Page:The Idea of Progress.djvu/33

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29
OF PROGRESS

mercifully, is one of these forms; and if I am not mistaken, it is nearly worn out. Disraeli in his detached way said, 'The European talks of progress because by the aid of a few scientific discoveries he has established a society which has mistaken comfort for civilization'. It would not be easy to sum up better the achievements of the nineteenth century, which will be always remembered as the century of accumulation and expansion. It was one of the great ages of the world; and its greatness was bound up with that very idea of progress which, in the crude forms which it usually assume, we have seen to be an illusion. It was a strenuous, not a self-indulgent age. The profits of industry were not squandered, but turned into new capital, providing new markets and employment for more labour. The nation, as an aggregate, increased in wealth, numbers, and power every day; and public opinion approved this increase, and the sacrifices which it involved. It was a great century; there were giants in the earth in those days; I have no patience with the pygmies who gird at them. But, as its greatest and most representative poet said: 'God fulfils himself in many ways, Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.' The mould in which the Victorian age cast its hopes is broken. There is no law of progress; and the gains of that age now seem to some of us to have been purchased too high, or even to be themselves of doubtful value. In Clough’s fine poem, beginning, 'Hope evermore and believe, O man', a poem in which the ethics of Puritanism find their perfect expression, the poet exhorts us:

'Go! say not in thine heart, And what then, were it accomplished,

Were the wild impulse allayed, what were the use and the good?'