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In such a scheme-so vast and so enduringit is plain that there must be much at all moments going forward, of the purpose of which we are not able to judge—that what seem to us to be retrocessions or desolations, may, in the view of the great Master of the whole, be but necessary means to the entire movement-or, at any rate, that we are not entitled, with respect to so vast a plan, to indulge our weak surmises of defect and imperfection, because we cannot account for many appearances which, judged of by our limited scale, might have been different.
What we all know for certain, however, is that, in this august plan, each individual has his definite and allotted station—that the duties to be done by him in that station can never be matter of doubt to him, if he exercises just deliberation, and if his mind is in a well-balanced state—and that by doing his part well in that station, he does the very best that, with his present powers, it is competent for him to achieve, for the perfection and progressive welfare of the whole.
In the words of the enlightened author formerly quoted—“ this is our province—or, as many call it, the little world which God has put under our government; it is our business to know the extent of our province, that we may not encroach upon terri
tories beyond our commission--and to lay our narrow plan of Providence for the administration of it similar, so far as human infirmity will permit, though immeasurably unequal, to his universal one: ordering every thing therein for the best, according to the measure of understanding and power vouchsafed to us."
Or, to vary the figure, we are all labourers in a common vineyard; -our duty is to do to the utmost of our ability the work assigned us—and never foolishly to suppose that there is no guiding care of the whole, because we occasionally see the surface around us deformed by inequalities, or laid waste by appearances of desolation-but rather at all times to cherish the belief that though we see much which we do not understand-and meet with many things which seem to indicate the reverse of improvement-still the presiding care is ever at work—and the joint co-operation of all the labourers in their appointed tasks will be found-under the directing guidance of the husbandman—to have issued in the amelioration and permanent beautifying of the whole.
If we estimate progression as applicable to nature on a lower scale than this, or by the aid of different rules, we must proportionably be liable to be baffled and disappointed.
II. DIFFERENT KINDS OF CHANGES-AND TESTI
MONIES OF EXPERIENCE RESPECTING THEM.
We readily admit the propensity of individual men-especially when they have become dissatisfied with their condition, and are disposed to make some great alteration in it—to run into mistaken, and devious, and ruinous courses of conduct ;-because we all know that individual minds are subject to great errors of judgment—are liable to be perverted by strong, or selfish, or malignant passions —and because, being but individual minds, they want the support and assistance which would be afforded by a co-operation of intellects, and by a community of wills. And so general and strong is the sense entertained of this liability to err on the part of particular persons, that it is but seldom that we have much confidence in an individual when we know that he is about to take some step for a great alteration in his previous modes of living—and that in the result we are more astonished by his success, when he has prospered or exercised right judgment in his choice, than affected by wonder when we hear that he has only involved himself in deeper misery by his attempts to better his condition.
But we by no means feel an equal inclination to predict the same failure, when it is not individuals, but communities of men respecting whose conduct we speculate—and especially at the moments when they are in the actual movement towards any great change on which they have resolved ;—because our impression commonly is, that the movements of a community must be the joint result of the action of the intellects and judgments of a vast number of individuals---each of whom has been separately employed in discussing with himself the propriety of the alteration that has been suggested—and who cannot, therefore, be supposed to have admitted any glaring error—or to have yielded to any obvious fallacy of passion, because, though this might have been the case with a few or with single minds among the entire number, it could not have happened with so vast a majority—but would rather have met with its correction from the calmer consideration and more unbiassed will of other members of the state who were equally interested in arriving at a just determination. We fancy, in short, that any great movement on the part of a community must have been the approved choice of a great multitude of minds
-and that its wisdom may be inferred from the consideration that it must have been the
result of all the united opinions which have been formed upon the subject—and from whose combined operation, modifying the errors of each particular mind, the course of action that has been resolved on must have proceeded as the common product—and therefore the very best growth of the whole. Now this is so very far from being a just statement of what commonly happens, that almost the very reverse is the case. The movement of a great body of men--existing as a community-being in by far the greater number of instances, the result but of one initiatory impulse—which has been admitted and acted on by the whole-and the force of which has only, in the end, been augmented, whether for good or for evil, by the combined strength of the multitudes who have partaken of the common impression. If, then, the original impulse has been good, the effect that results may be expected to be proportioned in its power and in its permanency to the strength of the incitement that has been employed in giving it operation--but if, on the other hand, the original impulse has been either positively mischievous-or partially wrong its dangerous effects will be but augmented and perpetuated by the vast power to which its operation has been communicated.
From these considerations then it seems plain,