ly asserted by those who, every morning, read of chaos at the Admiralty, or cross-purposes in the dock-yards, or wretched army organization, or diplomatic bungling that endangers peace, or frustration of justice by technicalities and costs and delays—all without having their confidence in officialism shaken. "Building Acts should insure better ventilation in small houses," says one who either never knew or has forgotten that, after Messrs. Reid & Barry had spent £200,000 in failing to ventilate the Houses of Parliament, the First Commissioner of Works proposed that "the House should get some competent engineer, above suspicion of partiality, to let them see what ought to be done." And similarly there are continually cropping out in the press, and at meetings, and in conversations, such notions as that the State might provide "cheap capital" by some financial sleight of hand; that "there ought to be bread-overseers appointed by Government;" that "it is the duty of Government to provide a suitable national asylum for the reception of all illegitimate children." And here it is doubtless thought by some, as it is in France by M. de Lagevenais, that Government, by supplying good music, should exclude the bad, such as that of Offenbach. We smile on reading of that French princess, celebrated for her innocent wonder that people should starve when there was so simple a remedy. But why should we smile? A great part of the current political thought evinces notions of practicability not much more rational.
That connections among social phenomena should be so little understood need not surprise us, if we note the ideas which prevail respecting the connections among much simpler phenomena. Minds left ignorant of physical causation are unlikely to appreciate clearly, if at all, that causation, so much more subtle and complex, which runs through the actions of incorporated men. In almost every house, servants, and those who employ them, alike believe that a poker leaned up in front of the bars, or across them, makes the fire burn; and you will be told, very positively, that experience proves the efficacy of the device—the experience being that the poker has been repeatedly so placed and the fire has repeatedly burned; and no comparison having been made with cases in which the poker was absent, and all other conditions as before. In the same circles the old prejudice against sitting down thirteen to dinner still survives: there actually exists, among ladies who have been at finishing-schools of the highest character, and among some gentlemen who pass as intelligent, the conviction that adding or subtracting one, from a number of people who eat together will affect the fates of some among them. And this state
- Debates, Times, February 12, 1852.
- Letter in Daily News, November 28, 1851.
- Recommendation of a Coroner's Jury, Times, March 26, 1850.
- Revue des Deux Mondes, February 15, 1872.