Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER IX.: the bias of patriotism. - The Study of Sociology
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAPTER IX.: the bias of patriotism. - Herbert Spencer, The Study of Sociology 
The Study of Sociology (London: Henry S. King, 1873).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
the bias of patriotism.
“Our country, right or wrong,” is a sentiment not unfrequently expressed on the other side of the Atlantic; and, if I remember rightly, an equivalent sentiment was some years ago uttered in our own House of Commons, by one who rejoices, or at least who once rejoiced, in the title of philosophical Radical.
Whoever entertains such a sentiment has not that equilibrium of feeling required for dealing scientifically with social phenomena. To see how things stand, apart from personal and national interests, is essential before there can be reached those balanced judgments respecting the course of human affairs in general, which constitute Sociology. To be convinced of this, it needs but to take a case remote from our own. Ask how the members of an aboriginal tribe regard that tide of civilization which sweeps them away. Ask what the North-American Indians said about the spread of the white man over their territories, or what the ancient Britons thought of the invasions which dispossessed them of England; and it becomes clear that events which, looked at from an un-national point of view, were steps towards a higher life, seemed from a national point of view entirely evil. Admitting the truth so easily perceived in these cases, we must admit that only in proportion as we emancipate ourselves from the bias of patriotism, and consider our own society as one among many, having their histories and their futures, and some of them, perhaps, having better claims than we have to the inheritance of the Earth—only in proportion as we do this, shall we recognize those sociological truths which have nothing to do with particular nations or particular races.
So to emancipate ourselves is extremely difficult. It is with patriotism as we lately saw it to be with the sentiment causing political subordination: the very existence of a society implies predominance of it. The two sentiments join in producing that social cohesion without which there cannot be co-operation and organization. A nationality is made possible only by the feeling which the units have for the whole they form. Indeed, we may say that the feeling has been gradually increased by the continual destroying of types of men whose attachments to their societies were relatively small; and who were therefore incapable of making adequate sacrifices on behalf of their societies. Here, again, we are reminded that the citizen, by his incorporation in a body politic, is in a great degree coerced into such sentiments and beliefs as further its preservation: unless this is the average result the body politic will not be preserved. Hence another obstacle in the way of Social Science. We have to allow for the aberrations of judgment caused by the sentiment of patriotism.
Patriotism is nationally that which egoism is individually—has, in fact, the same root; and along with kindred benefits brings kindred evils. Estimation of one’s society is a reflex of self-estimation; and assertion of one’s society’s claims is an indirect assertion of one’s own claims as a part of it. The pride a citizen feels in a national achievement, is the pride in belonging to a nation capable of that achievement: the belonging to such a nation having the tacit implication that in himself there exists the superiority of nature displayed. And the anger aroused in him by an aggression on his nation, is an anger against something which threatens to injure him also, by injuring his nation.
As, lately, we saw that a duly-adjusted egoism is essential; so now, we may see that a duly-adjusted patriotism is essential. Self-regard in excess produces two classes of evils: by prompting undue assertion of personal claims it breeds aggression and antagonism; and by creating undue estimation of personal powers it excites futile efforts that end in catastrophes. Deficient self-regard produces two opposite classes of evils: by not asserting personal claims, it invites aggression, so fostering selfishness in others; and by not adequately valuing personal powers it causes a falling short of attainable benefits. Similarly with patriotism. From too much, there result national aggressiveness and national vanity. Along with too little, there goes an insufficient tendency to maintain national claims, leading to trespasses by other nations; and there goes an undervaluing of national capacities and institutions, which is discouraging to effort and progress.
The effects of patriotic feeling which here concern us, are those it works on belief rather than those it works on conduct. As disproportionate egoism, by distorting a man’s conceptions of self and of others, vitiates his conclusions respecting human nature and human actions; so, disproportionate patriotism, by distorting his conceptions of his own society and of other societies, vitiates his conclusions respecting the natures and actions of societies. And from the opposite extremes there result opposite distortions: which, however, are comparatively infrequent and much less detrimental.
Here we come upon one of the many ways in which the corporate conscience proves itself less developed than the individual conscience. For while excess of egoism is everywhere regarded as a fault, excess of patriotism is nowhere regarded as a fault. A man who recognizes his own errors of conduct and his own deficiencies of faculty, shows a trait of character considered praiseworthy; but to admit that our doings towards other nations have been wrong is reprobated as unpatriotic. Defending the acts of another people with whom we have a difference, seems to most citizens something like treason; and they use offensive comparisons concerning birds and their nests, by way of condemning those who ascribe misconduct to our own people rather than to the people with whom we are at variance. Not only do they exhibit the unchecked sway of this reflex egoism which constitutes patriotism—not only are they unconscious that there is anything blameworthy in giving the rein to this feeling; but they think the blameworthiness is in those who restrain it, and try to see what may be said on both sides. Judge, then, how seriously the patriotic bias, thus perverting our judgments about international actions, necessarily perverts our judgments about the characters of other societies, and so vitiates sociological conclusions.
We have to guard ourselves against this bias. To this end let us take some examples of the errors attributable to it.
What mistaken estimates of other races may result from over-estimation of one’s own race, will be most vividly shown by a case in which we are ourselves valued at a very low rate by a race we hold to be far inferior. Here is such a case supplied by a tribe of negroes:—
“They amused themselves by remarking on the sly, ‘The white man is an old ape.’ The African will say of the European, ‘He looks like folks,’ [men], and the answer will often be, ‘No, he don’t.... Whilst the Caucasian doubts the humanity of the Hamite, the latter repays the compliment in kind.”1
Does anyone think this instance so far out of the ordinary track of error as to have no instruction for us? To see the contrary he has but to look at the caricatures of Frenchmen that were common a generation ago, or to remember the popular statement then current respecting the relative strengths of French and English. Such reminders will convince him that the reflex self-esteem we call patriotism, has had, among ourselves, perverting effects sufficiently striking. And even now there are kindred opinions which the facts, when examined, do not bear out: instance the opinion respecting personal beauty. That the bias thus causing misjudgments in cases where it is checked by direct perception, causes greater misjudgments where direct perception cannot check it, needs no proof. How great are the mistakes it generates, all histories of international struggles show us, both by the contradictory estimates the two sides form of their respective leaders and by the contradictory estimates the two sides form of their deeds. Take an example:—
“Of the character in which Wallace first became formidable, the accounts in literature are distractingly conflicting. With the chroniclers of his own country, who write after the War of Independence, he is raised to the highest pinnacle of magnanimity and heroism. To the English contemporary chroniclers he is a pestilent ruffian; a disturber of the peace of society; an outrager of all laws and social duties; finally, a robber—the head of one of many bands of robbers and marauders then infesting Scotland.”2
That, along with such opposite distortions of belief about conspicuous persons, there go opposite distortions of belief about the conduct of the peoples they belong to, the accounts of every war demonstrate. Like the one-sidedness shown within our own society by the remembrance among Protestants of Roman Catholic cruelties only, and by the remembrance among Roman Catholics of Protestant cruelties only, is the one-sidedness shown in the traditions preserved by each nation concerning the barbarities of nations it has fought with. As in old times the Normans, vindictive themselves, were shocked at the vindictiveness of the English when driven to bay; so in recent times the French have enlarged on the atrocities committed by Spanish guerillas, and the Russians on the atrocities the Circassians perpetrated. In this conflict between the views of those who commit savage acts, and the views of those on whom they are committed, we clearly perceive the bias of patriotism where both sides are aliens; but we fail to perceive it where we are ourselves concerned as actors. Every one old enough remembers the reprobation vented here when the French in Algiers dealt so cruelly with Arabs who refused to submit—lighting fires at the mouths of caves in which they had taken refuge; but we do not see a like barbarity in deeds of our own in India, such as the executing a group of rebel sepoys by fusillade, and then setting fire to the heap of them because they were not all dead,3 or in the wholesale shootings and burnings of houses, after the suppression of the Jamaica insurrection. Listen to what is said about such deeds in our own colonies, and you find that habitually they are held to have been justified by the necessities of the case. Listen to what is said about such deeds when other nations are guilty of them, and you find the same persons indignantly declare that no alleged necessities could form a justification. Nay, the bias produces perversions of judgment even more extreme. Feelings and deeds we laud as virtuous when they are not in antagonism with our own interests and power, we think vicious feelings and deeds when our own interests and power are endangered by them. Equally in the mythical story of Tell and in any account not mythical, we read with glowing admiration of the successful rising of an oppressed race; but admiration is changed into indignation if the race is one held down by ourselves. We can see nothing save crime in the endeavour of the Hindus to throw off our yoke; and we recognize no excuse for the efforts of the Irish to establish their independent nationality. We entirely ignore the fact that the motives are in all such cases the same, and are to be judged apart from results.
A bias which thus vitiates even the perceptions of physical appearances, which immensely distorts the beliefs about conspicuous antagonists and their deeds, which leads us to reprobate when others commit them, severities and cruelties we applaud when committed by our own agents, and which makes us regard acts of intrinsically the same kind as wrong or right according as they are or are not directed against ourselves, is a bias which inevitably perverts our sociological ideas. The institutions of a despised people cannot be judged with fairness; and if, as often happens, the contempt is unwarranted, or but partially warranted, such value as their institutions have will certainly be under estimated. When antagonism has bred hatred towards another nation, and has consequently bred a desire to justify the hatred by ascribing hateful characters to members of that nation, it inevitably happens that the political arrangements under which they live, the religion they profess, and the habits peculiar to them, become associated in thought with these hateful characters—become themselves hateful, and cannot therefore have their natures studied with the calmness required by science.
An example will make this clear. The reflex egoism we name patriotism, causing among other things a high valuation of the religious creed nationally professed, makes us overrate the effects this creed has produced, and makes us underrate the effects produced by other creeds and by influences of other orders. The notions respecting savage and civilized races, in which we are brought up, show this.
The word savage, originally meaning wild or uncultivated, has come to mean cruel and blood-thirsty, because of the representations habitually made that wild or uncultivated tribes of men are cruel and blood-thirsty. And ferocity being now always thought of as a constant attribute of uncivilized races, which are also distinguished by not having our religion, it is tacitly assumed that the absence of our religion is the cause of this ferocity. But if, struggling successfully against the bias of patriotism, we correct the evidence which that bias has garbled, we find ourselves obliged to modify this assumption.
When, for instance, we read Cook’s account of the Tahitians, as first visited by him, we are surprised to meet with some traits among them, higher than those of their civilized visitors. Though pilfering was committed by them, it was not so serious as that of which the sailors were guilty in stealing the iron bolts out of their own ship to pay the native women. And when, after Cook had enacted a penalty for theft, the natives complained of one of his own crew—when this sailor, convicted of the offence he was charged with, was condemned to be whipped, the natives tried to get him off, and failing to do this, shed tears on seeing preparations for the punishment. If, again, we compare critically the accounts of Cook’s death, we see clearly that the Sandwich Islanders behaved amicably until they had been ill-used, and had reason to fear further ill-usage. The experiences of many other travellers similarly show us that friendly conduct on the part of uncivilized races when first visited, is very general; and that their subsequent unfriendly conduct, when it occurs, is nothing but retaliation for injuries received from the civilized. Such fact as that the natives of Queen Charlotte’s Island did not attack Captain Carteret’s party till after they had received just cause of offence,4 may be taken as typical of the histories of transactions between wild races and cultivated races. When we inquire into the case of the missionary Williams, “the Martyr of Erromanga,” we discover that his murder, dilated upon as proving the wickedness of unreclaimed natures, was a revenge for injuries previously suffered from wicked Europeans. Read a few testimonies about the relative behaviours of civilized and uncivilized:—
“After we had killed a man at the Marquesas, grievously wounded one at Easter Island, hooked a third with a boat-hook at Tonga-tabu, wounded one at Namocka, another at Mallicollo, and killed another at Tanna; the several inhabitants behaved in a civil and harmless manner to us, though they might have taken ample revenge by cutting off our straggling parties.5
Excepting at Cafta, where I was for a time supposed to come with hostile intent, I was treated inhospitably by no one during all my travels, excepting by Europeans, who had nothing against me but my apparent poverty.6
In February, 1812, the people of Winnebah [Gold Coast] seized their commandant, Mr. Meredith, and so maltreated him that he died. The town and fort were destroyed by the English. For many years afterwards, English vessels passing Winnebah were in the habit of pouring a broadside into the town, to inspire the natives with an idea of the severe vengeance which would be exacted for the spilling of European blood.”7
Or, instead of these separate testimonies, take the opinion of one who collected many testimonies. Referring to the kind treatment experienced by Enciso from the natives of Cartagena (on the coast of New Granada), who a few years before had been cruelly treated by the Spaniards, Washington Irving says:—
“When we recall the bloody and indiscriminate vengeance wreaked upon this people by Ojida and his followers for their justifiable resistance of invasion, and compare it with their placable and considerate spirit when an opportunity for revenge presented itself, we confess we feel a momentary doubt whether the arbitrary appellation of savage is always applied to the right party.”8
The reasonableness of this doubt will scarcely be questioned, after reading of the diabolical cruelties committed by the invading Europeans in America; as, for instance, in St. Domingo, where the French made the natives kneel in rows along the edge of a deep trench and shot them batch after batch, until the trench was full, or, as an easier method, tied numbers of them together, took them out to sea, and tumbled them overboard; and where the Spaniards treated so horribly the enslaved natives, that these killed themselves wholesale: the various modes of suicide being shown in Spanish drawings.
Does the Englishman say that these, and hosts of like demoniacal misdeeds, are the misdeeds of other civilized races in other times; and that they are attributable to that corrupted religion which he repudiates? If so, he may be reminded that sundry of the above facts are facts against ourselves. He may be reminded, too, that the purer religion he professes has not prevented a kindred treatment of the North American Indians by our own race. And he may be put to the blush by accounts of barbarities going on in our own colonies at the present time. Without detailing these, however, it will suffice to recall the most recent notorious case—that of the kidnappings and murders in the South Seas. Here we find repeated the typical transactions:—betrayals of many natives and merciless sacrifices of their lives; eventual retaliation by the natives to a small extent; a consequent charge against the natives of atrocious murder; and finally, a massacre of them, innocent and guilty together.
See, then, how the bias of patriotism indirectly produces erroneous views of the effects of an institution. Blinded by national self-love to the badness of our conduct towards inferior races, while remembering what there is of good in our conduct; forgetting how well these inferior races have usually behaved to us, and remembering only their misbehaviour, which we refrain from tracing to its cause in our own transgressions; we overvalue our own natures as compared with theirs. And then, looking at the two as respectively Christian and Heathen, we over-rate the good done by Christian institutions (which has doubtless been great), and we under-rate the advance that has been made without them. We do this habitually in other cases. As, for instance, when we ignore evidence furnished by the history of Buddhism; respecting the founder of which Canon Liddon lately told his hearers that “it might be impossible for honest Christians to think over the career of this heathen Prince without some keen feelings of humiliation and shame.”9 And ignoring all such evidence, we get one-sided impressions. Thus our sociological conceptions are distorted—do not correspond with the facts; that is, are unscientific.
To illustrate some among the many effects wrought by the bias of patriotism in other nations, and to show how mischievous are the beliefs it fosters, I may here cite evidence furnished by France and by Germany.
Contemplate that undue self-estimation which the French have shown us. Observe what has resulted from that exceeding faith in French power which the writings of M. Thiers did so much to maintain and increase. When we remember how, by causing under-valuation of other nations, it led to a disregard of their ideas and an ignorance of their doings—when we remember how, in the late war, the French, confident of victory, had maps of German territory but not of their own, and suffered catastrophes from this and other kinds of unpreparedness; we see what fatal evils this reflex self-esteem may produce when in excess. So, too, on studying the way in which it has influenced French thought in other directions. On reading the assertion, “La chimie est une science française,” with which Wurtz commences his Histoire des Doctrines Chimiques, one cannot but see that the feeling which prompted such an assertion must vitiate the comparisons made between things in France and things elsewhere. Looking at Crimean battle-pieces, in which French soldiers are shown to have achieved everything—looking at a picture like Ingres’ “Crowning of Homer,” and noting French poets conspicuous in the foreground, while the figure of Shakspeare in one corner is half in and half out of the picture—reading the names of great men of all nations inscribed on the string-course running round the Palais de l’Industrie, and finding many unfamiliar French names, while (strange oversight, as we must suppose) the name of Newton is conspicuous by its absence; we see exemplified a national sentiment which, generating the belief that things not French deserve little attention, acts injuriously on French thought and French progress. From Victor Hugo’s magniloquent description of France as the “Saviour of Nations,” down to the declamations of those who urged that were Paris destroyed the light of civilization would be extinguished, we see throughout, the conviction that France is the teacher, and by implication needs not to be a learner. The diffusion of French ideas is an essential thing for other nations; while the absorption of ideas from other nations is not an essential thing for France: the truth being, rather, that French ideas, more than most other ideas, stand in need of foreign influence to qualify the undue definiteness and dogmatic character they habitually display. That such a tone of feeling, and the mode of thinking appropriate to it, should vitiate sociological speculation, is a matter of course. If there needs proof, we have a conspicuous one in the writings of M. Comte; where excessive self-estimation under its direct form, and under that reflex form constituting patriotism, has led to astounding sociological misconceptions. If we contemplate that scheme of Positivist reorganization and federation in which France was, of course, to be the leader—if we note the fact that M. Comte expected the transformation he so rigorously formulated to take place during the life of his own generation; and if, then, we remember what has since happened, and consider what are the probabilities of the future, we shall not fail to see that great perversions are produced by this bias in the conceptions of social phenomena.
How national self-esteem, exalted by success in war, warps opinions about public affairs, is again shown of late in Germany. As a German professor writes to me:—“there is, alas, no want of signs” that the “happy contrast to French self-sufficiency” which Germany heretofore displayed, is disappearing “since the glory of the late victories.” The German liberals, he says, “overflow with talk of Germanism, German unity, the German nation, the German empire, the German army and the German navy, the German church, and German science.... They ridicule Frenchmen, and what animates them is, after all, the French spirit translated into German.” To illustrate the injurious reaction on German thought, and on the estimates of foreign nations and their doings, he describes a discussion with an esteemed German professor of philosophy, against whom he was contending that the psychical and ethical sciences would gain in progress and influence by international communion, like that among the physico-mathematical sciences. He “to my astonishment declared that even if such an union were possible, he did not think it desirable, as it would interfere too much with the peculiarity of German thought.... Second to Germany,” he said, “it was Italy, which, in the immediate future, was most likely to promote philosophy.... It appeared that what made him prefer the Italians....was nothing else than his having observed that in Italy they were acquainted with every philosophical treatise published in Germany, however unimportant” And thus, adds my correspondent, “the finest German characteristics are disappearing in an exaggerated Teutonomania.” One more truth his comments on German feeling disclose. An indirect antagonism exists between the sentiment of nationality and the sentiment of individuality; the result of which is that exaltation of the one involves depression of the other, and a decreased regard for the institutions it originates. Speaking of the “so-called National Liberals,” he says:—“A friend of mine was lately present at a discussion, in the course of which a professor of philosophy, of the University of—, was very eloquently, and with perfect seriousness, contending that only one thing is now wanted to complete our German institutions—a national costume. Other people, who, no doubt, are fully aware of the ridiculousness of such things, are nevertheless guilty of an equally absurd and even more-intolerable encroachment on individual liberty; since, by proposing to establish a national church, they aim at constraining the adherents of the various religious bodies into a spiritual uniform. Indeed, I should hardly have thought it possible that a German government could encourage such monstrous propositions, if they had not been expounded to me at the Ministry of Public Worship.”
Saying no more about patriotism and its perverting effects on sociological judgments, which are, indeed, so conspicuous all through history as scarcely to need pointing out, let me devote the remaining space to the perverting effects of the opposite feeling—anti-patriotism. Though the distortions of opinion hence resulting are less serious, still they have to be guarded against.
In England the bias of anti-patriotism does not diminish in a marked way the admiration we have for our political institutions; but only here and there prompts the wish for a strong government, to secure the envied benefits ascribed to strong governments abroad. Nor does it appreciably modify the general attachment to our religious institutions; but only in a few who dislike independence, shows itself in advocacy of an authoritative ecclesiastical system, fitted to remedy what they lament as a chaos of religious beliefs. In other directions, however, it is displayed so frequently and conspicuously as to affect public opinion in an injurious way. In respect to the higher orders of intellectual achievement, under-valuation of ourselves has become a fashion; and the errors it fosters react detrimentally on the estimates we make of our social régime, and on our sociological beliefs in general.
What is the origin of this undue self-depreciation? In some cases no doubt it results from disgust at the jaunty self-satisfaction caused by the bias of patriotism when excessive. In other cases it grows out of affectation: to speak slightingly of what is English seems to imply a wide knowledge of what is foreign, and brings a reputation for culture. In the remaining cases it is due to ignorance. Passing over such of these self-depreciatory estimates of our powers and achievements as have partial justifications, I will limit myself to one which has no justification. Among the classes here indicated, it is the custom to speak disrespectfully of the part we play in discovery and invention. There is an assertion occasionally to be met with in public journals, that the French invent and we improve. Not long since it was confessed by the Attorney-General that the English are not a scientific nation. Recently the Times, commenting on a speech in which Mr. Gladstone had been disparaging our age and its men, said:—“There is truth, however, in the assertion that we are backward in appreciating and pursuing abstract knowledge.”10 Such statements exhibit the bias of anti-patriotism creating a belief that is wholly indefensible. As we shall presently see, they are flatly contradicted by facts; and they can be accounted for only by supposing that those who make them have had a culture exclusively literary.
A convenient way of dealing with this bias of anti-patriotism will be to take an individual example of it. More than any other, Mr. Matthew Arnold has of late made himself an exponent of the feeling. His motive cannot be too highly respected; and for much that he has said in rebuke of the vainglorious, entire approval may rightly be felt. Many grave defects in our social state, many absurdities in our modes of action, many errors in our estimates of ourselves, are to be pointed out and dwelt upon; and great good is done by a writer who efficiently executes the task of making us feel our shortcomings. In his condemnation of the ascetic view of life which still prevails here, one may entirely agree. That undue valuation of material prosperity common with us, is a fault justly insisted on by him. And the overweening confidence so often shown in a divine favour gained by our greater national piety, is also an attitude of mind to be reprobated. But by reaction Mr. Arnold is, I think, carried too far in the direction of anti-patriotism; and weakens the effect of his criticism by generating a re-reaction. Let us glance at some of his views.
The mode of procedure generally followed by Mr. Arnold, is not that of judicially balancing the evidence, but that of meeting the expression of self-satisfied patriotism by some few facts calculated to cause dissatisfaction: not considering what is their quantitative value. To reprove a piece of national self-laudation uttered by Mr. Roebuck, he comments on the murder of an illegitimate child by its mother, reported in the same paper. Now this would be effective if infanticide were peculiar to England, or if he could show a larger proportion of infanticide here than elsewhere; but his criticism is at once cancelled on calling to mind the developed system of baby-farming round Paris, and the extensive getting-rid of infants to which it is instrumental. By following Mr. Arnold’s method, it would be easy to dispose of his conclusions. Suppose, for instance, that I were to set down the many murders committed in England by foreigners within our own memories, including those by Courvoisier, by Mrs. Manning, by Barthélemi near Fitzroy Square, by a Frenchman in Foley Place (about 1854–7), that by Muller, that by Kohl in the Essex marshes, that by Lani in a brothel near the Hay-market, that by Marguerite Diblanc, the tragedy of the two young Germans (Mai and Nagel) at Chelsea, ending with the recent one in Great Coram Street—suppose I were to compare the ratio between this number of murderers and the number of foreigners in England, with the answering ratio among our own people; and suppose I were to take this as a test of the Continental culture Mr. Arnold so much admires. Probably he would not think the test quite relevant; and yet it would be quite as relevant as that he uses—perhaps somewhat more relevant. Suppose, again, that by way of criticism on German administration, I were to dwell on the catastrophe at Berlin, where, during the celebration of victory, fourteen sightseers were killed and some hundreds injured; or suppose I were to judge it by the disclosures of the leading Berlin physician, Virchow, who shows that one out of every three children born in Berlin dies the first year, and whose statistics prove the general mortality to be increasing so rapidly that while “in 1854 the death-rate was 1000, in 1851–63 it rose to 1164, and in 1864–8 to 1817”11 —suppose, I say, that I took these facts as proof of failure in the social system Mr. Arnold would have us copy. Possibly he would not be much shaken; though it seems to me that this evidence would be more to the point than a case of infanticide among ourselves. Further, suppose I were to test French administration by the statistics of mortality in the Crimea, as given at the late meeting of the French Association for the Advancement of Science, by M. Le Fort, who pointed out that—
“Dans ces six mois d’hiver 1855–1856, alors qu’il n’y a plus guère d’hostilités, alors que les Anglais ont seulement en six mois 165 blessés, et les Français 323, l’armée anglaise, grâce aux précautions prises, n’a que peu de malades et ne perd que 606 hommes; l’armée française voit éclater au milieu d’elle le typhus, qu’on eῦt pu éviter, et perd par les maladies seules 21,190 hommes;”
and who further, respecting the relative mortalities from operations, said that—
“En Crimée, les armées anglaise et française se trouvent exposées aux mêmes besoins, aux mêmes vicissitudes atmosphériques, et cependant quelle differénce dans la mortalité des opérés. Les Anglais perdent 24 pour 100 de leurs amputés du bras, nous en perdons plus du double, 55 sur 100; il en est de même pour l’amputation de la jambe: 35 contre 71 pour 100.”
—suppose, I say, that I were thus to deal with the notion that “they manage these things better in France.” Mr. Arnold would, very likely, not abandon his belief. And yet this contrast would certainly be as damaging as the fact about the girl Wragg, to which he more than once refers so emphatically. Surely it is manifest enough that by selecting the evidence, any society may be relatively blackened and any other society relatively whitened.
From Mr. Arnold’s method let us turn to some of his specific statements; taking first the statement that the English are deficient in ideas. He says:—“There is the world of ideas, and there is the world of practice; the French are often for suppressing the one, and the English the other.”12 Admitting the success of the English in action, Mr. Arnold thinks that it goes along with want of faith in speculative conclusions. But by putting ideas and practice in this antithesis, he implies his acceptance of the notion that effectual practice does not depend on superiority of ideas. This is an erroneous notion. Methods that answer are preceded by thoughts that are true. A successful enterprise presupposes an imagination of all the factors, and conditions, and results—an imagination which differs from one leading to an unsuccessful enterprise in this, that what will happen is clearly and completely foreseen, instead of being foreseen vaguely and incompletely: there is greater ideality. Every scheme is an idea; every scheme more or less new, implies an idea more or less original; every scheme proceeded with, implies an idea vivid enough to prompt action; and every scheme which succeeds, implies an idea so accurate and exhaustive that the results correspond with it. When an English company accommodates Amsterdam with water (an element the Dutch are very familiar with, and in the management of which they, centuries ago, gave us lessons) must we not say that by leaving us to supply their chief city they show a want of confidence in results ideally seen? Is it replied that the Dutch are not an imaginative people? Then take the Italians. How happens it that such a pressing need as the draining of Naples, has never suggested to Italian rulers or Italian people the taking of measures to achieve it; and how happens it that the idea of draining Naples, instead of emanating from French or Germans, supposed by Mr. Arnold to have more faith in ideas, emanates from a company, of Englishmen, who are now proposing to do the work without cost to the municipality.13 Or what shall we infer as to relative faith in ideas, on learning that even within their respective territories the French and Germans wait for us to undertake new things for them? When we find that Toulouse and Bordeaux were lighted with gas by an English company, must we not infer lack of ideas in the people of those places? When we find that a body of Englishmen, the Rhone Hydraulic Company, seeing that at Bellegarde there are rapids having a fall of forty feet, made a tunnel carrying a fourth of the river, and so got 10,000 horsepower, which they are selling to manufacturers; and when we ask why this source of wealth was not utilized by the French themselves; must we not say that it was because the idea did not occur to them, or because it was not vivid and definite enough to prompt the enterprise? And when, on going north, we discover that not only in Belgium and Holland are the chief towns, Brussels, Antwerp, Lille, Ghent, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Haarlem, &c., lighted by our Continental Gas Association, but that this combination of Englishmen lights many towns in Germany also—Hanover, Aix-la-Chapelle, Stolberg, Cologne, Frankfort, Vienna, nay, that even the head-quarters of geist, Berlin itself, had to wait for light until this Company supplied it, must we not say that more faith in ideas was shown by English than by Germans? Germans have plenty of energy, are not without desire to make money, and knew that gas was used in England; and if neither they nor their Governments undertook the work, we must infer that the benefits and means were inadequately conceived. English enterprises have often been led by ideas that looked wholly unpractical: as when the first English steamer astonished the people of Coblentz, in 1817, by making its appearance there, so initiating the Rhine steam-navigation; or as when the first English steamer started across the Atlantic. Instead of our practice being unideal, the ideas which guide it sometimes verge on the romantic. Fishing up a cable from the bottom of an ocean three miles deep, was an idea seemingly more fitted for The Arabian Nights than for actual life; and yet success proved how truly those who conducted the operation had put together their ideas in correspondence with the facts—the true test of vivid imagination.
To show the groundlessness of the notion that new ideas are not evolved and appreciated as much in England as elsewhere, I am tempted here to enumerate our modern inventions of all orders; from those directly aiming at material results, such as Trevethick’s first locomotive, up to the calculating-machines of Babbage and the logic-machine of Jevons, quite remote from practice in their objects. But merely asserting that those who go through the list will find that neither in number nor in importance do they yield to those of any nation during the same period, I refrain from details. Partly I do this because the space required for specifying them would be too great; and partly because inventions, mostly having immediate bearings on practice, would perhaps not be thought by Mr. Arnold to prove fertility of idea: though, considering that each machine is a theory before it becomes a working reality, this would be a position difficult to defend. To avoid all possible objection, I will limit myself to scientific discovery, from which the element of practice is excluded; and to meet the impression that scientific discovery in recent days has not maintained its former pace, I will name only our achievements since 1800.
Taking first the Abstract Sciences, let us ask what has been done in Logic. We have the brief but pregnant statement of inductive methods by Sir John Herschel, leading to the definite systematization of them by Mr. Mill; and we have, in the work of Professor Bain, elaborately-illustrated applications of logical methods to science and to the business of life. Deductive Logic, too, has been developed by a further conception. The doctrine of the quantification of the predicate, set forth in 1827 by Mr. George Bentham, and again set forth under a numerical form by Professor De Morgan, is a doctrine supplementary to that of Aristotle; and the recognition of it has made it easier than before to see that Deductive Logic is a science of the relations implied by the inclusions, exclusions, and overlappings of classes.14 Even were this all, the instalment of progress would be large for a single generation. But it is by no means all. In the work by Professor Boole, Investigation of the Laws of Thought, the application to Logic of methods like those of Mathematics, constitutes another step far greater in originality and in importance than any taken since Aristotle. So that, strangely enough, the assertion quoted above, that “we are backward in appreciating and pursuing abstract knowledge,” and this complaint of Mr. Arnold that our life is wanting in ideas, come at a time when we have lately done more to advance the most abstract and purely-ideal science, than has been done anywhere else, or during any past period!
In the other division of Abstract Science—Mathematics, a recent revival of activity has brought results sufficiently striking. Though, during a long period, the bias of patriotism and undue reverence for that form of the higher calculus which Newton initiated, greatly retarded us; yet since the re-commencement of progress, some five-and-twenty years ago, Englishmen have again come to the front. Sir W. R. Hamilton’s method of Quaternions is a new instrument of research; and whether or not as valuable as some think, undoubtedly adds a large region to the world of known mathematical truth. And then, more important still, there are the achievements of Cayley and Sylvester in the creation and development of the higher algebra. From competent and unbiassed judges I learn that the Theory of Invariants, and the methods of investigation which have grown out of it, constitute a step in mathematical progress larger than any made since the Differential Calculus. Thus, without enumerating the minor achievements of others, there is ample proof that abstract science, of this order also, is flourishing among us in great vigour.
Nor, on passing to the Abstract-Concrete Sciences, do we find better ground for this belief entertained by Mr. Arnold and others. Though Huyghens conceived of light as constituted of undulations, yet he was wrong in conceiving the undulations as allied in form to those of sound; and it remained for Dr. Young to establish the true theory. Respecting the principle of interference of the rays of light propounded by Young, Sir John Herschel says,—“regarded as a physical law [it] has hardly its equal for beauty, simplicity, and extent of application, in the whole circle of science;” and of Young’s all-important discovery that the luminiferous undulations are transverse not longitudinal, he says that it showed “a sagacity which would have done honour to Newton himself.” Just naming the discovery of the law of expansion of gases by Dalton, the laws of radiation by Leslie, the theory of dew by Wells, the discrimination by Wollaston of quantity and intensity in electricity, and the disclosure of electrolysis by Nicholson and Carlisle (all of them cardinal discoveries) and passing over minor contributions to physical science, we come to the great contributions of Faraday—magneto-electricity, the quantitative law of electrolysis, the magnetization of light, and dia-magnetism: not mentioning others of much significance. Next there is the great truth which men still living have finally established—the correlation and equivalence of the physical forces. In the establishment of this truth Englishmen have had a large share—some think the larger share. Remembering that in England the conception of heat as a mode of motion dates from Bacon, by whom it was expressed with an insight that is marvellous considering the knowledge of his time—remembering, too, that “Locke stated a similar view with singular felicity;” we come, among Englishmen of the present century, first to Davy, whose experiments and arguments so conclusively supported those of Rumford; then to the view of Roget and the postulate on which Faraday habitually reasoned, that all force arises only as other force is expended; then to the essay of Grove, in which the origin of the various forms of force out of one another was abundantly exemplified; and finally to the investigations by which Joule established the quantitative relations between heat and motion. Without dwelling on the important deductions from this great truth made by Sir W. Thomson, Rankine, Tyndall, and others, I will merely draw attention to its highly-abstract nature as again showing the baselessness of the above-quoted notion.
Equally conclusive is the evidence when we pass to Chemistry. The cardinal value of the step made by Dalton in 1808, when the aperçu of Higgins was reduced by him to a scientific form, will be seen on glancing into Wurtz’ Introduction to Chemical Philosophy, and observing how the atomic theory underlies all subsequent chemical discovery. Nor, in more recent days, has the development of this theory fallen unduly into foreign hands. Prof. Williamson, by reconciling the theory of radicals with the theory of types, and by introducing the hypothesis of condensed molecular types, has taken a leading part in founding the modern views of chemical combinations. We come next to the cardinal conception of atomicity. In 1851, Prof. Frankland initiated the classification of the elements by their atomicities: his important interpretation being now avowedly accepted in Germany by those who originally disputed it; as by Kolbe in his Moden der Modernen Chemie. On turning from the more general chemical truths to the more special chemical truths, a like history meets us. Davy’s discovery of the metallic bases of the alkalies and earths, revolutionized chemists’ ideas. Passing over many other achievements in special chemistry, I may single out for their significance, the discoveries of Andrews, Tait, and especially of Brodie, respecting the constitution of ozone as an allotropic form of oxygen; and may join with these Brodie’s discoveries respecting the allotropic forms of carbon, as throwing so much light on allotropy at large. And then we come to the all-important discoveries, general and special, of the late Prof. Graham. The truths he established respecting the hydration of compounds, the transpiration and the diffusion of liquids, the transpiration and the diffusion of gases, the dialysis of liquids and the dialysis of gases, and the occlusion of gases by metals, are all of them cardinal truths. And even of still greater value is his luminous generalization respecting the crystalloid and colloid states of matter—a generalization which, besides throwing light on many other phenomena, has given us an insight into organic processes previously incomprehensible. These results, reached by his beautifully-coherent series of researches extending over forty years, constitute a new revelation of the properties of matter.
Neither is it true that in advancing the Concrete Sciences we have failed to do our share. Take the first in order—Astronomy. Though, for the long period during which our mathematicians were behind, Planetary Astronomy progressed but little in England. and the development of the Newtonian theory was left chiefly to other nations, yet of late there has been no want of activity. When I have named the inverse problem of perturbations and the discovery of Neptune, the honour of which we share with the French, I have called to mind an achievement sufficiently remarkable. To Sidereal Astronomy we have made great contributions. Though the conception of Wright, of Durham, respecting stellar distribution was here so little attended to that when afterwards enunciated by Kant (who knew Wright’s views) and by Sir W. Herschel, it was credited to them; yet since Sir W. Herschel’s time the researches in Sidereal Astronomy by Sir John Herschel and others, have done much to further this division of the science. Quite recently the discoveries made by Mr. Huggins respecting the velocities with which certain stars are approaching us and others receding, have opened a new field of inquiry; and the inferences reached by Mr. Proctor respecting groupings of stars and the “drifting” of star-groups, now found to harmonize with the results otherwise reached by Mr. Huggins, go far to help us in conceiving the constitution of our galaxy. Nor must we forget how much has been done towards explaining the physical constitutions of the heavenly bodies, as well as their motions: the natures of nebulæ, and the processes going on in Sun and stars, have been greatly elucidated by Huggins, Lockyer, and others.
In Geology, the progress made here, and especially the progress in geological theory, is certainly not less—good judges say much greater—than has been made elsewhere. Just noting that English Geology goes back to Ray, whose notions were far more philosophical than those set forth long afterwards by Werner, we come to Hutton, with whom in fact rational Geology commences. For the untenable Neptunist hypothesis, asserting a once-universal aqueous action unlike the present, Hutton substituted an aqueous action, marine and fluviatile, continuously operating as we now see it, antagonized by a periodic igneous action. He recognized denudation as producing mountains and valleys; he denied so-called primitive rocks; he asserted metamorphism; he taught the meaning of unconformity. Since his day rapid advances in the same direction had been made. William Smith, by establishing the order of superposition of strata throughout England, prepared the way for positive generalizations; and by showing that contained fossils are safer tests of correspondence among strata than mineral characters, laid the basis for subsequent classifications. The better data thus obtained, theory quickly turned to account. In his Principles of Geology, Lyell elaborately worked out the uniformitarian doctrine—the doctrine that the Earth’s crust has been brought to its present complex structure by the continuous operation of forces like those we see still at work. More recently, Prof. Ramsay’s theory of lake-formation by glaciers has helped in the interpretation; and by him, as well as by Prof. Huxley, much has been done towards elucidating past distributions of continents and oceans. Let me name, too, Mallet’s Theory of Earth-quakes—the only scientific explanation of them yet given. And there must be added another fact of moment. Criticism has done far more here than abroad, towards overthrowing the crude hypothesis of universal “systems” of strata, which succeeded the still cruder hypothesis of universal strata, enunciated by Werner.
That our contributions to Biological science have in these later times not been unimportant, may, I think, be also maintained. Just noting that the “natural system” of Plant-classification, though French by development is English by origin, since Ray made its first great division and sketched out some of its sub-divisions; we come, among English botanists, to Brown. He made a series of investigations in the morphology, classification, and distribution of plants, which in number and importance have never been equalled: the Prodromus Florœ Novœ-Hollandiœ is the greatest achievement in classification since Jussieu’s Natural Orders. Brown, too, it was who solved the mystery of plant-fertilization. Again, there is the conception that existing plant-distribution has been determined by past geological and physical changes—a conception we owe to Dr. Hooker, who has given us sundry wide interpretations in pursuance of it. In Animal-physiology there is Sir Charles Bell’s discovery respecting the sensory and motor functions of the nerve-roots in the spinal cord; and this underlies multitudinous interpretations of organic phenomena. More recently we have had Mr. Darwin’s great addition to biological science. Following in the steps of his grandfather, who had anticipated Lamarck in enunciating the general conception of the genesis of organic forms by adaptive modifications, but had not worked out the conception as Lamarck did, Mr. Darwin, perceiving that both of them were mistaken in attributing the modifications to causes which, though some of them true, were inadequate to account for all the effects, succeeded, by recognizing the further cause he called Natural Selection, in raising the hypothesis from a form but partially tenable to a quite tenable form. This view of his, so admirably worked out, has been adopted by the great majority of naturalists; and, by making the process of organic evolution more comprehensible, it is revolutionizing biological conceptions throughout the world. In the words of Professor Cohn, “no book of recent times has influenced the conceptions of modern science like the first edition of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.“15 Nor should we overlook the various kindred minor discoveries, partly dependent, partly independent: Mr. Darwin’s own respecting the dimorphism of flowers; Mr. Bates’s beautiful interpretation of mimicry in insects, which led the way to many allied interpretations; Mr. Wallace’s explanations of dimorphism and polymorphism in Lepidoptera. Finally, Professor Huxley, besides dissipating some serious biological errors of continental origin, has made important contributions to morphology and classification.
Nor does the balance turn against us on passing to the next-highest concrete science. After those earlier inquiries by which Englishmen so largely advanced the Science of Mind, and set up much of the speculation subsequently active in France and Germany, there came a lull in English thinking; and during this arose the absurd notion that the English are not a philosophical people. But the lull, ending some forty years ago, gave place to an activity which has quickly made up for lost time. On this point I need not rest in assertion, but will quote foreign testimony. The first chapter of Prof. Ribot’s work, La Psychologie Anglaise Contemporaine begins thus:—
“‘Le sceptre de la psychologie, dit M. Stuart Mill, est décidément revenu à l’Angleterre.’ On pourrait soutenir qu’il n’en est jamais sorti. Sans doute, les études psychologiques y sont maintenant cultivées par des hommes de premier ordre qui, par la solidité de leur méthode, et ce qui est plus rare, par la précision de leurs résultats, ont fait entrer la science dans une période nouvelle; mais c’est plutôt un redoublement qu’un renouvellement d’éclat.”
Similarly, on turning to Ethics considered under its psychological aspect, we find foreign testimony that English thinkers have done most towards the elaboration of a scientific system. In the preface to his late work, La Morale nella Filosofia Positiva (meaning by “Positiva“ simply scientific), Prof. Barzellotti, of Florence, states that for this reason he limits himself to an account of English speculation in this department.16
And then, if, instead of Psychology and Ethics, Philosophy at large comes in question, there is independent testimony of kindred nature to be cited. Thus, in the first number of La Critique Philosophique (8 Février, 1872), published under the direction of M. Rénouvier, the acting editor, M. Pillon, writes:—
“On travaille beaucoup dans le champ des idées en Angleterre.... Non-seulement l’Angleterre surpasse la France par l’ardeur et le travail, ce qui est malheureusement bien peu dire, et par l’intérêt des investigations et des débats de ses penseurs, mais même elle laisse loin derrière elle l’Allemagne en ce dernier point.”
And still more recently M. Martins, in the leading French periodical, has been referring to—
“les nouvelles idées nées dans la libre Angleterre et appelées à transformer un jour les sciences naturelles.”17
So that while Mr. Arnold is lamenting the want of ideas in England, it is discovered abroad that the genesis of ideas in England is very active. While he thinks our conceptions are commonplace, our neighbours find them new, to the extent of being revolutionary. Oddly enough, at the very time when he is reproaching his countrymen with lack of geist, Frenchmen are asserting that there is more geist here than anywhere else! Nor is there wanting testimony of kindred nature from other nations. In the lecture above cited, Dr. Cohn, while claiming for Germany a superiority in the number of her earnest workers, says that “England especially has always been, and is particularly now, rich in men whose scientific works are remarkable for their astonishing laboriousness, clearness, profundity, and independence of thought”—a further recognition of the truth that instead of merely plodding along the old ruts, the English strike out new tracks: are unusually imaginative.
In his essay on the “Functions of Criticism at the Present Time,” Mr. Arnold insists that the thing most needful for us now, in all branches of knowledge, is “to see the object as in itself it really is”; and in Friendship’s Garland, his alter ego, Arminius, exhorts our Philistinism “to search and not rest till it sees things more as they really are.” Above, I have done that which Mr. Arnold urges; not by picking-up stray facts, but by a systematic examination. Feeling sure that Mr. Arnold has himself taken the course he advises, and is therefore familiar with all this evidence, as well as with the large quantity which might be added, I am somewhat puzzled on finding him draw from it a conclusion so different from that which presents itself to me. Were any one, proceeding on the foregoing data, to assert that since the beginning of this century, more has been done in England to advance scientific knowledge than has ever been done in a like interval, at any time, in any country, I should think his inference less wide of the truth than that which, strange to say, Mr. Arnold draws from the same data.
And now to consider that which more immediately concerns us—the effect produced by the bias of anti-patriotism on sociological speculation. Whether in Mr. Arnold, whom I have ventured to take as a type, the leaning towards national self-depreciation was primary and the over-valuing of foreign institutions secondary, or whether his admiration of foreign institutions was the cause and his tendency to depreciatory estimates of our social state the effect, is a question which may be left open. For present purposes it suffices to observe that the two go together. Mr. Arnold is impatient with the unregulated and, as he thinks, anarchic state of our society; and everywhere displays a longing for more administrative and controlling agencies. “Force till right is ready,” is one of the sayings he emphatically repeats: apparently in the belief that there can be a sudden transition from a coercive system to a non-coercive one—ignoring the truth that there has to be a continually-changing compromise between force and right, during which force decreases step by step as right increases step by step, and during which every step brings some temporary evil along with its ultimate good. Thinking more force needful for us, and lauding institutions which exercise it, Mr. Arnold holds that even in our literature we should benefit by being under authoritative direction. Though he is not of opinion that an Academy would succeed here, he casts longing glances at the French Academy, and wishes we could have had over us an influence like that to which he ascribes certain excellencies in French literature.
The French Academy was established, as he points out, “to work with all the care and all the diligence possible at giving sure rules to our [the French] language, and rendering it pure, eloquent, and capable of treating the arts and sciences.” Let us consider whether it has fulfilled this intention, by removing the most conspicuous defects of the language. Down to the present time, there is in daily use the expression qu’est ce que c’est? and even qu’est ce que c’est que cela? If in some remote corner of England is heard the analogous expression,—“what is that there here?” it is held to imply entire absence of culture: the use of two superflous words proves a want of that close adjustment of language to thought which even partially-educated persons among us have reached. How is it, then, that though in this French phrase there are five superfluous words (or six, if we take cela as two), the purifying criticism of the French Academy has not removed it from French speech—not even from the speech of the educated? Or why, again, has the Academy not condemned, forbidden, and so expelled from the language, the double negative? If among ourselves any one lets drop the sentence, “I didn’t say nothing,” the inevitable inference is that he has lived with the ill-taught; and, further, that in his mind words and ideas answer to one another very loosely. Though in French the second negative is by derivation positive, yet in acquiring a negative meaning it became alike superfluous and illogical; and its use should then have been interdicted, instead of being enforced. Once more, why has not the French Academy systematized the genders? No one who considers language as an instrument of thought, which is good in proportion as its special parts are definitely adjusted to special functions, can doubt that a meaningless use of genders is a defect. It is undeniable that to employ marks of gender in ways always suggesting attributes that are possessed, instead of usually suggesting attributes that are not possessed, is an improvement. Having an example of this improvement before them, why, did not the Academy, introduce it into French? And then—more significant question still—how, without the aid of any Academy, came the genders to be systematized in English? Mr. Arnold, and those who, in common with him, seem to believe only in agencies that have visible organizations, might, perhaps, in seeking the answer to this question, lose faith in artificial appliances and gain faith in natural processes. For as, on asking the origin of language in general, we are reminded that all its complex, marvellously-adjusted parts and arrangements have been evolved without the aid or oversight of any embodied power, Academic or other; so, on asking the origin of this particular improvement in language, we find that it, too, arose naturally. Nay, more, it was made possible by one of those anarchic states which Mr. Arnold so much dislikes. Out of the conflict of Old-English dialects, sufficiently allied to co-operate but sufficiently different to have contradictory marks of gender, there came a disuse of meaningless genders and a survival of the genders having meaning—a change which an Academy, had one existed here in those days, would doubtless have done its best to prevent; seeing that during the transition there must have been a disregard of rules and apparent corruption of speech, out of which no benefit could have been anticipated.
Another fact respecting the French Academy is by no means congruous with Mr. Arnold’s conception of its value. The compiling of an authoritative dictionary was a fit undertaking for it. Just recalling the well-known contrast between its dilatory execution of this undertaking, and the active execution of a kindred one by Dr. Johnson, we have more especially to note the recent like contrast between the performances of the Academy and the performances of M. Littré. The Academy has long had in hand two dictionaries—the one a second edition of its original dictionary, the other an historical dictionary. The first is at letter D; and the initial number of the other, containing A—B, issued fifteen years ago, has not yet had a successor. Meanwhile, M. Littré, single-handed, has completed a dictionary which, besides doing all that the two Academy-dictionaries propose to do, does much more. With which marvellous contrast we have to join the startling fact, that M. Littré was refused admission to the Academy in 1863, and at length admitted in 1871 only after violent opposition.
Even if we pass over these duties which, in pursuance of its original purpose, the French Academy might have been expected to perform, and limit ourselves to the duty Mr. Arnold especially dwells upon—the duty of keeping “the fine quality of the French spirit unimpaired,” and exercising “the authority of a recognised master in matters of tone and taste” (to quote his approving paraphrase of M. Renan’s definition)—it may still, I think, be doubted whether there have been achieved by it the benefits Mr. Arnold alleges, and whether there have not been caused great evils. That its selection of members has tended to encourage bad literature instead of good, seems not improbable when we are reminded of its past acts, as we are in the well-known letter of Paul-Louis Courier, in which there occurs this, among other passages similarly damaging:—
“Un duc et pair honore l’Académie française, qui ne veut point de Boileau, refuse la Bruyère....mais reçoit tout d’abord Chapelain et Conrart. De même nous voyons à l’Académie grecque le vicomte invité, Corai repoussé, lorsque Jomard y entre comme dans un moulin.”18
Nor have its verdicts upon great works been such as to encourage confidence: instance the fact that it condemned the Cid of Corneille, now one of the glories of French literature. Its critical doctrines, too, have not been beyond question. Upholding those canons of dramatic art which so long excluded the romantic drama, and maintained the feeling shown by calling Shakspeare an “intoxicated barbarian,” may possibly have been more detrimental than beneficial. And when we look, not at such select samples of French literary taste as Mr. Arnold quotes, but at samples from the other extreme, we may question whether the total effect has been great. If, as Mr. Arnold thinks, France “is the country in Europe where the people is most alive,” it clearly is not alive to the teachings of the Academy: witness the recent revival of the Père Duchêne; the contents of which are no less remarkable for their astounding obscenity than for their utter stupidity. Nay, when we look only where we are told to look—only where the Academy exercises its critical function on modern literature, we find reason for scepticism. Instance the late award of the Halphen Prize to the author of a series of poems called L’Invasion, of which M. Patin, a most favourable critic, says:—
“Their chief characteristic is a warmth of sentiment and a ‘verve,’ which one would wish to see under more restraint, but against which one hesitates to set up, however just might be their application under other circumstances, the cold requirements of taste.”
Thus we have the Academy pandering to the popular feeling. The ebullitions of a patriotic sentiment which it is the misfortune of France to possess in too great a degree, are not checked by the Academy but encouraged by it: even at the expense of good taste.
And then, lastly, observe that some of the most cultivated Frenchmen, not so well satisfied with institutions of the Academy-type as Mr. Arnold seems to be, have recently established, on an English model, a French Association for the Advancement of Science. Here are passages from their prospectus, published in La Revue Scientifique, 20 Janvier, 1872; commencing with an account of the founding of the Royal Institution:—
“Il y avait cinquante-huit membres présents à cette réunion. Chacun d’eux souscrivit, sans plus attendre, une action de cinquante guinées; c’est à peu pregrave;s treize cents francs de notre monnaie, qui en vaudraient aujourd’hui bien près de deux mille cinque. Le lendemain, la Société [Institution] royale de Londres était constituée.
On sait depuis ce qu’elle est devenue.
Ce qu’ont fait les Anglais en 1799, d’illustres savants de notre pays veulent le renouveler aujourd’hui pour la France.
Eux aussi, ils ont jugé, comme Rumfort au siècle dernier, que la vieille suprématie du nom français dans tous les ordres de sciences commençait à être sérieusement ébranlée, et risquait de s’écrouler un jour.
A Dieu ne plaise qu’ils accusent l’Académie de cette décadence ! ils en font presque tous partie eux-mêmes. Mais l’Académie, qui a conservé en Europe le prestige de son nom, s’enferme un peu plus dans la majesté de sa grandeur. Elle ne possède ni des moyens d’action assez puissants, ni une énergie assez active pour les mettre en œuvre. Le nerf de la guerre, l’argent, lui manque, et plus encore peut-être l’initiative intelligente et hardie. Elle s’est endormie dans le respect de ses traditions séculaires.”
A further testimony from a foreigner to the value of our methods of aiding intellectual progress, in comparison with continental methods, has been still more recently given by M. Alphonse de Candolle, in his Histoire des Sciences et des Savants. His fear for us is that we may adopt the continental policy and abandon our own. Respecting Science in England, he says:—
“Je ne vois qu’un seul indice de faiblesse pour l’avenir, c’est une disposition croissante des hommes de science à solliciter l’appui du gouvernement. On dirait qu’ils ne se fient plus aux forces individuelles, dont le résultat pourtant a été si admirable dans leur pays.”19
Thus, curiously enough, we find another contrast parallel to that noted already. As with English ideas so with English systems—while depreciated at home they are eulogized abroad. While Mr. Arnold is lauding French institutions, Frenchmen, recognizing their shortcomings, are adopting English institutions. From which we may fairly infer that, great as is Mr. Arnold’s desire “to see the object as in itself it really is,” he has not in this case succeeded; and that, endeavouring to escape the bias of patriotism, he has been carried too far the other way by the bias of anti-patriotism.20
One more illustration of the effect this bias has on Mr. Arnold calls for brief comment. Along with his over-valuation of foreign regulative institutions, there goes an under-valuation of institutions at home which do not exhibit the kind of regulation he thinks desirable, and stand in the way of authoritative control. I refer to those numerous Dissenting organizations characterizing this “anarchy” of ours, which Mr. Arnold curiously makes the antithesis to “culture.”
Mr. Arnold thinks that as a nation we show undue faith in machinery.
“Faith in machinery is, I said, our besetting danger.... What is freedom but machinery? what is population but machinery? what is coal but machinery? what are railroads but machinery? what is wealth but machinery? what are religious organizations but machinery?”21
And in pursuance of this conception he regards the desire to get Church-rates abolished and certain restrictions on marriage removed, as proving undue belief in machinery among Dissenters; while his own disbelief in machinery he considers proved by wishing for stronger governmental restraints,22 by lauding the supervision of an Academy, and by upholding a Church-establishment. I must leave unconsidered the question whether an Academy, if we had one, would authorize this use of language; which makes it seem that voluntary religious agency is machinery and that compulsory religious agency is not machinery. I must pass over, too, Mr. Arnold’s comparison of Ecclesiasticism and Nonconformity in respect of the men they have produced. Nor have I space to examine what he says about the mental attitudes of the two. It must suffice to say that were the occasion fit, it might be shown that his endeavour “to see the object as in itself it really is,” has not succeeded much better in this case than in the cases above dealt with. Here I must limit myself to a single criticism.
The trait which in Mr. Arnold’s view of Nonconformity seems to me most remarkable, is that in breadth it so little transcends the view of the Nonconformists themselves. The two views greatly differ in one respect—antipathy replaces sympathy; but the two views are not widely unlike in extension. Avoiding that provincialism of thought which he says characterizes Dissenters, I should have expected Mr. Arnold to estimate Dissent, not under its local and temporary aspect, but under its general aspect as a factor in all societies at all times. Though the Nonconformists themselves think of Nonconformity as a phase of Protestantism in England, Mr. Arnold’s studies of other nations, other ages, and other creeds, would, I should have thought, have led him to regard Nonconformity as a universal power in societies, which has in our time and country its particular embodiment, but which is to be understood only when contemplated in all its other embodiments. The thing is one in spirit and tendency, whether shown among the Jews or the Greeks—whether in Catholic Europe or in Protestant England. Wherever there is disagreement with a current belief, no matter what its nature, there is Nonconformity. The open expression of difference and avowed opposition to that which is authoritatively established, constitutes Dissent, whether the religion be Pagan or Christian, Monotheistic or Polytheistic. The relative attitudes of the dissenter and of those in power, are essentially the same in all cases; and in all cases lead to persecution and vituperation. The Greeks who poisoned Socrates were moved by just the same sentiment as the Catholics who burnt Cranmer, or as the Protestant Churchmen who imprisoned Bunyan and pelted Wesley. And while the manifestations of feeling are essentially the same, while the accompanying evils are essentially the same, the resulting benefits are essentially the same. Is it not a truism that without divergence from that which exists, whether it be in politics, religion, manners, or anything else, there can be no progress? And is it not an obvious corollary that the temporary ills accompanying the divergence, are out-balanced by the eventual good? It is certain, as Mr. Arnold holds, that subordination is essential; but it is also certain that insubordination is essential—essential, if there is to be any improvement. There are two extremes in the state of a social aggregate, as of every other aggregate, which are fatal to evolution—rigidity and incoherence. A medium plasticity is the healthful condition. On the one hand, a force of established structures and habits and beliefs, such as offers considerable resistance to change; on the other hand, an originality, an independence, and an opposition to authority, energetic enough to overcome the resistance little by little. And while the political nonconformity we call Radicalism has the function of thus gradually modifying one set of institutions, the religious nonconformity we call Dissent has the function of thus gradually modifying another set.
That Mr. Arnold does not take this entirely-unprovincial view, which would lead him to look on Dissenters with less aversion, may in part, I think, be ascribed to that over-valuation of foreign restraints and under-valuation of home freedom, which his bias of anti-patriotism fosters; and serves further to illustrate the disturbing effects of this bias on sociological speculation.
And now to sum up this somewhat-too-elaborate argument. The general truth that by incorporation in his society, the citizen is in a measure incapacitated for estimating rightly its characters and actions in relation to those of other societies, has been made abundantly manifest. And it has been made manifest, also, that when he strives to emancipate himself from these influences of race, and country, and locality, which warp his judgment, he is apt to have his judgment warped in the opposite way. From the perihelion of patriotism he is carried to the aphelion of anti-patriotism; and is almost certain to form views that are more or less excentric, instead of circular, all-sided, balanced views.
Partial escape from this difficulty is promised by basing our sociological conclusions chiefly on comparisons made among other societies—excluding our own. But even then these perverting sentiments are sure to intrude more or less; for we cannot contemplate the institutions of other nations without our sympathies or antipathies being in some degree aroused by consciousness of likeness or unlikeness to our own institutions. Discounting our conclusions as well as we may, to allow for the errors we are thus led into, we must leave the entire elimination of such errors to a future in which the decreasing antagonisms of societies will go along with decreasing intensities of these sentiments.
[1.]“Decline and Fall, &c., chap. ii.
[1.]Burton’s Abeokuta, vol. i. pp. 43, 44.
[2.]Burton’s History of Scotland, vol. ii. pp. 281–2.
[3.]I make this statement on the authority of a letter read to me at the time by an Indian officer, written by a brother officer in India.
[4.]Hawkesworth’s Voyages, vol. i. p. 573.
[5.]Forster’s Observations, &c., p. 406.
[6.]Parkyns’s Abyssinia, vol. ii. p. 431.
[7.]Cruickshank, Eighteen Years on the Gold Coast of Africa, vol. i. p. 100.
[8.]Companions of Columbus, p. 115.
[9.]Times, Jan. 22, 1873.
[10.]Times, Dec. 23, 1872.
[11.]Lancet, Dec. 28, 1872.
[12.]Essays in Criticism, p. 12.
[13.]Times, Jan. 22, 1873.
[14.]Most readers of logic will, I suppose, be surprised on missing from the above sentence the name of Sir W. Hamilton. They will not be more surprised than I was myself on recently learning that Mr. George Bentham’s work, Outline of a New System of Logic, was published six years before the earliest of Sir W. Hamilton’s logical writings, and that Sir W. Hamilton reviewed it. The case adds another to the multitudinous ones in which the world credits the wrong man; and persists in crediting him in defiance of evidence. [In the number of the Contemporary Review following that in which this note originally appeared, Professor Baynes, blaming me for my incaution in thus asserting Mr. Bentham’s claim, contended for the claim of Sir W. Hamilton and denied the validity of Mr. Bentham’s. The month after, the question was taken up by Professor Jevons, who, differing entirely from Professor Baynes, gave reasons for assigning the credit of the discovery to Mr. Bentham. Considering that Professor Baynes, both as pupil of Sir W. Hamilton and as expositor of his developed logical system, is obviously liable to be biassed in his favour, and that, contrariwise, Professor Jevons is not by his antecedents committed on behalf of either claimant, it may I think, be held that, leaving out other reasons, his opinion is the most trustworthy. Other reasons justify this estimate. The assumption that Sir W. Hamilton, when he reviewed Mr. Bentham’s work, did not read as far as the page on which the discovery in question is indicated, though admissible as a defence, cannot be regarded as a very satisfactory ground for a counter-claim. That in Mr. Bentham’s work the doctrine is but briefly indicated, whereas by Sir W. Hamilton it was elaborately developed, is an objection sufficiently met by pointing out that Mr. Bentham’s work is an “Outline of a New System of Logic;” and that in it he has said enough to show that if, instead of being led into another career, he had become a professional logician, the outline would have been adequately filled in. While these notes are still standing in type, Prof. Baynes has published (in the Contemporary Review for July, 1873) a rejoinder to Prof. Jevons. One who reads it critically may, I think, find in it more evidence against, than in favour of, the conclusion drawn. Prof. Baynes’ partiality will be clearly seen on comparing the way in which he interprets Sir W. Hamilton’s acts, with the way in which he interprets Mr. Bentham’s acts. He thinks it quite a proper supposition that Sir W. Hamilton did not read the part of Mr. Bentham’s work containing the doctrine in question. Meanwhile, he dwells much on the fact that during Sir W. Hamilton’s life Mr. Bentham never made any claim; saying—“The indifference it displays is incredible had Mr. Bentham really felt himself entitled to the honour publicly given to another:” the implication being that Mr. Bentham was of necessity cognizant of the controversy. Thus it is reasonable to suppose that Sir W. Hamilton read only part of a work he reviewed on his own special topic; but “incredible” that Mr. Bentham should not have read certain letters in the Athenœum!—the fact being that, as I have learnt from Mr. Bentham, he knew nothing about the matter till his attention was called to it. Clearly, such a way of estimating probabilities is not conducive to a fair judgment. Prof. Baynes’ unfairness of judgment is, I think, sufficiently shown by one of his own sentences, in which he says of Mr. Bentham that, “while he constantly practises the quantification of the predicate, he never appears to have realized it as a principle.” To an unconcerned observer, it seems a strong assumption that one who not only “constantly practises” the method, but who even warns the student against errors caused by neglect of it, should have no consciousness of the “principle” involved. And I am not alone in thinking this a strong assumption: the remark was made to me by a distinguished mathematician who was reading Prof. Baynes’ rejoinder. But the weakness of Prof. Baynes’ rejoinder is best shown by its inconsistency. Prof. Baynes contends that Sir W. Hamilton “had been acquainted with the occasional use of a quantified predicate by writers on logic” earlier than Mr. Bentham; and Prof. Baynes speaks of Mr. Bentham as having done no more than many before him. But he also says of Sir W. Hamilton that, “had he at the time, therefore, looked into Mr. Bentham’s eighth and ninth chapters, the mere use of a quantified predicate would have been no novelty to him, although, as I have said, it might have helped to stimulate his speculations on the subject.” So that though Mr. Bentham did not carry the doctrine further than previous logicians had done, yet what he wrote about it was calculated “to stimulate” “speculations on the subject” in a way that they had not been stimulated by the writings of previous logicians. That is, Prof. Baynes admits in one part of his argument what he denies in another. One further point only will I name. Prof. Baynes says:—“Professor De Morgan’s emphatic rejection of Mr. Bentham’s claim, after examining the relevant chapters of his ‘Outline,’ is in striking contrast to Mr. Herbert Spencer’s easy-going acceptance of it.” Now though, to many readers, this will seem a telling comparison, yet to those who know that Prof. De Morgan was one of the parties to the controversy, and had his own claims to establish, the comparison will not seem so telling. To me, however, and to many who have remarked the perversity of Prof. De Morgan’s judgments, his verdict on the matter, even were he perfectly unconcerned, will go for but little. Whoever will take the trouble to refer to the Athenœum for November 5, 1864, p. 600, and after reading a sentence which he there quotes, will look at either the title of the chapter it is taken from or the sentence which succeeds it, will be amazed that such recklessness of misrepresentation could be shown by a conscientious man; and will be thereafter but little inclined to abide by Prof. De Morgan’s authority on matters like that here in question.]
[15.]These words are translated for me from Die Entwicklung der Naturwissenschaft in den letzen fünfundzwanzig Jahren. By Professor Dr. Ferdinand Cohn. Breslau, 1872.
[16.]I am told that his reasons for this valuation are more fully given at p. 143.
[17.]Revue des Deux Mondes, 1 Février, 1873, p. 731.
[18.]Œuvres de P. L. Courier (Paris, 1845), p. 304.
[19.]Histoire des Sciences et des Savants, &c.
[20.]Before leaving the question of Academies and their influences, let me call attention to a fact which makes me doubt whether as a judge of style, considered simply as correct or incorrect, an Academy is to be trusted. Mr. Arnold, insisting on propriety of expression, and giving instances of bad taste among our writers; due, as he thinks, to absence of Academic control, tacitly asserts that an Academy, if we had one, would condemn the passages he quotes as deserving condemnation, and, by implication, would approve the passages he quotes as worthy of approval. Let us see to what Mr. Arnold awards his praise. He says:—
[21.]Culture and Anarchy, p. 16.