Historical Essays and Studies/Mr. Buckle's Philosophy of History

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XI

MR. BUCKLE'S PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY[1]

In our last Number we explained the theory which Mr. Buckle's book is written to prove, and estimated his merits as a philosopher. We have now to consider his attainments as a scholar. We have to examine his competency for the task he has undertaken, and the degree of success with which he has executed it. This is the more imperatively necessary, that it would be very unfair to Mr. Buckle to judge him by the merits of his system only ; for the system is not his own. We may praise him or blame him for his judgment in adopting it, certainly not for his skill in devising it. His view of "the principles which govern the character and destiny of nations" is borrowed partly from Comte and partly from Ouetelet, and has already been applied, not indeed by historians, but by natural philosophers. We find it stated, for instance, by the celebrated physiologist Valentin, as follows (Grundriss der Physiologie, 1855, p. 10) : —

Chance, to which we ascribe the event of an isolated case, must make way for a definite law as soon as we include a greater number of cases in our observation. No fixed rule appears to regulate the proportion of the sexes to each other, or the relative number of twins that are born, or the kind of crimes committed within a given period. But if we extend our range of observation over millions of cases, certain regular quantities constantly recur. Where this is not the case, the causes of the fluctuation can often be ascertained by the rule of probabilities. Here, as everywhere, chance vanishes as a phantom of superstition, — as a result of that short-sightedness which has burdened the history of human opinion with so many apparently higher, but in reality degrading and erroneous, ideas.

This nearly describes the theory which Mr. Buckle has transferred from the history of nature to the history of man. He can hardly be said to challenge inquiry into its truth. He is at small pains to recommend it to those who are not predisposed in its favour. He is more inclined to dogmatise than to argue ; and treats with placid scorn all who may not agree with him, and who are attached to one or other of the creeds and systems which have subsisted amongst men. It is a characteristic of certain diminutive parties to make up by the confidence and doggedness of their language for the small support they are able to command in public opinion. It is the same spirit in which Coleridge used to be worshipped at Highgate, and Jeremy Bentham at Westminster. Taking a survey of literature from the pinnacle of his self-esteem, Mr. Buckle repeatedly affirms that history has been generally written by very incapable men ; that before his time there was no science of history ; that "the most celebrated historians are manifestly inferior to the cultivators of physical science" (p. 7), and much more to the same purpose passim. He gives us, moreover, to understand that he is as much at home in ethical as in historical literature ; and delivers the valuable opinion, "that a man, after reading everything that has been written on moral conduct and moral philosophy, will find himself nearly as much in the dark as when his studies first began" (p. 22). Having thus cleared the way for his own appearance on the neglected fields of history and philosophy, he leaves us to infer that there are very few people capable of appreciating his performance, or for whose judgment he cares a pin. He writes for a school ; and uttering its oracles to the world, he may question the competency of any tribunal which does not in some degree admit his premises and consents to judge him out of his own mouth. But if we are unworthy to judge his theories, his facts at least are common property, and are accessible to all men ; and it is important to see what they are worth, and how much Mr. Buckle knew about the matter when he endeavoured to make history subservient to his philosophy.

The attempt to reconcile philosophical speculation with the experience of history, and to harmonise their teachings, is perfectly natural, and, at a certain stage, inevitable. Both are unbounded in their range, and in some sense they may be said to include each other. Neither science is perfect till it obtains the confirmation of the other. "Man," says Jacobi, "requires not only a truth whose creator he is, but a truth also of which he is the creature." Yet the comparison could take place only at an advanced period of the progress of philosophy and of the knowledge of history. Philosophy must be seen by the light of history that the laws of its progress may be understood ; and history, which records the thoughts as well as the actions of men, cannot overlook the vicissitudes of philosophic schools. Thus the history of philosophy is a postulate of either science. At the same time, history, unless considered in its philosophic aspect, is devoid of connection and instruction ; and philosophy, which naturally tends to embrace all the sciences, necessarily seeks to subject history, amongst the rest, to its law. Hence arose the philosophy of history. "In history," says Krug, "philosophy beholds itself reflected. It is the text to which history supplies the commentary."[2] Both sciences had attained a certain maturity of development before they sought each other. "Philosophy," said Schelling, "ought not to precede the particular sciences, but to follow after them."[3] Generalisation in history was not possible until a great part of its course was run, and the knowledge of its details tolerably complete. Nor could the history of philosophy be written before it had passed through many phases, or before it had attained a considerable development. Thus it naturally happened that the philosophy of history and the history of philosophy, as they proceeded from the same causes, began to be cultivated about the same time. They are scarcely a century old. The mediaeval philosophy had taken no cognisance of the external world until, in the sixteenth century, a reaction took place. As theology had predominated in the Middle Ages, now physiology prevailed in its stead. The study of nature became the first of sciences, and in the age of the supremacy of the Baconian system, Kepler and Galileo and Newton were considered philosophers. To the philosophic investigation of nature was added, in the eighteenth century, the philosophic contemplation of history. The method by which Bacon had revolutionised natural science "ab experientia ad axiomata, et ab axiomatibus ad nova inventa,"[4] came to be tried on history. Since that time a philosophy of history has been attempted upon the principles of almost every system. The result has not always been to the advantage of history, or to the credit of the philosophers. "When things are known and found out, then they can descant upon them ; they can knit them into certain causes, they can reduce them to their principles. If any instance of experience stands against them, they can range it in order by some distinctions. But all this is but a web of the wit ; it can work nothing."[5]

The first attempt to give unity to universal history by the application of a philosophic system was made by Lessing, in his celebrated fragment on the Education of the Human Race. It was his last work, "and must be considered the foundation of all modern philosophy, of religion, and the beginning of a more profound appreciation of history."[6] He employs the ideas of Leibnitz's Théodicée to explain the government of the world. Condorcet's Sketch of the Progress of the Human Mind is inspired, in like manner, by the sensualist doctrines of Condillac. Kant, though perfectly ignorant of the subject, was incited by the French Revolution to draw up a scheme of universal history in unison with his system. It was the entire inadequacy of Kant's philosophy to explain the phenomena of history which led Hegel, "for whom the philosophical problem had converted itself into an historical one,"[7] to break with the system altogether. Thirty years later, when the supremacy of Kant had long passed away, and Hegel was reigning in his stead, he too set up his philosophy of history as the crown and end of his own philosophy, and as the test of its absolute truth.[8] "It is for historical science," says his latest biographer, "to enjoy the inheritance of Hegel's philosophy."[9] In like manner, the transcendental system of Schelling resulted in a Christian philosophy of history, of which a late able writer says that by it " the antagonism of philosophy and history, proceeding from a defective notion of the first, and an utterly inadequate view of the latter, was removed."[10] So, again, the system of Krause presents a combination of philosophy and history in which their respective methods are blended together.[11] Especially since the publication of Hegel's Lectures, history has been generally considered by philosophers as belonging to their legitimate domain. And their dominion is such, that even a moderate acquaintance with the events of the past has ceased to be deemed a necessary or even a useful ingredient in the preparation of a philosophy of history. No system will confess itself so poor that it cannot reconstruct the history of the world without the help of empirical knowledge. A Pole, Cieszkowski (Prolegomena zur Historiosophie, 1838), has a physical scheme for the arrangement of historical phenomena. According to him, light is the type of Persia, mechanism of China, Athens represents dynamic electricity, Sparta static electricity. The electro-magnetic system answers to Macedon, the expansive force of heat to the Roman Empire. The dualism of Church and State in the Middle Ages corresponds to the antithesis of acid and alkali, etc. etc. The same ingenious person argues from the analogy of the natural sciences, in which, with the help of an old tooth, you can reconstruct an antediluvian monster, that history has to deal with the future, and cannot submit to be confined to the knowledge of the past. Twenty years ago, the well-known novelist Gutzkow was in prison, and not having books at hand to help him in writing a novel, beguiled the time by writing and publishing a philosophy of history.

These recent examples may serve to show us that it is not to be wondered at that an attempt should be made to obtain for a new system the sanction of history ; or that, having been made, it should have produced a ludicrous result, and should have furnished the most complete confutation of the system it was meant to confirm. But we have already said that the theory is not the most remarkable part about Mr. Buckle's book. It is by his portentous display of reading that he will impose upon many in whom the principles in their naked deformity would simply excite abhorrence. The theoretical portion is completely overgrown and hidden by the mass of matter which is collected to support it, and on which Mr. Buckle has brought to bear all the reading of a lifetime. The wonderful accumulation of details and extravagance of quotation have the manifest purpose of dazzling and blinding his readers by the mere mass of apparent erudition. "So learned a man cannot be mistaken in his conclusions," is no doubt what they are expected to say. We cannot, therefore, consider the success of Mr. Buckle's work as a fair indication of the extent to which the peculiar form of infidelity which he holds prevails in this country. To accept his conclusions, we must be prepared to say, Credo quia impium ; but in order to be overawed by his learning, it is enough to have less of it than Mr. Buckle himself.

It is for this reason worth while to inquire briefly whether Mr. Buckle is in this respect so great an authority as he professes to be, and as it is commonly taken for granted he is — whether he really possesses that knowledge of his subject which justifies him in writing upon it, or whether, in a word, he is an impostor.

Apart from the historical excursions of modern philosophers which we have spoken of, and with which Mr. Buckle has not thought fit to make himself acquainted, the great problems of civilisation which he tries to solve have been discussed within the last few years by three eminent men, whose works have some points of similarity with his own. In 1853 a French diplomatist, M. de Gobineau, published the first portion of a work which he has since completed in four volumes, Essai sur l’Inégalité des Races humaines. Familiar with all the latest researches of French and German writers, he investigates in great detail the laws which regulate the progress and the decline of civilisation. He finds that it depends entirely on purity of blood. The deterioration produced by the mixture of races is the sole cause of decline : "A people would never die if it remained eternally composed of the same national elements" (i. 53). The fate of nations is unconnected with the land they inhabit ; it depends in nothing on good government or purity of morals. Even Christianity has no permanent influence on civilisation : "Le Christianisme n'est pas civilisateur, et il a grandement raison de ne pas l'être" (p. 124). Whether we admit or reject these conclusions, it is unquestionable that they are founded on most various and conscientious research, and an abundance of appropriate learning, strongly contrasting with the dishonest affectation of knowledge by which Mr. Buckle deludes his readers. There is, moreover, a learned appendage to Gobineau's book, in the shape of a pamphlet of 275 pages, by Professor Pott. About the same time an anonymous work appeared at Marburg, in three volumes, bearing the somewhat obscure title, Anthropognosic, Ethnognosie und Poltgnosic, in which also the laws which influence the political and social progress of mankind are explained with uncommon erudition. It was by a well-known political writer, Dr. Vollgraff ; and, though disfigured by endless subdivisions and an obscure arrangement, it is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive and instructive works that have appeared in our time. All the principal points of Mr. Buckle's theory are here discussed and illustrated with infinitely greater fulness of knowledge than in the work of our English author ; and although the conclusions to which the German philosopher would lead us are not much better, at least there is much more to be learnt on the road.

The third work to which we allude is very different in style and spirit, and bears a motto which at once deprives it of any considerable resemblance to Mr. Buckle's work : Lo bueno, si breve, dos vezes bueno. It is the work of the most eloquent and accomplished philosopher in Germany,[12] and passes in review, in 168 pages, all the great questions which constitute the philosophy of history. The wisest sayings of the ancients, and the latest discoveries of the moderns, are brought together with incomparable taste and learning ; since Schlegel, so brilliant a work had not appeared on the same field.

We have drawn attention to these works because they treat of exactly the same questions as Mr. Buckle's History of Civilisation, and are all written by men of distinguished abilities — the last by one of the greatest modern scholars; because, moreover, they are the only works which, during the last ten years, have really advanced the study of philosophy of history, and are therefore the first books to which anybody would naturally turn who is employed upon the subject. None of them, we may add, are written from a specifically Catholic point of view, yet Mr. Buckle has never once alluded to any of them.

We may attribute this monstrous neglect of what has been done and is doing in the field which he is cultivating, either to simple ignorance of the present state of learning, or to a wary dislike of whatever might not help to support his own views. There is no other alternative, and either supposition is equally fatal to his credit.

As Mr. Buckle despises the historians, and knows nothing of the principal philosophers, it may be asked, where, then, are his authorities ? The answer is given in a note (p. 5), where we are told that Comte is the "writer who has done more than any other to raise the standard of history." This is the key to the whole book, and in general to Mr. Buckle's state of mind. His view seldom extends beyond the bounds of the system of that philosopher, and he has not sought enlightenment in the study of the great metaphysicians of other schools. The limits of his knowledge in this respect are curious. Of Aristotle, though he frequently mentions him, and in one place even places him on a level with the French physician Bichat (p. 812), there is no proof that he knows anything at all. He tells us, for instance, that the chief writers on the influence of climate are Hume, Montesquieu, Guizot, and Comte. It never occurs to him that his favourite theory on this point is to be found in Aristotle (Problemata, xiv), or that Hippocrates wrote a work on the subject. Plato, though sometimes quoted, seems hardly better known. Nobody familiar with his works and life would venture upon the statement that it is doubtful whether he ever visited Egypt (p. 81) ; still less would a scholar with any self-respect have cited Bunsen as an authority on the matter. In reality, the only question is how long he remained there.

This is a fair instance of our author's habit of going to the wrong place for information, and ignoring the obvious authorities. Altogether Mr. Buckle, who does not commonly put his light under a bushel, exhibits acquaintance with scarcely four or five of the most common writers of antiquity.

It is not to be expected that the Christian writers should come off better ; there is a good deal said about them, but it is borrowed at second-hand, generally from Neander, sometimes from Mosheim or Milman. For it makes no difference to Mr. Buckle whether a thing is true, or whether somebody has said that it is true. It is enough that it should answer some particular purpose of the moment. Indeed, although his reading appears excessively promiscuous, it is in reality selected with great discrimination. So far as we have observed, the standard work which is the real and acknowledged authority on each particular subject is never by any chance or oversight consulted for the purpose. We have shown how the case stands relatively to the general subject of civilisation. For the history of philosophy we have continual references in Tennemann, who was greatly esteemed at the time of Kant's supremacy in the schools. The progress of learning has long since displaced his works, as well as those which immediately succeeded him. Sometimes we find reference to Ritter's Ancient Philosophy, the most antiquated portion of his highly unsatisfactory work. The vast literature on this subject which has arisen within the last few years is never noticed. So, for the history of medicine we have Sprengel and Renouard, whose books were long since superseded by the works of Hecker, Häser, and others. On India, again, we are referred to a number of obsolete publications, and the great work of Lassen is never mentioned. The same ignorance prevails upon almost every branch of learning that is ostentatiously brought forward ; but we should be following Mr. Buckle's very bad example if we were to go on giving lists of books which he ought to have consulted.

The title of the sixth chapter, "Origin of History, and State of Historical Literature during the Middle Ages," excited our expectations. To a man of Mr. Buckle's industry, the hundreds of folios in which the historical works of the Middle Ages are contained offer a splendid and inexhaustible field for the exhibition of his powers of research. Here was to be found, in the history of European civilisation for a thousand years, the secret of its subsequent progress. But Mr. Buckle's method is the same here as elsewhere. He shows himself acquainted with just half a dozen of the commonest mediaeval historians ; and these, if we remember rightly, with only one exception, all English. On the other hand, whatever is to be found about them in the most ordinary books — Hallam, Warton, Turner, Palgrave, Wright, etc. — is diligently repeated. The vulgar practice of reading the books one is to write about was beneath so great a philosopher. He has read about them, but very little in them. They could not greatly attract him ; for the Middle Ages must be a mere blank to one who writes the history of modern civilisation without taking into account the two elements of which it is chiefly composed — the civilisation of antiquity, and the Christian religion. Having to utter a few generalities upon the subject, it was obviously more convenient to know nothing about it, and to take counsel of a few writers who knew very little about it, than to run the risk of finding an imprudent curiosity rewarded by the unexpected discovery of unpalatable and inflexible facts. This safe and timely ignorance, which he has discreetly cherished and preserved, has made him fully competent to declare "that not only was no history written before the end of the sixteenth century, but that the state of society was such as to make it impossible for one to be written" (p. 299).

Agreeably to the materialistic character of his philosophy, Mr. Buckle examines with special predilection the physical causes which influence mankind. His second chapter, which is devoted to this inquiry, is the most interesting and elaborate part of the volume. In these regions he is somewhat more at home. It is but an act of justice, therefore, to give some attention to this chapter. Nowhere do the ignorance and incapacity of the author more visibly appear.

The subject here treated has very recently been raised to the dignity of a separate and distinct science ; and it has been cultivated on the Continent with extraordinary zeal and success. In no department was so much assistance to be derived from contemporary writers. Ritter, the founder of the science of comparative geography, began forty years ago the great work of which he has not yet finished even the Asiatic portion. He was the first among the moderns to determine in detail the connection of the material world with the history of man. In his footsteps a numerous school of writers have followed — Rougemont, Mendelssohn, Knapp, etc., — and a variety of able writers have made it a popular study.

As Ritter first established a bridge between history and geography, the link between geology and history was discovered by the Saxon geologist Cotta. Another branch of the same subject — the connection between the vegetable world and the civilisation of man — has been treated by the celebrated botanist, linger of Vienna.[13] Finally, Professor Volz[14] has produced a most learned work on the influence of the domestic animals and plants on the progress of civilisation. Yet Mr. Buckle is totally ignorant of the writings and discoveries of these: men ; and he has therefore written a dissertation which not only does not exhaust the subject, but is of no value whatever at the present day.

The proposition that out of Europe civilisation is dependent chiefly upon physical causes, and man subordinate to nature, is proved, among other examples, by that of Egypt (p. 44). The instance is infelicitous, inasmuch as it is cited by Ritter in support of precisely the contrary view.[15] The original inhabitants of the valley of the Nile were not better off or more civilised than their neighbours in the deserts of Libya and Arabia.

It was by the intelligence of the remarkable people who settled there that Egypt became the richest granary of the ancient world. The inundation of the Nile was rendered a source of fertility by the skill of those who made use of it. But when the vigour of the nation died away under the wretched government which succeeded upon the fall of Rome, that fertile valley relapsed in great measure into its old sterility ; the Thebais became a desert, and the Mareotis a marsh. Instead of proving Mr. Buckle's case, Egypt is the best instance of the subordination of nature to the intellect and will of man.

Pursuing his idea of the influence of the aspect of nature on man, Mr. Buckle, who has a theory for everything, discovers that the cause of Catholicism lies in earthquakes : —

"The peculiar province of the imagination," he informs us, "being to deal with the unknown, every event which is unexplained as well as important, is a direct stimulus to our imaginative faculties. . . . Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are more frequent and more destructive in Italy and in the Spanish and Portuguese Peninsula than in any other of the great countries, and it is precisely there that superstition is most rife, and the superstitious classes most powerful. Those were the countries where the clergy first established their authority, where the worst corruptions of Christianity took place, and where superstition has during the longest period retained the firmest hold."

In other words, sequence is cause, as Hume proves ; whence post hoc, ergo propter hoc, the great logical principle of the positivists. But increase of Popery follows increase of earthquakes ; therefore, the consequence is clear. And not only is Christianity extracted out of earthquakes, but also, by a similar chemistry, Providence is derived from the plague.

Our ignorance about another life,he says, is complete: —

On this subject the reason is perfectly silent ; the imagination, therefore, is uncontrolled. . . . The vulgar universally ascribe to the intervention of the Deity those diseases which are peculiarly fatal. The opinion that pestilence is a manifestation of the Divine anger, though it has long been dying away, is by no means extinct, even in the most civilised countries. Superstitions of this kind will, of course, be strongest either where medical knowledge is most backward, or where disease is most abundant.

It is in tropical climates that nature is most terrible ; and here, says our author, "imagination runs riot, and religion is founded on fear ; while in Europe nature is subject to man, and reason rules supreme." This theme he illustrates by the extreme instances of India and Greece ; and he generalises his conclusions into the statement that "the tendency of Asiatic civilisation was to widen the distance between men and their deities ; the tendency of Greek civilisation was to diminish it." Hence "in Greece we for the first time meet with hero-worship, that is, the deification of mortals" ; this could not take place in tropical countries. "It is therefore natural that it should form no part of the ancient Indian religion ; neither was it known to the Egyptians, nor to the Persians, nor, so far as I am aware, to the Arabians " ; but it was part of the national religion of Greece, and has been found so natural to Europeans, that "the same custom was afterwards renewed with eminent success by the Romish Church."

Perhaps no writer of pretension ever made a more disgraceful exhibition of ignorance and unreason than Mr. Buckle in these passages. Unreason : for if the Catholic cultus of saints is to be identified with the Greek deification of heroes, then certainly this deification is not simply European; it is as natural to the Indian Catholic as to the Italian or German, not to mention the Orientals. Exactly the same thing is found in Mahometanism, wherever it spreads. If Allah alone receives divine honours, anyhow the chief cultus is paid to the tomb of the prophet, and to the graves of the various holy personages with which Moslem countries are so thickly studded. But if this cultus is not what Mr. Buckle meant by the Greek hero-worship, then his mention of the Catholic practice is invidious, impertinent, and utterly irrelevant to his argument. Ignorance : for the "deification of mortals," so far from forming no part of the ancient Indian and Egyptian religions, was their very central idea and foundation. The fearful, terrible gods that Mr. Buckle's imagination is so full of, were only elemental deities, rising and falling with the world, destined to be annihilated ; while the human soul was to last for ever, and was in its essence superior to all those beings that kept it in a tedious but temporary thraldom. The whole idea of the Vedas is the power of the Brahmin over the elemental deities, exerted by means of the sacrifice. The deities in question, though vast in power and wonderfully large, are by themselves undefined and vague ; they want personality, and therefore require personal direction ; though they are in some sense universal intellect and soul, yet they are formless and void ; they are mere blunderers till they are directed by the more sure intelligence of minds akin to those of man. Hence, in the Vedantic genesis of things, the elemental deities are the matter of forces which compose the universe ; while the intelligent agents who conduct the creative process are the seven primeval sages, Rishis, or Manus, whose very name attests their human nature.[16] It is by the sacrifice of these Rishis, and by the metres they chanted, that the mundane deities received their place and office in the world ; and, what is more, the sacrifices of the Vedantic religion are all identified with this primitive creative offering. The seven priests who offer the Soma sacrifice, so often mentioned in the hymns, are only the successors of the primitive Rishis or Angiras, whose work they carry on. The Sama Veda was their ritual ; and they pretended that this ceremonial was necessary for the preservation of the universe, by continuing the action of the seven creative forces which first formed the world. In the more modern system of the Puranas the same agency is found. The world is successively destroyed and reconstructed ; there are seven such revolutions each day of Brahma, and each time the world is restored by a Manu and seven attendant Rishis. Here, instead of the subserviency of man to nature, we have the inferiority of nature to man, and the deification of men in as exaggerated a form as can possibly be conceived. The same may be said of the Buddhist system ; the seven human Buddhas are successively the great rulers of the universe. And here the facts are so directly contrary to Mr. Buckle's crude speculations, that in the very country where nature is most intractable, and where natural forces exert the most terrific influence on man — in the great frozen plateau of Thibet — there the deification of man is carried to the farthest extent, and the Grand Llama, or living Buddha, is actually identified with the Supreme God. With regard to the Egyptians, Mr. Buckle founds a hasty conclusion on a few words of Herodotus, and cares nothing for the universal and most ancient worship of Osiris, the human god, with whom every man is identified at death in the ritual. In Egypt the human soul, or man, was superior to the elemental deities. "I am your lord," says the soul to the mundane gods in a monumental inscription :[17] "Come and do homage to me ; for you belong to me in right of my divine father." The same doctrine may be found in the Egypto-Gnostic lubrications of the pseudo- Hermes Trismegistus. In the Persian system, Mithra seems to have held a place somewhat similar to that of Osiris in Egypt. At any rate, so far from its being true that the deification of mortals was unknown, the fact is, that the king assumed successively the insignia of each of the seven planets, and was adored by the people as the incarnate presence of each.[18] Of the ancient Arabian religion, Mr. Buckle professes his I ignorance ; the name, therefore, is only inserted to swell his catalogue to the eye, without any corresponding increase in the value of his induction. As we have shown each of his other assertions to be exactly the contrary of the truth, we need not trouble ourselves with disproving one that he owns to be a mere guess. In a later page he says, that in Central America, as in India, the national religion was "a system of complete and unmitigated terror. Neither there, nor in Mexico, nor in Peru, nor in Egypt, did the people desire to represent their deities in human forms, or ascribe to them human attributes." On the contrary, we can prove, in all these countries, the gods — at least the human-formed gods — are in sculptures only distinguishable from men by the addition of their respective symbols ; while, on the other hand, the Egyptian kings and queens are continually represented by the characters of the various gods and goddesses whom they patronised. As to human attributes being ascribed to these gods, it is more difficult to prove this point against Mr. Buckle from the scarcity of poetical legends. But he will find his negative still harder to prove against us. In Mexico, the progenitors of our race, Cihuacohuatl (the woman-serpent, or mother of our flesh) and her husband, are placed among the thirteen great gods ; and, as such, take precedence of all the elemental deities, coming next after Tezatlipoca, the creator, and Ometeuctli and his wife, the progenitors of the heroes. In Peru the Aztec sovereign was, as in Egypt, worshipped as the sun. Again, Mr. Buckle's principle is as false as his facts. Religious terrorism is in direct proportion to the humanitarianism of a religion. As among men, according to Mr. Mill, and therefore according to Mr. Buckle, cruelty is in proportion to inequality — as the despot sheds more blood than the constitutional sovereign, and as the despot by divine right, who claims not only the civil homage but the religious veneration of his people, is obliged to be more severe than the mere military adventurer ; so, when we go a step further, and raise a living man, or a caste, into the place of God, we are obliged to hedge them round with a fence of the most bloody rites and laws. The real cause of Brahmin and Mexican cruelty was not because the Divine nature was so separated from mankind, but because it was so identified with a certain class of men, that this class was obliged to maintain its position by a system of unmitigated terrorism. The farther we remove God from humanity, the less we care about Him. We could not fancy an Epicurean fighting in defence of his indolent deities. As a general rule, those who persecute are willing to suffer persecution, we cannot fancy anybody willing to suffer in defence of an abstract divinity : hence we suppose that the more abstract, intangible, and unreal a religion is, the less cruelty will be perpetrated in its name. This, it appears to us, is the true account of the cruelties of the religions Mr. Buckle enumerates, and not the mere influence of climate and the aspects of nature.

The origin of Mr. Buckle's mistakes here, as in other subjects, is his learned ignorance. He never goes to the best authorities ; he scarcely ever consults the originals. If he had given himself the trouble to read and understand the Vedas, which he so ostentatiously quotes at secondhand, the Puranas, the collections of Egyptian monumental inscriptions, the Zendavesta, and to understand the documents about America by M'Culloch, he might have given a rather more rational account of the religions which he pretends to philosophise upon.

In the same unlucky chapter Mr. Buckle declares, what on his principles was inevitable, that "original distinctions of race are altogether hypothetical" (p. 36) ; in support of which view that eminent positivist Mr. Mill is very properly quoted. As we have to deal now with Mr. Buckle's false learning rather than with his false theories, we can only glance at this great absurdity. For the same race of men preserves its character, not only in every region of the world, but in every period of history, in spite of moral as well as physical influences. Were not the Semitic races everywhere and always monotheists ; whilst Japhetic nations, from Hindostan to Scandinavia, were originally pantheists or polytheists. Epic poetry, again, is distinctive ; of the Indo-Germanic race alone. The most amusing example of a nation's fidelity to the character which it obtained on its first appearance in history is afforded by France. Lasaulx has collected the judgments of the ancients upon the Gauls : "Gallia," said Cato, "duas res industriosissime persequitur, rem militarem et argute loqui." "Mobilitate et levitate animi novis imperiis studebant" (Caesar, B. G. ii. r). " Omnes fere Gallos novis rebus studere et ad bellum mobiliter celeriterque excitari" (Ibid. iii. 10). "Sunt in consiliis capiendis mobiles, et novis plerumque rebus student" (Ibid. iv. 5). "Galli quibus insitum est esse leves" (Trebellius Pollio Galien. 4). "Gens hominum inquietissima et avida semper vel faciendi principis vel imperii" (Flavius Vopiscus Saturninus, 7).[19]

But we must conclude. We have said quite enough to show that Mr. Buckle's learning is as false as his theory, and that the ostentation of his slovenly erudition is but an artifice of ignorance. In his laborious endeavour to degrade the history of mankind, and of the dealings of God with man, to the level of one of the natural sciences, he has stripped it of its philosophical, of its divine, and even of its human character and interest.

When an able and learned work appears, proclaiming new light and increase of knowledge to the world, the first question is not so much whether it was written in the service of religion, as whether it contains any elements which may be made to serve religion. A book is not necessarily either dangerous or contemptible because it is inspired by hatred of the Church. "Nemo inveniret, quia nemo discuteret, nisi pulsantibus calumniatoribus. Cum enim haeretici calumniantur, parvuli perturbantur. . . . Negligentius enim Veritas quaereretur, si mendaces adversaries non haberet"[20] (Augustin, Sermones ad Populum, lib. xi.). Theodore of Mopsuestia, Julian of Eclanum, Calvin, and Strauss, have not been without their usefulness. An able adversary, sincere in his error and skilful in maintaining it, is in the long-run a boon to the cause of religion. The greatness of the error is the measure of the triumph of truth. The intellectual armour with which the doctrine of the Church is assailed becomes the trophy of her victory. All her battles are defensive, but they all terminate in conquest.

The mental lethargy of the last generation of English Catholics was due perhaps not a little to the very feebleness of their adversaries. When a formidable assailant arose at Oxford, he found an adversary amongst us who was equal to the argument. In like manner, when the Duke of Wellington was the no-popery champion of Toryism, a very sufficient opponent appeared in the person of O'Connell. And now that Mr. Spooner is the representative of anti-Catholic politics, by a similar admirable dispensation and fitness of things he too finds among Catholic statesmen foemen who are worthy of his steel. It is not, however, on such grounds as these that Mr. Buckle had a claim on our attention. He is neither wise himself, nor likely to be the cause of wisdom in others ; and with him

Bella geri placuit nullos habitura triumphos:[21]

for we could not allow a book to pass without notice into general circulation and popularity which is written in an impious and degrading spirit, redeemed by no superiority or modesty of learning, by no earnest love of truth, and by no open dealing with opponents.

We may rejoice that the true character of an infidel philosophy has been brought to light by the monstrous and absurd results to which it has led this writer, who has succeeded in extending its principles to the history of civilisation only at the sacrifice of every quality which makes a history great.

Notes[edit]

  1. The Rambler, 1858.
  2. Handwörterbuch der philosophischen Wissenschaften, ii. 217.
  3. Salat, Schelling in München, i. 60.
  4. De Augmentis, iii. 3: "From experiment to axioms, from axioms to new discoveries."
  5. Bacon, "In Praise of Knowledge," Works, ed. Bohn, i. 216.
  6. Schwarz, Lessing als Theologe, p. 79.
  7. Haym, Hegel und seine Zeit, p. 45.
  8. "Gewissermassen, die Probe des ganzen Systems" (Michelet, Entwickelungsgeschichte der neuesten dcutschen Philos., p. 304). "Die Wahrhafte Theodicee, die Probe von der Wahrheit des ganzen Systems" (Huber, Deutsche Vierteljahrs Schrift, 1853, ii. 50). "Die unwidersprichlichste Bewahrung des Systems" (Haym, Allgem. Encyclop., art. "Philosophic," sect. iii. vol. xxiv. 176).
  9. Haym, Hegel, etc, 466.
  10. Schaarschmidt, Entwickelungsgang der neuesten Speculation, p. 194 ; and Schelling, Werke, i. 480, 481.
  11. According to his disciples, "der harmonische Haupttheil," "die Bluthenknospe," of the system (Erdmann, Entwickelung der Speculation seit Kant, ii. 676).
  12. Ernst von Lasaulx, Neuer Versuch einer alten auf die Wahrheit der Thatsachen gegründetea Philosophie der Geschicate.
  13. Botanische Streifzüge auf dent Gebiete der Culturgeschichte.
  14. Beiträge zur Culturgeschichte.
  15. "Ueber das historische Element in der geographischen Wissenschaft," 1833, in his Abhandlungen, p. 165.
  16. See the fable of Purusha, Rig Veda, lib. viii. cap. iv., hymns 17, 18, 19; and Yadjur Veda, cap. xxxi.
  17. Champollion, Grammaire, p. 285.
  18. Dabistan, p. 42.
  19. "Gaul pursues two things with immense industry, — military matters and neat speaking." "Through instability and levity of mind they were meditating the overthrow of the government." "Almost all men of Gaul are revolutionists, and are easily and quickly excited to war." "In council they are unstable, and generally revolutionary." "The French, to whom levity is natural. A most restless kind of men, always wanting to set up a king or an empire."
  20. No one would discover, for no one would discuss, unless roused by the blows of misrepresentation. For while heretics misrepresent, the little ones are scandalised. . . . Truth would not be sought so industriously, if it had no enemies to tell lies of it.
  21. We understand a war where victory is no triumph.