As here, then, so in other eases meeting us in the present and all through the past, we have to contend with the difficulty that the greater part of the evidence supplied to us, as of chief interest and importance, is really of value only for what it indicates. We have to resist the temptation to dwell in those trivialities which make up nine-tenths of our records and histories; and which are worthy of attention solely because of the things they indirectly imply or the things tacitly asserted along with them.
Beyond those vitiations of evidence due to random observations, to the subjective states of the observers, to their enthusiasms, or prepossessions, or self-interests beyond those that arise from the general tendency to set down as a fact observed what is really an inference from an observation, and also those that arise from the general tendency to omit the dissection by which small surface results are traced to large interior causes there come those vitiations of evidence consequent on its distribution in Space. Of whatever class, political, moral, religious, commercial, etc., may be the phenomena we have to consider, a society presents them in so diffused and multitudinous a way, and under such various relations to us, that the conceptions we can frame are at best extremely inadequate.
Consider how impossible it is truly to conceive so relatively simple a thing as the territory which a society covers. Even by the aid of maps, geographical and geological, slowly elaborated by multitudes of surveyors—even by the aid of descriptions of towns, counties, mountainous and rural districts—even by the aid of such personal observations as we have made here and there in journeys during life; we can reach nothing approaching to a true idea of the actual varied surface—arable, grass-covered, wooded; fiat, undulating, rocky; drained by rills, brooks, and slow rivers; sprinkled with cottages, farms, villas, cities. Imagination simply rambles hither and thither, and fails utterly to frame an adequate thought of the whole. How, then, shall we frame an adequate thought of a diffused moral feeling, of an intellectual state, of a commercial activity, pervading this territory; unaided by maps, and aided only by the careless statements of careless observers? Respecting most of the phenomena, considered as displayed by a whole nation, only the dimmest apprehensions are possible; and how untrustworthy they are, is shown by every parliamentary debate, by every day's newspapers, and by every evening's conversations; which severally disclose quite conflicting estimates.
See how various are the statements made respecting any nation in its character and actions by each traveller visiting it. There is a story, apt if not true, of a Frenchman who, having been three weeks here, proposed to write a book on England; who, after three months, found that he was not quite ready; and who, after three years, concluded that he knew nothing about it. And every one, who looks