Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/12

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8
THE IDEA

progress was regarded (in the words which Mr. Mallock puts into the mouth of a nineteenth-century scientist) as that kind of improvement which can be measured by statistics. This was quite seriously the view of the last century generally, and there had never been, nor will there ever be again, such an opportunity for gloating over this kind of improvement. The mechanical inventions of Watt, Arkwright, Crompton, Stephenson, and others led to an unparalleled increase of population. Exports and imports also progressed, in a favourite phrase of the time, by leaps and bounds. Those who, like Malthus, sounded a note of warning, showing that population increases, unlike the supply of food, by geometrical progression, were answered that compound interest follows the same admirable law. It was obvious to many of our grandparents that a nation which travels sixty miles an hour must be five times as civilized as one which travels only twelve, and that, as Glanvill had already declared in the reign of Charles II, we owe more gratitude to the inventor of the mariner's compass 'than to a thousand Alexanders and Caesars, or to ten times the number of Aristotles'. The historians of the time could not contain their glee in recording these triumphs. Only the language of religion seemed appropriate in contemplating so magnificent a spectacle. If they had read Herder, they would have quoted with approval his prediction that 'the flower of humanity, captive still in its germ, will blossom out one day into the true form of man like unto God, in a state which no man on earth can imagine the greatness and the majesty'. Determinism was much in vogue by this time; but why should determinism be a depressing creed? The law which we cannot escape is the blessed law of progress—'that kind of improvement that can be