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CHAPTER V.: objective difficulties. - Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology 
The Study of Sociology (London: Henry S. King, 1873).
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Along with much that has of late years been done towards changing primitive history into myth, and along with much that has been done towards changing once-unquestioned estimates of persons living in past ages, much has been said about the untrustworthiness of historical evidence. Hence there will be ready acceptance of the statement that one of the impediments to sociological generalization, is the uncertainty of our data. We find this uncertainty not alone in early stories, such as those about the Amazons, their practices, the particular battles with them, &c.; which are recorded and sculptured as circumstantially as they might be were the persons and events historic. We find it even in accounts of a well-known people like the New-Zealanders, who “by some...are said to be intelligent, cruel, and brave; by others weak, kindly, and cowardly.”1 And on remembering that between these extremes we have to deal with an enormous accumulation of conflicting statements, we cannot but feel that the task of selecting valid evidence is in this case a more arduous one than in any other case. Passing over remote illustrations, let us take an immediate one.
Last year advertisements announced the “Two-headed Nightingale,” and the walls of London were placarded with a figure in which one pair of shoulders was shown to bear two heads looking the same way (I do not refer to the later placards, which partially differed from the earlier). To some, this descriptive name and answering diagram seemed sufficiently exact; for in my hearing a lady, who had been to see this compound being, referred to the placards and handbills as giving a good representation. If we suppose this lady to have repeated in a letter that which I heard her say, and if we ask what would appear the character of the evidence to one who, some fifty years hence, had before him the advertisement, the representation, and the letter, we shall see that the alleged fact would be thought by him incontestable. Only if, after weary search through all the papers and periodicals of the time, he happened to come upon a certain number of the Lancet, would he discover that this combination was not that of two heads on one body, but that of two individuals united back to back, with heads facing opposite ways, and severally complete in all respects, except where the parts were so fused as to form a double pelvis, containing certain pelvic viscera common to the two. Seeing, then, that about facts so simple and so easily verifiable, where no obvious motive for misrepresentations exists, we cannot count on true representations, how shall we count on true representations of social facts, which, being so diffused and so complex, are so difficult to observe, and in respect to which the perceptions are so much perverted by interests, and prepossessions, and party-feelings?
In exemplifying this difficulty, I will limit myself to cases supplied by the life of our own time: leaving it to be inferred that if, in a comparatively calm and critical age, sociological evidence is vitiated by various influences, much more must there have been vitiation of such evidence in the past, when passions ran higher and credulity was greater.
Those who have lately become conscious of certain facts are apt to suppose those facts have lately arisen. After a changed state of mind has made us observant of occurrences we were before indifferent to, there often results the belief that such occurrences are more common than they were. It happens so even with accidents and diseases. Having lamed himself, a man is surprised to find how many lame people there are; and, becoming dyspeptic, he discovers that dyspepsia is much more frequent than he supposed when he was young. For a kindred reason he is prone to think that servants do not behave nearly so well as they did during his boyhood: not remembering that in Shakespeare’s day the service obtainable was similarly reprobated in comparison with “the constant service of the antique world.” In like manner, now that he has sons to establish in life, he fancies that the difficulty of getting places is much greater than it used to be.
As witnesses to social phenomena, men thus impressed by facts which did not before impress them, become perverters of evidence. Things they have suddenly recognized, they mistake for things that have suddenly come into existence; and so are led to regard as a growing evil or good, that which is very likely a diminishing evil or good. Take an example or two.
In generations not long passed away, sobriety was the exception rather than the rule: a man who had never been drunk was a rarity. Condiments were used to create thirst; glasses were so shaped that they would not stand, but must be held till emptied; and a man’s worth was in part measured by the number of bottles he could take in. After a reaction had already diminished the evil among the upper and middle ranks, there came an open recognition of the evil; resulting in Temperance Societies, which did their share towards further diminishing it. Then came the Teetotal Societies, more thorough-going in their views and more energetic in their acts, which have been making the evil still less. Such has been the effect of these causes, that for a long time past among the upper classes, the drinking which was once creditable has been thought a disgrace; while among the lower classes it has greatly decreased, and come to be generally reprobated. Those, however, who, carrying on the agitations against it, have had their eyes more and more widely opened to the vice, assert or imply in their speeches and petitions that the vice is not only great but growing. Having in the course of a generation much mitigated it by their voluntary efforts, they now make themselves believe, and make others believe, that it is too gigantic to be dealt with otherwise than by repressive enactments—Maine-Laws and Permissive-Prohibitory Bills. And, if we are to be guided by a Select Committee which has just reported, fines and imprisonments for drunkenness must be made far more severe than now, and reformatories must be established in which inebriates shall be dealt with much as criminals are dealt with.
Take, again, the case of education. Go back far enough, and you find nobles not only incapable of reading and writing, but treating these accomplishments with contempt. Go back not quite so far, and you find, along with a slight encouragement by authority of such learning as referred to Theology, a positive discouragement of all other learning;2 joined with the belief that only for the clergy is learning of any kind proper. Go back a much smaller distance, and you find in the highest classes inability to spell tolerably, joined with more or less of the feeling that good spelling was a pedantry improper for ladies—a feeling akin to that named by Shakespeare as shown by those who counted it “a meanness to write fair.” Down even to quite modern times, well-to-do farmers and others of their rank were by no means all of them able to read and write. Education, spreading thus slowly during so many centuries, has during the last century spread with comparative rapidity. Since Raikes commenced Sunday-schools in 1771; since Lancaster, the Quaker, in 1796 set up the first of the schools that afterwards went by his name; since 1811, when the Church had to cease its opposition and become a competitor in educating poor children; the strides have been enormous. A degree of ignorance which had continued the rule during so many centuries, was made, in the course of half a century, the exception. And then in 1834, after this unobtrusive but speedy diffusion of knowledge, there came, along with a growing consciousness of the still-remaining deficiency, the system of State-subsidies; which, beginning with £20,000, grew, in less than thirty years, to more than a million. Yet now, after this vast progress at an ever-increasing rate, there has come the outcry that the nation is perishing for lack of knowledge. Any one not knowing the past, and judging from the statements of those who have been urging on educational organizations, would suppose that strenuous efforts are imperative to save the people from some gulf of demoralization and crime into which ignorance is sweeping them.
How testimonies respecting objective facts are thus perverted by the subjective states of the witnesses, and how we have to be ever on our guard against this cause of vitiation in sociological evidence, may indeed be inferred from the illusions that daily mislead men in their comparisons of past with present. Returning after many years to the place of his boyhood, and finding how insignificant are the buildings he remembered as so imposing, every one discovers that in this case it was not that the past was so grand, but that his impressibility was so great and his power of criticism so small. He does not perceive, however, that the like holds generally; and that the apparent decline in various things is really due to the widening of his experiences and the growth of a judgment no longer so easily satisfied. Hence the mass of witnesses may be under the impression that there is going on a change just the reverse of that which is really going on; as we see, for example, in the notion current in every age, that the size and strength of the race have been decreasing, when, as proved by bones, by mummies, by armour, and by the experiences of travellers in contact with aboriginal races, they have been on the average increasing.
Most testimony, then, on which we have to form ideas of sociological states, past and present, has to be discounted to meet this cause of error; and the rate of discount has to be varied according to the epoch, and the subject, and the witness.
Beyond this vitiation of sociological evidence by general subjective states of the witnesses, there are vitiations due to more special subjective states. Of these, the first to be noted are of the class which foregone conclusions produce.
Extreme cases are furnished by fanatical agitators, such as members of the Anti-Tobacco Society; in the account of whose late meeting we read that “statistics of heart-disease, of insanity, of paralysis, and the diminished bulk and stature of the population of both sexes proved, according to the Report, that these diseases were attributable to the use of tobacco.” But without making much of instances so glaring as this, we may find abundant proof that evidence is in most cases unconsciously distorted by the pet theories of those who give it.
Early in the history of our sanitary legislation, a leading officer of health, wishing to show the need for those measures he advocated, drew a comparison between the rate of mortality in some salubrious village (in Cumberland, I think it was) and the rate of mortality in London; and then, pointing out the marked difference, alleged that this difference was due to “preventible causes”—to causes, that is, which good sanitary administration would exclude. Ignoring the fact that the carbonic acid exhaled by nearly three millions of people and by their fires, caused in the one case a vitiation of the air which in the other case did not exist—ignoring the fact that most city-occupations are of necessity indoor, and many of them sedentary, while the occupations of village life are out-of-door and active—ignoring the fact that in many of the Londoners the activities are cerebral in a degree beyond that to which the constitution of the race is adapted, while in the villagers the activities are bodily, in a degree appropriate to the constitution of the race; he set down the whole difference in the death-rate to causes of the kind which laws and officials might get rid of.
A still more marked example of this effect of a cherished hypothesis in vitiating evidence, was once unconsciously yielded to me by another enthusiast for sanitary regulation. Producing his papers, he pointed out the great contrast between the number of deaths per annum in the small town near London where he lived, and the number of deaths per annum in a low district of London—Bermondsey, or Lambeth, or some region on the Surrey side. On this great contrast he triumphantly dilated, as proving how much could be done by good drainage, ventilation, &c. On the one hand, he passed over the fact that his suburban place was, in large measure, inhabited by a picked population—people of means, well fed and clothed, able to secure all appliances for comfort, leading regular lives, free from over-work and anxiety. On the other hand, he passed over the fact that this low region of London was, by virtue of its lowness, one out of which all citizens pecuniarily able to take care of themselves escaped if they could, and into which were thrust great numbers whose poverty excluded them from better regions—the ill-fed, the drunken, the dissolute, and others on the highway to death. Though, in the first case, the healthiness of the locality obviously drew to it an excess of persons otherwise likely to live long; and though, in the second case, the unhealthiness of the locality made it one in which an excess of those not likely to live long were left to dwell, or hid themselves to die; yet the whole difference was put down to direct effects of pure air and impure air respectively.
Statements proceeding from witnesses whose judgments are thus warped—statements republished by careless sub-editors, and readily accepted by the uncritical who believe all they see in print, diffuse erroneous prepossessions; which, again, tend to justify themselves by drawing the attention to confirmatory facts and away from facts that are adverse. Throughout all past time vitiations of evidence by influences of this nature have been going on in degrees varying with each people and each age; and hence arises an additional obstacle to the obtainment of fit data.
Yet another, and perhaps stronger, distorting influence existing in the medium through which facts reach us, results from the self-seeking, pecuniary or other, of those who testify. We require constantly to bear in mind that personal interests affect most of the statements on which sociological conclusions are based, and on which legislation proceeds.
Everyone knows this to be so where the evidence concerns mercantile affairs. That railway-enterprise, at first prompted by pressing needs for communication, presently came to be prompted by speculators, professional and financial; and that the estimates of cost, of traffic, of profits, &c., set forth in prospectuses were grossly misleading; many readers have been taught by bitter experience. That the gains secured by schemers who float companies have fostered an organized system which has made falsification of data a business, and which, in the case of bubble Insurance Companies, has been worked so methodically that it has become the function of a journal to expose the frauds continually repeated, are also familiar facts: reminding us how, in these directions, it is needful to look very sceptically on the allegations put before us. But there is not so distinct a consciousness that in other than business-enterprises, self-seeking is an active cause of misrepresentation.
Like the getting-up of companies, the getting-up of agitations and of societies is, to a considerable extent, a means of advancement. As in the United States politics has become a profession, into which a man enters to get an income, so here there has grown up, though happily to a smaller extent, a professional philanthropy, pursued with a view to position, or to profit, or to both. Much as the young clergyman in want of a benefice, feeling deeply the spiritual destitution of a suburb that has grown beyond churches, busies himself in raising funds to build a church, and probably does not, during his canvass, understate the evils to be remedied; so every here and there an educated man with plenty of leisure and small income, greatly impressed with some social evil to be remedied or benefit to be achieved, makes himself the nucleus to an institution, or the spur to a movement. And since his success depends mainly on the strength of the case he makes out, it is not to be expected that the evils to be dealt with will be faintly pictured, or that he will insist very strongly upon facts adverse to his plan. As I can personally testify, there are those who, having been active in getting up schemes for alleged beneficial public ends, consider themselves aggrieved when not afterwards appointed salaried officials. The recent exposure of the “Free Dormitory Association,” which, as stated at a meeting of the Charity-Organization Society, was but one of a class, shows what this process may end in. And the vitiation of evidence is an inevitable concomitant. One whom I have known during his thirty years’ experience of Leagues, Alliances, Unions, &c., for various purposes, writes:—“Like religious bodies, they [Associations] form creeds, and every adherent is expected to cry up the shibboleth of his party.... All facts are distorted to the aid of their own views, and such as cannot be distorted are suppressed.” “In every association with which I have had any connection, this fraud has been practised.”
The like holds in political agitations. Unfortunately, agencies established to get remedies for crying evils, are liable to become agencies maintained and worked in a considerable degree, and sometimes chiefly, for the benefit of those who reap incomes from them. An amusing instance of this was furnished, not many years ago, to a Member of Parliament who took an active part in advocating a certain radical measure which had for some years been making way, and which then seemed not unlikely to be carried. Being a member of the Association that had pushed forward this measure, he happened to step into its offices just before a debate which was expected to end in a majority for the bill, and he found the secretary and his subs in a state of consternation at the prospect of their success: feeling, as they obviously did, that their occupation was in danger.
Clearly, then, where personal interests come into play, there must be, even in men intending to be truthful, a great readiness to see the facts which it is convenient to see, and such reluctance to see opposite facts as will prevent much activity in seeking for them. Hence, a large discount has mostly to be made from the evidence furnished by institutions and societies in justification of the policies they pursue or advocate. And since much of the evidence respecting both past and present social phenomena comes to us through agencies calculated thus to pervert it, there is here a further impediment to clear vision of facts.
That the reader may fully appreciate the difficulties which these distorting influences, when combined, put in the way of getting good materials for generalization, let him contemplate a case.
All who are acquainted with such matters know that up to some ten years since, it was habitually asserted by lecturers when addressing students, and by writers in medical journals, that in our day, syphilis is a far less serious evil than it was in days gone by. Until quite recently this was a commonplace statement, called in question by no one in the profession. But just as, while a decrease of drunkenness has been going on, Temperance-fanatics have raised an increasing outcry for strenuous measures to put down drunkenness; so, while venereal disease has been diminishing in frequency and severity, certain instrumentalities and agencies have created a belief that rigorous measures are required to check its progress. This incongruity would by itself be a sufficient proof of the extent to which, on the one side or the other, evidence must have been vitiated. What, then, shall we say of the incongruity on finding that the first of these statements has recently been repeated by many of the highest medical authorities, as one verified by their experience? Here are some of their testimonies.
The Chairman of the late Government Commission for inquiring into the treatment and prevention of syphilis, Mr. Skey, Consulting Surgeon to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, gave evidence before a House of Lords’ Committee. Referring to an article expressing the views of the Association for promoting the extension of the Contagious Diseases Acts, he said it was—
“largely overcharged,” and “coloured too highly.” “The disease is by no means so common or universal, I may say, as is represented in that article,...and I have had an opportunity since I had the summons to appear here to-day of communicating with several leading members in the profession at the College of Surgeons, and we are all of the same opinion, that the evil is not so large by any means as it is represented by the association.”
Mr. John Simon, F.R.S., for thirty-five years a hospital surgeon, and now Medical Officer to the Privy Council, writes in his official capacity—
“I have not the least disposition to deny that venereal affections constitute a real and great evil for the community; though I suspect that very exaggerated opinions are current as to their diffusion and malignity.”
By the late Prof. Syme it was asserted that—
“It is now fully ascertained that the poison of the present day (true syphilis) does not give rise to the dreadful consequences which have been mentioned, when treated without mercury.... None of the serious effects that used to be so much dreaded ever appear, and even the trivial ones just noticed comparatively seldom present themselves. We must, therefore, conclude either that the virulence of the poison is worn out, or that the effects formerly attributed to it depended on treatment.”3
The British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review, which stands far higher than any other medical journal, and is friendly to the Acts as applied to military and naval stations, writes thus:—
“The majority of those who have undergone the disease, thus far [including secondary manifestations] live as long as they could otherwise have expected to live, and die of diseases with which syphilis has no more to do than the man in the moon.”4 ...“Surely 455 persons suffering from true syphilis in one form or another, in a poor population of a million and a half [less than 1 in 3000...cannot be held to be a proportion so large as to call for exceptional action on the part of any Government.”5
Mr. Holmes Coote, F.R.C.S., Surgeon and Lecturer on Surgery at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, says—
“It is a lamentable truth that the troubles which respectable hard-working married women of the working class undergo are more trying to the health, and detrimental to the looks, than any of the irregularities of the harlot’s career.”
Again, it is stated by Mr. Byrne, Surgeon to the Dublin Lock Hospital, that “there is not nearly so much syphilis as there used to be;” and, after describing some of the serious results that were once common, he adds:—“You will not see such a case for years—a fact that no medical man can have failed to remark.” Mr. W. Burns Thompson, F.R.C.S., for ten years head of the Edinburgh Dispensary, testifies as follows:—
“I have had good opportunities of knowing the prevailing diseases, and I can only say that the representations given by the advocates of these Acts are to me perfectly unintelligible; they seem to me to be gross exaggerations.”
Mr. Surgeon-Major Wyatt, of the Coldstream Guards, when examined by the Lords’ Committee, stated that he quite concurred with Mr. Skey. Answering question 700, he said:—
“The class of syphilitic diseases which we see are of a very mild character; and, in fact, none of the ravages which used formerly to be committed on the appearance and aspect of the men are now to be seen.... It is an undoubted fact that in this country and in France the character of the disease is much diminished in intensity.—Question 708: I understand you to say, that in your opinion the venereal disease has generally, independent of the Act, become more mitigated, and of a milder type? Answer: Yes; that is the experience of all surgeons, both civil and military.”
Dr. Druitt, President of the Association of the Medical Officers of Health for London, affirmed at one of its meetings—
“that, speaking from thirty-nine years’ experience, he was in a position to say that cases of syphilis in London were rare among the middle and better classes, and soon got over.”
Even Mr. Acton, a specialist to whom more than to any other man the Acts are due, admitted before the Lords’ Committee that “the disease is milder than it was formerly.”
And then, most important of all, is the testimony of Mr. Jonathan Hutchinson, who is recognized as the highest authority on inherited syphilis, and to whose discoveries, indeed, the identifications of syphilitic taint are mainly due. Though thus under a natural bias rather to over-estimate than under-estimate the amount of inherited syphilis, Mr. Hutchinson, while editor of the British Medical Journal, wrote:—
“Although there is an impression to the contrary, yet recent discoveries and more accurate investigations, so far from extending the domain of syphilis as a cause of chronic disease, have decidedly tended to limit it....although we have admitted as positively syphilitic certain maladies of a definite kind not formerly recognized, we have excluded a far larger number which were once under suspicion.... We can identify now the subject of severe hereditary taint by his teeth and physiognomy; but those who believe most firmly in the value of these signs, believe also that they are not displayed by one in five thousand of our population.6
Like testimony is given by continental surgeons, among whom it was long ago said by Ambrose Paré, that the disease “is evidently becoming milder every day;” and by Auzias Turenne, that “it is on the wane all over Europe.” Astruc and Diday concur in this statement. And the latest authority on syphilis, Lancereaux, whose work is so highly valued that it has been translated by the Sydenham Society, asserts that:—
“In these cases, which are far from being rare, syphilis is but an abortive disease; slight and benignant, it does not leave behind any troublesome trace of its passage. It is impossible to lay too much stress upon this point. At the present day especially, when syphilis still inspires exaggerated fears, it should be known that this disease becomes dissipated completely in a great number of cases after the cessation of the cutaneous eruptions, and perhaps sometimes even with the primary lesion.”7
It will, perhaps, be remarked that these testimonies of medical men who, by their generally high position, or their lengthened experience, or their special experience, are so well qualified to judge, are selected testimonies; and against them will be set the testimonies of Sir James Paget, Sir W. Jenner, and Mr. Prescott Hewett, who regard the evil as a very grave one. Possibly there will be quoted in reply an authoritative State-document, which, referring to the views of the three gentlemen just named as having “the emphatic concurrence of numerous practitioners,” says that they “are hardly answered by a few isolated opinions that the evil has been exaggerated”—a somewhat inadequate description of the above-quoted testimonies, considering not only the general weight of the names, but also the weight of sundry of them as those of specialists. To gather accurately the consensus of medical opinion would be impracticable without polling the whole body of physicians and surgeons; but we have a means of judging which view most truly meets with “the emphatic concurrence of numerous practitioners”: that, namely, of taking a local group of medical men. Out of fifty-eight physicians and surgeons residing in Nottingham and its suburbs, fifty-four have put their signatures to a public statement that syphilis is “very much diminished in frequency, and so much milder in form that we can scarcely recognize it as the disease described by our forefathers.” And among these are the medical men occupying nearly all the official medical positions in the town—Senior Physician to the General Hospital, Honorary Surgeon ditto, Surgeons to the Jail, to the General Dispensary, to the Free Hospital, to the Union Hospital, to the Lock Hospital (four in number), Medical Officers to the Board of Health, to the Union, to the County Asylum, &c., &c. Even while I write there comes to me kindred evidence in the shape of a letter published in the British Medical Journal for 20th July, 1872, by Dr. Carter, Honorary Physician to the Liverpool Southern Hospital, who states that, after several debates at the Liverpool Medical Institution, “a form of petition strongly condemnatory of the Acts was written out by myself, and....in a few days one hundred and eight signatures [of medical men] were obtained.” Meanwhile, he adds, “earnest efforts were being made by a number of gentlemen to procure medical signatures to the petition in favour of the Acts known as the ‘London Memorial,’—efforts which resulted in twentynine signatures only.”
Yet notwithstanding this testimony, great in quantity and much of it of the highest quality, it has been possible so to present the evidence as to produce in the public mind, and in the Legislature, the impression that peremptory measures for dealing with a spreading pest are indispensable. As lately writes a Member of Parliament,—“We were assured, on what appeared unexceptionable testimony, that a terrible constitutional disease was undermining the health and vigour of the nation, and especially destroying innocent women and children.”
And then note the startling circumstance that while so erroneous a conception of the facts may be spread abroad, there may, by the consequent alarm, be produced a blindness to facts of the most unquestionable kind, established by the ever-accumulating experiences of successive generations. Until quite recently, our forms of judicial procedure embodied the principle that some overt injury must be committed before legal instrumentalities can be brought into play; and conformity to this principle was in past times gradually brought about by efforts to avoid the terrific evils that otherwise arose. As a Professor of Jurisprudence reminds us, “the object of the whole complicated system of checks and guards provided by English law, and secured by a long train of constitutional conflicts, has been to prevent an innocent man being even momentarily treated as a thief, a murderer, or other criminal, on the mere alleged or real suspicion of a policeman.” Yet now, in the state of groundless fright that has been got up, “the concern hitherto exhibited by the Legislature for the personal liberty of the meanest citizen has been needlessly and recklessly lost sight of.”8 It is an à priori inference from human nature that irresponsible power is sure, on the average of cases, to be grossly abused. The histories of all nations, through all times, teem with proofs that irresponsible power has been grossly abused. The growth of representative governments is the growth of arrangements made to prevent the gross abuse of irresponsible power. Each of our political struggles, ending in a further development of free institutions, has been made to put an end to some particular gross abuse of irresponsible power. Yet the facts thrust upon us by our daily experiences of men, verifying the experiences of the whole human race throughout the past, are now tacitly denied; and it is tacitly asserted that irresponsible power will not be grossly abused. And all because of a manufactured panic about a decreasing disease, which kills not one-fifteenth of the number killed by scarlet fever, and which takes ten years to destroy as many as diarrhœa destroys in one year.
See, then, what we have to guard against in collecting sociological data—even data concerning the present, and, still more, data concerning the past. For testimonies that come down to us respecting bygone social states, political, religious, judicial, physical, moral, &c., and respecting the actions of particular causes on those social states, have been liable to perversions not simply as great, but greater; since while the regard for truth was less, there was more readiness to accept unproved statements.
Even where deliberate measures are taken to obtain valid evidence on any political or social question raised, by summoning witnesses of all classes and interests, there is difficulty in getting at the truth; because the circumstances of the inquiry tend of themselves to bring into sight some kinds of evidence, and to keep out of sight other kinds. In illustration may be quoted the following statement of Lord Lincoln on making his motion concerning the enclosures of commons:—
“This I know, that in nineteen cases out of twenty, committees sitting in this House on private bills neglected the rights of the poor. I do not say that they wilfully neglected those rights—far from it; but this I affirm, that they were neglected in consequence of the committees being permitted to remain in ignorance of the rights of the poor man, because by reason of his very poverty he is unable to come up to London to fee counsel, to procure witnesses, and to urge his claims before a committee of this House.”—Hansard, 1 May, 1845.9
Many influences of a different order, but similarly tending to exclude particular classes of facts pertinent to an inquiry, come into play. Given a question at issue, and it will very probably happen that witnesses on the one side may, by evidence of a certain nature, endanger a system on which they depend for the whole or for part of their livelihood; and by evidence of an opposite nature may preserve it. By one kind of testimony they may offend their superiors and risk their promotion: doing the reverse by another kind. Moreover, witnesses not thus directly interested are liable to be indirectly swayed by the thought that to name certain facts they know will bring on them the ill-will of important persons in their locality—a serious consideration in a provincial town. And while such influences strongly tend to bring out evidence, say in support of some established organization, there may very possibly, and, indeed, very probably, be no organized adverse interest with abundant resources which busies itself to bring out a contrary class of facts—no occupation in danger, no promotion to be had, no applause to be gained, no odium to be escaped. The reverse may happen: there may be positive sacrifices serious in amount to be made before such contrary class of facts can be brought to light. And thus it may result that, perfectly open and fair as the inquiry seems, the circumstances will insure a one-sided representation.
A familiar optical illusion well illustrates the nature of these illusions which often deceive sociological inquirers. When standing by a lake-side in the moonlight, you see stretching over the rippled surface towards the moon, a bar of light which, as shown by its nearer part, consists of flashes from the sides of separate wavelets. You walk, and the bar of light seems to go with you. There are, even among the educated classes, many who suppose that this bar of light has an objective existence, and who believe that it really moves as the observer moves—occasionally, indeed, as I can testify, expressing surprise at the fact. But, apart from the observer there exists no such bar of light; nor when the observer moves is there any movement of this line of glittering wavelets. All over the dark part of the surface the undulations are just as bright with moonlight as those he sees; but the light reflected from them does not reach his eyes. Thus, though there seems to be a lighting of some wavelets and not of the rest, and though, as the observer moves, other wavelets seem to become lighted that were not lighted before, yet both these are utterly false seemings. The simple fact is, that his position in relation to certain wavelets brings into view their reflections of the moon’s light, while it keeps out of view the like reflections from all other wavelets.
Sociological evidence is largely vitiated by illusions thus caused. Habitually the relations of observers to the facts are such as make visible the special, and exceptional, and sensational, and leave invisible the common-place and uninteresting, which form the great body of the facts. And this, which is a general cause of deceptive appearances, is variously aided by those more special causes above indicated; which conspire to make the media through which the facts are seen, transparent in respect of some and opaque in respect of others.
Again, very serious perversions of evidence result from the unconscious confounding of observation with inference. Everywhere, a fertile source of error is the putting down as something perceived what is really a conclusion drawn from something perceived; and this is a more than usually fertile source of error in Sociology. Here is an instance.
A few years ago Dr. Stark published the results of comparisons he had made between the rates of mortality among the married and among the celibate: showing, as it seemed, the greater healthfulness of married life. Some criticisms made on his argument did not seriously shake it; and he has been since referred to as having conclusively proved the alleged relation. More recently I have seen quoted from the Medical Press and Circular, the following summary of results supposed to tell the same tale:—
“M. Bertillon has made a communication on this subject (‘The Influence of Marriage’) to the Brussels Academy of Medicine, which has been published in the Revue Scientifique. From 25 to 30 years of age the mortality per 1000 in France amounts to 6·2 in married men, 10·2 in bachelors, and 21·8 in widows. In Brussels the mortality of married women is 9 per 1000, girls the same, and widows as high as 16·9. In Belgium from 7 per 1000 among married men, the number rises to 8·5 in bachelors, and 24·6 in widows. The proportion is the same in Holland. From 8·2 in married men, it rises to 11·7 in bachelors, and 16·9 in widowers, or 12·8 among married women, 8·5 in spinsters, and 13·8 in widows. The result of all the calculations is that from 25 to 30 years of age the mortality per 1000 is 4 in married men, 10·4 in bachelors, and 22 in widows. This beneficial influence of marriage is manifested at all ages, being always more strongly marked in men than in women.”
will not dwell on the fallacy of the above conclusions as referring to the relative mortality of widows—a fallacy sufficiently obvious to any one who thinks awhile. I will confine myself to the less-conspicuous fallacy in the comparison between the mortalities of married and celibate, fallen into by M. Bertillon as well as by Dr. Stark. Clearly as their figures seem to furnish proof of some direct causal relation between marriage and longevity, they really furnish no proof whatever. There may be such a relation; but the evidence assigned forms no warrant for inferring it.
We have but to consider the circumstances which in many cases determine marriage, and those which in other cases prevent marriage, to see that the connexion which the figures apparently imply is not the real connexion. Where attachments exist what most frequently decides the question for or against marriage? The possession of adequate means. Though some improvidently marry without means, yet it is undeniable that in many instances marriage is delayed by the man, or forbidden by the parents, or not assented to by the woman, until there is reasonable evidence of ability to meet the responsibilities. Now of men whose marriages depend on getting the needful incomes, which are the most likely to get the needful incomes? The best, physically and mentally—the strong, the intellectually capable, the morally well-balanced. Often bodily vigour achieves a success, and therefore a revenue, which bodily weakness, unable to bear the stress of competition, cannot achieve. Often superior intelligence brings promotion and increase of salary, while stupidity lags behind in ill-paid posts. Often caution, self-control, and a far-seeing sacrifice of present to future, secure remunerative offices that are never given to the impulsive or the reckless. But what are the effects of bodily vigour, of intelligence, of prudence, on longevity; when compared with the effects of feebleness, of stupidity, of deficient self-control? Obviously, the first further the maintenance of life, and the second tend towards premature death. That is, the qualities which, on the average of cases, give a man an advantage in gaining the means of marrying, are the qualities which make him likely to be a long-liver; and conversely.
There is even a more direct relation of the same general nature. In all creatures of high type, it is only when individual growth and development are nearly complete, that the production of new individuals becomes possible; and the power of producing and bringing up new individuals, is measured by the amount of vital power in excess of that needful for self-maintenance. The reproductive instincts, and all their accompanying emotions, become dominant when the demands for individual evolution are diminishing, and there is arising a surplus of energy which makes possible the rearing of offspring as well as the preservation of self; and, speaking generally, these instincts and emotions are strong in proportion as this surplus vital energy is great. But to have a large surplus of vital energy implies a good organization—an organization likely to last long. So that, in fact, the superiority of physique which is accompanied by strength of the instincts and emotions causing marriage, is a superiority of physique also conducive to longevity.
One further influence tells in the same direction. Marriage is not altogether determined by the desires of men; it is determined in part by the preferences of women. Other things equal, women are attracted towards men of power—physical, emotional, intellectual; and obviously their freedom of choice leads them in many cases to refuse inferior samples of men: especially the malformed, the diseased, and those who are ill-developed, physically and mentally. So that, in so far as marriage is determined by female selection, the average result on men is that while the best easily get wives, a certain proportion of the worst are left without wives. This influence, therefore, joins in bringing into the ranks of married men those most likely to be long-lived, and keeping in bachelorhood those least likely to be long-lived.
In three ways, then, does that superiority of organization which conduces to long life, also conduce to marriage. It is normally accompanied by a predominance of the instincts and emotions prompting marriage; there goes along with it that power which can secure the means of making marriage practicable; and it increases the probability of success in courtship. The figures given afford no proof that marriage and longevity are cause and consequence; but they simply verify the inference which might be drawn à priori, that marriage and longevity are concomitant results of the same cause.
This striking instance of the way in which inference may be mistaken for fact, will serve as a warning against another of the dangers that await us in dealing with sociological data. Statistics having shown that married men live longer than single men, it seems an irresistible implication that married life is healthier than single life. And yet we see that the implication is not at all irresistible: though such a connexion may exist, it is not demonstrated by the evidence assigned. Judge, then, how difficult it must be, among social phenomena that have more entangled dependencies, to distinguish between the seeming relations and the real relations.
Once more, we are liable to be led away by superficial, trivial facts, from the deep-seated and really-important facts they indicate. Always the details of social life, the interesting events, the curious things which serve for gossip, will, if we allow them, hide from us the vital connexions and the vital actions underneath. Every social phenomenon results from an immense aggregate of general and special causes; and we may either take the phenomenon itself as intrinsically momentous, or may take it along with other phenomena, as indicating some inconspicuous truth of real significance. Let us contrast the two courses.
Some months ago a correspondent of the Times, writing from Calcutta, said:—
“The Calcutta University examinations of any year would supply curious material for reflection on the value of our educational systems. The prose test in the entrance examination this year includes Ivanhoe. Here are a few of the answers which I have picked up. The spelling is bad, but that I have not cared to give:—
“Question:—‘Dapper man?’ (Answer 1.) ‘Man of superfluous nowledge.’ (A. 2.) ‘Mad.’ (Q.) ‘Democrat?’ (A. 1.) ‘Petticoat Government.’ (A. 2.) ‘Witchcraft.’ (A. 3.) ‘Half turning of the horse.’ (Q.) ‘Babylonish jargon?’ (A. 1.) ‘A vessel made at Babylon.’ (A. 2.) ‘A kind of drink made at Jerusalem.’ (A. 3.) ‘A kind of coat worn by Babylonians.’ (Q.) ‘Lay brother?’ (A. 1.) ‘A bishop.’ (A. 2.) ‘A step-brother.’ (A. 3.) ‘A scholar of the same godfather.’ (Q.) ‘Sumpter mule?’ (A.) ‘A stubborn Jew.’ (Q.) ‘Bilious-looking fellow?’ (A. 1.) ‘A man of strict character.’ (A. 2.) ‘A person having a nose like the bill of an eagle.’ (Q.) ‘Cloister?’ (A.) ‘A kind of shell.’ (Q.) ‘Tavern politicians?’ (A. 1.) ‘Politicians in charge of the alehouse.’ (A. 2.) ‘Mere vulgars.’ (A. 3.) ‘Managers of the priestly church.’ (Q.) ‘A pair of cast-off galligaskins?’ (A.) ‘Two gallons of wine.’
The fact here drawn attention to as significant, is, that these Hindu youths, during their matriculation examination, betrayed so much ignorance of the meaning of words and expressions contained in an English work they had read. And the intended implication appears to be that they were proved unfit to begin their college careers. If, now, instead of accepting that which is presented to us, we look a little below it, that which may strike us is the amazing folly of an examiner who proposes to test the fitness of youths for commencing their higher education, by seeing how much they know of the technical terms, cantphrases, slang, and even extinct slang, talked by the people of another nation. Instead of the unfitness of the boys, which is pointed out to us, we may see rather the unfitness of those concerned in educating them.
If, again, not dwelling on the particular fact underlying the one offered to our notice, we consider it along with others of the same class, our attention is arrested by the general fact that examiners, and especially those appointed under recent systems of administration, habitually put questions of which a large proportion are utterly inappropriate. As I learn from his son, one of our judges not long since found himself unable to answer an examination-paper that had been laid before law-students. A well-known Greek scholar, editor of a Greek play, who was appointed examiner, found that the examination-paper set by his predecessor was too difficult for him. Mr. Froude, in his inaugural address at St. Andrews, describing a paper set by an examiner in English history, said, “I could myself have answered two questions out of a dozen.” And I learn from Mr. G. H. Lewes that he could not give replies to the questions on English literature which the Civil Service examiners had put to his son. Joining which testimonies with kindred ones coming from students and professors on all sides, we find the really-noteworthy thing to be that examiners, instead of setting questions fit for students, set questions which make manifest their own extensive learning. Especially if they are young, and have reputations to make or to justify, they seize the occasion for displaying their erudition, regardless of the interests of those they examine.
If we look through this more significant and general fact for the still deeper fact it grows out of, there arises before us the question—Who examines the examiners? How happens it that men competent in their special knowledge, but so incompetent in their general judgment, should occupy the places they do? This prevailing faultiness of the examiners shows conclusively that the administration is faulty at its centre. Somewhere or other, the power of ultimate decision is exercised by those who are unfit to exercise it. If the examiners of the examiners were set to fill up an examination-paper which had for its subject the right conduct of examinations, and the proper qualifications for examiners, there would come out very unsatisfactory answers.
Having seen through the small details and the wider facts down to these deeper facts, we may, on contemplating them, perceive that these, too, are not the deepest or most significant. It becomes clear that those having supreme authority suppose, as men in general do, that the sole essential thing for a teacher or examiner is complete knowledge of that which he has to teach, or respecting which he has to examine. Whereas a co-essential thing is a knowledge of Psychology; and especially that part of Psychology which deals with the evolution of the faculties. Unless, either by special study or by daily observation and quick insight, he has gained an approximately-true conception of how minds perceive, and reflect, and generalize, and by what processes their ideas grow from concrete to abstract, and from simple to complex, no one is competent to give lessons that will effectually teach, or to ask questions which will effectually measure the efficiency of teaching. Further, it becomes manifest that, in common with the public, those in authority assume that the goodness of education is to be tested by the quantity of knowledge acquired. Whereas it is to be much more truly tested by the capacity for using knowledge—by the extent to which the knowledge gained has been turned into faculty, so as to be available both for the purposes of life and for the purposes of independent investigation. Though there is a growing consciousness that a mass of unorganized information is, after all, of little value, and that there is more value in less information well-organized, yet the significant truth is that this consciousness has not got itself officially embodied; and that our educational administration is working, and will long continue to work, in pursuance of a crude and out-worn belief.
As here, then, so in other cases meeting us in the present and all through the past, we have to contend with the difficulty that the greater part of the evidence supplied to us as of chief interest and importance, is of value only for what it indicates. We have to resist the temptation to dwell on those trivialities which make up nine-tenths of our records and histories; and which are worthy of attention solely because of the things they indirectly imply or the things tacitly asserted along with them.
Beyond those vitiations of evidence due to random observations, to the subjective states of the observers, to their enthusiasms, or prepossessions, or self-interests—beyond those arising from the general tendency to set down as a fact observed what is really an inference from an observation, and also those arising from the general tendency to omit the dissection by which small surface results are traced to large interior causes; there come those vitiations of evidence consequent on its distribution in Space. Of whatever class, political, moral, religious, commercial, &c., may be the phenomena we have to consider, a society presents them in so diffused and multitudinous a way, and under such various relations to us, that the conceptions we can frame are at best extremely inadequate.
Consider how impossible it is truly to conceive so relatively-simple a thing as the territory which a society covers. Even by the aid of maps, geographical and geological, slowly elaborated by multitudes of surveyors—even by the aid of descriptions of towns, counties, mountainous and rural districts—even by the aid of such personal examinations as we have made here and there in journeys during life; we can reach nothing approaching to a true idea of the actual surface—arable, grass-covered, wooded; flat, undulating, rocky; drained by rills, brooks, and slow rivers; sprinkled with cottages, farms, villas, cities. Imagination simply rambles hither and thither, and fails utterly to frame an adequate thought of the whole. How then shall we frame an adequate thought of a diffused moral feeling, of an intellectual state, of a commercial activity, pervading this territory; unaided by maps, and aided only by the careless statements of careless observers? Respecting most of the phenomena, as displayed by a nation at large, only dim apprehensions are possible; and how untrustworthy they are, is shown by every parliamentary debate, by every day’s newspapers, and by every evening’s conversations; which severally disclose quite conflicting estimates.
See how various are the statements made respecting any nation in its character and actions by each traveller visiting it. There is a story, apt if not true, of a Frenchman who, having been three weeks here, proposed to write a book on England; who, after three months, found that he was not quite ready; and who, after three years, concluded that he knew nothing about it. And every one who looks back and compares his early impressions respecting states of things in his own society with the impressions he now has, will see how erroneous were the beliefs once so decided, and how probable it is that even his revised beliefs are but partially true. On remembering how wrong he was in his pre-conceptions of the people and the life in some unvisited part of the kingdom—on remembering how different from those he had imagined, were the characters he actually found in certain alien classes and along with certain alien creeds; he will see how greatly this wide diffusion of social facts impedes true appreciation of them.
Moreover, there are illusions consequent on what we may call moral perspective, which we do not habitually correct in thought, as we correct in perception the illusions of physical perspective. A small object close to, occupies a larger visual area than a mountain afar off; but here our well-organized experiences enable us instantly to rectify a false inference suggested by the subtended angles. No such prompt rectification for the perspective is made in sociological observations. A small event next door, producing a larger impression than a great event in another country, is over-estimated. Conclusions prematurely drawn from social experiences daily occurring around us, are difficult to displace by clear proofs that elsewhere wider social experiences point to opposite conclusions.
A further great difficulty to which we are thus introduced is, that the comparisons by which alone we can finally establish relations of cause and effect among social phenomena, can rarely be made between cases in all respects fit for comparison. Every society differs specifically, if not generically, from every other. Hence it is a peculiarity of the Social Science that parallels drawn between different societies, do not afford grounds for decided conclusions—will not, for instance, show us with certainty, what is an essential phenomenon in a given society and what is a non-essential one. Biology deals with numerous individuals of a species, and with many species of a genus, and by comparing them can see what traits are specifically constant and what generically constant; and the like holds more or less with the other concrete sciences. But comparisons between societies, among which we may almost say that each individual is a species by itself, yield much less definite results: the necessary characters are not thus readily distinguishable from the accidental characters.
So that even supposing we have perfectly-valid data for our sociological generalizations, there still lies before us the difficulty that these data are, in many cases, so multitudinous and diffused that we cannot adequately consolidate them into true conceptions; the additional difficulty that the moral perspective under which they are presented, can scarcely ever be so allowed for as to secure true ideas of proportions; and the further difficulty that comparisons of our vague and incorrect conceptions concerning one society with our kindred conceptions concerning another society, have always to be taken with the qualification that the comparisons are only partially justifiable, because the compared things are only partially alike in their other traits.
An objective difficulty, even greater still, which the Social Science presents, arises from the distribution of its facts in Time. Those who look on a society as either supernaturally created or created by Acts of Parliament, and who consequently consider successive stages of its existence as having no necessary dependence on one another, will not be deterred from drawing political conclusions from passing facts, by a consciousness of the slow genesis of social phenomena. But those who have risen to the belief that societies are evolved in structure and function, as in growth, will be made to hesitate on contemplating the long unfolding through which early causes work out late results.
Even true appreciation of the successive facts which an individual life presents, is generally hindered by inability to grasp the gradual processes by which ultimate effects are produced; as we may see in the foolish mother who, yielding to her perverse child, gains the immediate benefit of peace, and cannot foresee the evil of chronic dissension which her policy will hereafter bring about. And in the life of a nation, which, if of high type, lasts at least a hundred individual lives, correct estimation of results is still more hindered by this immense duration of the actions through which antecedents bring their consequents. In judging of political good and evil, the average legislator thinks much after the manner of the mother dealing with the spoiled child: if a course is productive of immediate benefit, that is considered sufficient justification. Quite recently an inquiry has been made into the results of an administration which had been in action some five years only, with the tacit assumption that supposing the results were proved good, the administration would be justified.
And yet to those who look into the records of the past not to revel in narratives of battles or to gloat over court-scandals, but to find how institutions and laws have arisen and how they have worked, there is no truth more obvious than that generation after generation must pass before the outcome of an action that has been set up can be seen. Take the example furnished us by our Poor Laws. When villeinage had passed away and serfs were no longer maintained by their owners—when, in the absence of any one to control and take care of serfs, there arose an increasing class of mendicants and “sturdy rogues, preferring robbery to labour”—when, in Richard the Second’s time, authority over such was given to justices and sheriffs, out of which there presently grew the binding of servants, labourers, and beggars, to their respective localities—when, to meet the case of beggars, “impotent to serve,” the people of the districts in which they were found, were made in some measure responsible for them (so re-introducing in a more general form the feudal arrangement of attachment to the soil, and reciprocal claim on the soil); it was not suspected that the foundations were laid for a system which would, in after times, bring about a demoralization threatening general ruin. When, in subsequent centuries, to meet the evils of again-increasing vagrancy which punishment failed to repress, these measures, re-enacted with modifications, ended in making the people of each parish chargeable with the maintenance of their poor, while it re-established the severest penalties on vagabondage, even to death without benefit of clergy, no one ever anticipated that while the penal elements of this legislation would by and by become so mollified as to have little practical effect in checking idleness, the accompanying arrangements would eventually take such forms as immensely to encourage idleness. Neither legislators nor others foresaw that in 230 years the poor’s-rate, having grown to seven millions, would become a public spoil of which we read that—
“The ignorant believed it an inexhaustible fund which belonged to them. To obtain their share the brutal bullied the administrators, the profligate exhibited their bastards which must be fed, the idle folded their arms and waited till they got it; ignorant boys and girls married upon it; poachers, thieves, and prostitutes, extorted it by intimidation; country justices lavished it for popularity, and guardians for convenience.... Better men sank down among the worse: the rate-paying cottager, after a vain struggle, went to the pay-table to seek relief; the modest girl might starve while her bolder neighbour received 1s. 6d. per week for every illegitimate child.”
As sequences of the law of Elizabeth, no one imagined that, in rural districts, farmers, becoming chief administrators, would pay part of their men’s wages out of the rates (so taxing the rest of the ratepayers for the cultivation of their fields); and that this abnormal relation of master and man would entail bad cultivation. No one imagined that, to escape poor’s-rates, landlords would avoid building cottages, and would even clear cottages away: so causing over-crowding, with consequent evils, bodily and mental. No one imagined that workhouses, so called, would become places for idling in; and places where married couples would display their “elective affinities” time after time.10 Yet these, and detrimental results which it would take pages to enumerate, culminating in that general result most detrimental of all—helping the worthless to multiply at the expense of the worthy—finally came out of measures taken ages ago merely to mitigate certain immediate evils.
Is it not obvious, then, that only in the course of those long periods required to mould national characters and habits and sentiments, will the truly-important results of a public policy show themselves? Let us consider the question a little further.
In a society living, growing, changing, every new factor becomes a permanent force; modifying more or less the direction of movement determined by the aggregate of forces. Never simple and direct, but, by the co-operation of so many causes, made irregular, involved, and always rhythmical, the course of social change cannot be judged of in its general direction by inspecting any small portion of it. Each action will inevitably be followed, after a while, by some direct or indirect reaction, and this again by a re-reaction; and until the successive effects have shown themselves, no one can say how the total motion will be modified. You must compare positions at great distances from one another in time, before you can perceive rightly whither things are tending. Even so simple a thing as a curve of single curvature cannot have its nature determined unless there is a considerable length of it. See here these four points close together. The curve passing through them may be a circle, an ellipse, a parabola, an hyperbola; or it may be a catenarian, a cycloid, a spiral. Let the points be further apart, and it becomes possible to form some opinion of the nature of the curve—it is obviously not a circle. Let them be more remote still, and it may be seen that it is neither an ellipse nor a parabola. And when the distances are relatively great, the mathematician can say with certainty what curve alone will pass through them all. Surely, then, in such complex and slowly-evolving movements as those of a nation’s life, all the smaller and greater rhythms of which fall within certain general directions, it is impossible that such general directions can be traced by looking at stages that are close together—it is impossible that the effect wrought on any general direction by some additional force, can be truly computed from observations extending over but a few years, or but a few generations.
For, in the case of these most-involved of all movements, there is the difficulty, paralleled in no other movements (being only approached in those of individual evolution), that each new factor, besides modifying in an immediate way the course of a movement, modifies it also in a remote way, by changing the amounts and directions of all other factors. A fresh influence brought into play on a society, not only affects its members directly in their acts, but also indirectly in their characters. Continuing to work on their characters generation after generation, and altering by inheritance the feelings which they bring into social life at large, this influence alters the intensities and bearings of all other influences throughout the society. By slowly initiating modifications of nature, it brings into play forces of many kinds, incalculable in their strengths and tendencies, that act without regard to the original influence, and may cause quite opposite effects.
Fully to exhibit this objective difficulty, and to show more clearly still how important it is to take as data for sociological conclusions, not the brief sequences, but the sequences that extend over centuries or are traceable throughout civilization, let us draw a lesson from a trait which all regulative agencies in all nations have displayed.
The original meaning of human sacrifices, otherwise tolerably clear, becomes quite clear on finding that where cannibalism is still rampant, and where the largest consumers of human flesh are the chiefs, these chiefs, undergoing apotheosis when they die, are believed thereafter to feed on the souls of the departed—the souls being regarded as duplicates equally material with the bodies they belong to. And should any doubt remain, it must be dissipated by the accounts we have of the ancient Mexicans, whose priests, when war had not lately furnished a victim, complained to the king that the god was hungry; and who, when a victim was sacrificed, offered his heart to the idol (bathing its lips with his blood, and even putting portions of the heart into his mouth), and then cooked and ate the rest of the body themselves. Here the fact to which attention is drawn, and which various civilizations show us, is that the sacrificing of prisoners or others, once a general usage among cannibal ancestry, continues as an ecclesiastical usage long after having died out in the ordinary life of a society. Two facts, closely allied with this fact, have like general implications. Cutting implements of stone remain in use for sacrificial purposes when implements of bronze, and even of iron, are used for all other purposes: the Hebrews are commanded in Deuteronomy to build altars of stone without using iron tools; the high priest of Jupiter at Rome was shaved with a bronze knife. Further, the primitive method of obtaining fire by the friction of pieces of wood, survives in religions ceremonies ages after its abandonment in the household; and even now, among the Hindus, the flame for the altar is kindled by the “fire drill.” These are striking instances of the pertinacity with which the oldest part of the regulative organization maintains its original traits in the teeth of influences that modify things around it.
The like holds in respect of the language, spoken and written, which it employs. Among the Egyptians the most ancient form of hieroglyphics was retained for sacred records, when more developed forms were adopted for other purposes. The continued use of Hebrew for religious services among the Jews, and the continued use of Latin for the Roman Catholic service, show us how strong this tendency is, apart from the particular creed. Among ourselves, too, a less dominant ecclesiasticism exhibits a kindred trait. The English of the Bible is of an older style than the English of the date at which the translation was made: and in the church service various words retain obsolete meanings, and others are pronounced in obsolete ways. Even the typography, with its illuminated letters of the rubric, shows traces of the same tendency; while Puseyites and ritualists, aiming to reinforce ecclesiasticism, betray a decided leaning towards archaic print, as well as archaic ornaments. In the æsthetic direction, indeed, their movement has brought back the most primitive type of sculpture for monumental purposes; as may be seen in Canterbury Cathedral, where, in two new monuments to ecclesiastics, one being Archbishop Sumner, the robed figures recline on their backs, with hands joined, after the manner of the mailed knights on early tombs-presenting complete symmetry of attitude, which is a distinctive trait of barbaric art, as shown by every child’s drawing of a man and every idol carved by a savage.
A conscious as well as an unconscious adhesion to the old in usage and doctrine is shown. Not only among Roman Catholics but among many Protestants, to ascertain what the Fathers said, is to ascertain what should be believed. In the pending controversy about the Athanasian Creed, we see how much authority attaches to an antique document. The antagonism between Convocation and the lay members of the Church—the one as a body wishing to retain the cursing clauses and the other to exclude them—further shows that official Protestantism adheres to antiquity much more than non-official Protestantism: a contrast equally displayed not long since between the opinions of the lay part and the clerical part of the Protestant Irish Church.
Throughout political organizations the like tendency, though less dominant, is very strong. The gradual establishment of law by the consolidation of custom, is the formation of something fixed in the midst of things that are changing; and, regarded under its most general aspect as the agency which maintains a permanent order, it is in the very nature of a State-organization to be relatively rigid. The way in which primitive principles and practices, no longer fully in force among individuals ruled, survive in the actions of ruling agents, is curiously illustrated by the long retention between nobles of a right of feud after it had been disallowed between citizens. Chief vassals, too, retained this power to secure justice for themselves after smaller vassals lost it: not only was a right of war with one another recognized, but also a right of defence against the king. And we see that even now, in the dealings between Governments, armed force to remedy injuries is still employed, as it originally was between all individuals. As bearing in the same direction, it is significant that the right of trial by battle, which was a regulated form of the aboriginal system under which men administered justice in their own cases, survived among the ruling classes when no longer legal among inferior classes. Even on behalf of religious communities judicial duels were fought. Here the thing it concerns us to note is that the system of fighting in person and fighting by deputy, when no longer otherwise lawful, was retained, actually or formally, in various parts of the regulative organization. Up to the reign of George III., trial by battle could be claimed as an alternative of trial by jury. Duels continued till quite recently between members of the ruling classes, and especially between officers; and even now in Continental armies duelling is not only recognized as proper, but is, in some cases, imperative. And then, showing most strikingly how these oldest usages survive longest, in connexion with the oldest part of the governing organization, we have had in the coronation ceremony, up to modern times, a champion in armour uttering by herald a challenge to all comers on behalf of the monarch.
If, from the agencies by which law is enforced, we pass to legal forms, language, documents, &c., the like tendency is everywhere conspicuous. Parchment is retained for law-deeds though paper has replaced it for other purposes. The form of writing is an old form. Latin and Norman-French terms are still in use for legal purposes, though not otherwise in use; and even old English words, such as “seize,” retain in law, meanings which they have lost in current speech. In the execution of documents, too, the same truth is illustrated; for the seal, which was originally the signature, continues, though the written signature now practically replaces it—nay, we retain a symbol of the symbol, as may be seen in every share-transfer, where there is a paper-wafer to represent the seal. Even still more antique usages survive in legal transactions; as in the form extant in Scotland of handing over a portion of rock when an estate is sold, which evidently answers to the ceremony among the ancient nations of sending earth and water as a sign of yielding territory.
From the working of State-departments, too, many kindred illustrations might be given. Even under the peremptory requirements of national safety, the flint-lock for muskets was but tardily replaced by the percussion-lock; and the rifle had been commonly in use for sporting purposes generations before it came into more than sparing use for military purposes. Book-keeping by double entry had long been permanently established in the mercantile world before it superseded book-keeping by single entry in Government offices: its adoption dating back only to 1834, when a still more antique system of keeping accounts by notches cut on sticks, was put an end to by the conflagration that resulted from the burning of the Exchequer-tallies.
The like holds with apparel, in general and in detail. Cocked hats are yet to be seen on the heads of officers. An extinct form of dress still holds its ground as the Court-dress; and the sword once habitually worn by gentlemen has become the dress-sword worn only on State-occasions. Everywhere officialism has its established uniforms, which may be traced back to old fashions that have disappeared from ordinary life. Some of these antique articles of costume we see surmounting the heads of judges; others there are which still hang round the necks of the clergy; and others which linger on the legs of bishops.
Thus, from the use of a flint-knife by the Jews for the religious ceremony of circumcision, down to the pronunciation of the terminal syllable of the præterite in our Church-service, down to the oyez shouted in a law-court to secure attention, down to the retention of epaulets for officers, and down to the Norman-French words in which the royal assent is given, this persistence is everywhere traceable. And when we find this persistence displayed through all ages in all departments of the regulative organization,—when we see it to be the natural accompaniment of the function of that organization, which is essentially restraining—when we estimate the future action of the organization in any case, by observing the general sweep of its curve throughout long periods of the past; we shall see how misleading may be the conclusions drawn from recent facts taken by themselves. Where the regulative organization is anywhere made to undertake additional functions, we shall not form sanguine anticipations on the strength of immediate results of the desired kind; but we shall suspect that after the phase of early activity has passed by, the plasticity of the new structure will rapidly diminish, the characteristic tendency towards rigidity will show itself, and in place of expansive effect there will come a restrictive effect.
The reader will now understand more clearly the meaning of the assertion that true conceptions of sociological changes are to be reached only by contemplating their slow genesis through centuries, and that basing inferences on results shown in short periods, is as illusory as would be judging of the Earth’s curvature by observing whether we are walking up or down hill. After recognizing which truth he will perceive how great is another of the obstacles in the way of the Social Science.
“But does not all this prove too much? If it is so difficult to get sociological evidence that is not vitiated by the subjective states of the witnesses, by their prejudices, enthusiams, interests, &c.—if where there is impartial examination, the conditions to the inquiry are of themselves so apt to falsify the result—if there is so general a proneness to assert as facts observed what were really inferences from observations, and so great a tendency also to be blinded by exterior trivialities to interior essentials—if even where accurate data are accessible, their multitudinousness and diffusion in Space make it impracticable clearly to grasp them as wholes, while their unfolding in Time is so slow that antecedents and consequents cannot be mentally represented in their true relations; is it not manifestly impossible that a Social Science can be framed?”
It must be admitted that the array of objective difficulties thus brought together is formidable; and were it the aim of the Social Science to draw quite special and definite conclusions, which must depend for their truth upon exact data accurately co-ordinated, it would obviously have to be abandoned. But there are certain classes of general facts which remain after all errors in detail, however produced, have been allowed for. Whatever conflicts there may be among accounts of events that occurred during feudal ages, comparison of them brings out the incontestable truth that there was a Feudal System. By their implications, chronicles and laws indicate the traits of this system; and on putting side by side narratives and documents written, not to tell us about the Feudal System but for quite other purposes, we get tolerably clear ideas of these traits in their essentials—ideas made clearer still on collating the evidence furnished by different contemporary societies. Similarly throughout. By making due use not so much of that which past and present witnesses intend to tell us, as of that which they tell us by implication, it is possible to collect data for inductions respecting social structures and functions in their origin and development: the obstacles which arise in the disentangling of such data in the case of any particular society, being mostly surmountable by the help of the comparative method.
Nevertheless, the difficulties above enumerated must be ever present to us. Throughout, we have to depend on testimony; and in every case we have to beware of the many modes in which evidence may be vitiated—have to estimate its worth when it has been discounted in various ways; and have to take care that our conclusions do not depend on any particular class of facts gathered from any particular place or time.
[1.]Thomson’s New Zealand, vol. i. p. 80.
[2.]Hallam’s Middle Ages, ch. ix., part ii.
[3.]Principles of Surgery. 5th ed. p. 434.
[4.]British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review, January, 1870, p. 103.
[5.]Ibid. p. 106.
[6.]British Medical Journal, August 20th, 1870. I took the precaution of calling on Mr. Hutchinson to verify the extract given, and to learn from him what he meant by “severe.” I found that he meant simply recognizable. He described to me the mode in which he had made his estimate; and it was clearly a mode which tended rather towards exaggeration of the evil than otherwise. I also learned from him that in the great mass of cases those who have recognizable syphilitic taint pass lives that are but little impaired by it.
[7.]A Treatise on Syphilis, by Dr. E. Lancereaux. Vol. ii. p. 120. This testimony I quote from the work itself, and have similarly taken from the original sources the statements of Skey, Simon, Wyatt, Acton, as well as the British and Foreign Medico-Chirurgical Review and British Medical Journal. The rest, with various others, will be found in the pamphlet of Dr. C. B. Taylor on The Contagious Diseases Acts.
[8.]Professor Sheldon Amos. See also his late important work, ASystematic View of the Science of Jurisprudence, pp. 119, 303, 512, and 514.
[9.]Quoted by Nasse, The Agricultural Community of the Middle Ages, &c., English translation, p. 94.
[10.]In one case, “out of thirty married couples, there was not one man then living with his own wife, and some of them had exchanged wives two or three times since their entrance.” This, along with various kindred illustrations, will be found in tracts on the Poor-Law, by a late uncle of mine, the Rev. Thomas Spencer, of Hinton Charterhouse, who was chairman of the Bath Union during its first six years.