I wish that those who complain of it were far more right
than I much fear they are. Still, certainly, eager and violent
action IS somewhat diminished, though only by a small fraction of
what it ought to be. And I believe that this is in great part due,
in England at least, to our government by discussion, which has
fostered a general intellectual tone, a diffused disposition to
weigh evidence, a conviction that much may be said on every side of
everything which the elder and more fanatic ages of the world
wanted. This is the real reason why our energies seem so much less
than those of our fathers. When we have a definite end in view,
which we know we want, and which we think we know how to obtain, we
can act well enough. The campaigns of our soldiers are as energetic
as any campaigns ever were; the speculations of our merchants have
greater promptitude, greater audacity, greater vigour than any such
speculations ever had before. In old times a few ideas got
possession of men and communities, but this is happily now possible
no longer. We see how incomplete these old ideas were; how almost by
chance one seized on one nation, and another on another; how often
one set of men have persecuted another set for opinions on subjects
of which neither, we now perceive, knew anything. It might be well
if a greater number of effectual demonstrations existed among
mankind; but while no such demonstrations exist, and while the
evidence which completely convinces one man seems to another
trifling and insufficient, let us recognise the plain position of
inevitable doubt. Let us not be bigots with a doubt, and persecutors
without a creed. We are beginning to bee this, and we are railed at
for so beginning. But it is a great benefit, and it is to the
incessant prevalence of detective discussion that our doubts are
due; and much of that discussion is due to the long existence of a
government requiring constant debates, written and oral.

This is one of the unrecognised benefits of free government, one of
the modes in which it counteracts the excessive inherited impulses
of humanity. There is another also for which it does the same, but
which I can only touch delicately, and which at first sight will
seem ridiculous. The most successful races, other things being
equal, are those which multiply the fastest. In the conflicts of
mankind numbers have ever been a great power. The most numerous
group has always had an advantage over the less numerous, and the
fastest breeding group has always tended to be the most numerous. In
consequence, human nature has descended into a comparatively
uncontentious civilisation, with a desire far in excess of what is
needed; with a 'felt want,' as political economists would say,
altogether greater than the 'real want.' A walk in London is all
which is necessary to establish this. 'The great sin of great
cities' is one vast evil consequent upon it. And who is to reckon up
how much these words mean? How many spoiled lives, how many broken
hearts, how many wasted bodies, how many ruined minds, how much
misery pretending to be gay, how much gaiety feeling itself to be
miserable, how much after mental pain, how much eating and
transmitted disease. And in the moral part of the world, how many
minds are racked by incessant anxiety, how many thoughtful
imaginations which might have left something to mankind are debased
to mean cares, how much every successive generation sacrifices to
the next, how little does any of them make of itself in comparison
with what might be. And how many Irelands have there been in the
world where men would have been contented and happy if they had only
been fewer; how many more Irelands would there have been if the
intrusive numbers had not been kept down by infanticide and vice and
misery. How painful is the conclusion that it is dubious whether all
the machines and inventions of mankind 'have yet lightened the day's
labour of a human being.' They have enabled more people to exist,
but these people work just as hard and are just as mean and
miserable as the elder and the fewer.

But it will be said of this passion just as it was said of the
passion of activity. Granted that it is in excess, how can you say,
how on earth can anyone say, that government by discussion can in
any way cure or diminish, it? Cure this evil that government
certainly will not; but tend to diminish it--I think it does and
may. To show that I am not making premises to support a conclusion
so abnormal, I will quote a passage from Mr. Spencer, the
philosopher who has done most to illustrate this subject:--

'That future progress of civilisation which the never-ceasing
pressure of population must produce, will be accompanied by an
enhanced cost of Individuation, both in structure and function; and
more especially in nervous structure and function. The peaceful
struggle for existence in societies ever growing more crowded and
more complicated, must have for its concomitant an increase of the
great nervous centres in mass, in complexity, in activity. The
larger body of emotion needed as a fountain of energy for men who
have to hold their places and rear their families under the
intensifying competition of social life, is, other things equal, the
correlative of larger brain. Those higher feelings presupposed by
the better self-regulation which, in a better society, can alone
enable the individual to leave a persistent posterity, are, other
things equal, the correlatives of a more complex brain; as are also
those more numerous, more varied, more general, and more abstract
ideas, which must also become increasingly requisite for successful
life as society advances. And the genesis of this larger quantity of
feeling and thought in a brain thus augmented in size and developed
in structure, is, other things equal, the correlative of a greater
wear of nervous tissue and greater consumption of materials to
repair it. So that both in original cost of construction and in
subsequent cost of working, the nervous system must become a heavier
tax on the organism. Already the brain of the civilised man is
larger by nearly thirty percent, than the brain of the savage.
Already, too, it presents an increased heterogeneity--especially in
the distribution of its convolutions. And further changes like these
which have taken place under the discipline of civilised life, we
infer will continue to take place.... But everywhere and always,
evolution is antagonistic to procreative dissolution. Whether it be
in greater growth of the organs which subserve self-maintenance,
whether it be in their added complexity of structure, or whether it
be in their higher activity, the abstraction of the required
materials implies a diminished reserve of materials for race-
maintenance. And we have seen reason to believe that this antagonism
between Individuation and Genesis becomes unusually marked where the
nervous system is concerned, because of the costliness of nervous
structure and function. In Section 346 was pointed out the apparent
connection between high cerebral development and prolonged delay of
sexual maturity; and in Sections 366, 367, the evidence went to show
that where exceptional fertility exists there is sluggishness of
mind, and that where there has been during education excessive
expenditure in mental action, there frequently follows a complete or
partial infertility. Hence the particular kind of further evolution
which Man is hereafter to undergo, is one which, more than any
other, may be expected to cause a decline in his power of

This means that men who have to live an intellectual life, or who
can be induced to lead one, will be likely not to have so many
children as they would otherwise have had. In particular cases this
may not be true; such men may even have many children--they may be
men in all ways of unusual power and vigour. But they will not have
their maximum of posterity--will not have so many as they would have
had if they had been careless or thoughtless men; and so, upon an
average, the issue of such intellectualised men will be less
numerous than those of the unintellectual.

Now, supposing this philosophical doctrine to be true--and the best
philosophers, I think, believe it--its application to the case in
hand is plain. Nothing promotes intellect like intellectual
discussion, and nothing promotes intellectual discussion so much as
government by discussion. The perpetual atmosphere of intellectual
inquiry acts powerfully, as everyone may see by looking about him in
London, upon the constitution both of men and women. There is only a
certain QUANTUM of power in each of our race; if it goes in one way
it is spent, and cannot go in another. The intellectual atmosphere
abstracts strength to intellectual matters; it tends to divert that
strength--which the circumstances of early society directed to the
multiplication of numbers; and as a polity of discussion tends,
above all things, to produce an intellectual atmosphere, the two
things which seemed so far off have been shown to be near, and free
government has, in a second case, been shown to tend to cure an
inherited excess of human nature.

Lastly, a polity of discussion not only tends to diminish our
inherited defects, but also, in one case at least, to augment a
heritable excellence. It tends to strengthen and increase a subtle
quality or combination of qualities singularly useful in practical
life-a quality which it is not easy to describe exactly, and the
issues of which it would require not a remnant of an essay, but a
whole essay to elucidate completely. This quality I call ANIMATED

If anyone were asked to describe what it is which distinguishes the
writings of a man of genius who is also a great man of the world
from all other writings, I think he would use these same words,
'animated moderation.' He would say that such writings are never
slow, are never excessive, are never exaggerated; that they are
always instinct with judgment, and yet that judgment is never a dull
judgment; that they have as much spirit in them as would go to make
a wild writer, and yet that every line of them is the product of a
sane and sound writer. The best and almost perfect instance of this
in English is Scott. Homer was perfect in it, as far as we can
judge; Shakespeare is often perfect in it for long together, though
then, from the defects of a bad education and a vicious age, all at
once he loses himself in excesses. Still, Homer, and Shakespeare at
his best, and Scott, though in other respects so unequal to them,
have this remarkable quality in common--this union of life with
measure, of spirit with reasonableness.

In action it is equally this quality in which the English--at least
so I claim it for them--excel all other nations. There is an
infinite deal to be laid against us, and as we are unpopular with
most others, and as we are always grumbling at ourselves, there is
no want of people to say it. But, after all, in a certain sense,
England is a success in the world; her career has had many faults,
but still it has been, a fine and winning career upon the whole. And
this on account of the exact possession of this particular quality.
What is the making of a successful merchant? That he has plenty of
energy, and yet that he does not go too far. And if you ask for a
description of a great practical Englishman, you will be sure to
have this, or something like it, 'Oh, he has plenty of go in him;
but he knows when to pull up.' He may have all other defects in him;
he may be coarse, he may be illiterate, he may be stupid to talk to;
still this great union of spur and bridle, of energy and moderation,
will remain to him. Probably he will hardly be able to explain why
he stops when he does stop, or why he continued to move as long as
he, in fact, moved; but still, as by a rough instinct, he pulls up
pretty much where he should, though he was going at such a pace

There is no better example of this quality in English statesmen than
Lord Palmerston. There are, of course, many most serious accusations
to be made against him. The sort of homage with which he was
regarded in the last years of his life has passed away; the spell is
broken, and the magic cannot be again revived. We may think that his
information was meagre, that his imagination was narrow, that his
aims were short--sighted and faulty. But though we may often object
to his objects, we rarely find much to criticise in his means. 'He
went,' it has been said, 'with a great swing;' but he never tumbled
over; he always managed to pull up 'before there was any danger.'--
, He was an odd man to have inherited Hampden's motto; still, in
fact, there was a great trace in him of MEDIOCRIA FIRMA--as much,
probably, as there could be in anyone of such great vivacity and

It is plain that this is a quality which as much as, if not more
than, any other multiplies good results in practical life. It
enables men to see what is good; it gives them intellect enough for
sufficient perception; but it does not make men all intellect; it
does not' sickly them o'er with the pale cast of thought;' it
enables them to do the good things they see to be good, as well as
to see that they are good. And it is plain that a government by
popular discussion tends to produce this quality. A strongly
idiosyncratic mind, violently disposed to extremes of opinion, is
soon weeded out of political life, and a bodiless thinker, an
ineffectual scholar, cannot even live there for a day. A vigorous
moderateness in mind and body is the rule of a polity which works by
discussion; and, upon the whole, it is the kind of temper most
suited to the active life of such a being as man in such a world as
the present one.

These three great benefits of free government, though great, are
entirely secondary to its continued usefulness in the mode in which
it originally was useful. The first great benefit was the
deliverance of mankind from the superannuated yoke of customary law,
by the gradual development of an inquisitive originality. And it
continues to produce that effect upon persons apparently far remote
from its influence, and on subjects with which it has nothing to do.
Thus Mr. Mundella, a most experienced and capable judge, tells us
that the English artisan, though so much less sober, less
instructed, and less refined than the artisans of some other
countries, is yet more inventive than any other artisan. The master
will get more good suggestions from him than from any other.

Again, upon plausible grounds--looking, for example, to the position
of Locke and Newton in the science of the last century, and to that
of Darwin in our own--it may be argued that there is some quality in
English thought which makes them strike out as many, if not more,
first-rate and original suggestions than nations of greater
scientific culture and more diffused scientific interest. In both
cases I believe the reason of the English originality to be that
government by discussion quickens and enlivens thought all through
society; that it makes people think no harm may come of thinking;
that in England this force has long been operating, and so it has
developed more of all kinds of people ready to use their mental
energy in their own way, and not ready to use it in any other way,
than a despotic government. And so rare is great originality among
mankind, and so great are its fruits, that this one benefit of free
government probably outweighs what are in many cases its accessory
evils. Of itself it justifies, or goes far to justify, our saying
with Montesquieu, 'Whatever be the cost of this glorious liberty, we
must be content to pay it to heaven.'

No. VI.


The original publication of these essays was interrupted by serious
illness and by long consequent ill--health, I and now that I am
putting them together I wish to add another which shall shortly
explain the main thread of the argument which they contain. In doing
so there is a risk of tedious repetition, but on a subject both
obscure and important, any defect is better than an appearance of

In a former essay I attempted to show that slighter causes than is
commonly thought may change a nation from the stationary to the
progressive state of civilisation, and from the stationary to the
degrading. Commonly the effect of the agent is looked on in the
wrong way. It is considered as operating on every individual in the
nation, and it is assumed, or half assumed, that it is only the
effect which the agent directly produces on everyone that need be
considered. But besides this diffused effect of the first impact of
the cause, there is a second effect, always considerable, and
commonly more potent--a new model in character is created for the
nation; those characters which resemble it are encouraged and
multiplied; those contrasted with it are persecuted and made fewer.
In a generation or two, the look of the nation, becomes quite
different; the characteristic men who stand out are different, the
men imitated are different; the result of the imitation is
different. A lazy nation may be changed into an industrious, a rich
into a poor, a religious into a profane, as if by magic, if any
single cause, though slight, or any combination of causes, however
subtle, is strong enough to change the favourite and detested types
of character.

This principle will, I think, help us in trying to solve the
question why so few nations have progressed, though to us progress
seems so natural-what is the cause or set of causes which have
prevented that progress in the vast majority of cases, and produced
it in the feeble minority. But there is a preliminary difficulty:
What is progress, and what is decline? Even in the animal world
there is no applicable rule accepted by physiologists, which settles
what animals are higher or lower than others; there are
controversies about it. Still more then in the more complex
combinations and politics of human beings it is likely to be hard to
find an agreed criterion for saying which nation is before another,
or what age of a nation was inarching forward and which was falling
back. Archbishop Manning would have one rule of progress and
decline; Professor Huxley, in most important points, quite an
opposite rule; what one would set down as an advance, the other
would set down as a retreat. Each has a distinct end which he wishes
and a distinct calamity which he fears, but the desire of the one is
pretty near the fear of the other; books would not hold the
controversy between them. Again, in art, who is to settle what is
advance and what decline? Would Mr. Buskin agree with anyone else on
this subject, would he even agree with himself or could any common
enquirer venture to say whether he was right or wrong?

I am afraid that I must, as Sir Wm. Hamilton used to say, 'truncate
a problem which I cannot solve.' I must decline to sit in judgment
on disputed points of art, morals, or religion. But without so doing
I think there is such a thing as 'verifiable progress,' if we may
say so; that is, progress which ninety-nine hundredths or more of
mankind will admit to be such, against which there is no established
or organised opposition creed, and the objectors to which,
essentially varying in opinion themselves, and believing one thing
and another the reverse, may be safely and altogether rejected.

Let us consider in what a village of English colonists is superior
to a tribe of Australian natives who roam about them. Indisputably
in one, and that a main sense, they are superior. They can beat the
Australians in war when they like; they can take from them anything
they like, and kill any of them they choose. As a rule, in all the
outlying and uncontested districts of the world, the aboriginal
native lies at the mercy of the intruding European. 'Nor is this
all. Indisputably in the English village there are more means of
happiness, a greater accumulation of the instruments of enjoyment,
than in the Australian tribe. "The English have all manner of books,
utensils, and machines which the others do not use, value, or
understand. And in addition, and beyond particular inventions, there
is a general strength which is capable of being used in conquering a
thousand difficulties, and is an abiding source of happiness,
because those who possess it always feel that they can use it."

If we omit the higher but disputed topics of morals and religion, we
shall find, I think, that the plainer and agreed--on superiorities
of the Englishmen are these: first, that they have a greater command
over the powers of nature upon the whole. Though they may fall short
of individual Australians in certain feats of petty skill, though
they may not throw the boomerang as well, or light a fire with
earthsticks as well, yet on the whole twenty Englishmen with their
implements and skill can change the material world immeasurably more
than twenty Australians and their machines. Secondly, that this
power is not external only; it is also internal. The English not
only possess better machines for moving nature, but are themselves
better machines. Mr. Babbage taught us years ago that one great use
of machinery was not to augment the force of man, but to register
and regulate the power of man; and this in a thousand ways civilised
man can do, and is ready to do, better and more precisely than the
barbarian. Thirdly, | civilised man not only has greater powers over
nature, but knows better how to use them, and by better I here mean
better for the health and comfort of his present body and mind. He
can lay up for old age, which a savage having no durable means of
sustenance cannot; he is ready to lay up because he can distinctly
foresee the future, which the vague--minded savage cannot; he is
mainly desirous of gentle, continuous pleasure, I whereas the
barbarian likes wild excitement, and longs for stupefying repletion.
Much, if not all, of these three ways may be summed up in Mr.
Spencer's phrase, that progress is an increase of adaptation of man
to his environment, that is, of his internal powers and wishes to
his external lot and life. Something of it too is expressed in the
old pagan idea 'mens sana in corpore sano.' And I think this sort
of progress may be fairly investigated quite separately, as it is
progress in a sort of good everyone worth reckoning with admits and
I agrees in. No doubt there will remain people like the aged savage,
who in his old age went back to his savage tribe and said that he
had 'tried civilisation for forty years, and it was not worth the
trouble.' But we need not take account of the mistaken ideas of
unfit men and beaten races. On the whole the plainer sort of
civilisation, the simpler moral training, and the more elementary
education are plain benefits. And though there may be doubt as to
the edges of the conception yet there certainly is a broad road of
'verifiable progress' which not only discoverers and admirers will
like, but which all those who come upon it will use and value.

Unless some kind of abstraction like this is made in the subject the
great problem 'What causes progress?' will, I am confident, long
remain unsolved. Unless we are content to solve simple problems
first, the whole history of philosophy teaches that we shall never
solve hard problems. This is the maxim of scientific humility so
often insisted on by the highest enquirers that, in investigations,
as in life, those 'who exalt themselves shall be abased, and those
who humble themselves shall be exalted;' and though we may seem mean
only to look for the laws of plain comfort and simple present
happiness, yet we must work out that simple case first, before we
encounter the incredibly harder additional difficulties of the
higher art, morals and religion.

The difficulty of solving the problem even thus limited is
exceedingly great. The most palpable facts, are exactly the contrary
to what we should expect. Lord Macaulay tells us that 'In every
experimental science there is a tendency towards perfection. In
every human being there is a tendency to ameliorate his condition;'
and these two principles operating everywhere and always, might well
have been expected to 'carry mankind rapidly forward.' Indeed,
taking verifiable progress in the sense which has just been given to
it, we may say that nature gives a prize to every single step in it.
Everyone that makes an invention that benefits himself or those
around him, is likely to be more comfortable himself and to be more
respected by those around him. To produce new things ' serviceable
to man's life and conducive to man's estate,' is, we should say,
likely to bring increased happiness to the producer. It often brings
immense reward certainly now; a new form of good steel pen, a way of
making some kind of clothes a little better or a little cheaper,
have brought men great fortunes. And there is the same kind of prize
for industrial improvement in the earliest times as in the latest;
though the benefits so obtainable in early society are poor indeed
in comparison with those of advanced society. Nature is like a
schoolmaster, at least in this, she gives her finest prizes to her
high and most instructed classes; Still, even in the earliest
society, nature helps those who can help themselves, and helps them
very much.

All this should have made the progress of mankind--progress at least
in this limited sense-exceedingly common; but, in fact, any progress
is extremely rare. As a rule (and as has been insisted on before) a
stationary state is by far the most frequent condition of man, as
far as history describes that condition; the progressive state is
only a rare and an occasional exception. Before history began there
must have been in the nation which writes it much progress; else
there could have been no history. It is a great advance in
civilisation to be able to describe the common facts of life, and
perhaps, if we were to examine it, we should find that it was at
least an equal advance to wish to describe them. But very few races
have made this step of progress; very few have been capable even of
the meanest sort of history; and as for writing such a history as
that of Thucydides, most nations could as soon have constructed a
planet. When history begins to record, she finds most of the races
incapable of history, arrested, unprogressive, and pretty much where
they are now.

Why, then, have not the obvious and natural causes of progress (as
we should call them) produced those obvious and natural effects? Why
have the real fortunes of mankind been so different from the
fortunes which we should expect? This is the problem which in
various forms I have taken up in these papers, and this is the
outline of the solution which I have attempted to propose.

The progress of MAN requires the co--operation of MEN for its
development. That which any one man or any one family could invent
for themselves is obviously exceedingly limited. And even if this
were not true, isolated progress could never be traced. The rudest
sort of cooperative society, the lowest tribe and the feeblest
government, is so much stronger than isolated man, that isolated man
(if he ever existed in any shape which could be called man), might
very easily have ceased to exist. The first principle of the subject
is that man can only progress in 'co-operative groups;' I might say
tribes and nations, but I use the less common word because few
people would at once see that tribes and nations ARE co-operative
groups, and that it is their being so which makes their value; that
unless you can make a strong co-operative bond, your society will be
conquered and killed out by some other society which has such a
bond; and the second principle is that the members of such a group
should be similar enough to one another to co-operate easily and
readily together. The co-operation in all such cases depends on a
FELT UNION of heart and spirit; and this is only felt when there is
a great degree of real likeness in mind and feeling, however that
likeness may have been attained.

This needful co-operation and this requisite likeness I believe to
have been produced by one of the strongest yokes (as we should think
if it were to be reimposed now) and the most terrible tyrannies ever
known among men--the authority of 'customary law.', In its earlier
stage this is no pleasant power--no 'rosewater' authority, as
Carlyle would have called it--but a stern, incessant, implacable
rule. And the rule is often of most childish origin, beginning in a
casual superstition or local accident. 'These people,' says Captain
Palmer of the Fiji,' are very conservative. A chief was one day
going over a mountain-path followed by a long string of his people,
when he happened to stumble and fall; all the rest of the people
immediately did the same except one man, who was set upon by the
rest to know whether he considered himself better than the chief.'
What can be worse than a life regulated by that sort of obedience,
and that sort of imitation? This is, of course, a bad specimen, but
the nature of customary law as we everywhere find it in its earliest
stages is that of coarse casual comprehensive usage, beginning, we
cannot tell how, deciding, we cannot tell why, but ruling everyone
in almost every action with an inflexible grasp.

The necessity of thus forming co-operative groups by fixed customs
explains the necessity of isolation in early society. As a matter of
fact all great nations have been prepared in privacy and in secret.
They have been composed far away from all distraction. Greece,
Borne, Judaea, were framed each by itself, and the antipathy of each
to men of different race and different speech is one of their most
marked peculiarities, and quite their strongest common property. And
the instinct of early ages is a right guide for the needs of early
ages. Intercourse with foreigners then broke down in states the
fixed rules which were forming their characters, so as to be a cause
of weak fibre of mind, of desultory and unsettled action; the living
spectacle of an admitted unbelief destroys the binding authority of
religious custom and snaps the social cord.

Thus we see the use of a sort of 'preliminary' age in societies,
when trade is bad because it prevents the separation of nations,
because it infuses distracting ideas among occupied communities,
because it 'brings alien minds to alien shores. And as the trade
which we now think of as an incalculable good, is in that age a
formidable evil and destructive calamity; so war and conquest, which
we commonly and justly see to be now evils, are in that age often
singular benefits and great advantages. It is only by the
competition of customs that bad customs can be eliminated and good
customs multiplied. Conquest is the premium given by nature to those
national characters which their national customs have made most fit
to win in war, and in many most material respects those winning
characters are really the best characters. The characters which do
win in war are the characters which we should wish to win in war.

Similarly, the best institutions have a natural military advantage
over bad institutions. The first great victory of civilisation was
the conquest of nations with ill-defined families having legal
descent through the mother only, by nations of definite families
tracing descent through the father as well as the mother, or through
the father only. Such compact families are a much better basis for
military discipline than the ill-bound families which indeed seem
hardly to be families at all, where 'paternity' is, for tribal
purposes, an unrecognised idea, and where only the physical fact of
'maternity' is thought to be certain enough to be the foundation of
law or custom. The nations with a thoroughly compacted family system
have 'possessed the earth,' that is, they have taken all the finest
districts in the most competed-for parts; and the nations with loose
systems have been merely left to mountain ranges and lonely islands.
The family system and that in its highest form has been so
exclusively the system of civilisation, that literature hardly
recognises any other, and that, if it were not for the living
testimony of a great multitude of scattered communities which are
'fashioned after the structure of the elder world,' we should hardly
admit the possibility of something so contrary to all which we have
lived amongst, and which we have been used to think of. After such
an example of the fragmentary nature of the evidence it is in
comparison easy to believe that hundreds of strange institutions may
have passed away and have left behind them not only no memorial, but
not even a trace or a vestige to help the imagination to figure what
they were.

I cannot expand the subject, but in the same way the better
religions have had a great physical advantage, if I may say so, over
the worse. They have given what I may call a CONFIDENCE IN THE
UNIVERSE. The savage subjected to a mean superstition, is afraid to
walk simply about the world--he cannot do THIS because it is
ominous, or he must do THAT because it is lucky, or he cannot do
anything at all till the gods have spoken and given him leave to
begin. But under the higher religions there is no similar slavery
and no similar terror.

The belief of the Greek [words in Greek] the belief of the Roman
that he was to trust in the gods of Borne, for those gods are
stronger than all others; the belief of Cromwell's soldiery that
they were 'to trust in God and keep their powder dry,' are great
steps in upward progress, using progress in its narrowest sense.
They all enabled those who believed them 'to take the world as it
comes,' to be guided by no unreal reason, and to be limited by no
mystic scruple; whenever they found anything to do, to do it with
their might. And more directly what I may call the fortifying
religions, that is to say, those which lay the plainest stress on
the manly parts of morality--upon valour, on truth and industry--
have had plainly the most obvious effect in strengthening the races
which believed them, and in making those races the winning races.

No doubt many sorts of primitive improvement are pernicious to war;
an exquisite sense of beauty, a love of meditation, a tendency to
cultivate the force of the mind at the expense of the force of the
body, for example, help in their respective degrees to make men less
warlike than they would otherwise be. But these are the virtues of
other ages. The first work of the first ages is to bind men together
in the strong bond of a rough, coarse, harsh custom; and the
incessant conflict of nations effects this in the best way. Every
nation, is an 'hereditary co-operative group,' bound by a fixed
custom; and out of those groups those conquer which have the most
binding and most invigorating customs, and these are, as a rough
rule, the best customs. The majority of the 'groups' which win and
conquer are better than the majority of those which fail and perish,
and thus the first world grow better and was improved.

This early customary world no doubt continued for ages. The first
history delineates great monarchies, each composed of a hundred
customary groups, all of which believed themselves to be of enormous
antiquity, and all of which must have existed for very many
generations. The first historical world is not a new-looking thing
but a very ancient, and according to principle it is necessary that
it should exist for ages. If human nature was to be gradually
improved, each generation must be born better tamed, more calm, more
capable of civilisation--in a word, more LEGAL than the one before
it, and such inherited improvements are always slow and dubious.
Though a few gifted people may advance much, the mass of each
generation can improve but very little on the generation which
preceded it; and even the slight improvement so gained is liable to
be destroyed by some mysterious atavism--some strange recurrence to
a primitive past. Long ages of dreary monotony are the first facts
in the history of human communities, but those ages were not lost to
mankind, for it was then that was formed the comparatively gentle
and guidable thing which we now call human nature.

And indeed the greatest difficulty is not in preserving such a world
but in ending it. We have brought in the yoke of custom to improve
the world, and in the world the custom sticks. In a thousand cases--
in the great majority of cases--the progress of mankind has been
arrested in this its earliest shape; it has been closely embalmed in
a mummy-like imitation of its primitive existence. I have
endeavoured to show in what manner, and how slowly, and in how few
cases this yoke of custom was removed. It was 'government by
discussion ', which broke the bond of ages and set free the
originality of mankind. Then, and then only, the motives which Lord
Macaulay counted on to secure the progress of mankind, in fact,
begin to work; THEN 'the tendency in every man to ameliorate his
condition' begins to be important, because then man can alter his
condition while before he is pegged down by ancient usage; THEN the
tendency in each mechanical art towards perfection begins to have
force, because the artist is at last allowed to seek perfection,
after having been forced for ages to move in the straight furrow of
the old fixed way.

As soon as this great step upwards is once made, all or almost all,
the higher gifts and graces of humanity have a rapid and a definite
effect on 'verifiable progress'--on progress in the narrowest,
because in the most universally admitted sense of the term. Success
in life, then, depends, as we have seen, more than anything else on
'animated moderation,' on a certain combination of energy of mind
and balance of mind, hard to attain and harder to keep. And this
subtle excellence is aided by all the finer graces of humanity. It
is a matter of common observation that, though often separated, fine
taste and fine judgment go very much together, and especially that a
man with gross want of taste, though he may act sensibly and
correctly for a while, is yet apt to break out, sooner or later,
into gross practical error. In metaphysics, probably both taste and
judgment involve what is termed 'poise of mind,' that is the power
of true passiveness--the faculty of 'waiting' till the stream of
impressions, whether those of life or those of art have done all
that they have to do, and cut their full type plainly upon the mind.
The ill-judging and the untasteful are both over-eager; both move
too quick and blur the image. In this way the union between a subtle
sense of beauty and a subtle discretion in conduct is a natural one,
because it rests on the common possession of a fine power, though,
in matter of fact, that union may be often disturbed. A complex sea
of forces and passions troubles men in life and action, which in the
calmer region of art are hardly to be felt at all. And, therefore,
the cultivation of a fine taste tends to promote the function of a
fine judgment, which is a main help in the complex world of
civilised existence. Just so too the manner in which the more
delicate parts of religion daily work in producing that 'moderation'
which, upon the whole, and as a rule, is essential to long success,
defining success even in its most narrow and mundane way, might be
worked out in a hundred cases, though it would not suit these pages.
Many of the finer intellectual tastes have a similar restraining
effect they prevent, or tend to prevent, a greedy voracity after the
good things of life, which makes both men and nations in excessive
haste to be rich and famous, often makes them do too much and do it
ill, and so often leaves them at last without money and without

But there is no need to expand this further. The principle is plain
that, though these better and higher graces of humanity are
impediments and encumbrances in the early fighting period, yet that
in the later era they are among the greatest helps and benefits, and
that as soon as governments by discussion have become strong enough
to secure a stable existence, and as soon as they have broken the
fixed rule of old custom, and have awakened the dormant
inventiveness of men, then, for the first time, almost every part of
human nature begins to spring forward, and begins to contribute its
quota even to the narrowest, even to 'verifiable' progress. And this
is the true reason of all those panegyrics on liberty which are
often so measured in expression but are in essence so true to life
and nature. Liberty is the strengthening and developing power--the
light and heat of political nature; and when some 'Caesarism'
exhibits as it sometimes will an originality of mind, it is only
because it has managed to make its own the products of past free
times or neighbouring free countries; and even that originality is
only brief and frail, and after a little while, when tested by a
generation or two, in time of need it falls away.

In a complete investigation of all the conditions of 'verifiable
progress,' much else would have to be set out; for example, science
has secrets of her own. Nature does not wear her most useful lessons
on her sleeve; she only yields her most productive secrets, those
which yield the most wealth and the most 'fruit,' to those who have
gone through a long process of preliminary abstraction. To make a
person really understand the 'laws of motion' is not easy, and to
solve even simple problems in abstract dynamics is to most people
exceedingly hard. And yet it is on these out-of-the-way
investigations, so to speak, that the art of navigation, all
physical astronomy, and all the theory of physical movements at
least depend. But no nation would beforehand have thought that in so
curious a manner such great secrets were to be discovered. And many
nations, therefore, which get on the wrong track, may be distanced--
supposing there to be no communication by some nation not better
than any of them which happens to stumble on the right track. If
there were no 'Bradshaw' and no one knew the time at which trains
started, a man who caught the express would not be a wiser or a more
business-like man than he who missed it, and yet he would arrive
whole hours sooner at the capital both are going to. And unless I
misread the matter, such was often the case with early knowledge. At
any rate before a complete theory of 'verifiable progress' could be
made, it would have to be settled whether this is so or not, and the
conditions of the development of physical science would have to be
fully stated; obviously you cannot explain the development of human
comfort unless you know the way in which men learn and discover
comfortable things. Then again, for a complete discussion, whether
of progress or degradation, a whole course of analysis is necessary
as to the effect of natural agencies on man, and of change in those
agencies. But upon these I cannot touch; the only way to solve these
great problems is to take them separately. I only profess to explain
what seem to me the political prerequisites of progress, and
especially of early progress, I do this the rather because the
subject is insufficiently examined, so that even if my views are
found to be faulty, the discussion upon them may bring out others
which are truer and better.


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Title: Physics and Politics

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