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THE BRITISH CONTROVERSIALIST.
BY THE AUTHOR OF "THE ART OF REASONING," "PHETORIC,” &c.
To exhibit the gradual and orderly evolution of events--to detail the successive changes which have taken place in the external condition of man--to trace the effects which these changes have produced on the human species—to note the crude elements out of which great empires have been composed—to describe the means by which these empires have been consolidated, and to point out the several stages of development to which, at certain epochs, human society had attained, are the duties of the civil historian. Institutions and manners, arts and industry, migrations and conquests, peace and war, kings and peoples, revolutions and crusades, usurpations and alliances, abdications and intrigues, diplomacy and education, treaties and protocols, change and progress-all the antecedences, coordinates, and sequences which occur,
“As circumstance doth hurry circumstance
Along the crankled current of events," constitute the topics which specially demand the historian's attention and study. History is the record of the actualization of the possible,-a registry and chronicle of the development of man, and of the progress of all the great and permanent interests of humanity, an embodiment and catalogue of facts regarding man's moral, political, social, artistic, and spiritual advancement. All the various combinations into which men have enteredall the multitudinous situations in which they have been placed—all the different scenes in which they have acted or suffered-all the meridian heights which vaulting ambition has reached the innumerable vicissitudes of fortune to which mankind is subject-all that the toil, the struggles, the virtues, the heroism, the experience, the power, and the wisdom of man has accomplished and realized, pertain rightly to the historic page. Civil history is “a detail of the various manifestations of mind, as they have been impressed upon the surface of human life."* The topic on which it treats is, therefore, the past; but the past is important only because it is the womb of the future, and “the great index to the probable.” The mere exhibition of this vast panorama,--albeit the result of the sublime efforts of human genius and industry, by which events have been and are occasioned, cannot satisfy the desires of reasoning man. He requires that the originating cause be shown,—that the
prime motive force be explained; he wishes to see how it is that the personal mind operates upon the stupendous chaos of phenomena around it, in order that events may be effectuated. The life of a nation is twofold. Man is the occupant of a stand-point between two worlds; the one visible, in which the act alone availeth, and the intention matters nought; the other invisible, and acted upon only by the will: in both of these worlds man is an efficient force.* In the invisible world of mind all acts are initiated, and the seeds of all events are nurtured; but it is not until
“ The seed,
Has risen and cleft the soil," and bursts upon the vision of the world,” that it comes within the legitimate province of the historian. It is within the mind that
“ Thought by thought is piled, till some great truth
Is loosened, and the nations echo round;" and the intellectual man yearns to trace the growth of events, from these their embryotic germs to the flower and fruitage of realization; he believes with the poet that
“All things which are or were are thought in action,” and he is desirous of acquiring a knowledge of these early elements, from which the various modifications of human life proceed,—those ideas which have altered the features of society, changed the circumstances of human life, and given birth to the present as the “long result of time.” This being the case, we cannot but believe that an intense interest must concentre round a history of those forth-goings of the energies of human thought by which man has essayed to conquer the dread silences and uncertainties of Nature, and attempted to become acquainted with the destiny to which this life-pilgrimage leads.
The dim mysteriousness of fable, myth, and legend, envelops the pre-historic epochs of human existence. In the world's rapt and visionary youth, how intense, yet volatile, was thought! “Creation's heir”-primeval man-could not but be wonder-struck at the immense pageant which lay within the circling horizon of an instant's gaze. The day-god raining chaste joyance on the earth, the various, vestured heaven, the flower-clad glebe, “the blue-tumbling waves of the sea,” the lakelet,“ rich with tints heaven-borrowed,"_all
“The placid world
Of wood and water, hill and plain,"— how full of enigmas must these have been when they first came within the vision of a mortal's eye! To the semi-awakened perception--to the dazzled fancy-to the untrained mind,
In its own clouds of shifting thought"how strange and mystic must the world's phenomena have seemed! Is it matter of wonder that then
“ The intelligible forms of ancient poets,
The fair humanities of old religions,
* This thought is borrowed from Fichte’s “ Destiny of Man."
The power, the beauty, and the majesty,
Or chasms, or watery depths," received their being—that all the wonders of the material universe should become personified abstractions, and that the marvels of fancy should fill the void forms of science ? Primeval man, following the instincts of his intellectual nature, doubtless did his utmost to spiritualize his conceptions; but the necessity under which he laboured of employing a material symbolization must have occasioned, in a degenerating race, the reception of the symbol as the fact, and consequently the materialization of his purest mental concepts. Mythology is, in point of view, the solution which, in the earlier ages of human development, the imagination gives to the problems of the reason. The human race, doubtlessly, started from the vantage stand-point of revealed truth; but as the separate families settled apart, the torchlight of tradition could not but burn dim; the knowledge of the truth being thus lost, inventive Fancy, striving to fill up the vacancies in the record, forgot the due sobriety of truth, and then inscribed upon the blank pages of human thought the marvels of mythology.*
For a long time the stream of historic fact must have mingled with that of mythic lore, like
“A clear stream flowing with a muddy one,
Till in its onward current it absorbs,
The vexed eddies of its wayward brother." If the reader inquire how much of the mythic history of any country deserves belief, we reply, we cannot say; and, to use the words of Grote, “ If the reader blame me for not assisting him to determine this if he ask me why I do not undraw the curtain and disclose the picture-I reply in the words of the painter Zeuxis, when the same question was addressed to him, on exhibiting his masterpiece of imitative art, “The curtain is the picture'. . . the curtain (to us?) conceals nothing behind, and cannot by any ingenuity be withdrawn." Nevertheless, we may quote, as somewhat to the present purpose, the quaint words of Dr. Donne; they are worthy of our consideration, not only in this, but in every other investigation :-
* Perhaps the view taken in the text may appear strange to some of our readers, and may not, therefore, be readily comprehensible. To prevent any misapprehension likely to arise, we think it advisable to present the following articulate statement :
We cannot doubt that at man's creation he was embued with a knowledge of his divine origin and future destiny. Sin, however, easily scattered the race; and as each migratory tribe departed from a lower status of thought than its predecessors, it is obvious that gradual degeneracy would supervene. But the human race is endowed with reasoning powers, which, on being arrested by circumstances, are capable of eliminating from Nature the teachings of God as therein written; and thus it most probably happened that “man, commencing with a knowledge of one God, gradually became a polytheist; and philosophy, slowly retracing the steps of error, returned to the truth, which had been lost."—Keightley's “ Mythology of Ancient Greece and Italy," p. 3. An instance of an analogous, and consequently an illustrative nature, may be gleaned from the history of Central Asia, where “ Khiva, Bokhara, Merve, Balk, Samarcand, have at various epochs formed the nuclei of so many small states, which, having attained a certain degree of civilization, have dwindled suddenly, and retrograded towards barbarism."_“Eclectic Review," January, 1851, p. 42.
“Though Truth and Falsehood be
To sleep, or run wrong, is.” Situated as we are, with the vast heritage of wisdom, which the monarch-minds of bygone centuries have bequeathed to us, securely attained, we can form no adequate notion of the intense heroism of those men who looked abroad into the abyssmal vagueness in which all things appeared to be, and conquered therefrom the certainties of which we are now the possessors. In the sublime, though repulsive, carnage of war, the forces are merely physical, and in many cases calculable,—the resources of each army may be balanced with some approach to equality; but in the warfare of thought the contest is solitarythe opposing forces are unknown—the field is untrodden and unsurveyed. Ab, there is something here of the truly heroic,—the nobly manful! Amid the mistiness and gloom,the uncertain footing and the unthreaded labyrinths of that territory—then known only as vagueland,—to push one's onward way with unblanched cheek, with firm-nerved arm and dauntless heart, right up to the hitherto impregnably-fortressed kingdom of “Night's daughter-Ignorance, and couch a solitary lance against the thousand ministrants of war who are subject to her domination, and win one ceded shred of her vast realm as an eternal possession to all truth-seekers, is, surely, bravery greater than that displayed by the fripperied and gaudy hosts whose triumphs history has hitherto delighted to inscribe in gloryblazoned characters upon her pages! And yet who honours worthily the heroism of those who have thus gone forth “conquering and to conquer?” Whether are the thoughts of Plato, Bacon, Kant, and Hamilton, or the actions of Alexander, Charles XII., Napoleon, and Wellington, most widely known, most earnestly studied, most thoroughly admired, and inost sedulously conned ?
A history of speculative thought—of the active energies put forth by mind for the conscious attainment of truth-cannot but be worthy of the interest and studious attention of all those who are earnestly desirous of discovering those laws of progress by which man passes onwards to the fulfilment of his destiny. To observe the awakening of human reason under the influence of the phenomena and laws of the physical world—to trace the progress of thought from its earliest and feeblest efforts to its boldest enterprizes, and its loftiest effectual manifestations—to mark the successive stages to which, at different epochs, human intelligence had advanced-to watch how the loose and scattered materials of thought are conjoined by the ligatures of nicely-appreciative conceptions, and new discoveries are developed from those which precede them—are all highly interesting investigations, capable of fully repaying the toil and rewarding the trouble of elaborate industry and patient study. The evolution of thought in all its phases thus exhibited must afford most palpable evidence of the processes and methods of truth-search, and consequently be a regular praxis in the art of correct thinking. Then there are the biographic details of those men who have made their lives illustrious by their achievements in the regions of speculation,-who, urged by a burning zeal for truth, have toiled on through uncertainty and doubt, and rendered the ages in which they lived for ever memorable by their intellectual daring. Where can more noble inducements be found to continuous and well
directed efforts after higher and nobler manifestations of being, the improvement of society, and the welfare of mankind ?
Again; the history of speculative thought is advantageous because it recalls to memory the benefactions which have been left us, and the names of the bequeathers, and thus an age, too entirely self-glorifying, being reminded of its indebtedness to "the days of other years,” is led to see in a clearer light the due proportion which it bears intellectually to other times. “The discovery of to-day will be the commonplace of to-morrow; but it is not less a discovery. A dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant sees farther than the giant; but if he stood on his own basis he would scarcely see at all. It behoves him to remember that the giant is a giant."* This is especially needful in an age so rigidly positive and utilitarian as ours. By what has positivism become possible,—whose energy of mind has called forth the conceptions by which facts have been colligated into lawwho have elicited from consciousness and experience the forms of reasoning, and thus rendered scientific progress a potentiality? Those, surely, who have diligently elaborated the laws of the discovery and development of truth, and furnished man with a knowledge of the formative principles of thought,the means of systematizing the realities around and within him into science! If we are the inheritors of the ages, we can only rightly appreciate our own relative position by knowing how much we are indebted to The Past.
The history of philosophy is invested with a higher and sublimer interest, when regarded not only as the legislatrix of speculation, but also as the chief instructress regarding the nature, grandeur, and power of man's noblest possession--the mind. Thought is the highest and mightiest power in the universe, and as such correlates itself to and necessitates the loftiest and sublimest investigations. Philosophy is the centre-thought of an age,the attempt to know the reason of what other minds believe regarding the world's great riddles—God, Mind, Destiny, Will, Reason, Matter, and their interrelations. Existence manifests all things concretely-essentials and adjuncts interblended :-How make these disparate and distinguishable?-how abstract the accidental and variable from the changeless and true?—how perceive the truth which underlies phenomena, and the laws by which phenomena are, and exist as they are? Philosophy is present throughout the entire range of human thought, and, rightly or wrongly, every man bears within himself some real or assumed test of fact and opinion, which to him are philosophical verities. All systematization proceeds from some central philosophic idea, which, seizing upon all the impressions of sense or consciousness, moulds them in conformity to its dicta, and subjects them all to vassalage and subserviency. This is no visionary dream, bat an every-day-life reality. The reason cannot rest satisfied with the merely phenomenal; it wishes to know why and how it exists,-nay, it even questions if it do exist; its great yearning is after certainty. It may be that certainty is unattainable—that, for wise purposes, the Deity has implanted in us
“Those thoughts which wander through eternity,"
to point us to higher states of being hereafter; but surely the exercise of these, man's noblest faculties, cannot be fruitless, whether in convincing us of the finiteness of human thought, or in teaching us to find in all things the “Footprints of the Creator,” and the
* Lewes's “Biographical History of Philosophy," vol. ii. p. 233.