Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

INTRODUCTION.

of these as marking its tendency; as, for instance, we might describe one period as having a tendency to despotism, and another to licentiousness : but the true answer lies deeper, and can be only given by discovering that common element in human nature which, in religion, in politics, in philosophy, and in literature, being modified by the subject matter of each, assumes in each a different form, so that its own proper nature is no longer to be recognised. Again, it would be an error to suppose that either of the two tendencies which so affect the course of human affairs were to be called simply bad or good. Each has its good and evil nicely intermingled ; and taking the highest good of each, it would be difficult to say which was the more excellent;—taking the last corruption of each, we could not determine which was the more hateful. For so far as we can trace back the manifold streams, flowing some from the eastern mountains, and some from the western, to the highest springs from which they rise, we find on the one side the ideas of truth and justice, on the other those of beauty and love :—things so exalted, and so inseparably united in the divine perfections, that to set either two above the

A

[ocr errors]

INTRODUCTION.

other were presumptuous and profane. Yet these most divine things separated from each other, and defiled in their passage through this lower world, do each assume a form in human nature of very great evil: the exclusive and corrupted love of truth and justice becomes in man selfish atheism; the exclusive and corrupted worship of beauty and love becomes in man a bloody and a lying idolatry.

Such would be the general theory of the two great currents in which human affairs may be said to have been successively drifting. But real history, even the history of all mankind, and much more that of any particular age or country, presents a picture far more complicated. First, as to time: as the vessels in a harbour, and in the open sea without it, may be seen swinging with the tide at the same moment in opposite directions; the ebb has begun in the roadstead, while it is not yet high water in the harbour ; so one or more nations may be in advance of or behind the general tendency of their age, and from either cause may be moving in the opposite direction. Again, the tendency or movement in itself is liable to frequent interruptions, and short counter-movements : even when the tide is

Cause

INTRODUCTION.

coming in upon the shore, every wave retires after its advance ; and he who follows incautiously the retreating waters, may be caught by some stronger billow, overwhelming again for an instant the spot which had just been left dry. A child standing by the sea shore for a few minutes, and watching this, as it seems, irregular advance and retreat of the water, could not tell whether it was ebb or flood : and we, standing for a few years on the shore of time, can scarcely tell whether the particular movement which we witness is according to or against the general tendency of the whole period. Farther yet, as these great tendencies are often interrupted, so are they continually mixed : that is, not only are their own good and bad elements successively predominant, but they never have the world wholly to themselves: the opposite tendency exists, in an under-current it may be, and not lightly perceptible ; but here and there it struggles to the surface, and mingles its own good and evil with the predominant good and evil of its antagonist. Wherefore he who would learn wisdom from the complex experience of history, must question closely all its phenomena, must notice that which is less obvious as well as that

[blocks in formation]

which is most palpable, must judge not peremptorily or sweepingly, but with reserves and exceptions; not as lightly overrunning a wide region of truth, but thankful if after much pains he has advanced his land-marks only a little ; if he has gained, as it were, but one or two frontier fortresses, in which he can establish himself for ever.

Now, then, when Mr. Newman describes the movement of the present moment as being directed towards “something better and deeper than satisfied the last century,” this description, although in some sense true, is yet in practice delusive; and the delusion which lurks in it is at the root of the errors of Mr. Newman and of his friends. They regard the tendencies of the last century as wholly evil, and they appear to extend this feeling to the whole period of which the last century was the close, and which began nearly with the sixteenth century. Viewing in this light the last three hundred years, they regard naturally with excessive favour the preceding period with which they are so strongly contrasted; and not the less because this period has been an object of scorn to the times which have followed it. They are drawn towards the

[blocks in formation]

enemy of their enemy, and they fancy that it must be in all points their enemy's opposite. And if the faults of its last decline are too palpable to be denied, they ascend to its middle and its earlier course, and finding that its evils are there less flagrant, they abandon themselves wholly to the contemplation of its good points, and end with making it an idol. There are few stranger and sadder sights than to see men judging of whole periods of the history of mankind with the blindness of party-spirit, never naming one century without expressions of contempt or abhorrence, never mentioning another but with extravagant and undistinguishing admiration.

But the worst was yet to come. The period which Mr. Newman and his friends so disliked, had, in its religious character, been distinguished by its professions of extreme veneration for the Scriptures : in its quarrel with the system of the preceding period it had rested all its cause on the authority of the Scripture,—it had condemned the older system because Scripture could give no warrant for it. On the other hand, the partizans of the older system protested against the exclusive appeal to Scripture;

« FöregåendeFortsätt »