Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/20

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8
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

conceptions concerning another society, have always to be taken with the qualification that the comparisons are only partially justifiable, because the compared things are only partially alike in their other traits.

An objective difficulty, even greater still, which the Social Science presents, arises from the distribution of its facts in Time. Those who look on a society as either supernaturally created or created by Acts of Parliament, and who consequently consider successive stages of its existence as having no necessary dependence on one another, will not be deterred from drawing political conclusions from passing facts, by a consciousness of the slow genesis of social phenomena. But those who have risen to the belief that societies are gradually evolved in structure and function, as in growth, will be made to hesitate on contemplating the long unfolding through which early causes work out late results.

Even true appreciation of the successive facts which an individual life presents, is very generally hindered by inability to grasp the long-drawn processes by which ultimate effects are produced; as we may see in the foolish mother who, yielding to her perverse child, gains the immediate benefit of peace, and cannot be made to realize the evil of chronic dissension which her policy will hereafter bring about. And in the life of a nation, which, if of high type, lasts at least a hundred individual lives, correct estimation of results is still more hindered by this immense duration of the processes through which antecedents bring their consequents. In. judging of political good and evil, the average legislator thinks much after the manner of the mother dealing with the spoiled child: if a course is productive of immediate benefit, that is considered sufficient justification. Quite recently an inquiry has been made into the results of an administration which had been in action some five years only, with the tacit assumption that, supposing the results were proved good, the administration would be justified.

And yet to those who look into the records of the past not to revel in narratives of battles or to gloat over court-scandals, but to find how institutions and laws have arisen and how they have worked, there is no truth more obvious than that generation after generation must pass before you can see what is the outcome of an action that has been set up. Take the example furnished us by our Poor-Laws. When villeinage had passed away and serfs had no longer to be maintained by their owners—when, in the absence of any one to control and take care of serfs, there arose an increasing class of mendicants and "sturdy rogues, preferring robbery to labor"—when, in Richard the Second's time, authority over such was given to justices and sheriffs, out of which there presently grew the binding of servants, laborers, and beggars, to their respective localities—when, to meet the case of beggars, "impotent to serve," the people of the districts in which they