Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/145

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133
THE EARLY DISCIPLINE OF MANKIND.

new thoughts, to be able to bear easily with a changing existence; or else, having new ideas, they want to enforce them on mankind—to make them heard, and admitted, and obeyed before, in simple competition with other ideas, they would ever be so naturally. At this very moment there are the most rigid Comtists teaching that we ought to be governed by a hierarchy—a combination of savants orthodox in science. Yet who can doubt that Comte would have been hanged by his own hierarchy; that his essor matériel, which was, in fact, troubled by the "theologians and metaphysicians" of the Polytechnic School, would have been more impeded by the government he wanted to make? And then the secular Comtists, Mr. Harrison and Mr. Beesly, who want to "Frenchify the English institutions"—that is, to introduce here an imitation of the Napoleonic system, a dictatorship founded on the proletariat—who can doubt that, if both these clever writers had been real Frenchmen, they would have been irascible anti-Bonapartists, and have been sent to Cayenne long ere now? The wish of these writers is very natural. They want to "organize society," to erect a despot who will do what they like, and work out their ideas; but any despot will do what he himself likes, and will root out new ideas ninety-nine times for once that he introduces them.

Again, side by side with these Comtists, and warring with them—at least, with one of them—is Mr. Arnold, whose poems we know by heart, and who has, as much as any living Englishman, the genuine literary impulse; and yet, even he wants to put a yoke upon us—and, worse than a political yoke, an academic yoke, a yoke upon our minds and our styles. He, too, asks us to imitate France.

Asylums of commonplace, as Béranger hints, academies must ever be. But that sentence is too harsh; the true one is, the academies are asylums of the ideas and the tastes of the last age. "By the time," I have heard a most eminent man of science observe, "by the time a man of science attains eminence on any subject, he becomes a nuisance upon it, because he is sure to retain errors which were in vogue when he was young, but which the new race have refuted." These are the sort of ideas which find their home in academies, and out of their dignified windows pooh-pooh new things.

I may seem to have wandered far from early society, but I have not wandered. The true scientific method is to explain the past by the present—what we do not see by what we see. We can only comprehend why so many nations have not varied, when we see how hateful variation is; how everybody turns against it; how not only the conservatives of speculation try to root it out, but the very innovators invent most rigid machines for crushing the "monstrosities and anomalies," the new forms, out of which, by competition and trial, the best is to be selected for the future. The point I am bringing out is simple: one most important prerequisite of a prevailing nation is that it should have passed out of the first stage of civilization into the sec-