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Aspice, venturo lætentur ut omnia sæclo !"
VIRGIL..—Ecloga iv. 52.
“One consolation, however, offers itself amid this general wreck of man, of his works and of his inventions; it is, that new political associations arise from the dissolution of kingdoms and empires, and call forth with increased vigour and interest the energies and virtues of the human heart; that new combinations of sound spring from the decay of fading languages, affording fresh expressions to the understanding, and opening other fields to the imagination; and that thus all the shifting scenery and the ceaseless vicissitudes of the external world, tend only to develope the powers of the ind, and finally to promote the gradual perfection of the intellectual system."
“ This is an art, Which does mend nature,-change it rather; but The art itself is nature."
THE HISTORY AND PROSPECTS OF THE HUMAN
IN RELATION TO INTELLECTUAL AND SOCIAL IMPROVEMENT.
It is, perhaps, seldom remembered, that a portion of history is evidently unfounded. That which is most elaborate cannot fail to interest and amuse us, but it is at the expense of scrupulous authority and severe truth. Were this department of writing rigidly conducted, how many a scene must be obliterated, how large a measure of attraction must be sacrificed, how naked an outline would remain ! Of the most common incident contradictory representations are daily given : witnesses who have possessed an equal opportunity of judging respecting it are found to differ very widely in their accounts: and a probability is the only alternative we can assign to parallel scales. Even in perusing that class of historians whose veracity is best established, and whose fidelity is most unquestionably authenticated, we must naturally wonder and may legitimately enquire, from what sources could their knowledge be derived ? The narrative is regularly sustained and consistently evolved: curiosity is anticipated and cavil refuted. Now though nothing could be more ridiculous than a sweeping scepticism of history, nothing more irrational than a sullen distrust of its general testimonies,-yet what mind can receive its minute and highly-wrought details without suspicion ? who can assent to the correctness of its finished pictures without hesitation ? A glance of attentive thought will convince us that the bias of the historian must be too partial for a strict estimate, his sphere too circumscribed for an accurate investigation, his intellect too fallible for a generalising grasp, of those varied and numerous occurrences he records.
History is not to be depreciated, however, as uniformly uncertain. Through the ages which are still receding from us, she is our only guide. But she is soon opposed by darkness she is not able to dissipate, and stopped by regions she is not permitted to explore. It had been happy did she
when the first vapour rises at her feet: but resolute as well as curious, she plunges into shadows which cruelly disturb her august form and for ever arrest her adventurous progress!
But if the descriptions of history are sometimes too vivid, and its pretensions to antiquity sometimes too arrogant,—what many would most keenly regret is, that it does not sufficiently exhibit the peculiarities of man. The expressions of the human character are not preserved. The workings of passion are not developed. The sources of habit are not laid open. There is an absence of correct and delicate analysis. We look in vain for traits of conduct and delineations of sentiment: for those touches and pencillings in the portrait by which the artist and the original are at once declared. We look in vain for the hidden springs which have impelled man through such rugged paths and in such opposite directions. And yet if this be alleged against the historian, scarcely any complaint can be more unjust : for it may be disputed, whether any such task be committed to him : whether it would not be an impertinent and undignified violation of his neutrality: whether he would not as egregiously mistake his province in indulging the philosophic reflection of Tacitus as in emulating the graphic interest of Livy. The fact is, that the historian has to conduct before us certain personages who have powerfully influenced the fate of nations: and to sketch events which, from their prominence and bearings, ought not to perish with the remembrance of ordinary transactions. He is hurried on by the march of his heroes, by the tide in the affairs of men. He cannot dissect the heart of a conqueror when millions are affected by the issue of the fight: nor linger to inspect a train of events while their effects are spreading through a continent or a world. And therefore history, as generally composed, is but an imperfect chronicle of man. It enrols occurrences most interesting to
him, touching him on every side, affecting him in every feeling, - but still not strictly of man, in his constitution, progress, and destiny. Whether such a species of historic writing be not desirable, may excite an enquiry at least: but whether it would be instructive, can admit of none. Events would only seem important as experiments upon our nature and illustrations of our being One valuable lesson we certainly should be taught, by the record of man as he is. Now we seem to spurn the page
devoted to him, unless he be disfigured by ambition,stained by ruthless crimes and agitated by gigantic passions : we are accustomed only to take interest in what is violent, daring, tempestuous, in human conduct. We are not contented with the assurance that great passions exist: we are dissatisfied until they are called into play: until Pelides unclasps his zone and Hercules abandons his distaff. But then we should delight in the repose of these turbulent elements of character: we should lose all relish for those eccentricities which disturb the mighty mass : and we should hail exclusively an elevation and preeminence of knowledge and virtue. We should resemble the student of nature who does not fix his eye upon a map tains in which lofty peaks and ridges can alone be seen, but would pursue the valley, would admire the landscape, would examine the general surface, as varied into gentle beauty or arrayed with luxuriant vegetation !
All, indeed, must allow that man is the proper subject of history. Its annals may often register events independent of us: phenomena of heaven and earth : storm and earthquake : fire and flood : but their interest arises from their relation to the circumstances, and their place in the observations, of man. Sorry should we be to contribute to the selfish vanity of our nature by magnifying its importance to the external world. The statement will rather humble us by teaching our responsibility. And surely it would be an idle affectation in man to subordinate his history to that of senseless matter or irrational being. He is made singular from all around him, and the most pious modesty does not forbid the assertion of that singularity. And what are knowledge and virtue but the instruments by
which we vindicate to ourselves an unrivalled pre-eminence ? But for him who moves upon its stage, the scenes of this awful theatre would have no significance, the evolutions of this mysterious drama would convey no lesson : on man the story, the action, and the moral depend. Of this human history, we may quote the language of Bacon as happily descriptive ; though he penned it concerning a literary one: “Without it the history of the world seemeth to be as the statue of Polyphemus with his eye out: that part being wanting which doth most show the spirit and life of the person.” And it is the design of this Paper to dwell upon different passages of the human narrative, to trace some of the steps by which the improvements of the species have been advanced and some of those principles by which the species itself has been impelled.—It was a noble sentiment which the ancient moralist uttered : “I deem nothing foreign to me which pertains to man. It is to be hoped that the moody temper which complacently, and even malignantly, beholds the baffled attempts of our race towards melioration, our often disappointed hopes of happiness, is confined to few. These struggles are noble, however ineffectual: might excite pity, could they not command admiration : and appear prophetic of an ultimate victory over the difficulties which have hitherto precluded success. Man has not yet deserved to become the butt of low conceit and fiend-like banter, at least from any who wear his form !
When we speak, however, of the human species, it is not in concurrence with the theory which some naturalists have held. We do not know, nor can we conceive of, the genus to which such a species can be referred. If it can be distinctly proved that man participates in so many characteristics of other animal tribes as to render his anomalous pretensions untenable,-let him be arranged in the great museum of nature according to the strictest laws of physical conformation. Let not a pectoral indication be allowed of itself to determine our station : let limb and feature, trunk and extremity, confess the analogy and
* “ Homo sum : humani nihil a me alienum puto."— Terence, Heauton