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And, in the first place, there is obviously a tendency in many minds at the present moment--and especially in minds disposed to general and extensive speculation—to indulge the belief that human affairs in general are about to undergo a great and universal alteration-or, at least, that the whole existing system of modern Europe is about to be dissolved and one of those radical alterations on the eve of being produced--in government–in religion-in manners--and in morals---of which the world indeed, during its past history, has had but few examples--but which have yet occurred in some rare instances during its past progress. This belief will accordingly be found to be distinctly expressed, and forcibly stated in many of the publications which have recently issued from the press -although the expectation has assumed very different and opposite aspects and is sometimes exhibited as a conviction on the part of those who entertain it, that the last and best state of human society is about to be realized, and in other instances, that the whole civilized world is about to be thrown into inextricable confusion-and that a long period of darkness and disorder is about to characterize the history of our race.
Now it is probable, in the first place, and on the most general consideration of the subject, that
this is but one of those vague exercises of fancy which the human mind is at all times, when great changes are in prospect, disposed to indulge—and which assumes its character, either of hope or of despair, according to the particular temperament of the minds that entertain it, and the peculiar view which they happen to have taken of the events that are in progress—and like all such general and vague fancies, may at once be dismissed as inapplicable to the actual interests that are proceeding in life.
Or, if we choose still to subject it to a more particular refutation, it may be argued, that although there are unquestionably causes at present in operation, which, even to the calmest and most philosophic minds, indicate a state of the world about to be evolved, more enlightened and intimately connected in all its parts, than any which has existed during the previous periods of its history--such as the facilities given to mutual intercourse by the improvements in navigation, and the tendency to a universal participation of all the lights of knowledge, by means of the press and of all the other instruments which are employed in raising the intellectual condition of the great mass of mankind-still it must be kept in mind, that the whole of these causes, are, in their natural and
just operation, of a quiet and gradual and progressive kind—and that, instead of entitling us to look for sudden and thorough alterations, they only justify the expectation, that, during the long coming ages of the existence of mankind, knowledge will be vastly increased and extended-and that a far more intimate union may yet be expected among the different nations of the earth, than, without the aids of these instruments, we could have been justified in anticipating.
Nor is it even true, that there is anything in the present circumstances of Europe---pervaded though it be by a general desire for the substitution of constitutional instead of arbitrary governments, and characterized, as a great proportion of its population unquestionably is, by modes of thought on all the most important subjects of human research, different from those which previously prevailedthat ought to justify us in either expecting or wishing for such a general and radical change as that to which we are at present alluding. For the wisest spirits of the age are satisfied that these new modes of thought, so far as they are truly improvements, may be grafted with perfect propriety on the existing systems, and applied to the melioration, rather than to the destruction of the institutions that are at present in operation--and that indeed
one of the wildest as well as most unphilosophical of all the fancies that can find a place in the minds of men, is that which would lead them to believe or to hope that one vast upturning of the whole system of Europe---in its policy,—its religious faith---its peculiar manners---and its prevailing institutions, is about to take place ---or that there are not causes which, however the work of destruction might proceed to a certain extent, would assuredly interrupt its progress-and force even the wildest spirits to perceive, that on the magnificent foundation which has already been laid, the edifice of social life might rise with far better effect-and with proportions far better suited to the advanced taste of the world---than on any entirely new ground which might be excavated, but the use of which would presuppose a catastrophe, involving the destruction of whatever has hitherto existed, more universal and frightful than the world has ever yet seen-or than we have any reason to believe is destined, at any period of its history, ever to take place.
2. But, in the second place, setting aside the idea of such a universal change as we have been alluding to, as something which is neither to be wished for nor expected--it is curious to observe how different is often the character which tem
porary changes in human affairs assume from any that we had previously been disposed to expector that seem justified by the course in which human life and experience had hitherto been proceeding.
Thus the tendency of human speculation and human knowledge during recent times, has been to give to all human ideas simpler--more applicable—and more natural forms to lessen the reverence of mankind for mere abstractions or dogmas in opinion-or for mere forms and technicalities in institutions and to lead them to seek for opinions and modes of life, more suited to the actual exigencies of their nature—and better adapted to sweeten and to improve all their intercourse with each other.
That this has been the actual progress of human knowledge during the last two centuries, does not admit of question—and what we should have expected, therefore, as the result of this progress, was the application of the same tendency to the political and religious systems of the age—and the consequent production of institutions in society, and of modes of belief, less encumbered with the rubbish of former times-and better fitted to give freedom, and energy, and a healthy and cheerful character to all the habits of life and to all the domestic