Page:Some aspects of the Victorian age.djvu/31

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27
THE VICTORIAN AGE

Lecture to which I have already referred. Its real thesis is this: that (assuming the whole Darwinian interpretation of the cosmic chronicle to be true) 'Ethical progress depends not on imitating the cosmic process but on defeating it'. That is a doctrine which can neither be preached to nor practised by man, unless man is a thinking being, looking before and after, not the sport of blind forces, but capable of transcending and dominating them. For this purpose his physical pedigree—whatever it be—is of little moment: whether his origin as animal was a special creation; or the last stage in development, by this or that evolutionary process, from the lowest forms of organic life; or even (if that is to any one imaginable) the result of some fortuitous throw of the Dice of Chance. Somewhere and somehow, he has been endowed with something which is to be found nowhere else in the realm of nature; the power of initiative and self-determination, of conceiving and pursuing ideals; the capacity to build up an organized communal life, which is not merely cyclical or stereotyped (like that of the ants and the bees and the wolves), but contains within itself the potentiality and the seeds of progress material, intellectual, spiritual. The last word in this as in some other vital matters is not with the philosophers, or even with the men of science, but with the poet, who has the gift of vision, and can teach us

plenius ac melius Chrysippo et Crantore.[1]

'What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!'[2]

  1. Hor. i Epist. ii. 4.
  2. 'Hamlet,' ii. 2.